Grab your Free Guide - 3 sTEps to stem success

An Easy Way to Help You Plan for STEM

I promise your planning is going to be so much easier with this revelation I found with planning and my youngest engineers!   It’s almost like peanut butter and jelly! Books and STEM just go together! It’s the greatest discovery ever. Let me share some ways that you can try today!

I have pairs of picture books set and STEM Challenge ideas that you can do with your first and second graders with materials you already have in your classroom!  

Kids love this approach!

Read a book, talk about what they can build inspired by the book, and then build it! Take a look at this month’s books and challenges! It’s spontaneous, easy, and requires little to no planning! (Except to grab those books!)

First and Second grade STEM and things I learned from reading picture books with the youngest engineers. Book recommendations and STEM projects are included!

Throughout the post, for your convenience, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon compensates me if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!

Tough Boris by Mem Fox

This is truly one of my favorite books! It’s a book of few words. The story is told in the photos. A little boy sees a pirate ship approaching and watches the pirates dig up their buried treasure on his beach. When they return to their ship the boy sneaks away, too. Later, he swipes the captain’s violin and eventually plays it for the scruffy pirates. The book repeats phrases for each set of pages, like this 

“He (the captain) was massive. All pirates are massive. He was greedy. All pirates are greedy.” 

The line that gets us every time refers to the captain’s pet parrot who appears on every page.  

“But when his parrot died, he cried and cried.”

 And then the boy helps him bury his parrot in the violin case! I love this book.   Our STEM project was to build a treasure box for the pirate’s treasure.

We have tried this before with a different pirate book and second graders and I was not sure what first graders would do.  We tried a Treasure Box and they absolutely loved it!

Treasure Boxes

Building a Treasure Box in STEM Class- Students listen to a book featuring pirates and treasure chests and then build their own models. PERFECT for Grades 1-2.

They had construction paper, a pipe cleaner, and tape. The “treasure” is just buttons and beads. You can substitute with Unifix cubes, colored tiles, or cotton balls.

Just a note: I buy pipe cleaners in large quantities because we use them so often!

Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton

Splat is going to school for his very first day and is very reluctant to go. As he is leaving he sneaks his pet mouse into his lunchbox. Later, at school when the mouse gets away, all the cats chase him, of course. However, when the mouse saves their milk snack they all love him and decide that cats do not chase mice.

We Built Mouse Carriers!

Building a Mouse Carrier in STEM Class- Students listen to a book featuring a cat and build a mouse box or carrier to move a mouse safely. PERFECT for Grades 1-2.

Well, this one was easy. Would you really want to carry a mouse to school in your lunchbox? No, so we built mouse pet taxis!

Materials were construction paper, straws, pipe cleaners, and tape. The only rule to this task was that the mouse could not fall out and the handle on the pet cage must work. By the way, I didn’t have any plastic mice so I printed a cartoon mouse and the kids cut him out!

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

I know you know this story, but surprisingly not a lot of my first graders had heard this book. They loved it! It’s the story of Max who is sent to bed without any supper and takes off on a grand adventure in a forest full of wild things who enjoy a rumpus with Max. By the end, the kids were guessing that all of this was just a dream Max was having!   On one page of the book, Max is sitting in a tent, so we built a tent for Max and the wild things to stay in!

We Built Mouse Tents!

Building a Tent in STEM Class- Students listen to a book featuring “wild things” and then design a tent to stay safe in. PERFECT for Grades 1-2.

  Materials: construction paper, straws, foil, craft sticks, tissue paper, and tape. The tent had to stand up and provide a cover for Max.   Kids tried many ways to make a tent and had a lot of fun!

Music, Music for Everyone by Vera B. Williams

What a sweet story this one is! A little girl tells about her grandmother who is sick and she is very worried about her. The little girl is reminded that her grandmother loves music so she gathers together some friends that all play musical instruments and they play at a party. Grandmother is at the party and loves the music, but the children also get paid. They split the money and the little girl takes her share. What will she do with it? Well, this book is a sequel to the beautiful book:

In this book, the little girl saves money in a jar to buy the chair for her mother. Now, that same money jar stays empty and she thinks it is because her mother must spend all her change on medicine and the care of the grandmother. She places the money she earned in the jar. This is her way of having hope. Beautiful books.   The first graders loved the musical parts of the book and the band, so we built musical instruments.

Of course, we had to build musical instruments!

Building a Musical Instrument in STEM Class- Students listen to a music based picture book and then build a model of an instrument. PERFECT for Grades 1-2.

Materials included: craft sticks, rubber bands, beads, cardboard tubes, waxed paper, foil, and tape. In the photo above you see a guitar, and a drum!

This was the most fun! The kids absolutely loved sharing the instruments they made and showing us how they worked! Such fun! So easy!

Books and STEM go together like peanut butter and jelly or cookies and milk! Use a picture book that you would be reading anyway for a holiday or as part of your weekly reading or language class, pull out materials you already have, and try a building challenge! Enjoy!


First and Second grade STEM and things I learned from reading picture books with the youngest engineers. Book recommendations and STEM projects are included!

More Books We Love!

First and Second grade STEM and things I learned from reading picture books with the youngest engineers. Book recommendations and STEM projects are included!


  1. You are just so creative ~ I love how you can come up with these ideas! Thank you for sharing them!

  2. Thanks Susan! I am working on some lesson sheets that I can add to these blog posts so teachers can download the idea- with directions and materials lists. That way you can save the information and use it later- long after you have forgotten where you saw the idea!

  3. Thanks! I'm craft-challenged. My 1st grader has to make a model of a tiger salamander. Any suggestions? I'm clueless!

  4. Hmmm! I think I'd start with a piece of styrofoam- like a cylinder shape. Use pipe cleaners for the legs. Pipe cleaners can be inserted into the styrofoam easily. You can also add a styrofoam ball for the head if you want to. Add some stripes made of felt and some googly eyes! That should do it! Thanks for visiting!

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