Enjoy hands-on learning this Thanksgiving! We hope these fun Thanksgiving STEM activities make for an educational holiday. We’ve included our own favorite – butter making! – as well as some from other sources. Enjoy!
Make Your Own Butter
The Pilgrims packed several barrels of butter for their journey on the Mayflower. As the domesticated cows that they brought from England increased in number, they were able to make their own dairy products. During the next three centuries, butter became a staple of the American farm.
The early pioneers would leave fresh milk sit out overnight so that the cream would rise to the surface. Then they would skim off the cream and pour it into a wooden churn. The churn had a dasher, which was a handle with paddles on the bottom, built into the lid.
Children were usually given the chore of pounding the dasher rhythmically up and down in the churn. (They would often chant: “Come butter come, come butter come, Peter’s waiting at the gate, waiting for a butter cake, come butter come.”) This separated the butter solids from the liquid buttermilk.
The buttermilk would be drained off. The butter was put into a bowl and rinsed with cold water. It was then pressed against the sides of the bowl with a wooden spoon to form a lump. The lump of butter would be sprinkled with salt and stored in a butter crock in a cool place.
You can make your own butter in a jar. Shaking the jar serves the same function as dashing the paddle in the churn. You will need:
- 1 cup or pint of heavy whipping cream at room temperature
- Wide-mouth jar with a secure lid, such as a mayonnaise jar
- Rubber spatula, wooden spoon, or slotted spoon
- Pinch of salt (optional)
Pour the whipping cream into the jar. Screw the lid on tightly. Shake the jar steadily and vigorously up and down. Soon you will notice the cream begin to separate into clumps of butter suspended in a liquid. Keep shaking. After about 15 minutes it will turn into a large lump. Carefully pour off the buttermilk, which you can save to drink. Using a spoon or spatula, press the butter against the side of the jar. This squeezes out the last of the buttermilk. Add salt if desired. Put the butter in a small dish or butter mold.
Homemade butter is delicious on homemade bread. For a tasty pioneer snack, mix one-fourth cup of butter with one cup of honey. Spread some on toast or a cracker. Store leftover honey butter in the refrigerator.
Pumpkins are a great manipulative for math and science exploration, and there are many engaging and fun opportunities using pumpkins to teach STEM. The Homeschool Scientist offers 30 Pumpkin STEM Activities, and PITSCO Education has a variety of fantastic fall pumpkin activities.
Did you know pine cones can predict the weather? Here is a simple but interesting experiment from Science Sparks that will lead to an ongoing observation of your pine cones and the daily weather.
Find out the science behind the color changing leaves in your community with this intriguing experiment from Play Dough to Plato.
This is just the right time to break out the hot chocolate. Why not turn it into a fun experiment. What temperature of water makes the best chocolatey drink? Check out the detailed instructions from Creative Family Fun.
For some Americans, it is becoming increasingly important to them to know about how and where their food was produced. Purchasing local foods can increase agricultural literacy for consumers and help build a greater awareness for where their food comes from. This lesson provides an opportunity for students to recognize the foods they will consume in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and learn how and where they are likely produced. Estimated Time: 1 hour.