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Pirate Science and Make-Believe STEM

Inspire students to explore science and engineering with activities related to pirate-themed play and storytelling.

Skull and crossbones flag for Pirate Science, part of Make-Believe STEM with Science Buddies

Sail the Seven Seas with Pirate Science

Ahoy, matey! Pirate-themed imaginative play may have kids walking the plank, weighing anchor, studying the night sky and the movement of the ocean, using a spyglass to watch for other ships, perusing maps, and dreaming of treasure. This set of science and engineering activities helps kids explore STEM as part of pirate storytelling.

Pirate Science: Experiment | Watch | Kits | Ask | Careers | Read

EXPERIMENT: Pirate Science Experiments

DIY Spyglass

Land ho! Scope out land, creatures in the sea, and other ships using your own DIY spyglass. A pirate would be lost without this portable version of a telescope. With its system of lenses that magnify far-away things, a spyglass (or monocular) helps a pirate keep an eye on what's coming. Make your own and learn how lenses work to bend light and make objects look bigger (or smaller). A spyglass might help keep you and your crew out of Davy Jones's Locker!

Line of Sight

The life of a pirate can be dangerous. How does vision change when you only use one eye? Even with two eyes, many animals have monocular vision. Their eyes might be on the sides of their head, and each eye takes in different information. Humans have binocular vision. Find out what this means and how it affects depth perception in this vision science activity.

Sail Cork Boats

To survive at sea, pirates have to sail their ships through stormy seas. What helps keep a boat from tipping over? Build a toy sailboat and experiment with different design features to see how a boat stays upright. What is a keel? What happens when you make a boat taller, skinnier, wider, or shorter?

Ocean in a Bottle

Pirates may look gruff on the outside, but most pirates have a soft spot for the briny deep sea. Make an ocean in a bottle to keep the sea always within sight in your captain's quarters. This model ocean can help explain how ocean waves move, too!

Popsicle Stick Catapult

No quarter! An on-board catapult might be handy when exchanging "greetings" with other pirates and ships. Make your own mini catapult from wooden craft sticks and then set up a target and test your accuracy launching small objects.

Crystal Treasure

What kind of treasure will you find? Will the loot be full of gold, silver, and gems? Use science to grow your own crystals to be part of your treasure chest.

Code a Treasure Map

Use this paper-based coding activity to create a secret treasure map. Then write instructions that can guide another pirate to the treasure by walking x number of steps up, down, left, or right. Make your own map on graph paper or use our free templates (large graph for a simple map; small graph for a more complex map). (Tip! You can increase the challenge for older students by encouraging them to add in obstacles and landmarks and come up with other kinds of movements, like jumps, narrow channels, and bridge crossings.)

WATCH: Videos

How to Make a Simple Refracting Telescope (Monocular)
DIY Toy Sailboat
Popsicle Stick Catapult
Make a Paper Lantern STEM Activity


The following Science Buddies Kit is related to the science experiments highlighted above and pirate-themed storytelling:

DIY Lantern

Pirates do a lot by starlight, but you will need a reliable lantern to check on things aboard ship at night. Don't get caught in the dark! With the DIY Night-Light Kit, you can design and build a custom night-light or lantern.

To learn about other Science Buddies Kits, see our 10 Science Kits for Summer Science Experiments and Discovery recommendations.

ASK: Questions

Use these questions to prompt conversation and reflection about the science behind the Pirate Science activities:

  • What are the differences between the two lenses used in the DIY spyglass?
  • How is a spyglass telescope similar to binoculars? How is it different from a larger telescope used by astronomers?
  • How is designing and building a boat similar to designing and building other vehicles?
  • If you were going to build a pirate ship, what features would it have and why?
  • How does a pirate's spyglass help make things appear closer?

CAREER: Make Connections with STEM Careers

Learn more about related science and engineering careers, like:

READ: Books

For other picture and story books you can pair with the Pirate Science and Make-Believe STEM theme, see titles like these:

How to Be a Pirate cover How I Became a Pirate cover Never Mess with a Pirate cover Once Upon a Time Map Book cover Pirate Stew cover The Pirates of Scurvy Sands cover Good Night Pirate cover Pete the Cat cover Pirate Nell's Tale to Tell cover There Was an Old Pirate cover Pirates Magnified cover Pirates Don't Change Diapers cover Good Night Pirate Ship cover The Pirates Next Door cover Port Side Pirates cover Edward and the Pirates cover Magic Marks the Spot cover Pirates Past Noon cover

For more suggestions for science-themed summer reading, see our Summer Reading List. Also, don't miss this roundup of creative STEM activities for storytelling and imaginative play.

Bookmark, Pin, or Share the Make-Believe STEM / Pirate Science Collection!

DIY Spyglass telescope made from cardstock and two lenses - Pirate-themed Make-Believe STEM Science Experiments Girl with eyepatch and pirate hat - part of Pirate-inspired Make-Believe STEM Science Experiments A wave in a bottle experiment - part of Pirate-inspired Make-Believe STEM Science Experiments Pirate sailboat made form cork - part of Pirate-inspired Make-Believe STEM Science Experiments

More Make-Believe STEM

This collection is part of a series of Make-Believe STEM resources at Science Buddies.

For additional resources to support connections between science and engineering and literacy, imaginative play, storytelling, visit Make-Believe STEM Science Experiments and Storytelling Activities.


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