by Lisa A. Beach
As a parent, you can help plant “STEM seeds” early in your kids.
Unlike any generation before, your children are literally growing up surrounded by technology. And that’s great news when it comes to future career opportunities! According to a study called STEM Occupations: Past, Present, And Future from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015, with seven out of the ten largest STEM occupations were computer related.
With the big push for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in schools these days, you might wonder what you can do at home to boost your kids’ sense of curiosity, problem-solving, and STEM skills. Plenty, even with younger kids! The good news? You don’t need to be a math whiz or science buff to explore STEM topics with your kids.
Try these ideas with the kids of all ages in your family:
Help build STEM language at a young age. Even with little ones, you can encourage them to notice their surroundings, ask questions, and pay attention to details. Observation is a critical science skill, so challenge your child to think about what she’s doing or seeing in the world around her.
Watch fun science videos together on YouTube. Some standouts include NatGeo Kids Cool Science Experiments and Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense videos. In Bayer’s kid-friendly films, for instance, kids get the low-down on intriguing topics such as What Makes a Curveball Curve?, Why Do Ice Cubes Float?, When Do Fish Sleep?, What Is a Shooting Star?, and How Does a Microwave Work?
Encourage participation in STEM clubs. In younger grades, you might find Lego Builder’s Club at school or in the community. In some middle schools and many high schools, your child might be able to join an after-school coding, web development, engineering, or robotics club. And, just for girls, check out Girls Who Code, which offers free after-school programs for 3rd-12th grade girls.
Challenge her to teach herself. Many online opportunities exist to help your child boost her technology skills. For example, she can learn to code on Code.org and Tynker. She can create games and animations at Scratch. She can build a website using WordPress and upload photos and videos. She can use the open-source MIT App Inventor to create software applications.
Read with your kids. Let books open your kids’ eyes to new ideas and fresh perspectives and introduce them to unsung heroes/heroines and unfamiliar places.
Tap into your personal and professional network to connect your kids with any STEM professionals you might know. Invite them to dinner for a casual chat over family dinner. Doing so gives your kids a better understanding of career possibilities, such as civil engineer, computer programmer, architect, financial planner, environmental scientist, or veterinarian.
Bring science to life with hands-on family fun trips. Visit a planetarium, arboretum, zoo, factory, science museum, nature trail, or observatory. Explore STEM concepts at work though hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, and interactive experiences. In nature, bring along a notebook to record observations or sketch pictures.
Encourage your child’s interests. Does she enjoy building model rockets or playing with gears? Buy her a science kit for her birthday. Does he love to cook? Dig into the chemistry of cooking by researching culinary-science questions, like why apples turn brown once they’re cut.
Participate in school STEM events. Your child’s school might hold family math night, science fairs, or tech nights. Make it a point to go together, participate in activities, and ask questions to help connect your child with STEM concepts.
Create a “maker box.” Stock your home with supplies that encourage creativity, building, and invention. Some ideas: small cardboard boxes and tubes, PlayDoh, PVC plastic pipes and connectors, LEGO’s, string, wooden building blocks, Duct Tape, Lincoln Logs, pipe cleaners, etc.
Assign her a tech role. If your child has a knack for technology, ask her to help you figure out your smartphone or show you how to download photos to your laptop. Dub her your family’s tech guru to instill confidence!
Plant a garden. Get down and dirty with your kids as they learn about science and math from gardening. They can calculate how big the garden plot should be, measure the planting depth of seeds, chart the growth of a tomato plant, record the weekly rainfall, and predict which plants will yield the most produce. Talk about the life cycle of a plant, discuss photosynthesis, and identify parts of a plant from seed to stem.
Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Eating Well, USA Today Go Escape Florida & Caribbean, Good Housekeeping, Parents, and dozens more.