We hear all the time that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is SO important. We know that our kids will have many more job opportunities if they follow a STEM career path. But did you also know that early exposure to STEM – even just basic concepts – is a major determining factor of career interest in STEM fields?
Kids who’ve had some exposure to STEM thinking are much more open to considering science and technology when they choose their classes in middle school and high school. And, interest and success in teen years is often what helps determine college/university majors and eventual career options.
But to most of us, STEM can seem pretty overwhelming. I mean, we aren’t all scientists and engineers, right? How can we expose our kids to STEM at home in these younger years?
Keep it simple.
Help kids see that science, technology, engineering and math are everywhere and they interact with it daily.
Here are a few simple ideas where intentional discussion of some STEM terms and concepts in regular activities and interactions can go a long way in helping kids realize how approachable STEM subjects can be!
1. Point out practical applications of STEM in everyday life:
- Cook with your child. Incorporate math by letting him or her measure the ingredients and figure out how much to put in when you double the recipe. Then, point out the chemistry of what happens when you combine the ingredients. Have your child point out the difference between solids and liquids.
- When doing work around the house or in the yard, point out simple machines to your daughter or son. Show him or her how a rake works as a lever to move the leaves. Point out the wheel and axle on a bike. Challenge your child to find two more examples of each around the house!
2. Challenge your kids to problem solve in everyday experiences:
- A key component to STEM education is understanding how to solve a problem. Use everyday opportunities to challenge your kids to think through how to solve a problem. Challenge your kids to come up with a resolution to the problem. If it gets too frustrating, support them by helping them break it down into smaller steps.
- Engage them with hypotheticals. When you’re at the playground with your child – and he or she is having a great time on the slide – point out how it’s made. Ask what could make it even better. Ask how he or she would build it to make it better. When you get home – have your child draw it out on a piece of paper. Encourage imagination!
3. Encourage tinkering:
- Build it up – tons of great toys like LEGO and K’NEX lead kids to build amazing structures and objects. When your child builds that amazing roller coaster, ask him or her to explain how the pieces work. Have your child show you what he or she did. Or, ask your child to construct a building with five or seven random items. But when he or she is done, have your child explain not only what he or she did, but why it worked.
- Tear it apart – Have an old computer, or even an old toaster? How about an old cell phone that’s not worth a cent to trade in? Unplug it, give it to your child and encourage him or her to explore it. Let your child figure out how to get it apart (maybe a little supervision for safety!) and explore the pieces that are inside. For older kids, let them research online and see if they can identify some of the pieces and explain to you what they do.
4. Explore outside:
- STEM isn’t just screens and machines, math problems and code. It’s about understanding how the world works! Engage your kids with STEM while you’re outside. Ask them – before they ask you – why is the sky blue? Have them look at the structure of plants and leaves. Talk about the weather. How does it feel before the rain? Why is it usually darker when it rains?
- Work together to build a garden. Talk about the plants – what they are, why they grow. Watch them grow – make a point of observing them each week and ask your kids to predict how big the plant will be next week, or when the flowers will bloom, or when the tomatoes will ripen. If you’re really looking to increase learning opportunities, chart it out!
Engaging with your kids and getting them to notice the world around them – how things were built, how they work and why they work, and even encouraging them to think about how to change it or make it better, is what STEM is all about! Simply pointing out some of those things we all take for granted can spark that awareness and peak a STEM interest in our children!