STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM has become a focus the last few years and for good reason. It provides a skill set that enhances the way children think about the world around them and how they can interact with different environments. Young minds are sponges and can take in and retain information at very a fast rate, making early childhood the ideal time for them to learn new concepts. Children who are exposed to STEM at an early age are shown to excel academically and have a greater interest in careers in STEM fields.
To most of us, STEM can be overwhelming. How can we expose our children to STEM at home in these younger years?
Keep it simple.
Help your child see science, technology, engineering and math are everywhere around them and they interact with it every day.
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 children realize how approachable STEM subjects can be.
1. Show children how practical STEM is in everyday life.
When doing work around the house or in the yard, point out simple machines. Show your child 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!
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 or the difference between solids and liquids.
2. Get outside.
STEM isn’t just screens and machines, math problems and code. It’s about understanding how the world works. Ask your child – 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? Don’t be afraid to look up the answers to these questions if you don’t know them. Learn together.
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. Ask children to predict how big the plant will be next week, or when the flowers will bloom, or when the tomatoes will ripen.
3. Encourage tinkering.
Build it up – tons of great toys
like LEGO and K’NEX lead children
to build amazing structures and
objects. When your child builds that amazing roller coaster, ask them to explain how the pieces work. Have your child show you they did. Ask your child to construct a building with five or seven random items. When they are done, have your child explain not only what they 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 them 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 children, let them research online and see if they can identify some of the pieces and explain to you what they do.
4. Problem solve in everyday situations.
A key component to STEM education is understanding how to solve a problem. Use everyday opportunities to challenge your child to think through how to solve a problem. Challenge them come up with a resolution to the problem.
Engage them with hypotheticals. When you’re at the playground with your child – and they are having a great time on the slide – point out how it’s made. Ask what could make it even better. Ask how they would build it to make it better. When you get home – have your child draw it out on a piece of paper. Encourage imagination!
Engaging with your child 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.
Vanessa Banks is Co-Founder of Kernel Creative Media and the marketing strategist for Sylvan Learning of Clifton Park and Albany. For more information, visit SylvanLearning.com.