If you want your children to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in school, consider what you’re doing at home. Parents can encourage their children in ways that are fun and stimulating. This allows children to explore topics that interest them in a pressure-free environment.

It doesn’t have to be difficult. Children can play while using skills that require critical thinking, questioning, analysis, and curiosity. They begin to notice the world around them, and develop ideas about that world, at a very young age.

Why is STEM so important anyway?

These are topics that grow in prominence every year. STEM contains foundational concepts that not only help with core subjects, but they also help broaden minds for creativity and imagination as well.

Exposure to early education and helping to develop the skills to understand complex ideas, increases reading, comprehension and problem solving abilities. As a result, this helps children no matter what path they choose down the road.

Adults don’t always intend to discourage natural abilities within their children. For example, many well-meaning parents simply don’t want to pressure their kids. They want childhood to be fun and free from stress. That’s understandable. Fortunately, there is a way to encourage your kids academically without adding pressure or anxiety.

Support and encouragement is especially important for our girls and young women. According to studies, only 14% of engineers are women. In high school and college, many females drop from computer science programs claiming a lack of women role models. It doesn’t have to be this way. Caring adults can provide positive reinforcement and encourage students to stay with STEM.

How to encourage without pressure

Forget stuffy, boring and complicated. Here are some fun activities to try with your young children that will benefit them in lots of ways, including STEM exposure.

Science

Visit science museums. Many local communities have either museums or universities with labs that allow public tours. Inquire about programs for children like question and answer sessions with scientists. Schools might also promote speaking engagements and museums regularly offer student discounts.

Ask about the “what” of things. Search for topics that don’t require questions with “yes” or “no” answers. Instead, explore open-ended discussions that allow children to think outside the box and come up with their own ideas.

Look for excuses to discuss the science around simple stuff. For example, talk about gravity while playing catch with your kids.

Plan family activities that involve measurement, boiling, evaporation or weather. This includes plumbing, hiking, gardening, or even washing cars.

Play! Any kind of playtime can involve skills needed to excel in science. Playing pretend, exploratory activities, structured recess or free time play.

Explore the outside world. Study the different kinds of insects, leaves, mushrooms, and trees. Spot birds and other wildlife. See if your kids can keep up with the squirrels or discover what complex colonies the ants are building.

Conducting fun experiments with common household ingredients can help kids understand everything from volcanos to clouds.

Spend a day studying your pets and their habits or behavior. If you don’t have pets, visit a local zoo or animal shelter.

Technology

Encourage curiosity. When your kids ask questions, challenge them to find the answers themselves. Use the internet to research peer review journals and the scientific method.

Create! Arts and crafts help kids use all kinds of technology from scissors to graphic design tools.

Build a fort or treehouse.

Tune in. On a rainy day, watch science and technology videos with your child. Be sure to discuss afterward.

Play a variety of games. Any kind of brain teaser, logic game or puzzle helps children develop their natural problem-solving skills.

Create a scavenger hunt and map. 

Engineering

Playing with toy cars, trucks, or miniature bridges give kids a chance to practice using pulleys, levers, and engines.

Construct model ships, airplanes, and buildings.

Plan and design a structure with big blocks. Especially with small children, start with stacking them and move on from there.

Play with LEGOS, a classic toy with building-block options ranging from beginning to advanced. 

Build a ramp outside in the driveway.  

Math

Cook and bake together – this teaches measurement and other math skills. 

Look for excuses to discuss the math around simple ideas. For example, discuss fractions or percentages when you slice a cake or divide dinner portions onto plates.

Play with pretend-money or board games that involve addition and subtraction. 

Take your kids grocery shopping. Practice adding up the prices and see who can get closest to the amount owed at the checkout counter.  

STEM in general

Encourage whatever sparks your children’s interests. Do they like to play piano? Look inside and see how the instrument works. Do they like to ride their bikes? Make sure they understand how a bicycle operates. Maybe even help them pump or change the tires.

Set up a place in the house for creative materials. These can be paints, modeling clay or scientific sets for children. However, this can also include paper cups and plates, glue, string, and other inexpensive supplies.

Call your local high school or university. Ask about science fairs or competitions. Many will welcome younger children to attend and observe.

Watch inspiring movies, depending on your children’s ages, such as Hidden Figures, Contact or The Right Stuff. Click here for more ideas.

Visit the library and check out STEM-related books for kids. Inquire about any classes or demonstrations they might host with a scientific theme. For example, many local libraries will host free workshops with meteorologists, teachers, preservationists and other scientists.

Call your local zoo for the same thing and inquire about student discounts. Especially during summer and school breaks.

Enroll them in exciting and thought-provoking STEM after-school programs – like these classes with KidzToPros.

Email science teachers at the junior high or high school level. They might have more ideas for ways to encourage STEM exploration at home. Whether we’re talking about science, technology, engineering or math – these topics are about solving problems. Our children are inheriting challenges that will require an educated citizenry ready to think outside the box.

Get them ready at home today.


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