The STEM field is an increasingly popular discipline presented not only to adult professionals but also to children. STEM learning is becoming popular in schools, afterschool activities, and even at home. But it can seem a bit intimidating at first – especially to parents who have no STEM experience themselves. The first glance isn’t always representative of reality, though. We’ve created a shortlist of easy ways to incite passion in your young kids.
STEM is an interdisciplinary field that comprises of science, technology, engineering, math, and the recently added arts (which turn the phrase into STEAM). Instead of approaching each of these disciplines separately, STEM insists that they should be taught as interlinked, related, connected and dependent on one another. Not only does it make them easier to learn, but it also defies this idea that one can either be talented in natural or social sciences. STEM brings all their key elements under an umbrella of complex relatedness. STEM learning is thus a process that begins once you decide you want to know more about the way the world works.
STEM education and STEM learning is important to incorporate in educational institutions not only because it teaches kids playfully to abandon their fears of these disciplines, but also because it reflects how they coexist in real life. One is rarely ever just a science person, or just a tech or art person; and to put ourselves in rigid boxes like these can actually do more harm than good. Instead, the curiosity and passion that STEM incites can make sure we never utter phrases like ‘I can’t be good at math’ or ‘I simply can’t draw’. We are so much more than one-dimensional creatures, and this is, in short, what STEM is all about.
But STEM is also great at teaching other key skills and elements of knowledge. We summarized its educational benefits in one of our recent blog posts, so take a look at that if you’re curious. In essence, it’s great at teaching critical thinking skills, soft skills (such as creativity, listening, management, problem-solving and empathy), it makes for easier access to college and subsequently serves as a great asset to the future job market. Tech proficiency, coding, the basic knowledge of engineering, a more profound scientific knowledge and the ability to tailor effective solutions to human needs, are all key to the skill-based job market that will expect the generation of our children.
But what if your child’s school doesn’t yet offer a STEM curriculum, or what if your child’s too young to go to school yet? There are ways to get them introduced to STEM fields without the hassle or too much mental effort that they are still too young to exert. STEM learning doesn’t need to be difficult, gruelling or involve learning anything by heart. It can be as fun and easy as a visit to a science museum, DIY projects or learning about historical STEM figures.
So, without further ado, here is our list of 7 activities that can get your child started in STEM, for every parent, no matter how involved or uninvolved in STEM you are yourself.
1. Field trips
Who said educational field trips are only for schools? You can take your child to a nature and science museum, to a technical museum, a themed museum (after a famous scientist), an animal sanctuary, marine park, a farm, a botanic garden or a nature reserve/park. Anything and everything is related to science and can help children understand scientific principles better.
In a museum, the guides and the exposition itself will often be enough to explain everything, offering fun activities, interactive displays, experiments and quizzes on the go. They will help your child understand cars, outer space, evolution of animal species, physics tools (from recorders to TVs) and much more. At a farm, the locals will be able to explain and answer all the questions about animal rearing, about botanics, or about farming. As such, you don’t necessarily need to plan much. But if you go alone to a park, forest or reserve, it’s good to have some fun activities planned ahead.
For instance, learn about how plants grow, learn to identify the different parts of plants (flowers, trees, etc.), help explain more complex physics principles (gravity, dynamics, etc.) and show the amazing variety and complexity that nature offers.
2. Art and DIY projects
Art is a component of STEAM for good reason. While we often pit science and art against each other, the truth is, they are not that far apart. Consider things like perspective, the golden ratio, the ratios of our bodies that Da Vinci studied, and so on. Science, medicine, physics and geometry are a firm part of any visual art. Then, music is all about science and physics – from how music recorders and players work, to how out vocal cords produce tones. Dance is also all about physical rules and gravity.
Explore these simple activities with a fresh pair of eyes as you explain how they’re related to other STEAM disciplines and incorporate their elements in the Arts.
We’ve already dedicated a post to resources and DIY activities that teach STEM principles and that you can easily practice at home. Here’s a teaser: you can breed bacteria, create colored soda, play music with the help of water-filled glasses, learn how to draw with accuracy, create fun objects such as sailboats out of common household items, use LEGO tools to build complex objects, perform experiments, create animals out of cardboards, make your own emojis to better understand emotional intelligence, make your own lava lamp, toothpaste, a cloud in a jar, or even a robot.
Does that sound exciting and motivating? Just take a look at this blog post and choose the resource that suits your needs the best.
4. Learning about inspirational STEM role models
From Marie Curie to Nikola Tesla to modern female role models like Simone Giertz who builds robots that perform ridiculous functions. There’s plenty of people to look up to in STEM! Look them up on Youtube, get together some history books, documentary movies, visit their museums, and if you want to get extra creative and have older children, get them to make an interactive presentation of the scientist’s life or to recreate some of their experiments (a lightbulb, electricity, robot, a material that lights up in the dark, etc.).
Make your children aware that STEM role models exist, and they can look up to them instead just like they look up to their other heroes, from movie action heroes to Youtube makeup professionals. Instill in them the firm belief that science is cool and that being a dedicated scientist is pretty amazing.
5. Making connections between STEM learning and the real world
STEM is nothing if not deeply intertwined with the real world, in fact, its interdisciplinary nature reflects how the real world works and is interconnected. Curiosity and observation is what will get there – so help them connect the dots between the things they learn with you and the way the world works. Explain how physical properties and phenomena originate in nature (gravity, motion, mass, states of matter) and tell them how they were discovered (i.e. Newton’s apple), show them how ants were the OG engineers, how nature is the most ingenious artist.
In a more every-day sense, connect the functioning of homeware appliances, cars, machines with their basic understanding of physics. If you have an older or broken appliance at home, let them take it apart and examine its components, or perhaps to build a whole new one!
6. Exploring a tech toy
We made a blog post exploring the different tools and toys kids can use to learn how to code as well as the other basics of STEM, which you can check out for reference. Robo Wunderkind is also one such toy! It teaches the principles of STEM, such as coding, engineering, art and physics through creative play, plus, it’s a modular toy, which means it can be assembled and disassembled in any way children see fit, supporting their motor skills and creativity.
With color-coded blocks that can be used to perform movements, light effects, and sounds, children can enact scenarios, build characters, practice their artistic skills and learn different coding languages. We have a visual app for the youngest kids, Robo Live, a Scratch-based app called Robo Code and Robo Blockly based on Blockly for the most advanced coders. Out kits are being used in the classroom as well as the home to help children find a passion for tech creativity and to explore their STEM talents in a playful context.
7. STEM summer camp
There’s a theme park for nearly anything, including STEM! Perhaps a bit tricky this year due to social distancing, but don’t worry, there’s always virtual STEM camps making up for the lack of travel and gathering this year. Look for them on Youtube, check out ones near you, look into your government’s or local NGO’s educational programs, and you’re bound to find something. Not only will your kid learn the basics of STEM, but they’ll also meet new people, make new friends, and practice STEM the way it’s supposed to – collaboratively.
The key with starting to explore STEM is communicating the spirit that everyone can do this, and that no one lacks the necessary prerequisites to becoming a STEM hero. Children are naturally curious, inventive, explorative, and STEM learning is the perfect outlet for that kind of energy and approach. Make sure they feel encouraged and then watch the marvel happen.