Do you feel that your kids are not getting enough STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education at school? If so, you are not alone. A recent study showed that only 13% of US parents with postgraduate degree consider US above average in STEM education at school.
In addition, STEM education is much more than preparing kids for a career path. Every kid can benefit greatly from learning STEM to develop critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and collaboration skills as articulated by this Harvard Education School article. There are also many benefits in introducing kids to STEM early.
But, there’s an issue, how do you get your kids interested in STEM? We asked parents recently to share their biggest challenge in regards to their kids STEM education, and getting kids interested was highlighted by parents as a top one. While some kids naturally gravitate toward STEM, most don’t. Luckily, all kids are born with curiosity and love for learning. The important thing is to guide their interests and offer help along the way. Here are some of the ideas that parents have tried and worked.
Good STEM toys are those that give kids a lot of freedom to explore. Lego has been a long time favorite for many for younger kids. Parents have also mentioned Magna Tiles, Osmo, and ‘old fashioned’ building blocks. There are more and more options for older kids as well. My daughter and I once spent hours building a Meccano robot. The moment the robot came “alive” was truly magical. Snap Circuits is a great toy for teaching kids circuits. There are a growing selection of toys such as Sphero, Dash Robot, and Cozmo that help kids learn coding.
YouTube & TV Shows
Kids love screen time. So turn them into great learning opportunities. For younger kids, PBS Kids programs like Odd Squad and Wild Kratts are fun shows packed with learning. Nova has become a family favorite of ours lately, thanks to my husband who has been a fan of the show. From black holes, to building the ancient city of Petra, to flying a solar-powered airplane around the world, Nova produces outstanding science programs week after week, that tweens and older kids should be able to enjoy. There are some great YouTube channels as well. For instance, Ted-Ed, an extension of TED, has a set of carefully curated high quality educational videos.
As an immigrant, one of the things that I feel is most special about the education opportunities in the US is the easy access to many high-quality museums. In the Bay Area, where we live, one of parents’ favorites is the Tech Museum of Innovation — winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service a couple of years ago. Almost all of their exhibits offer hands-on opportunities for kids from using 3D printers, building your own robots, to designing roller coasters, and experiencing what it is like working in space. There is so much to love about it! There are many other excellent museums for kids in the Bay Area and in most of the big cities in the US.
After-School Programs and Camps
After-school and summer time offer convenient opportunities for STEM learning. However, the quality of the programs vary a great deal, as there is no set standard on what the programs are supposed to accomplish and parents have little visibility in what’s offered. Having sent my daughter to multiple programs a year since she was little and ultimately building our own STEM curriculums at Create & Learn, I recommend parents pay attention to several key areas — background of people who build the curriculum, teachers’ experiences, how much personal attention kids receive, do kids just follow instructions or get proper guidance to develop problem solving skills. The hardest part is to have a clear learning path so kids continue to learn more computer science knowledge, as most of programs cover the same basic content.
Mix It with Day to Day Activities
Learning STEM doesn’t have to be always associated with purchasing toys, making special trips to museums, or paying for programs/camps. There are opportunities everywhere in daily activities to help your kids learn STEM. In fact, that’s a great way to approach it so kids can see how STEM is applicable everywhere every day. Pick the topics you are passionate about yourself — how curveballs curve, how cars work, how to build a birdhouse, science in baking a cake, etc. Your passion will spread to your kids as well.
Make it a Family or Friend time
Speaking of passion, we highly recommend parents doing STEM activities together with their kids whenever possible. Of course, we also understand parents are very busy and won’t be able to be there all the time. Another approach is to have kids learn together with siblings or good friends. As the MIT Learning Initiative puts it, kids learn a lot better in the creative learning environment where they can work with others, have fun, and do projects they are passionate about. The added opportunity of hanging out with friends could make the big difference between being excited vs. not interested in STEM. This is also why at Create & Learn, we offer sibling and friends discount to enhance the creative learning experiences.
These are the top ideas parents have told us in terms of what have been effective in getting their kids excited about learning STEM. This is the first of our series of articles addressing common challenges in kids STEM learning. Let us know what you think by sharing what you consider as top challenges in teaching your kids STEM and what has worked for you. We will be sure to include them in our future articles/final report.