What is STEM?
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are largely used to influence innovative solutions to our world’s problems. Day-to-day decisions are increasingly being driven by data, with 90% of the world’s data generated just in the last two years. The proliferation of global access to mobile technology, the internet, and other innovations indicates that future generations should be STEM-literate. Demand for STEM jobs has increased so much that 2.4 million STEM-related jobs in the United States were expected to go unfilled in 2018.
Encouraging early STEM education for young children today will not only help develop interdisciplinary critical thinking now, it will also help set your child up with the critical, relevant skills that research says will be integral for your child’s future success.
Why STEM Education is Vital for Kids
STEM education is not just for college-level or even high school students. The U.S. Department of Education links a strong formative math education with future success in areas outside of just math, predominantly reading.
Early development is critical for future growth. Researchers report that the brain forms the most active connections during childhood. Nourishing a child’s inquisitive mind with new information supports active neural pathways at the most critical time of development. Constructing this foundation sets children up for future cognitive and socio-economic gains.
STEM programs and lesson plans exceed a science education. Not only does STEM education teach hard skills, it also fosters life skills, such as creative problem solving, logic, and resilience. STEM literacy empowers individuals with skills that serve them in STEM and non-STEM fields, alike. The ability to evolve as technology evolves and grows prepares people for success in all endeavors.
Future STEM Career Pathways
STEM occupations grow faster than most other professions, command higher wages, and are required in non-STEM fields. Some examples of STEM careers include software developers, statisticians, and biomedical engineers. For further detailed information on STEM occupations, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a “periodic table” with details on entry to each field, career pathways, wages, and more.
Non-STEM Careers in a Tech-Oriented World
STEM increasingly integrates with non-STEM subjects, such as economics, finance, and linguistics. Higher education programs support STEM education for the professional development of people seeking non-STEM degrees.
Yale’s Department of Economics cites the “quantitative and analytic nature” of their program as the reason for changing economics’ designation from a social science major to a STEM major. Yale isn’t the only university readjusting their outlook; Princeton, MIT, Columbia, and other universities have also reclassified economics as STEM.
Diversity: STEM is for Everybody
Society traditionally regards STEM fields as masculine. The National Science Foundation reports that only 30% of women are employed as scientists and engineers in the United States’ STEM workforce. However, though a great understatment, it was largely girls and women who have influenced the world for what it is today.
Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer, dating back to 1815. Katherine Johnson, featured in Hidden Figures, was so exceedingly good at math that her job at NASA was quite literally to check the work of computers. Of course, there are many others who have gone unrecognized. A welcoming learning environment and strong STEM curriculum empowers girls to pursue STEM fields, including computer science.
How Can Parents and Teachers Encourage STEM?
Engaging in a diverse set of projects and activities best encourages passion and curiosity for STEM. Hands-on experiences, strong role models, and exciting problems motivate children to want to learn and grow. Through a blend of different projects and activities, STEM teachers and parents not only nurture a love for STEM, but also develop children’s desires to tackle complex problems that require a wide range of skills.
As the U.S. Department of Education outlines, parents do not need STEM degrees to help children learn science. Armed with just a magnifying glass and going outside, parents can teach kids about the world by asking children to observe, ask questions, and think about what they see about everything, from bugs to mud puddles.
STEM is for Young Kids Too
STEM is for all ages! Many local science centers host events that are designed particularly for young age groups. Young children discovering the world around them for the first time have much to learn and absorb from these programs.
In fact, just playing with children and offering creative, hands-on experiences inspires inquisitive minds. Toys and games that stimulate curiosity are excellent teaching tools. LEGOs, building blocks, as well as tinkering stations with items like string, straws, pipe cleaners, colorful tape, and popsicle sticks aid fine motor skills and spatial skills. Not only that, but they also teach how to plan, inquire, and think like scientists.
STEM Projects for Kids
Project-based learning provides a strong sense of accomplishment, teaches resilience in the face of difficult problems, and shows how people adapt and learn from failure. Mentoring and guiding a child through projects builds confidence and gives them the tools they need to make their own ideas come to life. Many of Juni’s students utilize what they learn in our courses to program their own games, websites, and more. With someone there to help debug particularly tricky problems and offer guidance, students can pursue wilder, more creative ideas. We have also written more extensively on great coding toys and games for kids.
Beyond coding, there are many fun projects parents can do with their children, across all ages. Here are some selected project ideas and science experiments to get started!
- Rock candy
- Growing crystals
- Coloring flowers by putting them in solution
- Using imagination to build LEGOs
- Inspiring aspiring architects with KAPLA blocks
- Math Jenga
- …and of course, the traditional volcano!
STEM Activities for Kids
According to the National Science & Technology Council, the best STEM education should be interdisciplinary and blend different forms of learning. Some of the best STEM lessons can be found through correlated skills of inquiry, creativity, and genuine excitement. Engaging in a full breadth of activities best supports a well-rounded education that forms a fertile foundation for innovation.
Outside a formalized STEM education, parents can support their child’s passions in a wide variety of ways. By exposing children to nature emporiums, museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, and libraries, parents can inspire and nurture their child’s inquisitive mind and creativity. These locations often offer a variety of hands-on workshops, events, summer camps and programs, and more. Not only are these activities fun for children, but they’re great for the whole family!
STEM Helps Develop Lifelong Skills
The drive for discovery and exploration that early STEM education develops will serve a child throughout their life and help them adapt to a changing, tech-driven world. By encouraging a child’s interests and passions, parents help develop their child’s abilities to be resilient to challenges, inquire about the world around them, and creatively solve problems.