STEM Head Start: What Parents Can Do to Bring STEM Basics Home
“The lesson: Start early, while you still have your kids’ attention.”
If you have a child who asks you questions like, “Why does the sea salt burn my eyes?” or “How can I fit my bike into Uncle Jim’s corvette?” resist the urge to Google. Instead, use these queries as an opportunity to bring a little STEM into his or her summer activities by encouraging real research, hands-on experimentation, problem-solving and teamwork with family and friends. Why? Because eventually, when everyone is ready, it will get them out of the house and keep them there.
STEM is no longer only useful for budding engineers and winners of the school science fair. Every child should be enrolled and engaged at a young age. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills are now required for nearly every occupation- from boat captains to welders to publishers. They are crucial to your child’s eventual survival in the workforce. Whether your child dreams of being a doctor or a diesel mechanic, he or she will need a foundation of STEM education, STEM skills and STEM competencies.
Adding STEM activities to their current interests is just one key to getting your children involved in STEM activities early on. Making it an element of play or working it into a favorite hobby will get them engaged without them even knowing it!
Let’s just start with LEGO. How tough could that be? If you have kids of a certain age there are probably some LEGO pieces lying around the house. Pick up one that has eight raised dots on it. Put it next to another one with eight dots. If you can find four more similar bricks, you and your kids now have access to about 915 million LEGO combinations (Global Educator Institute, February 2015.) Next, write some words on the sides of the bricks and make some sentences. Keep going- the combinations are endless! Before you know it, you’ll have snapped together a math and literacy empire.
If your child seems more inclined to bake a Bundt cake, kitchen measurements can be a place to launch a STEM cycle. Lay the foundation using traditional measurements like cup of sugar or a teaspoon of salt. Is sugar flammable? Try roasting a marshmallow. Can certain ingredients combust when combined? Baking soda and vinegar are a timeless combination. The kitchen is full of all sorts of STEM what -to -do, what- not -to -do learning opportunities.
The computer is not always the enemy. While parents seem to be constantly battling the small screen for their kids’ attention, computer graphics and animations can stimulate interest not only in the games themselves, but in how that game was created. At the age of twelve, my son started a YouTube channel, commentating over video games. I worried about him being in contact with strangers on the Internet, but it turned out to be a positive. He built strong public speaking skills through the experience as well as learned to be quick on his feet.
A friend of mine talked about his nephews:
“As the boys were growing up it baffled me that all they knew about computers was how to turn it on and use it. They could never fix a simple problem. Write a program. Connect to a network. But more importantly, they never showed any interest when I offered to teach them. When I was their age, I was tearing apart engines, building electronics. I was exposed at an early age to mechanics, electricity, etc. by my father who was an electrician. Basically, I developed tech/mechanic street smarts.”
The lesson: Start early, while you still have your kids’ attention.
While we’re talking here about engaging your kids in STEM related extracurricular and hobbies, it’s important too to keep tabs on their school work, especially math! ... Ensuring STEM has become a key component in their education is critical - as it’s not currently an automatic when designing lesson plans. If you’ve already started STEM activities at home, you’ll have a smoother transition to the classroom.
Getting STEM home-based exercises in front of your kids isn’t a “maybe this summer” thing or even a “next weekend we’ll start,” thing. It’s a now thing. Take some time this very weekend to include your child in helping to prepare that “dish to share” at the neighborhood party. When they set up that lemonade stand, be sure their pricing requires change-making. Dig those LEGO pieces out of the couch. It’s one way of guaranteeing not only a less lumpy seat, but one less likely to be occupied by your high school or college graduate.
There are many more home-based activities that represent STEM learning while the kids are also having fun. Click here to see my additional suggestions and more supplemental information to help you bridge the gap!
From Playdough to Plato provides activities for preschoolers to connect with STEM through playtime. http://www.playdoughtoplato.com/
STEAM integrates art and creativity into play and future workforce skill development. Encourage creativity. http://stemtosteam.org/case-studies/sesame-streets-s-t-e-a-m-curriculum/
18 STEM Activity Ideas, Resources to Promote Summer Learning at:
Follow @STEM4Parents on Twitter where I post fantastic resources for parents to make the STEM connections that translate into everyday life and learning.