The demand for jobs in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (or STEM, for short) is rising each year. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that STEM jobs will be popping up at twice the rate as all other occupations through 2029.
For today’s generation of students, these stats are a call to action, and not just because of the job market. Kids who have a strong grasp of STEM concepts are able to translate those skills to other areas and be creative problem solvers.
So what can parents do to encourage their kids in STEM fields even at a very young age? Here are a few simple suggestions that can also be applied to classroom settings.
It may seem too simple to be true, but kids who have regular creative play time outside develop stronger motor skills than peers. The link between physical movement and learning is well-documented and children who feel connected to the natural world will be drawn to it. Having to interact and play with natural surroundings also forces kids to think about how things work, and how they play a role in the larger scheme of life.
Find STEM Lessons in Everyday Life
One in three American adults say they would rather clean their bathrooms than do a math problem. That’s a lot of people who would rather do just about anything than what was probably their least-favorite academic subject growing up. When we make a big deal out of topics like science, technology, engineering and math, and make them “work” to do, we risk our kids having a similarly negative opinion of the topics.
Look for simple ways in your daily routine to implement STEM concepts. This could be as easy as creating a grocery budget and asking your child to help you tally as you load the cart, or could include a more involved approach to fixing a computer or building a new website for your family business. It’s okay if you personally don’t know a lot about the topics: be willing to learn alongside your kids. You can also look up several age-appropriate STEM activities online if you really aren’t sure what to do with your kids.
Be Mindful of Your Words
If you are one of the aforementioned Americans who would rather be scrubbing a toilet than solving an equation, keep it to yourself. Parents are the most influential people in their kids’ lives and the way you talk about STEM topics will impact them. This is especially true if you have daughters, as research shows that young women tend to lose interest in STEM topics around middle school age when outside opinions really start to impact their decisions. Take a positive approach to STEM topics, even if they aren’t our strongest suit, in order to encourage your kids.
Limit Screen Time
It may seem counter-productive in a category that includes “technology” to limit electronic interaction, but it’s necessary. Simply taking in media through screens, whether on tablets, TVs or computers, is not interactive enough to be fulfilling STEM learning. If your kids seem to gravitate towards gaming or online concepts, look for concentrated ways for them to focus in small spurts (like by taking a coding class) instead of allowing them unlimited access to the technology.
When it comes to STEM learning, the best thing that parents can do is to be enthusiastic and look for ways to incorporate mini lessons into everyday life. Be willing to let your kids teach you a thing or two, too.