If you’ve been asking yourself “what is STEM?” you aren’t alone. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is an acronym to describe these four academic fields. The term has been around for years and continues to remain on the top of many parent and educator priority lists. STEM-first schools get positive press coverage, government officials love to mention it when discussing education initiatives, and almost every parenting magazine covers the topic at some time or another.
Why Is STEM Important?
Parents want what is best for their children. If I’d never heard of STEM and you told me I should get my kids involved in STEM activities I might shrug. However, if you then told me it could lead to better odds of acceptance into good universities and a sound career I might listen up. STEM has become so popular for a rather depressing reason.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the ability of 15-year-olds around the world in subjects such as reading, math, and science. The goal is to see how well kids are prepared for the real world.
As of the 2018 PISA study kids here in the United States scored better than average in reading and science, but below average in math. While this at first might seem positive, it’s worth pointing out that our mean performance has had no significant improvement since 2000 (reading), 2003 (math), and 2006 (science).
Test taking might not be fun and certainly won’t predict a child’s future potential. What we should take away from the study is that we are doing good, but not great. As a nation we could do much better. The problem with the lack of significant progress is that high-paying tech jobs in the U.S. will go unfilled by Americans. This isn’t to say that we should adopt a xenophobic mindset that only America has great minds for tech jobs. Rather it is important as parents to prepare our kids so that when it comes time to land that sweet job at a tech company with cool perks and awesome pay, our kids can compete with a global talent pool.
Introducing Your Kids to STEM
If you recognize the importance of a strong STEM foundation you might also ask how you can help your children. For parents that already have STEM careers this might seem simple. However, not all parents have this experience. Even if you aren’t the nerdiest of nerdy dads you can still play a leading role in helping your kids develop STEM skills.
Schools Aren’t Always Doing It Right
Many parents believe that when they send their kids to school each morning they are getting the education they need. This really depends on the school your child attends. In some cases this is probably true. Unfortunately, in many instances this isn’t the case.
Take the time to review the school’s curriculum. If you don’t feel appropriate time is being given to STEM subjects you may need to be more proactive in your child’s education. Assuming you can’t teach the skills yourself at home, try finding after school programs. Here are some suggestions:
- StemForKids – around since 2011 they specialize in engineering and computer sciences courses
- Mathnasium – provides online and in-person math courses for students in elementary through high school
- Khan Academy – covers STEM content as well as arts, economics, and life skills
- MakerKids – provides virtual after-school programs with a max class size of 5 students
Supplementing your child’s education at their normal school with some of the above can help them develop new and valuable skills faster than their peers.
Find Fun STEM Activities
Learning might not always sound fun for kids. It’s important to find activities that capture and keep their attention. Coding games for kids can be used for just this purpose. These games will introduce your children to coding concepts. Many start with basic drag-and-drop activities so kids aren’t discouraged. Lessons build up to text-based coding. Your kids will learn how to develop games and their own websites.
Using games is only one such activity. You can find board games, like chess, that also foster STEM skill development. It’s also helpful to look around town for some fun activities. Maker events can be extremely exciting. At these events kids can go around and play with all sorts of gadgets. By its very nature the maker movement requires a curious mind. Makers can be of any age and they love to talk about their project. If your child can’t stop asking “why” take them to a maker event. Their curiosity will be satisfied at least for a little while.
Discover Activities Your Kid Enjoys
Not all kids learn the same way. Some enjoy hands-on activities and can’t stand to read a guide. Others will read the guide twice and watch a bunch of tutorials before diving in. It isn’t necessary to debate what the “best” way to learn is since we are all different. What is necessary is find the activities that help your child learn best.
If your child likes to explore the outdoors than go for a hike and bring along a book to learn about leaves. This could lead to a career in science later in life. Is your child a constant tinkerer? Pick up a STEM DIY kit and let them go at it till they succeed. Museums, summer camps, and similar activities can all bring excitement to learning something new.
STEM subjects are important and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. The good news is that parents can play an active and important role in their child’s education. Make learning fun and your child will have a distinct advantage as they enter college and the workforce. Even more important is that they will have developed useful skills and confidence all while expanding their minds. That is a win on multiple levels.