STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, is a term that is used a lot these days, especially in the educational field and the job market.  Schools need to focus more on STEM because employers are looking for applicants with a background in STEM.

Policymakers offered a solution: increase access to STEM courses in high school.  So high schools across the nation have been working to improve STEM course offerings over the past decade or so.  But according to Education Week, an increase in class opportunities does not directly translate to more students entering a STEM related field, or even in more students taking the new courses. 

Researchers believe this is in part due to schools missing the mark early on with kids.  Students are curious in their early school days, but schools often wait until middle school, or even high school, to really delve deep into topics that embrace science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, if at all.  By then, it’s too late for many kids.  Their curiosity has waned, and now many STEM topics seem too hard for them, or they feel the subjects would take too much effort to learn.

What’s the solution?  Introduce STEM in an interesting and developmentally appropriate way sooner rather than later. 

Obviously, you cannot ask a 5-year-old to design and build a bridge, or a 7-year-old to work out advanced calculus problems to figure out the rate of radioactive decay of a substance.  These are clearly outlandish examples, but the point is that some of the same principles of complex topics can be pared down to their core and introduced way before high school. 

Kids are smart, and they definitely understand more than we sometimes realize.  Providing your kiddos with many different learning opportunities early on can only be positive.  Read on for a few ideas on how you can introduce STEM to your kiddos, perhaps in ways that may have been overlooked in the classroom. 

Astronomy

The far reaches of the skies have long been of interest to adults and children alike for millennia.  In school, students are exposed to the earth and the heavens.  However, they rarely get to experience anything more challenging than learning about the earth’s rotation and revolution around the sun, explaining day and night and the seasons.  There is so much more to discover! 

Simply using a telescope can open up a world previously unknown to your child.  You and your youngster can probe as far as the eye, or rather telescope, can see.  Observe the moon and planets.  Explore the innumerable stars.  View a passing asteroid.  Chart your favorite constellations.  Witness a comet shower.  The choices are endless!

You could also focus on astronomy related hands-on activities.  Make models of the solar system, craters on the moon, or the surface of the sun.  Build a rocket, then shoot it off!  You could even let your kiddo use his or her imagination to create a custom space vehicle.  Fostering a love of space and all it has to offer is as simple as introducing it to your child.  See how far he or she takes it.  You may have a future astronaut on your hands! 

Cooking

It is not until well into middle school that kiddos get to really experience the various wonders that take place in the kitchen.  Family and Consumer Science courses, formally known as Home Economics, provide a general overview of how a kitchen functions and how to cook in it.  However, these courses are generally not available until at least middle school, and then only a basic understanding is taught.  

Younger kids rarely get a chance to engage is any cooking-related activities, even though kids love to be in the kitchen.  One concern is safety, though there are a number of ways you can safely involve them in your cooking activities.  Have younger kiddos stir, wash, or scrub, while your older kids chop, fry, and bake.  It is important to teach your kids how to safely accomplish any task you give them in the kitchen.  Be sure to model your expectations, and always closely observe what your child is doing. 

Cooking incorporates so many elements of STEM, from physical science and chemistry to fractions and measurement.  If your child shows a joy of cooking, be sure to get them in that kitchen, and before long, they may be whipping up some delicious dishes for the whole family!

Engineering

The “E” in STEM, for engineering, is often overlooked, especially at the elementary level.  Many people don’t really know what engineering is, or they have a very limited idea of what it entails.  An engineer uses science and math to create cost effective solutions to problems involving mechanics or technology.  They also develop and use skills in many other areas as well, such as communication, collaboration, and creativity.  Engineers are problem solvers, and new products are often created by engineers.  Though many subtypes exist, there are six main types of engineers:  mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, civil engineers, petroleum engineers, electrical engineers, and aerospace engineers.  With so many possibilities, it should be simple to find an area to explore with your children.

That’s exactly what Christine Cunningham, Vice President at the Museum of Science in Boston, has done.  She has developed a program called Engineering is Elementary, and she and others have used it with over 4 million students.  This program gives teachers the curriculum they need to teach the Next Generation Science Standards in a fun and interactive way, focusing on engineering at every grade level K-12.  With her program, students learn to think like an engineer, use failure to spur future designs, and flex those critical thinking muscles. 

Kids are naturally engineers.  They love to build things, take them apart, see how they work, or fix things.  These are all qualities that make a great engineer! 

Coding

Steve Jobs thinks everyone should learn coding, also known as computer programming.  This is because programming a computer teaches you how to think.  Coding is writing down the instructions for a computer in a specific “computer code.”  The computer understands this information, and then it performs the task outlined in the instructions. 

Many coders learn on their own or attend college and earn an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. Coding is generally not taught in the K-12 setting.  However, there are many benefits of children learning to code, such as allowing them to experiment, building crucial skills in math and science, and expanding their critical thinking skills.  They might even be able to learn how to create websites, apps, or games.  

Because the benefits of teaching coding to younger kids are widely known, many companies now offer programs for parents to use with their kids.  Some such programs are Daisy the Dinosaur, Hackety Hack, and Made with Code by Google, though many, many more exist.  Check it out, and get those little fingers going on writing code.  Who knows?  One day it might lead to a lucrative career for your kiddo. 

Entrepreneurship

Running a business takes a lot of time and hard work.  Entrepreneurship also incorporates all the elements of STEM, and can really be a game changer for kids.  Entrepreneurship teaches sales, marketing, product development, money management, and customer service, just to name a few.  Schools usually don’t have the capabilities to teach these skills through the model of entrepreneurship.

Fortunately, Boss Club has everything your child needs to start his or her own business.  Each kit includes everything your kiddo needs to get started—raw ingredients, packaging, materials for advertising, and curriculum that gives step-by-step instructions for the whole process. 

The Boss Club business boxes allow your child to develop many important STEM skills all at once!  The instructions are easy but also flexible, to allow for creativity.  The kits have everything in them, and refill kits are even available.  Kids become more confident as they learn to navigate the many avenues of business ownership.  They will also learn about managing money, as lessons on financial literacy are included.

Running a small business takes so many different skills.  Your scientists will be causing physical and chemical changes, as well as chemistry, in any of the three Boss Club Business kits available.  Watch your little engineers construct new products, and help your tiny mathematicians figure out their profits.  Use the latest technology to advertise and gain new customers.  Viola!  Your kiddo can hit all the elements of STEM with one project! 

Takeaway

Schools are not able to do it all.  Even though high schools are doing a better job of providing course opportunities for kids in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, kids just aren’t interested.  Finding an avenue for your child to develop his or her skills in STEM is more important now than ever.