By Anne Jolly
How can students continue to grow in STEM habits and attitudes through holidays, weekends, and even during the school day, given the relatively short time that STEM teachers can interact with a class of students?
Consider this: parents may be an untapped resource. After all, who else is more interested in a child’s success, both in school and in the world of work, than parents and teachers? With a few tips, parents might become your best, most enthusiastic STEM assistants. These tips may be just what they need to get started with this STEM venture.
STEM Tips for Parents
- Encourage your child to be curious and to ask questions. Is your child always asking “why”’ and “how?” Great! That’s a STEM way of thinking. This mindset can signal the beginning of a desire to solve important challenges such as protecting our environment, curing health problems, or solving water and food shortages.
To keep your kids curious, display curiosity about things you see and show your own interest in learning – your enthusiasm will be likely the greatest motivator for your child’s interest. Ask them to look around for situations right in front of them that need answers or solutions. For example, they might wonder: How can I stop the squirrel from getting to the bird feeder and eating the bird food? Design my own wind chimes? Make a new piece of furniture for my room? Build a robot? Design new fashion jewelry? Find a new use for some things around the house, like an old suitcase? Create a miniature garden?
When they identify problems to solve, turn them loose and let them work on solutions.
- Make your home a “STEM Zone.” You may have heard about the Maker Movement, which encourages people to invent, create, and share. Create your own home learning lab – a space where your kids can make things and design solutions for their questions. Supply materials for their “making” needs.Then, once you set up space and supply the materials, step back and give your kids the freedom to tinker, explore, and create. Be sure to find opportunities for them to share their creations in a positive atmosphere.
If your child needs some ideas for STEM projects, you and your child can get plenty of project ideas on the PBS Design Squad. Also check out Discover Engineering (Under “Hands-on Activities), Cool Projects for Kids of All Ages, and Instructables.
- Search out STEM-related recreational activitiessuch as a trip to a museum or an Exploreum. Visit robotics competitions or Maker Faires. Visit zoos, theme parks, and other educational sites. As you tour these sites with your child, point out real-world engineering applications. Call attention to how theme park rides operate. (How are they constructed? What science principles are they using?) Take your children on hikes and talk about everything from the environment to how the trails are constructed.
- View educational programming with your kids. TV and movie time doesn’t have to be mindless—Plenty of entertaining TV programming relates strongly to STEM fields and provides kids with a wealth of information in the process. Try History Channel’s Modern Marvels, PBS’ NOVA, and the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth. These tried-and-true favorites have hundreds of episodes covering a variety of topics, from space exploration to the invention of chocolate.
- Encourage your child to participate in STEM-related extra-curriculars. Some popular programs may include Science Olympiad and FIRST Robotics. In after-school STEM clubs such as the 4H Club and Girlstart, kids learn about engineering, robotics, and aerospace. These types of experiences build confidence and empower kids to feel comfortable in STEM.
- Encourage persistence.Staying on a task and not giving up is one of the most valuable qualities children of any age can develop. Explain that when they design answers for a problem, they may come up with ideas that don’t work the first time or the first several times. That’s okay. In fact, that’s even good! No one learns much from getting something right the first time. It’s the mistakes we make that keep us learning and growing. For tips on building persistence, try Kidspot and Archetypes.
- Celebrate their experiences as they question, create, and learn. Success involves more than coming up with a right solution. Celebrate what they are doing and what they are learning. STEM learning is about fun and sharing. Whacky ideas and solutions are welcome.
Your children can help change the world. At its heart, STEM is about solving real-world problems. The world is going to need more and more graduates with the skills to identify problems, visualize explanations, design possible solutions, then implement and test these solutions. Imagine your child among these graduates, helping to change the world for the better. Now there’s a goal that teachers and parents need to work together to achieve!