Parents increasingly want their children to succeed in STEM-focused subjects because these interests can often lead to high-paying and interesting careers. However, interest in science does not spring miraculously out of nowhere in high school and college students. Starting your child on the path to STEM success starts in elementary school. And it starts at home.
To get kids ready for STEM subjects later, you need to engage them in activities which promote critical thinking, numeracy literacy, and scientific reasoning.
To that end, here are five ways to get kids involved in science at home.
Focus on Depth not Breadth - It is not necessary for elementary students to know a little bit about everything. They will take a wide array of survey-level classes later in life. Right now, it is important to get your kid excited about science. Introduce them to a variety of topics such as dinosaurs, rockets, and computer programming through books, museum visits, and computer activities. Then, when they develop an interest in a particular topic, encourage them to go deep. Buy them books, watch documentaries on the subject together, and plan outings related to their interest. It is not unusual for 9-year-olds to be obsessed with a subject for a year or more. Their love of dinosaurs may not lead to a career in palaeontology, but their passion will make science more approachable later.
Give them Hands-On Activities - Colleges know that students do not learn science strictly by sitting in a lecture hall. They need the lab component to experience the experiments themselves. So too does your elementary student need hands-on activities to foster their love of science. Consider science-related gifts for birthdays and Christmas. These can include chemistry sets, telescopes, and ant farms. Realize that these toys require adult involvement and dedicate time to helping your child get the most out of the present. Another gift idea is buying your child a science subscription service. This way, they will receive a new science experiment every month. Kids love receiving letters and packages in the mail, and they will look forward to their science package all month long.
Encourage Math Literacy - It’s been said that mathematics is the language of science. While your child may not remember the facts he or she learned in 3rd-grade science class, the fractions and decimals taught form the basis of higher learning. The first thing you can do is eliminate “math is too hard” language from your household. Math may be challenging at times, but any student with normal intelligence can master it with proper teaching and enough practice. If your child does not understand the math being taught at school and you cannot help them, consider getting an outside tutor. Salman Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, has noted that missing one concept in elementary school can set kids up for a lifetime of struggling with math. There are even ways to make non-math activities incorporate basic mathematical principles. For instance, when you are baking with your child, have them figure out how many quarter cups become a half cup. Look for ways to incorporate math into everyday life.
Use Bedtime as Learning Time - Many families with elementary school children read to their kids at bedtime. Usually, they choose novels so the family can experience an adventure together. One way to introduce STEM subjects to your kids is to occasionally choose a good science book for kids instead of fiction. Booksource has a number of options and the site indicates the appropriate grade level for the books. You can look for tie-ins to topics your children are interested in like programming, video games or virtual reality. Additionally, consider reading biographies of scientists to your children so that they can picture themselves as scientists in the future. There are some great elementary level biographies of people like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.
Let Them Know They’re Capable - Too many times children shy away from math and science because they get the impression that they “aren’t good” at the subject. This can come from teachers, other students, or even you as their parent. Be active in counteracting this idea whenever it pops up. Emphasize that becoming good at science and math is a matter of effort, not talent. Also actively work to counteract stereotypes that pop up around STEM subjects like “girls are not good at math”. Let them know that, whatever their demographics, they are capable of excelling in math and science.
Preparing your student for later success in STEM fields involves cultivating the right attitude about math and science, giving your kids the opportunities to explore their interests in the subjects, and providing encouragement along the way.
Whether you are watching Bill Nye the Science Guy on Netflix together or taking your kids to the Natural History Museum, there is a lot you can do to encourage your child to develop the skills necessary for science and math success down the road.