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5 Ways Parents Can Support STEM Learning

Friday, September 11, 2015 -- Sarah Cornelius

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is becoming more and more important – and with good reason. These are necessary skills in today’s tech-savvy world, and they represent a pathway to some of the most in-demand jobs that our economy has to offer. How can you help encourage (or spark) an interest in these fields with your child? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, surgeon, or coding guru to do it! Take a look at these five simple tips to engage your child in STEM learning outside of the classroom.

1. Encourage questioning

Is your child always asking “why”’ and “how”? That’s a STEM mindset—and it can be the beginning of a drive to solve important challenges like protecting our environment, curing diseases, or engineering new clean energy technology. Even if the questions seem relentless at times, embrace this curiosity. Take the time to explain the things that you understand, and when your child poses a question that you don’t have an answer to, look up the answer together (and model good research practices in the process). Who knows—it may spur some new interests for you too!

2. Give educational programming a try

TV and movie time doesn’t have to be mindless—there is plenty of entertaining programming out there that is strongly related to STEM fields and educational in the process. So, the next time you and your child are browsing Netflix together, give the “documentaries” section a look. Long-running programs like the History Channel’s Modern Marvels, PBS’ NOVA, and the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth are tried-and-true favorites with hundreds of episodes covering a variety of topics, such as civil engineering, space exploration, and evolution. If those shows are a little too much to hold your child’s interest, there are also plenty of kids’ and primetime television shows that have more of a STEM theme than you may expect. Sid the Science Kid is a great option to spur a science interest in early learners, while shows like CSI or Numb3rs, both of which focus on real-world applications of forensic science and math to solve crimes, can spark an interest for older students.

3. Visit a science museum

What better place to allow your child to get up close and hands on with science than a science museum? And they’re not difficult to find. There are over 150 science centers around the U.S., and about one third of those even have areas designed specifically for children six years old and under. These museums typically include a variety of exhibits that explain complex and fascinating science and technology concepts in creative and accessible ways—giving visitors the chance to run their own experiments, play with gadgets, or check out live and video-based presentations. So, plan a weekend outing to your local science museum, or check out this list of the 10 Best Science Centers, and think about working a visit into your next family vacation itinerary. Most of these institutions have great websites with additional resources, activities, and ideas to inspire STEM interest as well.

4. Seek out STEM extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities, even for young students, don’t have to be limited to sports or performing arts—there are plenty of STEM-based options too. There are numerous science fairs and engineering design competitions that self-directed students can seek out. For students wanting more guidance or a social aspect, math and science competitions are hosted across the country by various organizations (like Science Olympiad). Think of these competitions as a team geography bee for math and science, complete with practices to prepare. The FIRST Robotics and Junior FIRST Lego® League programs have also grown very popular in recent years. These competitions challenge teams of students to solve real-world science and technology problems by building robots with the mentorship of an industry professional. It’s projected that over 400,000 students in grades K–12 will participate in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) programs during the 2015–2016 school year.

5. Make career connections

One of the most important actions in fostering an interest in STEM is showing children where it can lead them. So, make an effort to expose them to different options for a career in STEM. If you’re in a STEM field yourself, bring your child to work with you one day. Have friends or family members in a STEM field? Ask them to talk to your child about what their jobs are like, or even set up a job shadow if your child has a strong interest. There are also programs available in many school districts to match students with mentors or internships in various job fields, including STEM ones. If you’re unsure of where to start looking, Pathways to Science maintains lists of STEM internship programs for K–8 and high school students.

Want to learn more about the importance of STEM education? The U.S. Department of Education has a number of great resources on STEM programs and initiatives. Interested in finding out more about how Edmentum’s online solutions can support and supplement STEM learning? Check out our brochure on Strengthening STEM Education!