Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education plays a critical role in equipping children with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in science and technology related careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM occupations are projected to grow nearly twice as fast as non-STEM occupations from 2021 to 2031. Many parents want their children to develop a strong foundation in STEM skills and gain a deeper understanding of these subjects when they are young.
Cultivating a supportive and engaging STEM learning environment at home can spark curiosity and inspire creativity in children. Consider the example of Hans Bethe, a German-American physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967. When he had his son, Henry Bethe, Hans instilled a strong emphasis on science and intellectual pursuits within the home environment. Growing up in this stimulating atmosphere, Henry developed a deep interest in physics. Eventually, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Caltech and a PhD from Cornell, ultimately becoming a professor researching condensed matter physics.
Five Tips for Creating a STEM-Friendly Home
How should parents create a home environment that can promote interest in STEM? Here are five effective tips for creating such environment at home:
- Create a designated STEM learning space
- Provide hands-on learning experiences
- Expose children to role models in STEM fields
- Encourage a growth mindset
- Include STEM-related discussions and activities in everyday life
1. Create a Designated STEM Learning Space
Designating a specific area in your home for STEM learning can make a significant difference in fostering your child’s interest and creativity. This space doesn’t need to be extensive or elaborate. It can be as simple as a corner of a room or a table designated for STEM-related activities, experiments, and projects. The key is to create a comfortable and inviting space that encourages exploration and learning.
There are many specialty stores that offer fun and engaging STEM kits. Additionally, many toy stores carry STEM toys these days. Take the time to research these stores and visit them in person, or browse their websites and order some STEM toys online. Once you have acquired the toys, you can play with them alongside your child, or simply place the toys in a designated STEM learning space at home where your child can easily access them. Children, being naturally curious, will be inclined to reach out and start playing with the toys if they are accessible and age-appropriate.
2. Provide Hands-on Learning Experiences
(Scratch, coding game for kids)
One of the most effective ways to engage children in STEM education is through hands-on experiences, such as experiments, building projects, and coding activities. These experiences not only make learning more enjoyable but also help children to better understand complex concepts. Research indicates that children who engage in hands-on activities have increased motivation, better problem-solving skills, and enhanced STEM knowledge.
Other resources include science kits, robotics sets, and electronics kits that allow your child to apply learned concepts in tangible ways. Remember, these experiences should be age-appropriate and tailored to your child’s individual interests.
3. Expose Children to Role Models in STEM Fields
Exposing your child to inspiring role models in STEM fields can help them envision a future within these industries. Share stories, watch documentaries, and explore biographies of people who have made significant contributions to STEM fields. Becoming acquainted with famous individuals who have succeeded in STEM fields can help dismantle stereotypes, demonstrating to your child that anyone can excel in STEM regardless of their gender, race, or background.
I recall when I was a child, many biography books on famous people were available for students to take home. I regularly borrowed biographies of renowned scientists and inventors like Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison. Reading about the lives of these individuals was both enjoyable and inspiring, sparking my interest in science during my school years.
Being exposed to positive role models is especially crucial for girls and children from visible minority backgrounds, as they continue to face many stereotypes regarding their potential for success in the STEM field. Research shows that such role models can counteract some of the detrimental effects of these stereotypes.
4. Foster a Growth Mindset
Promoting a growth mindset is very important for children to succeed in STEM education. According to Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of motivation, growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This is in contrast with fixed mindset, the idea that intelligence is what you are born with and you can’t change it. With a growth mindset, children are more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as a path to mastery.
STEM subjects can be difficult, and children may encounter failure when engaging with STEM games or building projects using STEM kits. It is important to reassure your child that failure is a natural part of the learning process. Encourage them to view mistakes as learning opportunities and challenges as chances for growth. When your child achieves success, praise their effort and perseverance (“You put in so much work!”) instead of their innate abilities (“You are so smart!” – this is not a good idea). This approach will foster growth mindset, which leads to resilience and higher motivation for learning.
5. Include STEM-Related Discussions in Everyday Life
STEM education goes beyond the confines of school walls and designated learning spaces. Everyday life presents numerous opportunities for teachable moments. When your child creates a paper airplane, ask them how they can improve the design to make it fly farther – that’s engineering. While taking a walk with your child and observing thousands of ants in an anthill, discuss their activities – that’s biology. When baking a pie together, allow your child to measure the ingredients – that’s math.
By incorporating these concepts and discussions into daily life, you foster a culture of learning. You are encouraging your child to develop the habit of asking questions and thinking about answers using STEM principles. It also helps them become more curious about the world around them. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a scientist or know the answers to the questions you’re asking. In fact, it’s better not to provide easy answers. Try to ask open-ended questions and engage in discussions, rather than attempting to play the role of a teacher. Explore various possibilities and use reasoning to support or dismiss each option.
Creating a supportive and engaging STEM learning environment at home enables your child to explore their interests and develop a strong foundation in these critical subjects. By fostering curiosity, providing hands-on experiences, encouraging a growth mindset, and incorporating STEM-related discussions in everyday life, you can play an active role in setting your child up for future success in the rapidly evolving world of STEM.
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.