On the surface, “STEM” may come off as a little scary. Especially for those kids who have never been exposed to things like coding, robotics, engineering, and the like, parents might be receiving feedback along the lines of “this is too hard” or “I don’t like this sort of stuff.”
Not to mention the challenge for parents themselves—taking notice of the fact that 2.4 million STEM jobs are projected to go unfilled in 2018, and asking questions like “Do I need to be a STEM expert in order to get my child interested?” There might be even more pressure if your child is one who already has an active interest in STEM, leaving you a bit unsure of how to best feed their passions.
This fear of the unknown can be tough to overcome. For kids, they are accustomed to associating “learning” with school, and thus, being introduced to anything that might not be taught in schools is a challenge. For parents, many of us aren’t STEM experts whatsoever, so being tasked with sparking or fueling a passion seems like a tall order.
Wherever you and your kids might fall along the lines of STEM interest and fear, take comfort in knowing that you have options; or, many tools at your disposal to either help spark an interest or passion—or help develop one that already exists.
Be warned, though. There is no magic formula that works without fail. A lot of your success depends on the child, their established interests, and other personalized circumstances. It takes trial and error, figuring out which levers work when pulled, and which should be avoided.
So, the sooner the better. Kids are naturally curious. The young mind is free of any stereotypes that might get in the way. They aren’t afraid of failure. And, the sooner you can get started, the better odds you have at getting something to stick.
Here four easy steps you can take to encourage an interest in STEM—and some things you can be doing to bolster a passion that might already exist.
1. Take an interest inventory—and connect those interests to STEM.
One of the things most people might not realize with STEM, at least initially, is just how wide-reaching it is. It goes far beyond a science lab. It’s more than sitting in front of a computer and engaging with complex code.
The opposite is actually true. STEM is everywhere!
So, talk with your children and take inventory of their interests.
Do they like sports? If so, they might be interested in the ideal angles a basketball must take from anywhere on the court to go through the hoop. Or, that air flow, wind resistance, and air pressure all impact a baseball when it leaves a pitcher’s hands. Or, that math can be used to better understand how good a player is in terms of their batting or earned run averages.
Or how about music? The basics of rhythm, time signature, and meter are all rooted in math. Talk to them about the job of a sound engineer, or that of a music machine learning engineer. Or animals? Wouldn’t it be cool if they could one day build an app that helps pets find their forever homes?
This can go on and on, as we are only looking at a few particular interest areas! Such an approach can be carried out with literally any interest. All it takes is a little bit of research and a conversation.
2. From there, become the student.
Once you’ve made a connection between your child’s interests and STEM, let them take the reins as teachers. It has been said that teaching, or talking to others about what you’re learning bolsters retention and challenges you to learn even more.
To explain, if your child anticipates you asking questions or wanting to know more about a particular topic, they will be challenged to learn more and be prepared for when that time comes. This role reversal will lead to them inherently taking ownership of the topic, and empowering them as the subject “expert” who is proud to teach mom and dad some new things!
3. Next, find a few STEM role models.
First, put aside the thinking that a role model has to be a big name movie star on TV talking about STEM. One, they’re hard to find, and two, the level of impact your child will get from listening to a celebrity talking about the need for kids to get involved in STEM won’t move the needle.
Instead, embrace those who have been successful in turning their passions into very successful realities. These can be leaders of the large tech companies you read about every day, or even students your child’s age who are accomplishing big things—we do live in an age where such stories, backgrounds, missions, and more are all more accessible than ever.
We also live in a world where anyone with an idea can turn that idea into the next big thing. Depending on your source of data, there are hundreds of thousands of new businesses created each year. That means hundreds of thousands of people who have succeeded in making their dreams something real!
Beyond that, engaging with a STEM role model can be as easy as talking to and or/shadowing a professional in their workplace. Know any video game developers? Data scientists? Website designers?
4. Last, go from learning to doing
After going through the three previous steps, your son or daughter might be itching for something hands-on! Or, like some parents, you’re fortunate that your child has taken a very active interest in STEM at a very young age, and could have jumped straight to this step to begin with. That’s great, too!
But, depending on your student’s school, making STEM tangible through activities and structured learning might not be an option, which means you might have to look outside of school, to other local resources.
Summer programs like iD Tech offer fun and immersive STEM learning experiences, where kids and teens choose from over 50 innovative courses in coding, game development, robotics, or design, and then spend a week (or more) learning and creating a very own project of their own.
It’s at a place like summer camp where kids – regardless of skill level, beginner to advanced – can really dive into STEM, learning among like-minded peers in small classes, making new friends, and preparing themselves for the future STEM job landscape.
Chances are your kids might already be enamored with video games, mobile apps, social media, Minecraft, Roblox, LEGO, and more, right? Summer opportunities like iD Tech provide the creative outlet for kids and teens to move on from simply consuming such technologies to really learning what makes them tick, and creating their own.
More about iD Tech (and a promo code to save on registration!)
iD Tech programs are local, with camps held at Emory and Georgia Tech, and 150+ other prestigious university locations nationwide. Thus, students will have the chance to learn STEM while getting a taste of collegiate life, exploring a prestigious campus, and joining a community of 350,000 iD Tech alumni.
Students can learn to code, design video games, produce videos, mod Minecraft, create with Roblox, engineer robots, model and print 3D characters, work with AI and machine learning, build laptops, learn about cybersecurity, and much more.
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