Encouraging Your Child's Interest in STEM

Interest in STEM is a ticket to a rewarding, interesting, and secure career, and teaches your child much more than can be learned in a classroom. Foster your child’s curiosity by making it feel like play, and he'll come away with a tremendous gift.
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Encouraging STEM in children
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.
― Dr. Seuss

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields have been making the news lately, especially in regards to education. These are the fields that create progress toward the future and advance the human race, and they also happen to be the fields that offer the best career options―and those options will only go on to expand as investment continues to flow toward the development of new technology.

So, of course you want your child to be a part of this process―not only do the STEM fields open up potential career paths, but they also open up a world of exploration that will never stop enriching your child’s life. Kids are born curious and creative, which are the two most important traits of workers in these fields.

How to Keep Curiosity Intact

Bring Science Home
STEM-related concepts are all around us every single day, everywhere we go. There’s science in the weather, math in shopping, engineering in the Lego tower, and technology in the computer. Mention these things to your child. Instead of just commenting on the fact that it’s raining, ask him why it rain, and encourage him to think through an explanation, even if it’s wrong. Then explain the correct reason, and maybe look up a clip on YouTube. When shopping, ask your kid to calculate the change you expect to get back. Teach him to fry an egg, and ask him why the white turns from clear to white, and then take the opportunity to explain the denaturation of proteins.

If it’s been awhile since school, you could probably brush-up on certain concepts yourself. Think ahead and look up the information ahead of time, so you have an answer at hand. Alternatively, if your child asks a question you don’t know the answer to, look it up together.

Never Discourage, Always Encourage
There comes a time in most parents’ lives when they can no longer help with the math homework. Whether that time comes for you during algebra or calculus, it’s tempting to console your child by saying, "That’s okay. I was never good at math either. As long as you pass." Stop doing this! Being uncomfortable with math is the result of poor past experiences or a poor foundation. It’s not genetic. Start assuming that your child can do math properly, or science, or whatever he’s struggling with, and tell him that. When he hits a rough spot, acknowledge his frustration, sympathize, then tell him that he’s definitely smart enough to do it―would it be useful if we try looking at it a different way?

Gather Study Aids
Sometimes, no matter how smart, dedicated, and capable both you and your child are, you may still struggle with certain subjects or concepts. Don’t brush it off―this is the time to call in reinforcements. Look for study aids, tutors, and opportunities for extra help. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune―there are plenty of websites that do a fantastic job of explaining things at whatever grade level, for free, so ask your child’s teacher for recommendations. Also ask about after-school study sessions or school-sponsored tutoring. Tutoring isn’t just for those who are behind, it’s for those who want to get ahead―regardless of ability.

Provide a Stimulating Environment
Even if your child is gifted in a STEM field, it’s easy to get bored with school, and get tempted by the TV and the mall, and whatever his friends are doing. Seek out programs that foster an interest in STEM outside school hours. These can be incredibly fun, and they make STEM fun―and when your child enjoys something, he’ll want to learn more about it. It won’t even feel like learning. Look at environmental outreach programs at a local park, space camps, summer internships at local labs, and events at the local science museum. There are loads of opportunities out there, especially at the high school level.

Even if your child ends up pursuing a different career path, growing up in a STEM-friendly home will give him a sense of how to think critically, observe, and gather facts. He will instinctively question the world around him, and learn to form conclusions based on facts. Most of all, your child will learn what can happen when you pursue your interests and discover your passion―and few lessons will serve him better than that.
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Published: October 8, 2013
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