How to Get Your Kids Interested in STEM (Without Forcing Them)
Hopefully your kids are getting an excellent education in science, technology, engineering, and maths in school, but these classes are likely not enough to generate lifelong interest in these areas for most children. However, as parents, there are many simple ways to develop in our children a greater love of teaching and researching STEM subjects.
STEM doesn’t have to love him or leave him a subject
I recently asked a group of Girl Scouts what they thought of STEM subjects: did they like it? Did they think they were good at it? I heard the decisive “no” of the majority of those present. And yet, when we did some actions (like the real Move the Turtle game to simulate programming), every one of them was involved and, yes, interested. They liked the class when they weren’t called “learning about technology,” or having to learn scientific facts, because there’s a test on Friday.
My daughter, despite her excellent grades in math and report cards, says she is not good at math. She’s less interested in robots than unicorns (that’s okay. She’s nine, and unicorns are magic). There is something about these subjects that makes children think that they either love them or absolutely hate them, or that they are good or terrible at them – there is no middle ground. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and if you imagine them differently, kids might actually find that they like these items.
This is important not only because STEM fields offer excellent job opportunities and our future depends on these children . STEM is the spirit of experimentation and objective assessment of information, a deeper understanding of our world. These are valuable skills and ways of thinking that need to be learned wherever children go later in life.
For helping with their homework (or having them explain the general core of math to you), we can immerse them in STEM every day – without forcing it on them – and make it kind of cool actually. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on schools alone to teach them math, science, and other STEM subjects. (This is not to criticize our math and science teachers who are critical of teaching children these subjects. However, children will benefit from more hands-on, self-directed learning outside the classroom to make the subjects entertaining rather than entertaining. .)
So here are three things we can do.
Make STEM Normal and Applicable to Daily Life
Children who dislike math or science have come to think of them as bad words, just as the word “taxes” leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many adults. They do not realize that outside of the classroom, these objects are present in all aspects of our life. We can note this in our daily activities, for example:
Cooking : Food Science Is The Best Science – Experiments You Can Eat! Kids can study chemistry, practice their math skills, learn plant anatomy, and other science lessons from the comfort of your kitchen. In Mental Floss has a summary of 10 scientific experiments relating to edible products, this lab book on kitchen science looks like fun, and I’m going to spend this kit candy chemistry with his daughter in the near future. But even common day-to-day things like explaining what happens when the water boils, why toast burns, or why you should melt butter if you want cookies to be chewy are ways to get away from math and science without being pedantic. …
Music lessons or poetry reading : Poetry is rhythmic and really just music in text form, andmusic is closely related to mathematics . You can point this fact to your children, or you can simply let them practice and read while unknowingly learning math.
Shopping and banking . Every time you deal with money, this is a good time to solidify principles such as the incredible interest effect, how to do quick calculations and estimates in your head, or how to make comparisons (fractions and unit prices). Most of the math we do with children when dealing with money is simple but important . Teach your child to understand money by acting like a bank .
Any of their current interests or occupations: Almost any interest can be an opportunity to learn more about STEM. For example, Google Made with Code has a project where your budding fashion designer can create an LED-lit dress. If your kids love cars, this is a great car (sorry for the pun) for demonstrating physics ( Real World Physics Problems has several resources on this subject). If your child is playing or watching sports, a lot of math and physics can also come in handy.
Make it fun and practical
Aside from being invisible to you in your day-to-day life, the most important thing is to encourage kids to have fun learning STEM skills. For some kids, this may mean learning the science of mucus, for others, inventing their own video game . Whatever you do, don’t turn it into a lesson. Focus on the experience instead. A few suggestions:
- Go to a museum or zoo . It doesn’t have to be a science museum. Children’s museums tend to have STEM exhibits, and even history and art museums offer the opportunity to learn about the history of technology, how things were created, etc.
- Play STEM toys and games with your kids. We’re overwhelmed by Minecraft and LEGO bricks are making us bankrupt, but you might have a budding engineer or programmer in your hands if your child enjoys these and similar “toys”. LEGO has its own robotics and coding kits, including the new WeDo 2.0 line for younger students. Amazon has a whole section of STEM toys and we have access to tons of apps to teach your kids to code . You and your kids can also get carried away with old-fashioned fun science experiments like making lava lamps or watching what happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar. Check out several STEM subscriptions that bring projects to your door every month.
- Watch science and technology shows with your child . On come to mind Bill Nye, “scientist guy” (which is on Netflix) and “Mythbusters.” Common Sense Media also has a list of science shows for kids of all ages .
- Let your child be your IT assistant or repair assistant. I became an IT professional in my family because I was the only one who read the manual. Have your child read the manual and help you set up the next new tech thing in your home, or ask him or her to fix your computer problem with you. It’s the same with projects around the house, which can improve your child’s problem-solving skills.
My child’s teacher changes the types of activities that the children do, one subject for each lesson, which, in my opinion, helps a lot. So, for example, there might be a card game “match an animal to the environment” for one part and “draw foods this animal can eat” for another part. You are dealing with no more than 20 children in a class (hopefully), but only yours, so you can cater to your kids’ interests, be it drawing, reading, music, physical play, or whatever.
In all honesty, the best thing you could do is show interest and enthusiasm. The best inspiration you could give is to just spend time with you exploring these things together.
Reduce focus on grades and praise the process
STEM fields are heavy. They score more rigorously in them than in other subjects , and with so much emphasis on test scores in education today, students probably don’t get enough of the inspiring, hands-on learning that leads to sustained interest. Instead, children develop “mathematical anxiety ” and quit science because they don’t think they are smart.
As with bringing more girls to technology , one of the keys is to get kids to think it’s worth trying before it gets difficult, and to move forward, even if it’s difficult. A study by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck found that parents and teachers can praise, but it is counterproductive :
They often overemphasize ability, talent, or intelligence. The opposite is praise for a good process. This is a praise for the process in which the child participates – his hard work, the testing of many strategies, their focus, perseverance, the use of mistakes for learning, their improvement.
We conducted a study in which we recorded videos of mothers interacting with babies one, two and three years old. The more mothers praised the process, the more their children had a growth mindset and a desire to be challenged in five years. And now we are finding out how much better these children are doing even two years after that.
It doesn’t have to be straightforward praise. It can be as simple as doing a STEM-based assignment with your child and saying, “Hey, how did you do that?” and be interested in the process.
However, the goal is not to impose these items on our children, but to cultivate love for them (in addition to developing their other interests and hobbies), so know when to back down too. Forcing a child to solve math puzzles before they can play Temple Run is like making them eat all the spinach or do nothing at all. Spinach becomes the villain.
So incorporate more STEM lessons into your family’s daily life, but focus on getting your kids involved. When the pleasure they get from a science project or math problem outweighs their fear of failure, I think we’ve done our job.