As they grow and change, children develop unique understandings of the world around them. Playtime facilitates this learning by combining children’s natural curiosity with their appetite for fun. In many ways, exploration through play is the earliest way children engage in the process of scientific inquiry and discovery.
Unfortunately, playtime is sometimes where scientific learning plateaus. Even though schools offer general science subjects, early-age coursework in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects are limited. Specifically, many schools lack engineering, computer science, and technology classes.
Even the general science classes can be inadequate for developing STEM-related knowledge and skills. In fact, only 34% of 10 year olds are proficient in science, despite evidence that children find the subject interesting. The discrepancy between interest and learning opportunity is even more evident among women, who throughout their schooling and adult careers are underrepresented in some STEM fields.
Luckily, parents can help close the gaps in children’s empirical and technical learning. Here are just a few ways you can engage your children in science, technology, engineering, and math at home.
Explore the outdoors through hikes, visiting parks, or just through spending time in the backyard
Encourage children to interact with animals, and teach them about basic biology. Teach children to ask “what” questions about their environment
Play logic games and brain teasers to develop problem-solving skills
Work with playtime building materials, like blocks or playing cards, to understand friction, patterns, and repetition
Play scavenger hunts with maps to teach kids navigation and how to follow steps in a process
Teach kids about simple machines, like levers and pulleys, that you use in everyday life
Plan, design, and build a structure with blocks
Build a ramp for their toy cars or their bicycles together to explore motion and angles
Use cooking and baking as opportunities to learn about measuring volume, weight, and temperature
Practice money skills by taking children shopping or playing pretend with play money
Use waiting times to play verbal math games. Take turns asking your child age-appropriate addition and subtraction problems, and then let her ask you math problems, too, so she can see how you work with numbers.
Develop their natural curiosity
By engaging children in STEM, you’ll help kids not only develop their natural curiosity but also increase their chances of finding a satisfying and successful career. Those in STEM-related roles earn 26% more than those in other fields, and STEM employment has grown from 9.7 to 17.3 million since 1990. Evidently, an early interest in these topics can have long-term rewards.
Whether or not your child becomes an engineer or doctor, making STEM fun is essential for developing children into lifelong curious learners. By engaging kids with science and math in everyday play and activities, you can set your child up for success in any field by honing their critical thinking, research, and analysis skills. For a brighter future for everyone, encourage STEM learning at every age.