According to academic experts, introducing our children to STEM at an early age isn’t a bad thing. However, as parents, the challenge is determining how to sustain their interest.
The acronym started by the National Science Foundation is the educational approach that centers on the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math.
In an era when technical expertise is becoming more and more critical in the American workforce, exposing children to STEM learning in their early years or before middle school is key to their later success, said Dr. Christine Bae, an assistant professor of educational psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA.
According to Bae, allowing children to self-direct their curiosity by asking questions about the world around is a great start.
“One approach is to expose children to a variety informal STEM experiences,” she said. “Museums, after-school programs, at-home activities, and books are some examples. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking a question about something observed in the natural world. For example, ‘How can I see the moon during the day?’ ‘Where does the water go once it evaporates?’ Are good questions for them to ask.”
However, Bae does note that there can be societal aversions for children to participating in STEM, which could turn them off to mathematics and science at an early age.
“There are many possible reasons for kids' and parents' aversion to STEM,” Bae said. “Although the importance of science or STEM literacy is well-known, unfortunately, we continue to see gaps in the pursuit of STEM education and careers along gender, racial, and socioeconomic lines. Inequitable access to quality STEM learning experiences may also lead to the loss of students' interest in STEM. Young students often come to the classroom with a natural curiosity to understand the natural world around them, but if science is taught using a fact-based approach that doesn't allow students to explore different ideas, their interest and drive to pursue science can quickly diminish.”
While children are in middle school, Bae said that parents and teachers could take many positive steps to maximize the learning environment for children.
“Middle school is a pivotal stage in which students begin to make concrete decisions about their future academic and career pathways,” she said. “It is also a rapid and dynamic stage of development in which relationships with peers become very important, too. Teachers and parents can leverage this by creating STEM learning experiences that promote social and collaborative problem-solving debates and projects. These types of activities also mirror the way that science is conducted in the real world.”
Bae is the author of the article, “Opportunities to Participate (OtP) in Science: Examining Longitudinally and Across Socioeconomically Diverse Schools,” which was published in early Dec. 2018.
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