The Importance of Introducing STEM to Young Girls
You may have heard about STEM education or the importance of girls/women entering STEM fields, and while it may seem like the latest trend, it’s actually a very important movement. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Teaching kids STEM skills is important in our changing world because as technology improves more and more jobs will require people to have an advanced understanding of how to use, troubleshoot, and fix the technology they encounter. Learning the critical thinking skills that are required to be well rounded is key and learning these early is the best way.
Studies show that gaps in math and science can begin to widen as early as kindergarten and many of the students find themselves unable to catch up again as things progress. Math itself is very much like building a house and without a strong foundation, the house will not be as sturdy as it needs to be. Early intervention through STEM enrichment is one way to shore up any weak points in a student’s ability to understand and use the information to solve problems they encounter. Introducing STEM to young girls, therefore, is a great inoculation against the problems they may face throughout their school years.
You may have heard people talking about being in the “information age” and one skill that is more important than many others in this culture is to be able to assess information for its reliability, truthfulness, usefulness, and value. Teaching children how to break a big concept down into smaller parts and then analyze those parts is a big part of STEM education. The earlier your child can learn this the easier their life will be.
It is especially important to encourage STEM-curiosity and STEM-confidence in young girls. While we all know now that girls and boys have the same ability in all fields, the cultural miasma through television, books, and even people with older ideas still influences girls to feel that they are not able to be good at math and science, or that they don’t have the capacity to learn how to build, direct, or invent. While these messages are starting to fade with time as we learn more and more about the human brain and the reality that anyone given proper opportunity can learn about any subject that interests them, there are still leftovers that will creep into your young girl’s experience. Combatting this by giving them opportunities for early learning in STEM and letting them be successful can help them guard against these outmoded ideas.
No matter what career path they might choose in the future, being comfortable with science, technology, engineering, and math will be important everyday skills for them just like reading and writing. Nobody would ever suggest that only people who want to be authors should learn to write a short story, but there are still people who think that only scientists or math teachers need skills in these subjects and that could not be further from the truth!
There are a variety of ways to enrich your child’s experiences in STEM at home and choosing a few ways that will work for your family will benefit everyone in the long term.
Introducing STEM through games
There are many games that you can bring in to introduce STEM concepts from learning origami and playing Tangrams, to board games that use math or engineering. It’s always a good investment to buy games that are fun first, and that involves casual use of math and science in the mechanics of the game. Take time to look for games that use strategy and are cooperative for the best bang for your buck when using gaming to teach skills.
Using the power of imagination
Unstructured play with a goal is a great way to let kids use their brains and flex their intellectual muscles. The old standbys of blocks and other building toys have endured because they help children learn about engineering in a hands-on, low consequence way. Building a huge tower and then learning what happens when it is exposed to adverse conditions is a pastime of many a toddler. Build it up and kick it over! You can expand on this by giving them a little more motivation by suggesting a problem that must be solved. “Can you build a bridge that the animals can use to get over the river?” can be a spark that ignites a play session with a purpose. Make sure you let them succeed and fail on their own as much as possible, remember the purpose is to think, not to be instructed.
Keeping the house stocked with good information
When buying books, make sure you get some non-fiction books as well. Books about dogs, cats, dinosaurs, trains, airplanes or any other subject your child latches onto can help them expand their knowledge and also foster a love for finding information and learning. Putting in a mix of storybooks and information books can help flesh out a library that your child will love to have access to.
Making a plan to work as a family to solve a problem is an amazing and rewarding way to let your little one in on the magic of life. Build a box fort together, design a country and draw a map and flag for it, or even just build the biggest block city you can. Getting down into the floor and playing with your child, asking questions, and letting them try out ideas can be an all-ages adventure.
Remember that introducing STEM to your child should be a fun experience, don’t focus too much on perfection or even success, the effort put in is often the point. Grades and tests are for school, introducing STEM to your child should be a way to help her explore her own skills and abilities and make decisions that she wants to and learn about her power and purpose. Starting young is how you build a strong foundation for later experiments and inventions, so find any way you can to help your child explore the magic of science, technology, engineering, and math.