One of the hardest things about getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields is that they simply don’t have a lot of exposure to it beyond being users of technology. Girls in particular get shorted when it comes to STEM opportunities, because many of them feel they’re bad at math or science even when they aren’t.
Add to that the fact that “on average, students in kindergarten through third grade spend 19 minutes a day on science and 89 minutes per day on language arts,” Vanessa Stratton, vice president of programs at Project Lead the Way told Hackbright Academy. Because of this abbreviated exposure, “young people begin to see science, technology, engineering and math as a series of discrete facts that have no connection to their lives.”
It’s not surprising that given this fact that by the time they reach high school, only 37 percent of students say they like science classes.
So what can you do to get kids—and especially girls—interested in STEM? Hackbright Academy offers some tips for parents or guardians.
Explore the world together
Take your kids to museums, botanical gardens and zoos. Encourage them to ask questions about science and nature and find the answers by doing research. Remember that not all science has to be done in classes at school. When they’re a little bit older, get them to check out lists of citizen science projects to see if there’s a way they can participate. They can even learn coding through free classes online or do at-home science experiments.
Introduce them to STEM professionals
You don’t have to personally know doctors, software engineers, mathematicians, or other STEM professionals. There are plenty of books about people who are pioneers in these fields; visit your local library for some suggestions. Make especially sure to introduce your daughters to stories of female scientists like computer scientist Ada Lovelace, Nobel Science Price winner Marie Curie, or NASA programmer Margaret Hamilton.
Provide them with the right kind of toys
Focus on multi-functional toys that allow for open-ended play. Also, don’t stick to the old tropes of “dinosaurs and Legos are for boys, and cooking and Barbies are for girls.” Building blocks, anatomy and physiology coloring books, games that encourage kids to learn how to code, can help. Encourage your kids to go outside with some basic supplies and explore—observe insects and wildlife, for example.
Find the science in your kid’s hobby
Just about every hobby in the world, from sports to music to cooking to gardening and playing computer games, has some science involved.
“Computer science is becoming infused into all areas of our lives,” says Stratton. I would encourage parents of kids who might feel like science isn’t for them to look closely at a hobby or interest of theirs and find the science, technology, engineering, and math involved.”
Above all else, don’t forget to be persistent. The most important thing parents and teachers can do is to provide support and encouragement. Sometimes that can serve as the tipping point for getting students hooked on STEM.
What do you do to get—and keep—students interested in STEM? Let’s talk about it in the comments.