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Start them young: How to get children to develop an interest in STEM

Different types of play can help students develop skills that are critical to STEM. Source: Shutterstock

You may order food, read eBooks and navigate the roads using different apps on your phone, stream shows on your laptop and marvel at complex architectures within your local community or when travelling abroad.

All of this is possible thanks to individuals working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Clearly, STEM permeates just about every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so long into future.

However, STEM graduate shortages have been reported both in Asian and western countries. For example, a Pew Research Center report found that half of Americans think young people don’t pursue STEM because it is too hard.

It added: “Smaller shares say the main reason more young people don’t pursue degrees in STEM is that they think STEM subjects are not useful for their careers (23 percent) or they think these subjects are too boring (12 percent).”

This is despite the fact that STEM workers typically earn more than non-STEM workers, making this relevant to low-income families.

So how can teachers and parents instil students or children with a love for STEM?

Incorporating informal STEM learning

According to reports, the key to getting children interested in STEM may lie in exposing and making STEM interesting for them from a young age.

The Center for Childhood Creativity (CCC) report noted that STEM thinking begins in infancy and that these roots “must be encouraged through engagement and play in order [to] inherent tendencies to develop into lifelong STEM thinking skills”.

Meanwhile, a recent EuroScientist report by Sean Olesen notes that while children learn math and science throughout school, “programmes in engineering and technology are lacking”.

“Researchers say that an early education in mathematics and other STEM fields can improve a child’s learning abilities and narrow the gaps between children’s educational achievements. By making STEM interesting to a child at a young age, you can improve their chances of greater success later in life,” it says.

The author noted that children need an environment where they are encouraged to try new activities and explore new things. Some of these include:

  • Exploring the outdoors, such as your backyard, and teaching them about the grass, rocks, water, etc.
  • Let your child safely interact with kid-friendly animals
  • Encouraging your child to ask “what” questions as opposed to “why”

Even activities such as baking (i.e. using the right measurements for each ingredient), buying food (i.e. counting change) and building structures with blocks are said to help a child get involved with STEM, as these activities incorporate mathematics and elements of engineering.

The report added that adults should avoid expressing  “fear, disapproval, and absence”, as it can constrain a child’s interest in STEM. For example, parents who discourage their children from trying new things may cause them to stay in their comfort zone, inadvertently curbing their curiosity from trying or learning new things.

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