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“Scientists and children belong together because they are the best learners in the universe.” The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind
We want our kids to get a great education. A FANTASTIC education. We want them to succeed in the future. We want them to be able to fulfill their dreams of traveling, supporting a family, giving generously to their community, and leading a meaningful life.
How can we set our kids on a successful path early in life?
Early STEM Education
We all hear about how important a solid foundation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is, especially from a young age. It’s all over the news. We’ve heard it for years.
Photo by James Emery
But why is early STEM education so important for young kids? Why not wait until high school to get the kids involved in science labs and technology courses?
Steve Spangler says, “Research shows that most children have formed an opinion (either positive or negative) about science by the time they reach the age of 7.” Wait, what?! AGE 7? This puts a huge amount of responsibility on parents and early childhood educators to give their students positive experiences with science. He goes on to say, “Early childhood educators have far more impact and influence on a child’s potential to seek out a career in science or engineering than at any other grade level.”
Why do we care about preparing our kids to potentially pursue a career in a STEM field? Let me answer that question with a few statistics from a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce published in 2011.
- STEM workers drive our nation’s innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas, new companies, and new industries.
- Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs. The job outlook continues to be promising as STEM occupations are projected to continue to grow.
- STEM workers are less likely to experience joblessness than their non-STEM counterparts.
- STEM workers command 26% higher wages than their non-STEM counterparts.
- STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations.
I can also tell you a little something from personal experience. I earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in chemistry without having ever paid a penny for my college classes. In graduate school my tuition was completely waived and I earned a small stipend on top of that for working as a teaching/research assistant. While my friends in other fields graduated with suffocating student loan debt, I graduated debt-free with a solid nest egg in my savings account. This is the norm for STEM advanced degrees, not the exception.
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What You Can Do
So what can you do NOW, as a parent or teacher of young children? How can you encourage an early love and understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math? How can you set your kids on a path to success?
Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
- Do fun science experiments and activities with them! Get their hands into it, get them thinking about what they are seeing, get them thinking about how they could alter the experiment the next time around. An enjoyment of and appreciation for STEM activities will benefit a child, no matter the educational and professional course they choose later on.
“Early childhood educators have far more impact and influence on a child’s potential to seek out a career in science or engineering than at any other grade level.”
- Supplement what they are learning in school with a program like Groovy Lab in a Box, which is basically a hands-on engineering lab sent to your doorstep each month. The investigations culminate into an Engineering Design Challenge, where the kids apply what they’ve learned from the investigations (and use their critical thinking skills) to complete the challenge. I can’t think of a better way to encourage STEM learning than to have a mystery box arrive on the doorstep each month! And even if your kids don’t end up pursuing a career in a STEM-related field, the critical thinking skills they develop in solving these challenges each month can really only benefit them for the rest of their lives.
- Visit your local science museum (find it here) and get a membership if you think you’ll visit regularly. This is a fantastic way for kids to get their hands on BIG science and engineering projects that you can’t do at home. They often offer classes and camps that enrich your child’s education. Plus, if your science museum is part of the ASTC Travel Passport Program you can get into nearly 300 museums around the country for free with your membership! We have used our membership to get into science museums in four different states for free as we have traveled this year.
- Make sure your home library is well stocked with science books that your kids can browse freely. Even before a child can read, pictures in books can spark questions and discussions about scientific principles. My kids’ favorites on our shelf are The Usborne Science Encyclopedia and First Illustrated Science Dictionary.
So what do you think? Is early STEM education important? Is it overrated? What are some things you are doing to encourage your kids/students to engage in STEM? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below!