Children who develop STEM skills early in life tend to do better in school and have more successful careers than those who do not. The effect is particularly strong in modern times, since technology is becoming increasingly important and automation is eliminating many jobs that did not require technical skills in the past. That makes it vital for children to participate in STEM activities so they can develop those important skills and reap the rewards later in life. Fortunately, there are a few relatively easy ways to encourage children to take part in those activities.
Pick Toys Carefully
Children learn things and develop new skills as they play, so picking STEM toys when purchasing gifts can make a big difference. One of the driving forces behind the current gender disparity in STEM fields is the selection of toys that children use while they are young. The impact persists for years after the children move on from playing with those toys, so it is best to start early and make sure that they have the right things in their toy box.
In general, it is best to make sure that your children have access to toys that let them practice problem solving. Simple puzzles are a good choice, but building blocks and robotics kits are even better. These toys give the children a chance to develop their spatial skills while working through problems at the same time. Those skills will help them to perform well in STEM classes in school, which will encourage them to pursue those classes at a higher level.
Most people learn the most when they are interested in the topic. If your child expresses an interest in finding out how a machine works, or wants to try building something, be sure to encourage that interest and give them as much support as you can. STEM workers thrive on curiosity, so it is often a good idea to encourage interests that seem unrelated to the sciences. It will still make it clear that the children should be curious about the world and try to figure out more about it, which is the core urge that drives people to succeed in STEM fields.
You should also be careful not to discourage them when they show interest in a topic. If you act like their curiosity doesn’t matter, or actively encourage them not to investigate things, you will drive them away from the sciences. This is true even for things like cooking or philosophy that seem like they have no connection to STEM fields. The best scientists are always the ones who try to understand everything, and the best engineers are the ones are always tinkering and trying to improve things.
Make It Cool
STEM activities often come with a social stigma, especially for girls. People often act like they aren’t cool, and they mock people who take part in them for being nerds. That is very rare among small children, but they tend to pick up the habit as they start to get older and care more about what other people think of them.
You should intervene if you think that your child is stepping away from an activity do to social pressure. In most cases, the child will still want to take part, but feel like they have to stop doing it. When that happens, talk to your child and make it clear that they can keep participating, and that it doesn’t really matter what other people think about it. Positive examples will help to prevent this problem, so you should be willing to let your kids catch you taking part in similar activities.
There are plenty of people who would love to take part in STEM activities, but don’t have any opportunities to do so. Children who go to schools without any STEM-oriented clubs or live in isolated areas often struggle to act on their interests. If that is happening to your child, you should do whatever it takes to make sure they have a chance to try these activities. That might mean driving them to other areas, but it can also mean sponsoring a club in their school. Lots of parents have children with this problem, so you can often get great results by teaming up with them to make more progress.