Curious Kids Science

Fostering STEM skills at home

Fostering STEM skills at home

In my last post I talked about the top 5 attributes that employers are looking for in their STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) employees.

I am convinced that the skills that were referred to by employers in STEM areas are universally desirable for employers in all fields. These are the skills that will be hardest to program into computers so I see them as being the tools that my kids are likely to need well into the future.

So, what next?

Based on my reading and research, here are the three things I will be doing with my daughter to support her in developing the skills that will help her to get to the places she wants to go in life.


#1 Let her decide what and how she wants to explore

I have spent a lot of time introducing science topics for us to work with. This has been a very important part of encouraging her interest in STEM and I intend to continue. Children need a knowledge base before they can build on it.

Increasingly though, I will be guided by her interests. I give her the power to conduct experiments the way that she wants to do them.

By allowing her to manage her investigations, she will need to take responsibility for thinking through the design of her experiments (critical thinking) and will also have to analyse the results (ability to learn on the job).

I know a lot of people will think that experiment design is beyond the grasp of most 5 year olds but that’s not true. Once children are familiar with scientific methods, you will be surprised by what they can achieve.

This weekend my daughter asked for 3 pieces of dry pasta, 3 cups and sugar and salt. She put water in each cup, then added sugar to one and salt to another. She placed a piece of pasta in each. Over the next few days she felt the pieces of pasta and compared whether any one had become softer than the others and whether they were getting bigger.

She eventually decided that they were all about as soft as each other. On day 3 and she noticed that the salt had dissolved but not the sugar.

It isn’t rocket science but I think it is pretty great start.

Over time, I hope that her interest in exploring will lead to problem solving skills as she tries to understand why some of her ideas and experiments fail.

This brings me to my next action.


#2 Let her make mistakes and fail

As parents we often watch our children try to do something. As we watch them, we know for certain that what they are trying to achieve is not going to work out. For me it is instinctive to try to take charge and show my daughter the “right” way to achieve her goals.

An example of this happened today. We were going to paint a milk carton and turn it into a bird feeder. There are two types of paint in our craft box, poster paints that are thin and water based and acrylic paints which provide much better coverage.

My daughter chose colours from each type of paint. I REALLY wanted to explain to her that the poster paints would not cover the writing in the carton. I knew that it would save time and frustration for both of us. But, with my new commitment in mind, I let her go ahead.

As she was painting she commented that one of the paints wasn’t “working” properly. I got her to show me the paint and the problem and then we looked at the bottles and tubes. At that point, I explained the difference between water based and acrylic paints.

I’m pretty sure that if I had tried to explain before she started painting, she would just have been frustrated with me and would have been unlikely to remember my explanation. This way, she is more likely to remember that the different paints have different properties in the future.

By allowing my daughter to fail, I have showed her that failure can actually lead to learning and I have provided her with the opportunity to problem solve with me.


#3 Discuss my day and reflect with her

I am lucky that my daughter in genuinely interested in my job.

By day, I do not work in a STEM related field, but like most people I need interpersonal skills to do my job well. We already regularly discuss my work but I am going to start to talk more about the way that I work with others and not just about the tasks that I am working on.

I want my daughter to understand that how I go about getting my work done, is critical to the quality of my output.

I would love to hear what you do to help your kids to develop the skills you want them to have! Please let me know in the comments section.

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