A year ago at the White House Science Fair in Washington, D.C., President Obama announced one of his administration’s biggest educational initiatives: a $240 million commitment to inspire boys and girls — especially those from underprivileged communities — to excel in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, or STEM as they’re popularly called. It was a bold and ambitious plan, but one that only confirmed what statistics have been telling us for years: STEM is our future.
What is STEM
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. These fields are grouped together, particularly in educational settings, because the skills and knowledge in each discipline are essential to solving real world problems.
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U.S. STEM Stats
STEM offers some of the most lucrative careers in the country. An average STEM graduate will make $65,000 right out of college, as opposed to the $49,500 a year made by non-STEM graduates. Those numbers are even higher when considering just computer and engineering jobs, where a recent graduate can make upwards of $72,000 a year. Best of all, these opportunities are yours for the taking. STEM jobs are increasing at a rate 1.7 times faster than jobs in any other market. By the time a kid who is 12 years old today graduates college in 2022, there will be millions of new STEM jobs available to him or her.
Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough kids who will be ready to take those jobs. Despite how ripe the field is, only 16% of high school kids say they’re interested in pursuing a career in STEM. When you get to college, that number dwindles even further, with 40% of students who start out in STEM switching to another major by the end of their first year. Clearly, interest in STEM is shrinking among our nation’s youth, and you can see that fact reflected on a global scale. In the 1970s, 40% of the world’s scientists hailed from North America; today only 15% do. But how can we change the tide? How can we push back against this disinterest, not just for the sake of our children but for the sake of our country as a world leader in science and technology?
Hooked on STEM
While good schools are obviously extremely important when it comes to the development of children’s STEM skills, it turns out you can be making a huge difference for them outside of the classroom as well. The best way to get kids interested in STEM and keep them interested is by helping them develop a healthy relationship with these concepts. Science shouldn’t just be a topic for school hours, and its value shouldn’t be measured in grades and report cards alone. Science affects every single part of your children’s world, from the food they eat to the video games they play. You need to instill in your children the idea that learning about science will make the world more exciting and interesting if you want them to remain curious about it for the rest of their lives.
STEM Activities for Kids
The cool thing about this is that, as a parent who is really encouraging your child’s STEM education, you will also discover lots of opportunities to bond and have fun with them. There are tons of great STEM-focused activities you can do with your child on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Trips to the zoo and nature walks are opportunities to discuss plant life, animal life, biology and more. These are time-tested, fun childhood activities you’d probably take your kids on anyway. But by encouraging their curiosity and encouraging them to ask questions about what they see, you’re encouraging some of the fundamental tenants of STEM. Science, after all, begins when someone wonders why the world works the way it does.
STEM activities can also be found inside the home. If your child is interested in food, then baking can offer some excellent experiment opportunities. Examining how different ingredients affect and interact with one another is a natural gateway into chemistry, plus you’re left with some tasty treats to share once the learning has ended. Building toys can also be used as STEM learning tools. LEGO sets, Erector sets and Lincoln Logs aren’t just classic toys; they’re also a chance to talk to your kids about the basics of engineering. The LEGO skyscraper your child builds today could be the blueprint for a real one in the future. Even video games have their place in a kid’s STEM education. Popular games like Minecraft offer more lessons in building and engineering. Or if your child is curious about where games come from in the first place, it’s never too early to start teaching them about coding. If you have a tablet or smartphone, there are already dozens of awesome apps that will show kids as young as 4 or 5 the fundamentals of computer coding. They may just be playing video games today, but they could be making a fortune designing them tomorrow.
Whatever your child is interested in, you can find a way to apply it to STEM. By personalizing it, you show them STEM isn’t boring. It’s the engine that keeps our whole world running. Most importantly, praise the process. Reward them for trying and failing, experimenting and asking questions. STEM shouldn’t be all about grades at this age. It should be about developing a healthy curiosity about the world and the way it works.
STEM is a crucial part of our world. Studies have shown that kids with healthy STEM backgrounds grow up to be more inquisitive, imaginative and creative. So even if your child is planning on pursuing a career in the arts or humanities, a foundation in STEM will still give them a huge leg up. And if your child is planning on joining a STEM field, then the world will be at his or her fingertips. Your child could be at the forefront of the next breakthrough in computing, engineering or medicine. Or even grow up to be the next STEM celebrity, like Mark Zuckerberg or Neil Degrasse Tyson. With STEM careers and income only increasing in our country, a STEM future is a bright future!