According to Payscale.com, the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM fields) comprise the highest-paying career opportunities for college graduates. What's important to understand is that exposure to these lucrative areas of study can begin long before your child is in high school or college.
Dr. Craig Bach, Vice President of Education for Goddard Systems, Inc., is frequently asked how soon parents should begin introducing STEM subjects to their little learners. "It really isn't about introducing STEM topics to children," says Dr. Bach, "it is more about seeing the activities children naturally do for opportunities to guide them in STEM learning."
When preschoolers play with blocks or solve puzzles, they are already establishing a foundation for STEM learning. "The goal is to encourage a playful, inquisitive engagement with the environment and support children's play with appropriate activities, resources and tools," explains Dr. Bach. "The great news is that there are a lot of high-quality organizations and really nice resources being created to support early STEM learning."
Toy companies such as LEGO, Rokenbok and K’Nex all offer a range of toys that promote science, technology, engineering and math activities. And apps like Kodable.com provide great activities as well. Kodable describes itself as "the first step in early programming education for kids 5 and up" and provides "the skills needed to learn any programming language later in life."
Kodable helps even very young learners with logic, numbers, typing, reading and direction and develops problem-solving and memory skills. Fortunately, parents don't have to have a strong technology background to be involved. Adult lessons and resource guides include straightforward instructions and explanations of programming concepts while enabling children to work (or play) quite independently.
Scenario: Your child identifies a problem and then uses Tinker Toys to develop a solution to address it. In the process, he or she learns the basic steps of completing an engineering project.
Activity: Work with your child to identify a problem he or she would like to solve. Try to identify a problem that allows for many different kinds of creative solutions. If your child has trouble identifying a problem, consider discussing different ideas that might inspire inventive thinking:
Future Transportation. In the future, we will need to develop new ways to transport people from one place to another. Encourage your child to build new ways for people to move around.
Living in New Places. What if we wanted to live under the sea, in a tree, in the desert, on the moon or on an elephant? What could your child create to help us do that?
Once the problem has been identified, lead your child through the following four steps:
This is a fun activity from the Goddard Schools for groups of two or more preschool-age children.
Scenario: A robot understands and responds to very specific instructions and often has limited abilities to do simple things. One child will play the role of a robot while the other child develops simple instructions to give to the robot. The goal is to accomplish the simple task of picking up a block and putting it on a table.
Activity: This activity builds fundamental intuitions about the difficulties and challenges of writing code for use in robotics.
Not all children will understand left and right, so remember to know the capabilities of the group and give appropriate directions that they will understand. You may have to model or give the directions until the children get the idea.
This generates a great conversation with children about core issues in coding and robotics. Review the time and challenges involved in providing step-by-step instructions for accomplishing one seemingly simple task.
Engage your children in the areas that most interest them. Keep in mind that, unless it’s nurtured, the passion and creativity of your young child’s mind can begin waning as early as the first grade!
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