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  • Siba Al Shouli

STEM Learning in Early Years: Valuable, Fun and More Accessible Than You Think

STEM, as a term, has been associated with older kids or even professionals. However, recent research has shown that STEM is beneficial in the early years. The term is a buzzword now for young children and older ones alike. So what is STEM and why is it gaining popularity recently?

What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It has been previously associated with older kids and professionals who work in the STEM field, in jobs like engineering, tech, computer sciences, agriculture, bioengineering, health care sector, etc. Those jobs were, and in many cases still are, more associated with men than women. STEM learning, however, is more than what the acronym stands for. It is a holistic way of learning that integrates all four fields together, and encourages learners to build 21st century skills like critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, among others. The speed of digital advancement has made STEM education more relevant than ever. It's very critical for our children’s success, not only in school, but also in everyday life.

What does research have to say?

Recent studies also revealed that children can benefit from STEM experiences at an early age. Children are natural scientists. They are curious and inquisitive and are always asking questions about the world around them. How does this work? Why is this happening? What is the difference…? These are only some of the questions parents and caregivers receive from children as soon as they start talking. These questions lay the foundation for analytical thinking, curiosity and creativity and children should be encouraged to keep asking them as it helps them develop new ways of thinking.

Evidence has also shown that children who are not introduced to STEM early, miss opportunities, compared to their peers in higher years and in the workplace. There’s a correlation between introduction to STEM experiences at an early age and later success in STEM subjects in school and later in their jobs.

Research has also shown that girls are as capable as boys in learning STEM, however, their involvement in the workplace is more limited. Whether its cultural reasons, social biases or gender stereotyping, girls are under-represented in the STEM field and parents, educators and policy makers need to help change that reality.

What Can Parents do?

According to one study, many American parents think school is more important than out-of-school STEM experiences. However, parents are essential in helping children make connections between what the children learn inside and outside school. Parents need to be aware of the benefits of STEM learning, to be able to support their children and encourage STEM activities at home. Some parents may feel anxious about supporting their children’s STEM education, however, there are so many other ways parents can help their children develop STEM learning- from planting a flower, to building a fort, or flying a kite. Those playful activities can spark children’s interest in STEM. For example, planting a flower can teach children about science; life cycle, the parts of a plant, how plants get nutrients, and much more. They also learn about measuring in mathematics; how much water the plant needs, how much the plant has grown, ...etc. They can also design and engineer their flower pot. Whether children repurpose a paper cup, or an egg shell, or a zip-lock bag, they can use their creativity, curiosity and problem-solving skills to create the perfect pot. Children can use technology to record their experiences. It will be especially cool if they use time-lapse to see how the flower grows over time!

This is only one example of how a simple activity can turn into a STEM lesson at home! There are also ample tools available for parents to help them do the same, including mobile apps designed to introduce children to STEM, STEM-based toys, experiment kits, online resources for DIY activities at home and interactive hands-on STEM camps or coding camps. Boys and girls must be equally encouraged to pursue these activities.

Key takeaways:

  • STEM learning is not new, it’s just a modern, holistic way of engaging children with the world around them.

  • It is never too early to start STEM learning, even babies are natural scientists. They are curious, imaginative and resourceful.

  • STEM learning instills in children a lifelong love for learning. This helps them in academic success, literacy and beyond.

  • STEM experiences are easier than you think. Just allow your child to explore, ask questions, use their imagination and solve problems.

  • STEM is for both girls and boys.

  • Starting STEM education early narrows the gender gap in STEM and makes the STEM field more accessible for girls.

  • STEM is fun for both parents and children and there are lots of resources and tools to help you with STEM experiences at home, including high quality educational apps.

Everything in our modern world relies on STEM. From communicating with our loved ones, to living comfortably in our own homes, commuting to work, the food we eat, the workout we do, the healthcare we receive, it’s all based on STEM concepts. Therefore, we highly encourage you to allow children to be part of this wonderful world sooner than later so they are able to grow and thrive as successful young adults.

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