Four Tips for Inspiring Learners through STEM
Admittedly, math was my favorite subject in school. I love the way that numbers come together to make shapes and patterns; to me, it's art. I acquired a love of learning early on and I think that there's more we can do to encourage a love and passion for learning through science and the practical applications of mathematics. Look below for four tips on how to encourage your children's passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) to inspire a passion for learning overall.
It's no secret that America's kiddos are behind in these subject areas when compared to other developed countries. As we move forward in this very technological world, we must look at bolstering these skills if we're going to succeed in the global economy. I cringe each time I hear of these company's shipping their tech jobs overseas and believe that we need to start our kids out, very early, to not only learn to love math and science, but to love learning altogether.
We have such a fascinating world that surrounds us. Start early with your children to teach them of the wonders that surround them, balancing the use of nature and technology to inspire creativity and curiosity. The wonders of STEM will help inspire a love of learning overall.
Here in Alaska we have access to some of the most amazing parks and trails, perfect for exploring and learning. It's great to get your kids out for a hike, but don't stop there, pack the little ones their very own adventure kit. Get them a backpack with all of the necessities for a budding scientist. Your kit might include:
Composition Notebook - Needed to draw pictures of the cool things they find or press flower samples into their pages
Colored Pencils - For drawing and recording information
Magnifying Glass - To really check out the things they see
Nature Books - Get some books on the local flora and fauna to look up the names and information about the things you find
Water Bottle and Snacks - Of course, these are a necessity
Here are two of our favorite nature books that go with us on all of our outdoor Alaskan adventures:
The first is the Waterford Field Guide for "The Nature of Alaska." This book has a great collection of information on wildflowers, plants, animals, fish, and birds. This goes on all of our adventures...it's so fun when the kids find something they've never seen and get to look for it in the book.
The second must-have is Verna Pratt's Field Guide to Alaska Wildflowers. This has been a longtime favorite of many Alaskans...a must for exploring trails and learning about the flowers and plants in our midst. Not only does Ms. Pratt give a great detail about each item, but includes an overview of medicinal and food use as well.
Keep in mind, you don't even have to go out on the trails to find these things, just a play date at the park can yield some exciting discoveries!
As a kid, my favorite game to play with my Dad was Cribbage; not just because I liked making combinations of 15, but because he left me win every once in a while. I love that when playing games we're not only interacting as a family but we're teaching our kids about learning and mathematics at the same time. Some of our favorite learning games have been:
HiHo Cherry-O - A great game for little ones to practice counting and learn their numbers
Dice 10000 - A simple dice game played with six dice
Cribbage - A great game for practicing quick addition and learning multiples
But keep in mind, games don't always have to be organized, they're a great way to pass time standing in line at the bank or walking through the grocery store. The PBS web site has a great list of games you play anytime, anywhere so before just passing over your iPhone to keep your kiddo busy while you're running errands. Consider some of their great ideas.
Now just when we've talked about getting outside and interacting as a family through games, I'm going to say...leverage technology. The truth of the matter is that the world is becoming more and more technological and we can't completely shelter our kids from it. That being said, it's also important that we monitor the information they receive and teach them how to process the things they encounter; not only on the Internet but on those in-app advertisements as well...these encounters are great teachable moments that can spur some excellent dialogue with your kiddos.
Before letting your little ones loose with those computers and iPhones, make sure you've discussed the fact that some content is not appropriate and that they should talk to you when they see something that seems wrong to them, even just some of those game advertisements. For those applications that have chat features, make sure you tell your kids that if someone ever asks them personal information, that should be a red flag to talk to Mom or Dad.
With that, our kids need to have exposure to technology and can benefit from so many learning opportunities from educational apps, to online resources...there's so much out there! Here's a few of our favorites:
Math Puppy - My second-grader's favorite math application where she goes on adventures with her puppy while practicing her math facts.
Sushi Math - Another fun math app where you race against a sushi-making octopus to solve math problems
MineCraft - For those who's kiddos have not delved into the world of MineCraft, I have to say, I was hesitant at first but I love the creativity it inspires. My oldest daughter just loves to build her world...it's such a fun way to learn problem-solving skills.
Be the Example
This is one I can't stress enough! As adults I know it's easy to get wrapped up in work and errands and keeping house, but can I remind you to keep your sense of wonder. Get excited when you encounter wildlife or something amazing. Share news stories about dinosaurs they've discovered, advancements in space exploration and transportation, or robots that are coming out...even as adults, we should still enjoy learning.
Don't talk about how you hate math because you were bad at it when you were a kid...don't lament the next school project because it means more work on your part. Instead, relish the time you get to share in learning something with your child.
Our kids look up to us and mimic our actions...sharing your own love of learning goes a long way towards teaching our kids to love it too.