Five things parents can do every day to help develop STEM skills from a young age

  • Published on April 6, 2018

5 things parents can do to encourage STEM from a young age

The development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills can be encouraged in children, even before they start school, by parents who are attuned to opportunities for learning.

I’ve previously introduced you to Rebecca Johnson, Narinda Sandry, Brenda Miles and Susan Sweet with their books and suggestions for including STEM in early childhood classroom learning, and soon I will be interviewing Andrew King about his beautiful Engibear series of picture books that focus on the engineering component in STEM. These supplement my own posts about incorporating STEM in the classroom here and here.

In this post, I share with you Five things parents can do every day to help develop stem skills from a young age by Kym Simoncini Assistant Professor in Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra. This article was first published in The Conversation. Throughout Kym’s article, you will notice links to other articles. Be sure to follow the links for even more great ideas and resources.

Now over to Kym Simoncini, University of Canberra

Five things parents can do every day to help develop STEM skills from a young age

Educators and researchers agree early literacy experiences are important for children’s cognitive and language development. For the past 30 years there has been a strong movement to foster children’s literacy skills. This has resulted in an abundance of information on how parents can do this by reading books, singing songs and nursery rhymes, playing word games and noticing print.

This is a good thing and should continue, given the importance of early literacy skills in learning to read, and how this leads to later success in school and life.

Read more:
Science in the home boosts children’s academic success

But in addition to early literacy skills, we should also be promoting early STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills. Early childhood is the natural starting point for STEM learning, as young children are curious and want to explore their environments.

Children are very capable STEM learners, and their knowledge and skills are often greatly underestimated by educators and parents.

1. Encourage children to notice things

Notice things in your environment such as changes in the seasons, new buds on plants, or the way things move in the wind. Children are often more observant than adults, especially when we are busy thinking about work and all the other things we need to do. Share your observations with your children and use the language associated with observations, such as noticing and observing.

Observation is the most fundamental scientific process. We form hypotheses and gather data from observations. With practice, children can move from noticing general features to more detailed or scientific features.

2. Encourage children to describe things they see and do

Ask children to describe the attributes or features of things they see and do. When your child sees a ladybug, ask them to describe it – what colour, shape and size is it?

Similarly, when your child is building something, ask them to describe what they are doing (or did). You can restate what they describe and extend on their words, increasing their vocabulary and confidence in using STEM language.

Only children who have had certain types of language socialisation are likely to choose to study or learn STEM in later life. Use words like predict, experiment and measure.

3. Ask ‘what’ rather than ‘why’ questions

Ask questions that focus on what your child can see or do, rather than why. This will allow your child to confidently answer questions and experience success. “What is happening to the bubbles?” is much easier for them to respond to than “Why do bubbles stick together?”, and promotes further discussion between you and your child.

We want to extend conversations and learning, not shut it down with questions that children (and often parents) can’t answer. It’s fine to later find out why bubbles stick together or any other why question, but in the first instance, ask questions children can answer.

4. Encourage children to count using one-to-one correspondence

Children need to be able to do more than count. Children need to know one-to-one correspondence: that “one” equals one object, “two” equals two objects, “three” equals three objects, and so on.

Parents can easily develop this skill by asking children to, for example, collect five pegs for the washing, or two eggs for the cake mixture. Or by asking how many bags of shopping there are or how many letters are in the mailbox.

Board games are great for helping children understand one-to-one correspondence – especially when they move their counter along the board according to the number rolled or spun. Think back to arguments you may have had over where Monopoly tokens were supposed to be!

5. Encourage children to think about space around them

Encourage children to think about where they are in space. If they are looking at a map of the zoo, ask them where they are in relation to the kangaroos or lions. When driving to swimming lessons, ask them to give directions on how to get there.

Or, ask them to remember landmarks when driving somewhere you go regularly, like grandma’s place. Could your child recognise your house from a picture taken from the road, can they describe where their bedroom is in relation to the kitchen. Research has shown clear links between spatial skills and STEM skills.

Read more:
Blocks are still the best present you can buy children for Christmas

Children can develop complex understandings about the world around them with the right guidance from adults. Early STEM experiences can set children up for later STEM learning. In line with the Early Years Learning Framework , we want children to be confident and involved learners. We need children to feel that they can “do” STEM, as well as understand and speak the language of STEM.

one means one, one to one correspondence

Unlike literacy materials, there are still very few resources available for parents on how to develop children’s early STEM skills. But there are many opportunities in everyday life for parents to develop these skills – they simply need to be made aware of them.

Parents don’t need to buy expensive toys, science kits or workbooks for children to fill in. Nor do parents need to have degrees in STEM to teach their children.

The ConversationWaiting for children to begin school to learn about STEM is too late, just as waiting for children to start school to learn about reading. Parents can help their children be capable and confident STEM learners from a young age.

Kym Simoncini, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    I will share this excellent post, Norah. My daughter is a teacher and I know a lot of teachers from my previous position in a school in Massachusetts. I recently wrote a post about the importance of reading. This goes hand in hand with it. Hugs

    Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and for sharing, Janice. I hope your daughter and teacher friends find the post helpful. I think I missed your post. Would you mind sharing a link, please. Best wishes, Norah.

    Thanks for the link, Janice. I read your article and followed the link through to another as well. Both with wonderful advice explaining the multitude of benefits when reading to and with children, and in reading for oneself. Wonderful. There can never be too many reminders about the importance and value of reading.

    Happy you enjoyed the posts, Norah. I agree. We need to cultivate good readers in school. Reading is needed for every subject. In the process everyone benefits from the positive effects on one’s health. Hugs

    That’s right, Janice. Reading is a great aid to learning. We need to be able to read to navigate our print-saturated environment. Whatever we can do to increase literacy for all is a valuable contribution.

    Thank you, Janice. I read both articles. Both contain excellent advice.

    These are fantastic techniques, Norah. I was out walking with Michael today and I thought how much a child learns from looking at the things around them like the flowers, bees and trees.

    Thanks so much, Robbie. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post and see how it applies in your own life.

    I remember when I was a primary care giver for my grands. I would walk them around the block and point out the flowers, naming the ones I knew and then the next walk asking them the name. We would count the mailboxes left to Grama’s house. And stop at parked cars in driveways to recognize numbers and letters. Or look at work trucks and see the letters and numbers displayed there.

    When a child (at 7) can take a picture from a book and recreate it in Lego bricks without instructions… I think that’s cool. Son of Son did that by creating the Titanic and even had the smoke flowing from the stacks. Little Miss isn’t far behind at 4 knowing all the letters in her given name and nick-name, only one letter difference. But she knows! I am happy when they choose a favorite book to be read over and over. And I’ve helped them create their own books too. They draw and write (or I write when they can’t) what’s happening. I just staple the pages together.

    The grands with Mom and Dad had a short trip over the holiday weekend. Next time they are visiting I’m going to pull up a Map and ask/show them where they were from home.
    I think the cartoon maps are a bit hard to work with. But I think making a large copy of a neighborhood map to show where the park and school is, is a good idea.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    Thanks for sharing all the wonderful things you do with your grands, Jules. There are many who could follow your lead. Such rich experiences you are creating for them. They will thank you later in life for the great start you gave them.

    Norah, this is an excellent article for parents and grandparents. I never thought about developing STEM language, or the lack of this language in children’s books (which seems like a gap you could fullfil). The difference between asking what questions versus why questions makes sense. As I continue to learn about curiosity, one of its hallmarks is that we need to be aware of what we don’t know. Children seen to have no problem with this which is why they are endlessly curious. But often as adults we give messages that we are irritated by this lack of knowledge. Also as adults it’s vulnerable to admit what we don’t know. I think that’s also an interesting aspect of curiosity. I hope I never know! I like the discovery too much to stop being curious.

    Hi Charli, I’m so pleased you recognise the importance of Kym’s message, as I did when I read it in The Conversation. It is such important information about strategies that are easy and free for parents to implement. All that is required is that one take notice and talk with children about what they see and experience. It is much easier to answer the what than it is to contemplate why, or even how. Curiosity is such an important part of learning, but if we don’t have an opportunity to question, our curiosity can be quickly shut down. Like you, I love learning and discovering new things. One lifetime is not enough to learn all I wish to know.

    Thank you so much, Debby. I really appreciate your support and good wishes. <3

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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