She likes to explore the gadgets her father and I use, and we willingly hand them over, to feed her curiosity. My digital camera was the latest device to be examined eagerly. I watched as she flipped it, turned it, and shook it, before raising it above her head, pointing it towards the air conditioning unit, and pressing the buttons. She dropped it onto the bed and moved on to explore something else. This afternoon, I watched and listened as her father explained and demonstrated that earbud headphones don’t work when we put them into our mouths, but allow us to enjoy music – which she adores – when we put them into our ears. This morning, she grinned as we both held down the button on the blender for her green smoothie. We really don’t know how much her 1-year-old mind comprehends, but we are committed to stimulating her S.T.E.M. aptitudes, even from infancy.
I recently became familiar with ‘STEM’ (a buzzword in the Education industry over the past few years), when GoldieBlox launched the viral video “The Princess Machine”.
STEM refers to the subjects Science (e.g. biology, physics, chemistry), Technology (e.g. information systems, robotics, programming), Engineering (e.g. electrical, mechanical, chemical), and Mathematics (e.g. geometry, equations, logics). But, if you follow the media hoopla, you’d get the impression that everyone should become an inventor, engineer, or research scientist. In reality, the focus on the STEM fields in our children’s education is about real-world, problem-based learning. The STEM campaign message is that we need to equip our little ones with the aptitudes for building our society and economy. So, at its very core, STEM is actually about critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving.
Strengths and Affinities
This means that instead of pushing our children into the ‘ideal’ profession and requisite fields of study – to make us proud parents – we should first identify our child’s individual strengths and do all we can to nurture their unique affinities. Whether your prince loves to whip up cupcakes on the weekend of your princess is like mine, turning every object into an instrument in her ever-playing orchestra, every child has their particular interests and favorite things to do. It is our job, as parents, to pay attention just so we can know their gifts and loves.
At the root of critical thinking is making a judgment about the truth in something. We express creativity by refusing to accept what already exists and is commonly accepted. Problems are only solved when we find answers. All of these skills depend on the ability to ask questions, to investigate and to dispute that which has been presented. This is the attitude that, when encouraged, produces advancements in technology, and creates breakthroughs in scientific research. Innovation and success begin with questions. We cannot allow our children to thoughtlessly accept and blindly follow. We have to train them to question everything. This mentality is the basis for engaging and building their creative thinking skills and reasoning abilities. Once we have their eager minds asking questions, we then have to provide or facilitate the discovery of the answers.
There is no better way to help a child learn than through play. And though a child will still learn much about, for example, their environment by roaming the woodlands and spotting the birds in their nests, they can acquire so much more if they’re guided. For example, if they’re provided information on the species that are common to the area, the nest-building habits, the differences in appearance of the male and female of the species, and so on. This is why parents who are encouraging their child’s STEM education have to be intentional about the recreational activities they allow their children to engage in. We have to remember that no school or education policy is sufficient for molding our young. That’s why we must practice supplemental schooling.
Some excellent ways to encourage STEM aptitude in your children are:
1. Events and Extra-Curricular Activities
You can search for events and organizations that focus on or highlight the STEM subjects, like camps, after-school programs, seminars, workshops and clubs. Once your child gets involved, there will be opportunities for networking; making friends with like-minded children and being mentored by STEM professionals.
2. Role Models
Find a list of people who have excelled and pioneered in the STEM fields. There are many black inventors and scientists to choose from. Your child can choose the ones they find most inspiring and spend a month learning about them. It’s great to have someone to look up to.
3. Arts, Crafts, and Labs
At home you can carefully select the right free-time activities that allow your children to practice problem-solving and express their creativity. Building blocks and clay are excellent construction tools, while food chemistry may be explored with some basic grocery items. A child could easily venture into the world of agriculture by experimenting with germinating seeds in an empty juicebox or get excited by physics projects like the solar (water bottle) light bulb.
4. Toys, Software Applications, and Games
Be purposeful when you select their playthings. There are many places online that offer games and activities that your child can enjoy while igniting their minds. Get them to solve puzzles and play games that develop their strengths in logic, deduction, systematic problem-solving, reverse engineering, pattern recognition, strategic thinking and visual-spatial intelligence. Play is always productive.
We can solve our own problems and create new solutions just by knowing the language. Both my husband and I studied computer programming and will ensure our daughter learns to code as soon as possible. Even a computer novice can write a line of code. The Hour of Code is a great initiative to start with – you can do it with your child.
While I continue to patiently watch Mwalimu pull apart things in the apartment, her father may soon introduce her to his tool set. We don’t know if she’ll end up loving algebra or have a way with hydroponic plants. Whatever fields of study she’ll delight in, we want her to have the real-world skills and aptitudes to solve the problems of tomorrow. We want her to think critically and be creative.
Are there any moms out there who are seeking to strengthen their children’s STEM skills. Share your experiences and advice!