Look around a first grade classroom. It’s full of curious learners, soaking up information like sponges. In these elementary classrooms, we have all of the scientists, engineers and inventors we could ever need. They easily absorb STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
And then, over time, a lot of kids – especially girls – start to lose interest in STEM.
Why? And, how can we keep these kids fascinated in these fields so they can become the innovators of the future?
The Language of STEM
STEM is like learning a language. Research shows that young children easily can learn a second language.
Same holds true for math and science. We have a growing understanding of the power of children’s early thinking and learning. Science is a particularly important domain in early childhood to build important skills and attitudes for learning.
Young children can learn both concrete and abstract math – and they enjoy learning it. Something as simple as the amount of time parents spend talking to their young children about numbers has a significant impact on how they learn math. And, studies have shown that the level of math knowledge entering school predicts academic achievement and future success.
Start STEM Earlier
It’s easier to learn something when we’re young. It has to do with brain chemistry. A child’s brain is built to absorb information.
Our capacity to learn a language diminishes gradually over our lives. We can do it; but it gets that much harder (and easier to quit when the going gets tough). That’s why STEM learning should start early.
Make it Fun and Relevant
Children are not self-conscious. So the best time to get children involved in exploring STEM is when they are very young, and very curious – not afraid to make a mistake or make a mess.
It’s this curiosity that helps children – and adults – view the world differently and solve problems.
So to keep kids curious and to build a natural interest in STEM:
- Value a child’s questions (yes, they can ask a lot of question. Keep answering.)
- Invite curiosity (don’t solve problems for them)
- Support exploration and accept that exploration is often messy
- Forget about failure (I often quote Thomas Edison about the light bulb: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”)
Children will maintain an interest in science and math when they see the connection to the world around them – the new app on a parent’s phone, for example; or the medicine that makes them feel better. Help them make those connections.
Keeping Girls Interested
Experts say that girls' interest in STEM wanes as they get older because of socialization, a lack of exposure and access, and a lack of female role models.
The loss is so prevalent that high schools, universities and companies are trying to get more girls hooked on STEM fields earlier in their educational careers.
FIRST: Inspiring Our Future
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) understands how children learn, and has programs for kids as young as six years old – all the way through high school.
The progression of programs is focused on inspiring age-appropriate insight and imagination. The competitions remove fear of failure and encourage kids to get messy and be brave, to collaborate and graciously compete.
Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were six? Do you remember when learning got harder?
Let’s work together to encourage STEM exploration from the very start of school through graduation. Keep it fun and relevant. This effort is incredibly important, because these young students are our future scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians.