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Ways Parents Can Support STEM at Home

Is your child always asking you a why question? Why do bees sting people? Why does the water in the pool burn my eyes? Why did the Titanic sink? As a parent, there are many different ways to respond. One way is to incorporate educational opportunities that encourage your child to think like an engineer.

STEM which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is a term used by educators to focus children’s learning on the aforementioned disciplines. STEM does not have to be implemented just by educators. Parents have numerous opportunities to expose their child to STEM related concepts, thus supporting the learning that takes place in the classroom.

Although there are many facets to STEM learning, I’d like to focus on the engineering perspective. Engineers use a general design process to identify and solve problems. This design process is open ended. Engineers know there are many solutions to a problem and finding various solutions requires creativity, collaboration with others and opportunities to create realistic models

Parents can apply this design process at home. Listen to your child's comments over a week and identify a topic that is relevant to your child. This will be a topic that he or she continually talks about from many different perspectives. It could be firefighters, Harry Potter sorcery, Furby, a new computer game or a phone app. This becomes the ideal topic for parents to pursue with their child from a STEM perspective.   

The next time your child asks a question about the topic or makes a comment, ask him or her to think about how an aspect of the product was created. If the topic is firefighters, ask your child what does a firefighter use as protection from a fire? Do you think there are any other items a firefighter could use when putting out a fire? Who do you think designs the equipment and clothing firefighters use? Could you improve upon the design? Let’s create your design on paper.

You can use a similar line of questioning regarding the topic of phone apps. Why do you like that phone app so much? Who designed the phone app? Do you think the design can be improved? What would you do to improve the design? Let’s record your ideas.

We can also refer back to our swimming question. Why does pool water burn your eyes? Are there any other ways we can kill germs in water that will not burn your eyes? Are there any other items that people could use beside goggles to protect their eyes from water? Could you design an item that can protect your eyes from water or improve on swimming goggles?

By introducing the idea that designs can be improved upon and that children have the potential to create a solution, you as a parent can begin to help your child think like an engineer. You also have the opportunity to expose him or her to the idea that engineers identify problems, attempt to find solutions, then implement the solution to determine if it works.

This is just one aspect of many that involve STEM education. Simple questions presented by a parent can spark a wealth of creativity in children. However, you should be prepared to support your child’s creativity. Some children may want to take their design from the drawing board and try to implement it in the real world. Have design materials available or locate the necessary materials with your child to make their design a reality. Today’s children are creating new inventions that have great benefits to society. The phone app you are currently using may have been invented by that 10 year old who was encouraged to make their ideas a reality.

Additional resources:
STEM Resources from PBS
PBS Kids Design Squad videos and activities
Discover Engineering.org
Treasure Engineering at Big Learning.com

Article by Dr. Nicole Thomas-Jackson, Director of Curriculum and Training, Rainbow Station

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