If you want your children to develop their thinking abilities and succeed in the workforce, they’re going to need STEM skills. That’s the acronym educators use for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
While politicians, teachers, and parents all sound enthusiastic about the importance of math and science, the U.S. has an uneven track record on the subject. More Americans are receiving graduate degrees in these areas, but U.S. students still rank low on international STEM assessments, and that’s especially true for girls.
According to government figures, women make up half the college-educated workforce, but only about one-quarter of the college-educated work force in science and engineering positions. Meanwhile, jobs in those fields are growing much faster than other occupations.
Show your child that being good at math and science pays off. Try these tips for broadening their opportunities by strengthening their STEM skills.
Steps to Take at Home
1. Make it practical. Science extends far beyond the classroom. Explain fractions and chemical reactions while you’re doing your grocery shopping or baking a cake.
2. Appeal to your child’s interests. There can be a technological dimension to any subject that your child loves. Talk about how video replay systems work while you’re watching a sports game. Explain how musicians use computers to edit music.
3. Encourage hands-on learning. Spark children’s interest by engaging them in fun activities. Wooden blocks can introduce kids to counting. Many interesting science experiments require nothing more than ordinary objects you have in your kitchen cupboards or garage.
4. Plan an outing. Check your community calendars for enriching local activities. Visit the zoo to see how modern medicine is helping endangered species to breed. Attend a workshop at the natural history museum.
5. Browse online. Many organizations produce STEM materials to share with your kids, including games and videos. Visit PBS, the National Geographic Society, and NASA for starters.
Steps to Take at School
1. Start early. Studies show that girls have similar abilities to boys in science and math, but they may lose confidence in their abilities as early as elementary school. Work with your daughters and sons before high school so they’ll keep the door open for academic options that lead to STEM careers.
2. Talk with the teacher. Many schools face a shortage of qualified STEM teachers, and the curricula may be limited. Ask your child’s teacher about what your school offers.
3. Continue your education. Naturally, you’ll be a stronger advocate if you brush up on your own skills. Invite your children to teach you some geometry while they’re doing their homework. Read the science section in a major newspaper at least once a week.
4. Explore extracurricular activities. Supplement your child’s classroom courses with explorer’s clubs and science camps. They may want to build their own robot or design video games. Group activities are also an excellent way for your child to connect with inspiring mentors.
5. Discover resources. Parents may be able to work together if tight school budgets are an issue. Research government grants for which your school may be eligible. Local businesses may want to become more involved so they can attract qualified future workers.
6. Discuss course selections. One promising study found that children took more science and math courses in their last two years of high school if their parents received a couple of brochures about STEM. Simple interventions can have dramatic results.
Parents play a powerful role in their children’s education. Help your sons and daughters build a strong foundation in math and science so they’ll be ready to succeed in the workforce of the future.