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STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning has always been a popular concept but one that has had a recent revival. If one observes what the consumer wants (through data collected from search terms and consumption patterns), STEM learning is high on the list. With technological advances and learning becoming increasingly digital (in the age of Coronavirus), it’s no surprise that parents want their children to grow up tech savvy.
The National Academies Press (an academic journal which often writes about education) wrote ‘The jobs people do, the foods they eat, the vehicles in which they travel, the information they receive, the medicines they take, and many other facets of modern life are constantly changing as STEM knowledge steadily accumulates.’ Perhaps this explains the urgency of those parents who want their children to learn about STEM. Traditionally, the field has seen a gendered dynamic (more male dominant and less women in STEM) which is now, slowly but surely, beginning to change. The Obama administration advocated for more women in this field and even has a dedicated website to the stories of those within the administration and their heroes.
The allocation of time at home (before children formally begin classroom-based learning) can help mount an organic curiosity and thus interest for this field. From basic math equations (or a sudoku) to at-home science experiments to cooking (measurements, molecular gastronomy) to outdoor gardening (scientific discovery), parents have several options when it comes to the engagement of their child. However, ensuring that children have ample opportunity to engage with the ‘TE’ element of STEM: technology and engineering, has proved more challenging.
For parents who implement screen time at home, monitoring and limiting this “screen time” can be challenging and they worry about over dependence on technology. After all, it’s become the new normal for your child to know what an instagram or snapchat filter looks like by the age of two. As for their use of machines or engines, and knowledge thereafter, it is virtually non-existent due to safety concerns. Parents worry too much about their children cutting things, or fiddling with batteries and spare parts. This is a valid concern but when it is developmentally appropriate (activities must of course be supervised and chosen/modified according to age-appropriate brackets), parents can instill a sense of purpose and confidence in their children. Showing them how and explaining the why will attract your child to STEM.
The impacts on education through contributions in this field have been profound. From medical discoveries (e.g. this team at Oxford University working on COVID-19) to e-learning (e.g. Khan Academy) to engineering advancements (e.g. the modern invention of the Tesla) to MOOCs (massive online, open courses) changing our mathematical discourse… no one can doubt its importance and role in early childhood education.
The issue we must now confront is how to better incorporate STEM during the early years. Fortunately, educational games companies (like us, at Skillmatics) are working hard on a solution. For instance, our range of Buildables is a great way to supplement at-home STEM learning. Parents who value STEM and its impacts on education can also check out our list of resources.