In my previous post, I summarized the concepts of STEM & STEAM, including why it is so critical that we instill these skills into our kids. Not just for their financial benefit, but the greater societies' benefit too. Now that you are bought into the what & why of STEAM, let us get active in applying these concepts in our daily lives. Today's post will focus on how we can start applying STEAM & STEM concepts in the first five years of your child's life..
1. Encourage outdoor play
There is a reason why I put this first. It is effortless in today's hyper-competitive world for parents to overschedule and overstress our kids with activities, lessons & experiences. I'm guilty of it myself, and often Rabia has to intervene when I ask my kids for another journal entry or Khan Academy session. I plan to write a focused article on this topic in the future, but for now, take your kid out back and enjoy the backyard or your local park.
For the first thirty minutes, sit back and watch your kid's imagination come to life. It is marvelous to see how much joy a child can get from playing outdoors. While it may not be visible, they are learning here too. They are learning to play with others, share, wait their turn, and make decisions on how much risk they want to take.
2. Build hypotheszing and predicting into your daily lifestyle
While you are outdoors with your child, start to introduce the concepts of STEM while they play. Start by asking your child "WHAT" questions about what they observe in the environment around them. For example:
- What type of sounds do the leaves make when you step on them?
- What ball is more natural to throw?
- What direction are the trees moving as the wind blows?
- What does the flower smell like?
The first step to solving problems, whether they are diagnosing a health issue, fixing a program bug, testing a hypothesis or engineering a solution is to observe actively. Make this process of observation fun and playful by turning it into a detective game. Ask your child to come up with their questions, and then use their power of observation to create a prediction. They can run their mini-experiments to test out their hypothesis, and then explain their findings to you.
I found a great article at naturalstart.org that I highly recommend reading which can explain these concepts in more detail.
3. Go for a walk in your neighborhood
Let's say you don't have a backyard and your local park isn't down the street. In that case, I'd highly recommend a daily walk with your kid as a way to explore, get healthy and spend quality time together as a family. On our walks as a family, our kids:
- Get to observe their neighborhood and meet people along the way.
- Open up - With dad unable to walk and stare at his iPhone at the same time, it is an excellent opportunity to get focused time with parents. I'll often tell my kids that our walks are their opportunity to ask any question they want, and I'll try my best to answer! (The portability and convenience of quickly and discreetly popping in my airpods to listen to a podcast is creating new challenges that my kids are working on)
4. Help your child improve at executive functioning skills
Executive functioning skills are considered crucial for doing well in school, work and life. These are the skills that require organization, planning, time management, flexibility, and problem-solving. Examples include the ability to finish work on time, make plans and apply learnings in solving problems. All of these are pre-requisites for STEM, and are critical foundational steps.
Practical ways to improve these skill are:
- Set time limits for getting things done by buying a cheap cooking timer and encouraging your child to complete the activity before the time runs out.
- Use planners & calendars to show kids how to plan. We often do this for upcoming fun activities like vacations. Have the kid mark the vacation date on the family calendar, and then work together to plan when bags will be packed and reservations are going to be made.
- Make checklists - Whenever we go camping, the kids help me make sure we are ready by checking off items off the checklist. We regularly add items as well!
5. Visit your local children's museum
You'll be amazed by the resources available at your local children's museum. By the time my kids were five, we had visited almost a dozen different science museums across the country. In fact, the highlight of every vacation was visiting the local children museum. At these institutions the kids have:
- Created stop-motion animation videos.
- Play acted with costumes and props.
- Drove a variety of vehicles including a firetruck (in above picture)
- Held snakes, petted lizards, fed tortoises, and observed animals.
- Learned how pulleys, gears, robotics, and levers work.
- Enjoyed learning about water flow by creating dams and sailing boats across the water.
If you are interested in learning more about visiting dozens of museums for free, check out my earlier post about the Girls Scout trip to the Tech Museum.
6. Read to your kids
Every night I read to my kids, and every Saturday, we walk to the library. I tell my kids to pick one book for fun and one for learning. My first blog post was about the importance of reading to kids. I highly recommend you read it and implement its call to action. Rabia has also written a comprehensive post on this topic which will be on the site soon.
7. Watch Sesame Street's STEAM Education programs with your kids
Hopefully, I don't have to tell you this, but Sesame Street is a wonderful tv series for both educating and entertaining kids at the same time. Over the last 5 seasons, Sesame Street has been incorporating STEAM into its curriculum. In my next post, I'll link a dozen different videos I recommend you watch with your kids.
Net It Out & Call To Action
- It is essential to instill STEAM concepts into your children from an early age.
- Take the time to get your child outdoors today! Play is vital at this age. Imagination and curiosity are skills they must develop today!
- Go for a walk this evening with your kids. Use this family time to ask each other questions.
- Sign up for the ASTC Travel Passport program by buying an annual pass at your local children museum.
- Read to your kids tonight.
- Check out my next blog post with episodes of Sesame Street that I recommend you watch with your younger kids.