What is STEM (and why is it important for your child)?

If your Pinterest feed is anything like mine, you’ve been noticing a slew of “STEM Activities for Kids” popping up. You’ve probably at one point wondered, like I have, what the heck is STEM and why is it important for my child?

What is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The acronym was coined by the National Science Foundation in an attempt for schools to integrate these 4 categories into a cohesive learning plan instead of teaching each subject separately.

Because, in the real world, these four subjects co-exist simultaneously and there is a major increase in STEM-related jobs. The National Science Foundation discovered that being taught these subjects in isolation is not conducive to being able to practice them in real-life scenarios.

Unfortunately, not a lot of educational systems are jumping on the STEM bandwagon. That’s okay, because there are many fun and fascinating ways we, as parents, can include STEM learning into our children’s lives.

What does STEM include?

STEM learning promotes creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. While each subject can be defined by individual skill-sets, the entirety of STEM works together to reach these goals.

Here are some skills each subject focuses on:

Science: observation, experimentation, predictions, asking questions

Technology: invention, making things work, identifying issues, computers

Engineering: problem solving, using materials, designing, creating, building

Math: patterns, sequences, numbers, volume, size, computation

How can I introduce my child to STEM?

Once your baby begins to grasp and hold objects, you can then introduce cause and effect toys. These toys involve performing one action, such as pushing a button or dropping a ball, that causes another action, like lights flashing or the ball sliding down a slide.

This stage of development is crucial in developing many skills such as physical manipulation and recognizing how actions can affect their environment and surroundings. It is a great introduction to STEM skills because it initially develops the ability to predict and problem solve.

Cause and Effect Activities

  • Stacking blocks and objects before knocking them over.

  • Banging on a pot with a wooden spoon.

  • Walk room to room with your baby, pausing at the light switch. Show them how the switch turns the light on and off.

  • Fill a large basin with water and add waterproof toys and objects. Let your baby throw the toy to create ripples or goes hands-in to create splashes. Include toys that float as well as ones that sink.

Once your child is of age to walk and play, you can really broaden their learning of STEM skills. The most important aspect of STEM is to facilitate a safe environment while allowing your child to explore.

Science Activities for Toddlers

  • Explore outdoors with all five senses: sight, taste, hearing, touch and smell. Perhaps don’t explore too much outside with taste, but label and point out all the other things you can experience with your senses.

  • Add shaving cream to building blocks or take some toys out in the mud. Try to incorporate tactile substances to everyday activities.

Technology Activities for Toddlers

  • Whip up a big batch of blowing bubbles and see which kitchen utensils make the biggest ones!

  • Gather some lightweight items from around the house – such as feathers, cottonballs, paper – and see which ones fly the farthest in front of a fan.

Engineering Activities for Toddlers

  • Use wooden blocks or empty boxes to build structures. Add in cardboard tubes or pool noodles and some tape.

  • Grab some blankets and pillows and construct a fort.

Math Activities for Toddlers

  • Sing repetitive songs that have a pattern, such as “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.

  • Organize a shape scavenger hunt. Go around the house or outside to find objects that match each shape.

  • Count and sort toys. Place all the cars together or organize toys by colour.

During the toddler stage, STEM is easy to incorporate into their everyday play. Once your child begins school, you can begin to set up some really fun and interesting activities to help develop STEM skills:

  • Grow a bean in a jar. Fill an empty glass jar with paper towel and place a bean along the side. Water everyday and watch as the bean sprouts and grows!

  • Learn about magnets with pipe cleaners: Fill a thin plastic container (the ones that straws come in are perfect) with cut up pipe cleaners. Use a magnet to lift the pipe cleaners up the side of the container.

  • Make your own smartphone projector. All you need is an empty box, a magnifying glass, scissors, tape and a smartphone. Cut a hole in the side of the box the size of the magnifying glass lens. Fold a piece of cardboard to make a stand for the phone and place it in the box. Tape the magnifying glass to the inside of the box, place the smartphone on the stand and point it at a blank wall.

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