How to Raise a STEAM-Curious Child
Here's what you can do to pique your child's interest in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), according to experts.
While trying to pinpoint activities that will engage and educate your little one, you might not be thinking about their ultimate career path. But prioritizing activities that spur their interest in STEAM subjects (that's science, technology, engineering, art, and math) could ultimately set them up for academic and professional success.
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Research shows that kids who regularly participate in artistic activities are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, while jobs in science and technology are increasing three times faster than the rest of the economy.
At the same time, STEAM activities will "encourage the development of everyday problem solving and critical thinking," says Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA, a licensed educational psychologist, parenting expert, guidance counselor, and author. "As a parent, you do not have to have an extensive background in science, technology, or the arts to create activities and teach STEAM. It starts with working together and answering our children's curious questions. For example, 'Why is the sky blue?' 'How does a seed make a flower grow?' 'What colors can we make when we mix two colors together?'"
Even before they celebrate their first birthday, children are fascinated by play that's rooted in STEAM. "Think about the toys we give our 6-month-olds to play with," Patel says. "Most are cause-and-effect toys."
Richard Peterson, vice president of education at Kiddie Academy, a provider of educational child care, agrees. "Giving very young children toys that have manipulation elements—such as, a ball or rattle—will help to aid their beginning curiosity," he explains. "As children enter the preschool years, involve them with projects around the house with helping in the kitchen, putting things together, or even cleaning. These types of activities include measurement, building structures, as well as, cause and effect."
Peterson also recommends heading outdoors or on field trips to broaden your little one's horizons and fuel their interest. "Look for caterpillars in the dirt and discuss how they turn into insects or plant something in the garden and watch it grow," he advises. "Taking a road trip to the library, zoo, local children's museum, or science center will further develop a child's knowledge in the areas of STEAM. Expand their curiosity with a microscope or light cube, a digital camera, or simple machine."
Here, more expert-approved activities to pique your child's interest in each STEAM subject—and that have overlap, to boot.
To get your child excited about science, consider activities like growing plants from seeds in a jar, making magnetic slime, growing crystals and creating your child's name, or engaging with monthly science boxes that fit your child's developmental age (like one from Kiwi Co.), recommends Patel.
Kids' appetite for technology is undoubtedly heightened when they play with smartphones, tablets, or any other device that's within reach. But Peterson encourages parents to "think of technology beyond the iPad or computer." For instance, older kids might enjoy attending a computer science camp or tech program (like Code Ninjas). Patel says you'll also do well to engage them in programs or games that help develop typing skills and to practice reading, writing or math skills through a fun, educational app.
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Activities that encourage kids to put things together, solo or alongside siblings or parents, can promote curiosity in engineering and art, notes Peterson, who recommends creating a puppet stage using basic home workshop material, building a doll house or furniture, creating your own light cube, or general household projects like hanging a picture, understanding how a vacuum works, repairing a small hole in the wall, or a hinge on a door.
Patel recommends designing and creating straw bridges, building castles with LEGOs, or designing a structure out of cups and popsicle sticks.
Mix watercolors and oils then find out what happens, Patel advises. Or determine how plants absorb water with food coloring. Another option: "Use stencils to make a gift for a friend." Kids can also learn about and explore the science of gravity while painting, by trying a pendulum painting activity, or creating marshmallow sculptures, which encourages engineering skills.
Cooking and baking projects will bolster learning in math (fractions!), as well as reading, fine motor skills, and science, notes Peterson. "Make fresh fruit juice, homemade granola with ingredients like dried fruit, pretzels, and Chex Mix, or pizza using biscuits and pizza sauce with your favorite cheese," Peterson recommends.
Simple activities that can be done throughout everyday life (think on a car ride to the grocery store or in line at the grocery store): "Practice different ways to add numbers and come to the same answer or learn about odd numbers and even numbers," Patel recommends. Children might also enjoy relating math to money by collecting coins for a coin board or "using a play cash register with coins and bills and pretend your are at a grocery store," she notes.
The Bottom-Line on Setting Up Lifelong STEAM Learning
While there are many ways to foster curiosity in science, technology, engineering, art, and math, ultimately, the best thing parents can do is provide their kids with the materials and opportunities for play, Peterson notes. "Children learn best when playing, whether it is free play, pretend, guided, or exploratory," he says. "Let their curiosity run wild."