There’s been a national discussion about increasing our aptitude in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). America is underperforming other industrial nations, and these areas are increasingly playing a critical role in career success.
Much of the conversation focuses on improvements in the middle and high school years. But we can begin building STEM skills much earlier than that—as soon as a child starts speaking.
Some young children are innately interested: learning how things work, building things, taking things apart. But all children can be enticed into STEM learning through whatever they’re already interested in.
Since young children tend to ask lots of questions, you can introduce STEM basics by following these simple “CHIA” steps:
- Curiosity: “So glad you asked!”
- Hypothesis: “Why don’t you make a guess?”
- Investigation: “Let’s look into it!”
- Analysis: “Why do you think that happened?”
Before beginning any activity with your child, ask her what she thinks is going to happen. Then ask why she thinks that. She’s just created a hypothesis and given her logic for that hypothesis—the foundation of all scientific exploration. By then creating experiments with her and talking about what you observe, you’re setting her up to plan, brainstorm, build, and solve problems exactly like scientists and engineers do.
Ideas for you and your child:
- Build a ramp for toy cars to roll down. Have your child race two cars down the ramp. Ask him to predict which one will get to the bottom first. Then have him play with how to make the cars faster or slower. For example, if you put a small stone on the car, does it make it go faster? Buildable toys (e.g., LEGO) provide great opportunities for experimentation. What happens to the speed when he makes the car bigger, heavier, or longer? This is experimentation, and it’s fun!
- When you go for a walk, you can guide the conversation, or let your child come up with his own experiments. If you see an animal, play with how softly you can talk before the animal notices you. Or ask your child why the squirrels race around the tree. Right answers are not the goal—this is about asking questions and predicting the answer.
Remember that it’s okay to answer “I don’t know” to any question, both for you and your child. It’s asking the question that’s important, because that is where all science begins.
Don’t underestimate the incredible thinking skills that young children have. With just a playful shift in word choice, we can allow for a dramatic shift in getting our babies ready for a STEM education!
Check out more tools for parents for additional advice and activities you can do with your children—indoors or out.