Most parents in the United States have heard the terms “STEM” or “STEAM” learning and how it is beneficial to children’s education. But what is it and why is it important? Let’s delve into the benefits of STEM and find out.
WHAT IS STEM?
STEM is an acronym which represents Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. If you see “STEAM”, Art is included in this multi-disciplinary approach to learning. When explaining STEM concepts to children, you might break it down this way:
- Science is a way of thinking using observation, experiments, asking questions, and concluding how things work.
- Technology is a way of doing things with learning tools to identify problems and make things work.
- Engineering is also a way of doing things to solve problems by designing, creating, or building with different materials.
- Math is a way of measuring which helps one learn patterns and sequencing.
STEM is all about answering life’s questions, and it is important for ALL children. Experts agree that children exposed to STEM learning at earlier ages reap the most benefit. There is no age deemed “too early” to learn using STEM activities and concepts.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
There are several good reasons to incorporate STEM into your child’s education. These are some of the most significant benefits of STEM:
1. STEM Establishes Their Foundation
Children are born with a natural curiosity about their world. They are inherently excited to learn the answers to life’s questions- often begun with the word “WHY”. STEM increases a child’s ability to acquire new information and skills. It also fosters creativity which strengthens the brain. This therefore causes them to develop a natural love of learning for life.
“The greatest gift we can give students during the elementary years is a driving curiosity, a belief in their abilities, a thirst for knowledge, and a passion to grow. With these skills in their toolbox, they will be equipped to tackle the challenges of higher education and the real world. No matter where their life journey takes them.” -Shelley, STEAM Powered Family
STEM can be cultivated to enhance a child’s foundation for everything they want to do in life. That’s pretty incredible!
2. STEM Strengthens Their Abilities Across Many Subjects
As STEM strengthens a child’s brain, it also increases their ability to acquire and process other subjects. Most notably, STEM students test higher in reading skills and comprehension. STEM involvement also enhances skills in music, home economics, and even social studies. In addition, children begin to cultivate the “4 C’s of the 21st Century”: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, and Communication. Children excel across many areas of academia because STEM is real-world inspired.
3. STEM Builds Confidence
When children engage in hands-on STEM experiences, they are given ownership over their own learning. They are empowered with knowledge as they develop a passion for learning. As a result, children learn they can do anything!
It is noteworthy to mention the importance of encouraging girls to explore STEM fields. Currently women hold only 26% of STEM jobs in the United States. Females also have a harder time advancing in STEM fields- read more here. Making a point to include young girls in STEM education builds their confidence and may inspire them to pursue a career in a STEM-related field. The benefits of STEM are equal opportunity!
4. STEM Promotes Academic Success
According to the most recent report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 62% of fourth graders were not proficient in science and 59% were not proficient in math. Research has demonstrated that early math skills are the “strongest predictor of future academic achievement”. By regularly engaging in STEM activities, children develop knowledge, habits, and skills for success in all areas of academics, particularly in science and math.
5. STEM Enhances Life Skills
We have mentioned several life skills enhanced by STEM already- and here are some more… STEM activities expand critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills. Children learn how to observe, collect data, develop strategies, solve problems, and adjust their approach when what they expect doesn’t happen. Children learn to FAIL and how that is okay. They learn failure is not the end, but rather a learning opportunity. They learn to try again. In addition, they learn how to reflect on what they have learned. And that may be the most important skill in the learning process.
6. STEM Increases Career Potential
STEM education prepares students for future careers involving technology. This generation understands the world and its technology better than many older adults. They are poised to thrive as technology advances in the world to come as well. Overall, technology and scientific skills are becoming increasingly important in the work force. STEM jobs are projected to increase significantly in the coming years. With more job security and higher wages, well-qualified STEM workers will be in demand more than ever.
Your elementary student may not be focused on those things yet, but you can help equip your child to be successful in any arena by encouraging their STEM experiences now. The benefits of STEM can have long-ranging and life-changing effects.
7. Your child can enjoy the benefits of STEM even if you’re “not a STEM person”!
What if you’re not a “STEM person”?
First, don’t let your lack of confidence downplay your child’s perception of the importance of STEM. You can support your child’s STEM experiences even if you’re not an expert.
Second, call in some reinforcements. Ask your librarian to direct you to good STEM resources in the library for your child. Research online activities to encourage your budding scientist. There is also a wonderful STEM-filled K-12 Nature Matters Academy which builds STEM skills and confidence, all while getting kids outside and learning about nature in their own backyards.
As you can see, the benefits of STEM exposure in early life equip children well over the course of their education, career, and lifetime. It is vital that we nurture and guide our children to engaging STEM experiences that spark their love of learning. In the process, you may discover your own inner scientist who was just waiting for a fun and curious lab partner- even if they are much younger than you!
Want to know more about the importance of STEM? Check these out: