Four ways to engage your child with STEM
In today’s technology-driven world, nurturing an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) has become crucial for the children’s future. In the classroom, students learn skills such as finding the area of a triangle or performing a scientific investigation.
But studying STEM also builds critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication and problem-solving capability. These skills are highly sought after, with 90% of future jobs predicted to require STEM within the next five years.
Parents and carers significantly influence the behaviours and interests of young people. It makes sense to use some of this influence to help engage children and teens with STEM subjects, better equipping them for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.
We understand that it may be challenging. So, here is a list of ways to spark your child’s engagement with STEM.
- Model curiosity and interest
Has your child ever asked for help with their homework, and you have no clue what they’re talking about when they try to explain the method for solving equations their teacher showed them in class? How you respond is important, as you are modelling how to react when unsure of a concept – a common feeling experienced in courses like Maths and Science.
It’s not realistic for you to know everything, so be honest with your child. A simple “I don’t know, let’s find out. Where do you think we should start?” works wonders. You might prompt them to check their notebook or teacher’s notes online, conduct a YouTube search, or look up the topic in their textbook. This models curiosity and problem-solving skills that can help develop confidence in their capacity to find information even when they don’t know it yet.
2. Connect STEM to the ‘real world’
For practical kids who like to see what they’re working with, the conceptual and abstract nature of many of the concepts explored in STEM classes can be challenging.
Discussing the practical applications of what they’re learning can make a difference. For example, discussing the use of algebra as a building block for coding can switch a young person from disengaged to curious.
But you cannot be expected to know all of these applications. For example, Googling how are equations used in everyday life results in a wealth of information. Search together. Then you’re showing them how to find the answers independently of their teacher.
AI tools like ChatGPT and Bing’s new AI-powered search can also make this search fun and interactive, but remember that fact-checking these tools is important as they don’t necessarily tell hard facts 100% of the time (another great life lesson!).
3. Encourage STEM extracurricular activities
While some STEM-related activities outside of the school can be costly, there are many options for engaging students with STEM, either free or low-cost.
Check out your local library, museum and/or gallery – many hold after-school or holiday sessions led by experts and educators. Your local community may also have a Regional Science Hub, which delivers events and activities to promote the value of STEM in regional areas, many of which are for children and young people.
National Science Week is another great opportunity to attend events and expos that will help you discover the groups and knowledge in your area.
If you’re more into getting hands-on at home, the Australian Government’s Girls in STEM Toolkit have compiled a list of at-home activities here (the activities are not only for girls!). CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine has great ideas for at-home experiments and activities.
4. Talk about STEM careers
Talking about STEM careers is tricky, particularly if you’re not in one yourself. The job landscape is likely very different to when you were in school and will inevitably change before young people enter the workforce.
But research says that talking about the usefulness of STEM for future jobs can help young people spark an interest in STEM and engage more in school.
Here are a few websites that can be a great starting point for exploring STEM careers:
- Careers with STEM has career profiles, guides and quizzes, including the STEM + X feature that allows you to match your passion with a STEM career.
- Hear from STEM professionals across industries talk about their STEM careers on CSIRO Education and Outreach’s Digital Careers website, the Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy Strong in STEM Series, and Generation STEM’s Masterclasses.
- For younger children, the Australian Government’s FutureYou website encourages young people to engage with STEM through storytelling and imagination.
It can be overwhelming to think of all the things parents and carers ‘should’ be doing. But we encourage you to start small – try one of the tips above and build from there. By engaging young people in STEM, parents and carers can empower them with the necessary skills and mindset to thrive in an evolving world.