While early literacy skills are beneficial to young children, early STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills are also just as important. Children are already naturally curious about their world and are capable learners but their potential is often underestimated by adults.
Here are some tips for the adults to help young children develop good STEM skills according to Kym Simoncini, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood and Primary Education of University of Canberra:
1. Encourage children to be observant
Observation is one of the important skills in the scientific process. To become better scientists, it’s good to get children to practice being observant. Children are already much more observant than adults but steer them to notice more detailed or scientific features such as a new flowering bud on a plant. Also, use the language associated with observations such as noticing and observing.
2. Get the kids to describe what they see and do
Getting children to describe what they can see or what they are doing helps them to build up vocabulary and confidence in using the STEM language. Get them to describe the attributes or feature of the object they observed. For instance, if they see a ladybug, ask them to describe it by asking what’s the colour, shape and size of the insect. Other words to use include predict, experiment and measure.
A study done showed children who have had certain types of language socialisation are likely to choose to study or learn STEM.
3. Ask ‘what’ rather than ‘why’
Asking children questions that they can answer allow them to have a sense of satisfaction in answering the questions correctly. This builds confidence and they are more willing to try and learn from the mistake than just being discouraged.
Questions such as “What is happening to the bubbles?” is much easier than “Why are the bubbles sticking together?” It also provides the opportunity to have a discussion with the child. The reasons why bubbles stick together can be discovered together after. The goal is to create a friendly learning environment that allows discussions to move forward.
4. Encourage children to count using one-to-one correspondence
Counting can be achieved through memorization skills but do the kids know the meaning of “one”? Children need to know that “one” equals to one object, “two” equals two objects, and so on.
Instead of using boring learning materials, get the kids to collect five clothes pegs while hanging the laundry or get them to get you two eggs for cooking. They wouldn’t even know you’ve sneakily made it into a learning session!
Also, check out how using candy can help kids learn numbers and develop counting skills in a fun way.
For older kids, get them to play board games. They’ll experience one-to-one correspondence when they have to move the pawn on the board according to their die roll.
5. Encourage spatial skills in children
Research has shown links between spatial skills and STEM skills in children. To help them develop the skills, get them to think about where they are in space. For example, if the family is in the zoo, ask the child to point out where they are on the map of the zoo. Another option is to ask them to give directions while driving back to the house or to school.
Another trick is to encourage them to use and remember landmarks when driving somewhere. Can they recognize their own house from the road or point out where their bedroom is in relation to the kitchen?
All of the tips above prove that parents don’t need to buy expensive toys, gadgets and books to help their children. The parents themselves don’t need to have a Science degree too to give young children a good foundation.
It is also important to note that even if the children don’t end up pursuing STEM careers, the observation and thinking skills they’ve built will benefit them greatly in other industries as well.
Feature image from Little Beakers