Full STEAM Ahead

Encouraging Educational Play at Home

Every morning my two preschoolers ask me if it’s Tuesday. What’s so special about Tuesday, you ask—it’s the magical day of the week when both boys attend Science Camp at school. Since my boys absolutely love Science Camp, I wanted to share my appreciation with the program director. I explained to her how, in my experience, it has been easy to find soccer camps and music classes for my sons’ age groups, but difficult to find science programs that were fulfilling.

steam logoA new movement in American education, STEAM, aims to tackle this problem head on. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) addresses the need for Americans to beef-up their skills in these areas, fostering a nation of innovative and well-rounded individuals. The STEAM method calls for children to be taught in an interdisciplinary approach that mimics the real world and helps children learn to become problem solvers.

STEAM is appearing in school curriculums across the country, and I wanted to learn more about the ways in which parents can encourage this inclusive learning approach at home. To that end, I consulted with two experienced educators for helpful tips. Blair Weikel, an eighth grade history teacher and Darwin Horn, Ph.D., a retired science and history teacher offered a wealth of information on the topic.

Remove your own prejudices Weikel warns to be careful not to accidentally bias children against a particular subject. While you may have hated math in school, it’s important to adjust your approach on this subject with your children. Even something as simple as saying, “Wow, this looks hard” can turn them off.

“We shape our kids so much by our reactions to things,” says Weikel. “They are always looking to us to get a read on the world.” If you boldly embrace the STEAM disciplines with your children, your enthusiasm is bound to rub off.

Leave your comfort zone and explore together STEAM is all about helping children become well-rounded. The theory being that, problem solving requires understanding from a variety of Mother and son working togetherdisciplines. To help facilitate this concept, Weikel encourages parents to push themselves outside of their comfort zones.

When your 5-year-old wants to know about the life cycle of the house centipede he found in the basement and you are totally grossed out by bugs, look them up online and make it a learning quest together. Grab a jar and see what other kinds of arthropods you can find in your backyard. Don’t fall into the trap of sticking to what you know and like.

Give your kids time to mess around Horn observes that kids don’t have as much free time anymore. “They are so scheduled from morning to night with organized activities that they don’t always have time to explore their world and develop their own interests.” He suggests setting aside some play time to discover different topics together. Is your child showing a propensity toward engineering and architecture by constantly building things with LEGOs? Or perhaps your budding geologist keeps bringing home the neatest rocks from the backyard. Maybe your future designer draws constantly. Without enough free time, your child might not have the occasion to discover what passions lie within. Stop by Learning Express Toys to pick up some exciting new kits and educational toys.

Be supportive When you do start to see an interest develop, support it, says Horn. If you notice your son spending more and more time on his artwork, there is Kids playing with LEGOno need to rush out and place him in art lessons. Instead, be mindful of keeping your art supplies well-stocked and giving your son the space and time to run with it. Or, maybe your daughter asks a lot of questions about how machines work. The next time you drive past a garage sale, pick up a toaster and let her take it apart and learn about its parts. And if your son has shown an interest in chemistry, make sure he has an age-appropriate chemistry set. Help maintain his momentum by giving him a new set when he reaches the next level. In this way you can support your child naturally and without pressure.

Fuel the joy of discovery “If you hang around really smart people who are at the top of their game, you’ll notice the one thing they have in common is how happy they are,” says Horn. The joy of discovery is what keeps people motivated. A simple way to help your kids make their own discoveries is by visiting museums. Don’t be afraid to visit the same museum more than once as exhibits change regularly and there is always something new to learn. Plus, kids can take something new away from the same exhibit each time as their understanding of the world changes. And be sure to check out the engaging activities at your local Learning Express Toys store.

Fuse subjects together in a natural way Kid looking through microscopeHorn believes that art and creativity can tie everything together. “Art helps enable people to think independently instead of just receiving information,” says Horn. I know this to be true, having seen it first-hand. My 5-year-old has been hunting for specimens to observe under his new microscope. When I mentioned that it would be neat to draw pictures of what he sees through the microscope, it took his interest to a whole new level.

I hope these tips can help bring a little STEAM into your house and encourage your child to embrace science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Let’s inspire the next generation of dynamic thinkers!

Please leave a comment below and share how you encourage educational play in your home.

– Katherine Riolo

2 thoughts on “Full STEAM Ahead”

  • ellen

    Hi, I'm so glad you included links to some of the places where we can find products to encourage our grandkids in their pursuits. As grandparents, we tend to just look for gifts for our darlings that they want, mostly by what they're exposed to on t.v. This gives us a new way of giving them gifts that are more tailored to their personal directions. I think it could change our conversations with them too. We need to pay more attention to their leanings and those are conversations that need to take place with OUR kids. Thanks!

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