Getting kids interested in STEM at any age

August 26, 2015 Off By Laura TMOT
STEM seems to be the new buzz-word when talking about toys and education, but some parents are finding it all a little bit baffling. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and there is a real focus on trying to get children interested in these subjects after it has been found that the number of children taking these subjects after GCSE has dropped. Getting children interested in these subjects can start at any age so I have pulled together some information on a variety of resources that you can use to really help children become interested in these areas.

Although you might think that pre-school children are too young to be interested in STEM subjects there are actually so many fun things that you can do with them that helps to nurture their natural curiosity. Simple messy play with materials such as cornflour and water is something that most young children enjoy and there are so many educational apps available nowadays that you can really help to give them a head start. One of my favourite apps for the technology subject is the Bee Bot app which helps teach basic programming in a fun way. There are also lots of fun toys that are aimed to at this age group to help teach children about these subjects, Learning Resources is a great site to visit to find age-appropriate STEM toys and we loved their Gears, Gears, Gears set.

As well as apps and toys at home you might be able to find local sessions that help to enhance this type of learning too. Here in Manchester the Museum of Science and Industry run a fantastic Experitots session once a month. Aimed at preschool children, the sessions give children the opportunity to play with toys and materials that inspire and entertain them. Each month has a different theme and the sessions include a craft activity and a story to tie it all together which makes the session more interesting to this age range. It is worth contacting your local museums to see if they run anything similar or maybe even suggesting this type of session to them.

When it comes to children who have started school I have found that tying in learning to their interests makes life a lot easier. I came across a great example of this last week when I received a Star Wars Maths Workbook in a goody bag from an event I went to with my girls. Alison is a huge Star Wars fan and she was really excited to start practicing her Maths with the book we received. After all counting Ewoks is much more fun than apples.

Kids of this age also love getting hands on with their learning. To find out more about this I spoke with Emma Vanstone, co-founder of Science Sparks. Science Sparks is a fabulous website full of fun, creative science based activity ideas for kids hoping to inspire a generation of young scientists and is my go to site when looking for great activities to do with my girls. Emma shared with  me her top tips for inspiring a love of science in children.

Allow children to explore, ask questions and learn through their own curiosity using problem solving skills to investigate, observe and question learning through their own mistakes and successes.
Keep it simple – science doesn’t have to be difficult and complicated.
Take a hands-on approach, children learn much more if they can take part in the activity. Things like ice excavations, cornflour goo, painting on ice, sensory bottles and baking soda reactions are inexpensive, easy to set up, and great fun for kids of all ages.

Emma mentioned some really simple activities and you can find even more of them on the Science Sparks website. Personally I love making volcanos and one of my favourite experiments in the Sand Volcano (click on the picture to go to the experiment).
I have also found that my children seem to love learning from trips to our local museums and no matter what the subject they are learning about we can always find somewhere suitable to visit. Checking out the local Museums to see what exhibits and events they have running can really help support the curriculum and encourage them to learn. The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester run learning programmes throughout the year that helps to support the curriculum for the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 including learning about forces, steam power, electricity, light and more. They also run a variety of workshops during the holidays to keep the children interested. 

As the children get older it is harder to get them interested in STEM subjects but it is really good to see that TV and the Toy Industry are also trying to tackle this problem. I recently went to a launch event for a new Netflix show called Project MC2 which shows four main stars using their brains and a pinch of science to save the day. The show is supported by a range of dolls that come with their very own experiments. The show is aimed at girls aged 8 and above and we really enjoyed it so I hope they make more episodes. 

As well as introducing children to toys, apps, experiments and even tv shows that help to inspire their interests in these subjects I think it is also important to show children how these subjects are used as they get older. There is a national organisation called STEMNET which aims to inspire young people to study STEM subjects after GCSE and they do this in a variety of ways using STEM ambassadors and working closely with local schools. Stemnet has divided the country into 45 regions and each area is overseen by a specialist centre. Here in Manchester our specialist center is the Museum of Science and Industry and I got a chance to speak to Daniel O’Connell the Stem Ambassadors Officer about the work that they do within the Greater Manchester region.

The Greater Manchester region includes 163 state secondary schools that are the main focus of the STEMNET programme in this area. They visit all of these schools to help them plan activities, challenges and events to get young people more involved and interested in STEM subjects by introducing them to some of the 1100 STEM ambassadors. STEM Ambassadors come from a variety of roles and are all volunteers who work with young people to enthuse them and get them interested in STEM careers. The Stem Ambassadors come from a variety of companies including the BBC and NHS. They aim to show young people that the subjects they choose to study can gain them access to a wide range of very important careers. As well as visiting all of the state secondary schools in the region they also work with primary schools when they request support.  

Getting children and young people interested in STEM is something that I truly believe is really important. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths are what allow us to progress, whether with the latest technology making communication easier or the newest medicine saving lives or even faster modes of transport they are all really important. No matter what the age of your child they are never too young to become inspired by these fascinating subjects and you never know they may be a future scientist or engineer.