In today's tech-centric world, STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math) skills are in demand like never before. We see it in the news repeatedly that millions of STEM jobs are going unfilled.
But how do we ensure that our children are fully equipped and—just as importantly—excited to succeed in tech throughout school, college, and their future careers?
Perhaps you've been trying to engage your son or daughter in engineering but it's just not sticking. Maybe you dream that they'll find their calling as a web designer, software developer, or graphic artist, but they show no technical inclination. They may be vocal about their disinterest or ambiguous, but don't give up!
There are countless approaches to instilling a love for technology, but there's no magic formula that works for every student. As a parent, it's a game of trial and error, and the sooner you begin, the better your odds of opening your child's eyes to a world of creative possibilities in tech.
1. Curate the ultimate STEM toy collection
Gone are the days of pink everything for girls and model cars and action figures for boys. Today's top educational toy-makers are upping their game by breaking down gender barriers. Thanks to progressive companies like GoldieBlox, littleBits, Makey Makey, Roominate, Thinkfun, and many others, young boys and girls can expand their creative horizons and learn about engineering, circuitry, coding, and more in a fun, accessible way.
2. Join the Maker movement
"Maker" is a popular umbrella term for independent inventors, designers, developers, engineers, and tech tinkerers who thrive on do-it-yourself creation. In recent years, a full-fledged movement has emerged, with vibrant “Maker Faires” popping up in communities nationwide. These events serve as collaborative showcases for passionate creators of all ages. Find a Maker Faire near you and ignite your child's imagination. They'll discover one-of-a-kind tech inventions and interact with talented, inspirational innovators.
3. Celebrate with STEM
Hold your child's next birthday party at a discovery museum or science center. They'll have a blast experimenting with tech gadgets alongside their closest friends (and won't even realize they're learning). Find a STEM museum near you.
4. Organize an Hour of Code event for your child's friends
It's no secret that many public schools don't offer computer science courses. However, thanks to Code.org, hosting an Hour of Code event in your own home has never been easier. Invite your child's closest friends, gather the neighborhood kids, and get programming! Code.org provides all the materials and tutorials you need to get started right on their website. The best part? It's fun for everyone involved.
5. Partner with your child's teacher
If hosting an Hour of Code at your home is impractical, work with your child's teacher to bring the event to the classroom. Also consider inquiring if your child can develop a website for their next report as opposed to turning in a traditional essay. Your child will have the added benefit of learning to lay out their written work and publish it on a functioning web page. Saves paper, too!
6. Become the student
Grab your smartphone or tablet and let your child teach YOU about new apps, features, games, and more. It doesn't matter if you're already a tech-whiz. Positioning your child as "teacher" is the ultimate role-reversal and will empower them to put their technical know-how to good use. Never underestimate the sense of pride that comes with teaching mom or dad some new tech tricks!
7. Introduce awesome tech role models
Many of us are familiar with the major tech pioneers of the past (Nikola Tesla, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Alan Turing, etc.) Their stories and contributions are incredible, but when trying to strike a chord with you child, it's vital to expose them to current, relevant entrepreneurs and STEM innovators. We're talking Tyler "Ninja" Blevins (eSports star and STEM education advocate), Markus Persson (creator of video game Minecraft), Caterina Fake (co-founder of Flickr), Mark Zuckerburg (founder of Facebook), Jess Lee (co-founder of Polyvore), Toby Fox (developer of indie video game Undertale), and other modern achievers.
When it comes to girls in STEM, this step is especially crucial, given the persistent gender gap in STEM fields. A relatable role model can make all the difference.
And importantly, every kid can learn, it's just that they learn in different ways. Thus, kids can even learn from other kids as well! There are a number of blogs kids can read that showcase young entrepreneurs and other successful young minds.
8. Emphasize the power of tech and philanthropy
Every child has their own reasons for being interested—or uninterested—in tech. For some, the idea of coding just for the sake of coding, or engineering robots just for fun, isn't enough to spark a lasting interest. If this sounds like your student, consider honing in on the countless ways tech is being used to create powerful social change and better the lives of people around the world.
Your child may not be interested in developing the next Angry Birds, but perhaps they are intrigued by the prospect of coding an app that helps bring clean water to communities in need. We've found the juxtaposition of tech and social impact to be especially effective in inspiring girls in STEM.
9. Promote computer science classes
If your child's school does not offer computer science classes, programming may seem like a far-off dream. You're not alone! There is a nationwide movement to incorporate CS into the core curriculum in public middle and high schools. Additionally, Code.org has put together a wealth of resources you can use to start a conversation with school administrators. Click here for tools to help you advocate locally.
10. Try after-school tech activities
Incorporating CS into the public school curriculum may be a lengthy process. In the meantime, try signing your student up for after-school clubs (like a robotics team) and activities that focus on STEM. The environment is often more casual than a regular classroom, allowing students to get creative and collaborate with friends.
11. Enroll in a summer tech camp
For a fun, more immersive tech learning experience, consider a day or overnight summer technology camp.
Summer tech programs have become a nationwide necessity due to the lack of CS in schools, and depending on where you live, you may find numerous options nearby. iD Tech programs for ages 7-19 are held at over 150 prestigious campuses including Stanford, NYU, University of Hong Kong, and University of Cambridge. Students of all skill levels choose from cutting-edge classes in coding, game development, AI and machine learning, virtual reality, robotics, engineering, film production, and much more.
With over 20 years of unmatched expertise, iD Tech is the best of the best when it comes to sparking and sustaining students' passion for STEM. In fact, a recent survey of iD Tech alumni found that 9 out of 10 students go on to study STEM in college. Find a location near you.
12. Experiment with online coding courses
If your child would prefer to learn to code, use Photoshop, or build a website from the comfort of home, there are a variety of fun and effective online STEM learning platforms. Some are free and some require a subscription, so do some research and determine what's right for your student. Get started with the free Code.org tutorials or consider online coding classes for kids and teens with our Online Private Lessons, led by the same trusted instructors our students know and love from summer camp.
13. Embrace the value of video games
To start, these "sandbox" games are the epitome of creativity, presenting limitless opportunity for players to explore, problem-solve, and collaborate with others. In an academic setting, students can focus on the underlying mechanics of the games, delving deeper into game development, modding, and level design. Learn more about our officially licensed Fortnite Camps, or view iD Tech Minecraft camps.
If your student is more interested in producing—and monetizing—their own video game, Roblox is an incredibly popular game creation platform. In fact, our Roblox courses have been among the first to sell out for Summer 2019!
14. Encourage out-of-the-box thinking
Whether your child is 7, 12, 19, or somewhere in between, seize every opportunity to encourage their creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and on-the-spot problem-solving. These are the skills that future recruiters and high-tech employers want to see—the same skills that will empower your child to reach their full potential in school, college, their dream career, and their personal life.
Are you a parent struggling to engage your child in technology? Share your experiences or advice in the comments.