And before you walk away thinking your kid isn't interested in STEM and can't possibly be interested in STEM, remember how STEM is actually defined. We are talking about inspiring the next generation to enjoy science and technology. To love math and even engineering.
Those subjects encompass a ton of interests.
Anyway, this post isn’t about the trends and statistics, or the importance of coding, though many of them are—we love writing about all of it on this blog!
Instead, we’re going to take about one hundred steps back and focus on something fundamental.
In this post, we’re getting back to basics: how to spark a love for learning, just for the sake of it.
After all, it’s a long road to that dream career in STEM, and we have been lucky to help many of our former campers and instructors get there. There’s so much behind the scenes of that job offer, internship, or brilliant idea; they all start with a spark.
That spark kickstarts a personal journey for every innovator, and we’re here to focus on that journey today because, to borrow a famous phrase, “The journey is the destination”.
Don’t get me wrong; there are some pretty awesome destinations for kids to aspire to and dream about. We love cheering kids on along their way! However, the path that can lead to those destinations is just as important, valuable, and exciting.
There are countless approaches to instilling a love for learning, and one way is through technology, with the key residing in finding an authentic, meaningful “spark” for your child. That could be a natural inquisitiveness about science or tech, or it could be a connection to something they already love, like video games. And while STEM isn’t for everyone, there are a lot more avenues, interdisciplinary connections, and possibilities that you (and kids) might think!
We believe that future careers and studies in STEM - technology in particular - are worthwhile and can change the world.
We also believe that engaging with tech has countless personal benefits for kids like the opportunity to problem-solve, work in teams, explore the underpinnings of the modern world, build confidence, and bring ideas to life—just to name a few.
Are those goals worth pursuing in and of themselves? Our answer is a resounding yes!
Plus, we just think it’s cool, fun, and engaging. Exploring STEM is not a perfect science; it’s an interactive, thought-provoking field with skills and many “aha” moments to enjoy along the way.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started!
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 Sphero, Kiwi Co., and many others, young minds can expand their creative horizons, with kids learning about coding, engineering, circuitry, 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 (many are taking place virtually due to COVID-19) and ignite your child's imagination. They'll discover one-of-a-kind tech inventions and interact with talented, inspirational innovators.
3. Organize an Hour of Code virtual 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 (yes, even virtually) has never been easier. Invite your child's closest friends, gather the neighborhood kids over Zoom, 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.
4. Partner with your child's teacher
If hosting an Hour of Code at your home is impractical, work with your child's teacher, or perhaps their school’s technology coordinator (a staple at many schools nowadays!), to bring the event to the classroom. Also consider inquiring if your child can develop a website for their next school project. 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!
5. 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 (and could even help you identify your child's strengths). 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), Caterina Fake (co-founder of Flickr), 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. These industries also have a lot of room to grow in terms of diversity, so extra amplification of Black leaders in tech and other voices from communities of color is important. A relatable role model can make all the difference; never underestimate the power of being able to look up to someone whose background is similar to yours.
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 for kids that showcase young entrepreneurs and other successful young minds.
8. Emphasize the power of tech and changing the world
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 change and tackle real world issues. Kids have opinions (lots of ‘em), and trust us when they say that every child would like to change the world in some way for the better.
STEM can help them achieve that goal!
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. Talk to your child about their interests, and you’re probably just a few clicks away from their next passion project!
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 virtual after-school enrichment activities like robotics team or a STEM competition. The environment is often more casual than a regular classroom, allowing students to get creative and collaborate with friends.
11. Enroll in a virtual tech camp
For a fun, immersive tech learning experience, consider a virtual tech camp! Summer and spring break tech programs have become a nationwide necessity due to the lack of CS in schools. COVID-19 created the next necessity: virtual camps. iD Tech is so excited to launch our second season of Virtual Tech Camps, and bring the magic of our in-person programs to a safe, distance-learning format. There are courses for every experience level and multiple pathways to dive into STEM.
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.
13. Embrace the value of video games
The internet is overflowing with articles touting the educational value of popular video games like Minecraft and Fortnite. So what's all the hype about?
To start, these "sandbox" games are the epitome of creativity, presenting limitless opportunities 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 awesome game design courses here!)
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 are consistently among the first to sell out each season!
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 looking to engage your child in technology? Share your experiences or advice in the comments!