In recent years, you may have noticed an emphasis on “STEM”—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—programs for kids. (Of course we love “STEAM” also, which is often used to denote the addition of “arts” to the previous list). These subjects are increasingly important for tomorrow’s top careers; Business Insider’s list of the 30 best high-paying jobs of the future includes industrial engineers, computer and information systems managers, software developers, and more.
It’s never too early to cultivate a love of STEM in your kids. So, today, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite ideas and activities to get your little one ready to love and excel in these areas!
- Observe + experiment
Observation is critical across the sciences—and babies are natural explorers and observational learners. You can help develop these skills in your little ones through activities like water play; we love this list that’s full of great ideas for sensory water play for babies. There are also lots of benefits to bubble play! And, every little one seems to love blocks and stacking cups—both of which are great at helping your child develop spatial relations skills and understand simple math concepts. Smooth wood toys are also perfect for tactile play, and natural materials are shown to help baby focus and relax.
If you have toddlers, ask them open-ended questions about what they see—and be specific about things you’re showing them. For instance, ask your little one to compare several objects: “Which one is bigger?” “Do you see differences in color?” Also ask them things like: “Which shapes do you see?” “How many wheels does your toy train have?” And if you’re showing your child a particular animal, plant, or something else for the first time, talk to them about the colors, shape, size, characteristics, and name of the object.
And for some simple “experiments” and fun ways to learn more, we love these Science and Math Activities from the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
- Get outside in nature
Children are always curious, and oftentimes there is no better place to cultivate a natural love of learning than in the great outdoors. Adventures and discoveries abound whether in your own yard, a local park, on a walking trail, or elsewhere. Many kids love to collect natural objects like leaves, sticks, rocks, or flowers. If this is possible where you are, ask your child to compare and contrast their “specimens.” Also, follow your little one’s lead to see what they are most interested in. Talk about simple measurement and counting concepts and encourage your child to engage in safe interactions with flora, fauna, and other wonders you encounter.
- Explore the built environment and tools around you
On a walk around your neighborhood, or even through the pages of a book or magazine, encourage your child to look at objects with a critical eye. What sorts of angles and shapes do your children notice on the buildings and homes in your neighborhood? What materials do they think are involved in the construction? If you encounter any construction-related vehicles, ask your child what they think a particular truck is designed to do (for instance: dig holes, trim trees, pave roads). Also look at the tools in your house—anything from small utensils to rakes and shovels. Talk to your child about how each item is designed to perform the task it is used for, and let them ask questions or think of new uses for everyday items like a spoon, rolling pin, or hook.
- Find easy learning moments in the everyday
We love this video from Vroom about bring math concepts into something as simple as setting the table. Get your little ones involved to help them learn basic math concepts. We also love this video that helps develop your “junior scientist.” Ask questions and explore alongside your little one. And, there’s always the good ‘ole cup game that helps your child focus and hone spatial skills.
- Read books and visit museums!
There are so many wonderful books that introduce children to STEM concepts in a fun and educational way. Here’s a list of 19 STEM books your kids will love, to get you started. And, it’s always a great day to bring your kiddo to a natural history or children’s science museum.