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How Parents Can Inspire STEM Exploration Outside the Classroom

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Jim Accomando

President, National PTA

Astronaut Neil Armstrong inspired us to dream beyond the stars when he took that first step out onto the moon’s surface nearly 50 years ago. This sparked a boom of technological advancements — satellite television, computer microchips, CAT-scans, freeze-dried food and more — that have each, in turn, accelerated the demand for qualified science, technology, engineering and math professionals.

The future of STEM starts by engaging families. As a parent, you are your child’s first point of access to these fields. You introduce them to STEM learning and help them discover the exciting possibilities for their future. Your child might not even realize when you’re doing it — educational opportunities and future planning can take the form of simple, everyday activities.

While we want to foster passion for science, technology, engineering and math through fun activities, we know that by involving families in these experiences, the possibilities of connecting with the child can be endless. When a parent is supportive, the child feels supported.

Grant opportunities have aided schools and communities to engage families in STEM. Additionally, when STEM activities are supported outside the traditional environment, it can create a powerful dynamic that seeks to spark, ignite, and engage families.

Here are four ways STEM can be integrated in your home:

1. Learn together

When a parent takes an interest in their child’s studying and homework assignments, they notice the child has a higher level of confidence. Doing math activities at home with your child can spark an interest in STEM careers at an early age. Additionally, through the help of local parent-teacher associations around the nation, parents have new materials to use with their children at home.

2. Take walks

This can be a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood or a longer hike in a nearby park. As you walk, encourage your child to point out things they find interesting — a loud car or an interesting bug — and watch how their natural curiosity will emerge. Answer their questions the best you can, and look up the answers to questions you aren’t sure about together at home or at the library.

3. Expose your child to STEM role models

Connecting with role models in STEM professions is a great way for you to support your child’s dream occupation. Use online resources such as video interviews to introduce your child to a marine biologist, computer programmer or brain doctor. You should also show them unique STEM careers that do not require a four-year degree, like a plumber, graphic designer or commercial pilot.

4. Conduct fun experiments at home

Doing simple experiments at home not only helps your child learn, but also reinforces the idea that STEM is everywhere. Search online for fun activities to answer questions like, “Why do ice cubes float?” and “How do finger joints work?”

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do to support your child’s interest in STEM is to maintain your own sense of curiosity. Your child will follow your lead.

Jim Accomando, President, National PTA, [email protected]

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