Butcher, baker, candlestick maker. What did you want to be when you grew up? Once upon a time, the choices were more obvious: teacher, doctor, firefighter, mail carrier... Today, ask friends what their job titles are, and their actual work duties may not seem so straightforward. The 21st century has been largely about innovation and quick development of the knowledge and skills to take us into the future.
Some people have been quick to adapt to technology, and are eager to share their enthusiasm with tomorrow’s bright minds. STEM has been made the acronym for learnings in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. And happily, STEM has been a fast study in developing children’s programming that is engaging and educational. “Young children don’t have particular set logic yet. When presented with a problem, they have the unique perspective of a completely open mind, and can come up with workable solutions,” says Sarah Baldwin, vice president and director of sales, marketing, and communications with BrainSTEM Learning Canada. “In a turn of roles, kids have an opportunity to help their parents by sharing their completely different way of thinking.”
STEM programs and activities can support kids in developing the skills to use their talents for creative problem-solving. Opportunities for hands-on experimentation provide new experiences to discover strengths and interests, and pique further curiosity and learning. Solutions may come in the form of writing code, building robotics, and testing/proving hypotheses in the process. Supplied with technology, equipment, and materials, kids can use their open mindsets to explore, try, and learn.
STEM is viewed as an economic driver for this century. The STEM job market is a growth market, and to stay current in most fields, a good understanding of technology is required. Encouraging complex problem-solving skills in preschool-age through elementary school may help to promote interest in nontraditional jobs in technology and manufacturing, along with an understanding of what these professions are about.
Many students may not yet be prepared for these newer career streams; in particular, girls may be more likely to veer away from math and science by the time they reach secondary school. Opting out of these subjects in favor of languages and arts may limit choices for post-secondary study and careers. Providing equal opportunities to engage in STEM programs as an alternative to traditional preschool settings and after-school activities may help to equalize gender ratios in STEM professions.
“Enrolment in our STEM programs leans toward boys, perhaps 60 to 40 per cent. When we participate in public events, we see equal interest from boys and girls coming to check out our displays,” says Baldwin. “We also have more participants who are children of engineers or technology-based professionals, as well as from families who are more focused on academics and career than sports and recreation.”
A 2011 Statistics Canada study of young university graduates found that despite women representing the majority of graduates, women are always less likely to choose a STEM program of study, regardless of mathematical ability. Of students graduating from STEM programs, women accounted for only 23 per cent of engineering graduates and 30 per cent of math and computer science graduates.
Parents worried about pushing kids too far into left- brain or right-brain activities and limiting development can breathe easy with STEM programs. In many programs, science and arts are brought together, with thought that the creativity of art is necessary to fuel innovation. STEAM is a variation with ‘Art’ officially in the mix, and other programs such as DIGIVATIONS include both art and movement as components of their broader STEM programming.
Interested in setting your child’s mind free? STEM programs are popping up in traditional parks and recreation settings, through post-secondary institution offerings for youth, and in newer STEM-specific centres. Available for toddlers through to teen, STEM programs are offered as ongoing curriculum sessions, day camps, and one-offs for Pro-D days and birthday parties.
Sheryl is a freelance writer and communications consultant, and draws from her former health care career to keep people at the forefront of her stories. A mom of three, ages 6, 7, and 10, you can find her at the soccer field, in the dollar store, and hiding in her bathroom with the good chocolate.
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