Hey, parents: you can help plant “STEM seeds” early in your kids at home. Unlike any generation before them, your kids are growing up surrounded by technology. That’s great news when it comes to future career opportunities! According to a study called “STEM Occupations: Past, Present and Future from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” there were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015, and seven out of the 10 largest STEM occupations were computer related. With the big push for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in schools these days, you might wonder what you can do at home to boost your kids’ sense of curiosity, problem-solving and STEM skills. Plenty, even with younger kids! The good news? You don’t need to be a math whiz or science buff to explore STEM topics with your kids.

Try these ideas with the kids of all ages in your family:

• Build STEM language from a young age. Even with little ones, you can encourage them to notice their surroundings, ask questions and pay attention to details. Observation is a critical science skill, so challenge your child to think about what she’s doing or seeing in the world around her.

• Watch fun science videos together on YouTube. Standouts include NatGeo Kids and Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense videos. In Bayer’s kid-friendly films, for instance, kids get the low-down on intriguing topics such as What Makes a Curveball Curve?; Why Do Ice Cubes Float?; When Do Fish Sleep?; What is a Shooting Star?; and How Does a Microwave Work?

• Encourage participation in STEM clubs. In younger grades, you might find a LEGO Builder’s Club at school or in the community. In some middle schools and many high schools, your child might be able to join an after-school coding, web development, engineering or robotics club.

• Challenge kids to teach themselves. Many online opportunities exist to help kids boost technology skills. There’s code.org and tynker.com. Kids can create games and animations at scratch.mit.edu. Kids can build websites using WordPress and upload photos and videos. They can also use the open-source MIT App Inventor to create software applications.

• Read with your kids. Let books open your kids’ eyes to new ideas and fresh perspectives and introduce them to unsung heroes/heroines and unfamiliar places.

• Bring science to life with hands-on family fun trips. Visit a planetarium, arboretum, zoo, factory, science museum, nature trail or observatory. Explore STEM concepts though hands-on exhibits, demonstrations and interactive experiences. In nature, bring along a notebook to record observations or sketch pictures.

• Encourage your child’s interests. Does your child enjoy building model rockets or playing with gears? Buy a science kit for his next birthday. Does he love to cook? Dig into the chemistry of cooking by researching culinary-science questions, like why apples turn brown once they’re cut.

• Participate in school STEM events. Your child’s school may hold family math night, science fairs or tech nights. Make it a point to go together and ask questions to help connect him with STEM concepts.

• Create a “maker box.” Stock your home with supplies that encourage creativity, building and invention. Some ideas: small cardboard boxes and tubes, Play-Doh, PVC plastic pipes and connectors, LEGOs, string, wooden building blocks, duct tape, Lincoln Logs, pipe cleaners, etc.

• Assign tech roles. If your child has a knack for technology, ask him to help you figure out your smartphone or show you how to download photos to your laptop. Dub him your family’s tech guru to instill confidence!

• Plan to plant a garden. Start indoors with containers. Kids can measure the planting depth of seeds, chart the growth of a plant and predict which plants will yield the most produce. Talk about the life cycle of a plant, discuss photosynthesis and identify parts of a plant from seed to stem.

CODING for KIDS

Two new hot spots for kids can help get them into the coding craze. Check ‘em out:

CODE NINJAS
codeninjas.com
1113 Murfreesboro Road, Ste. 410, Franklin
615-640-2633
email: franklintn@codeninjas.com
Kids ages 7 - 14 can learn how to build their own video game and coding strategies in addition to logic skills, math and problem solving. Drop-in programs let kids work at their own pace as they earn color-coded wristbands for achievements earned. Also available: Parents’ Night Out and day camps.

RobotiX Institute
rxiedu.com
1550 W. McEwen Drive, Ste. 300, Franklin
— and —
4322 Harding Pike, Ste. 417, Nashville
615-721-2650
Kids 5 - 17 can engage in a variety of robotics lessons, individually customized LEGO classes, VEX Robotics, computer programming and more.