stem study

How to teach your kids STEM lessons (without a PhD in science)

Young children are natural-born explorers — left to their own devices, they’ll overturn rocks, open doors, empty boxes, and ask a lot of questions. They’ll climb on, draw on, and wander around just about anything, honing their thinking and reasoning skills as they go. This is how their scientific minds develop — they’re forever making sense of the wondrous world around them.

Parents play a crucial role in raising young scientists. But according to a survey released by the Boston-based Education Development Center (EDC), most parents feel comfortable teaching anything but science. In fact, while nine out of ten parents report doing some kind of daily learning activity with their kids, only about half say those activities are science-related. And while 70 percent of parents feel “very confident” in their ability to help with reading, math, and social skills, far fewer say the same about science.

But according to Shelley Pasnik, director of the EDC’s Center for Children and Technology, it’s not for lack of interest. “This survey tells us that parents, regardless of income, want to give their children a strong start in the sciences, but many just aren’t sure how,” she says. Many parents report lacking confidence in their own grasp of science, making them hesitant to answer children’s complex questions. Others think their kids are too young to learn science, or that science can’t be taught at home.

Pasnik and her colleagues hope to dispel these myths. According to the EDC, kids as young as 3 can think scientifically — they can form hypotheses, ask questions, generate explanations, and make predictions. When they learn science, they sharpen a host of skills and mindsets that will serve them throughout their lives: They use language to explain their reasoning, they use math to measure results, and they learn persistence by sticking with difficult problems. Perhaps it’s no wonder that kindergartners who learn science are more likely to be high achievers in high school.

The good news for parents is this: Science can definitely be taught at home, and you don’t have to be a scientist to raise a baby Einstein. When children ask why the wind blows or why leaves change color in the fall, it’s okay if you’re not entirely sure. When it comes to science, the process of discovery — of being curious and asking questions, of forming hypotheses and finding explanations — can be just as important as the factually correct answer. Parents and children can launch scientific journeys together simply by wondering aloud, asking why and what if.

“Did you know when you wonder, you’re learning?” Check out this video of Mister Rogers modeling curiosity.

Of course, once you’ve started the journey, it’s not always clear where to turn next. According to the survey, 70 percent of parents say additional resources, such as ideas for everyday science activities, would be helpful. To that end, Kidsburgh has compiled just a few of the great resources available to local parents, both online and around town. (And don’t forget, our own Maker Monday activities are published here!)

Check out these resources:

4 Ways to Explore Science with Your Child: The EDC shares four easy science activities that parents can make using everyday materials, such as water, shaving cream, and cardboard.

PBS: PBS Kids provides tons of games, videos, and apps that help parents and children explore just about any question kids might ask. The website’s resources can be sorted by age, subject, and media type, allowing families to quickly find the tools that are right for them.

Common Sense Media: Common Sense Media rates and reviews STEM resources — including apps, TV shows, websites, games, and books — that can aid families’ scientific journeys.

The MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh: Do you want to know how your toys work? Or how to build your own? The Children’s Museum’s MAKESHOP gives kids and families the tools and support to turn their visions into reality.

Carnegie Science Center: Full of exhibits that get kids building and wondering, the Carnegie Science Center is the perfect place where families can ask (and answer) their scientific questions.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: The library’s STEM Super Science Kits help kids think like scientists through a combination of books and fun science experiments, nearly all of which parents can replicate at home.