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Full STEM Ahead How to make science, technology, engineering and math fun

LEGO time! My son, John, playing with his favorite LEGO Technic set

Full STEM Ahead How to make science, technology, engineering and math fun

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I’ve got two elementary-aged kids, so I’m no stranger to the terms STEM and STEAM. For newbies, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math; the A in STEAM is for art. There’s been a recent emphasis on these subjects because educators and experts alike realize that these fields teach the skills necessary for success in the workplace. And though I know literacy in STEM is a must for my kids, I get intimidated. I mean, I’m about as non-STEMy as you can get.

So I called Pamela Pavliscak. As the founder of Change Sciences, a parent of three school-age children and an active board member of the Rhinebeck Science Foundation, she seemed like the perfect person to explain why my kids—and yours—need proficiency in these areas. She also told me how to help foster a child’s love of STEM/STEAM with new products on the market.

The idea behind STEM

As Pavliscak explained to me, STEM aims to intertwine math, science and engineering rather than teach them separately. The STEM approach brings a real-world sensibility to the way in which these subjects are taught and focuses on hands-on learning. It’s no secret that job opportunities abound in the technology and science fields, but career potential aside, Pavliscak is a big believer that all students need a good understanding of technology. After all, it’s such a big part of our everyday existence and will become even more prevalent in the future.

Pavliscak says there are ways to work with your child’s school to increase STEM-related opportunities. If you’re up for fundraising, that’s even better, as schools are always looking for additional resources to help enhance learning with before or after-school extracurriculars. A great start could be speaking to your school’s administration about using Hour of Code, a very short introduction to computer science/computer programming. You might have heard of it because even President Obama got in on the action.

Ways you can get your child involved

My daughter, Amelia, and our pug check out her new Roominate kit.My daughter, Amelia, and our pug check out her new Roominate kit.At home, encouraging your child’s enthusiasm in these areas can be fun for them and you, too, Pavliscak says. There are plenty of ways to engage and educate—whether you’re a coding ninja or still using paper and pencil. Here are companies and products she thinks are doing it right:

“There has been a lot of thought and consideration on getting more girls involved in STEM fields,” says Pavliscak, who is a fan of Roominate products. Check out the Roominate Studio Play Set ($29.99 at Toys R Us), which seamlessly combines imaginative play with hands-on tech-building skills, letting kids wire cheery, bright spaces.

She also raved about the award-winning littleBits, which are electronics kits that make it “fun, easy and appealing” for kids and parents to work together on projects. The littleBits Base Kit ($102.99 at YoYo.com) will have your family controlling cars, making buzzers go off remotely and much more. No programming or wiring required!

littleBits Base Kit

Think of the Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 ($22.95 at Fat Brain Toys) as a “glorified marble run,” says our expert. It involves design and strategy in a clever and engaging way.

Q-BA-MAZE 2.0

Pavliscak says the Magna-Tiles Clear Colors 32 Piece Set ($51.50 at Amazon) is “a building, thinking toy for a range of ages.” Whatever they want to make, they can do it with these easily connecting shapes perfect for all sorts of 2-D and 3-D construction.

Magna-Tiles Clear Colors 32 Piece Set

“LEGOs are absolutely great at all levels,” Pavliscak says. “There are lots of options, lots of colors, kids love the openness of it, and the idea they can build their own thing or make something really involved.” She adds that this is the “first step to LEGO Robotics and those clubs and getting kids thinking through problems and how they might solve them through technology and engineering.” There’s no way to go wrong with LEGOs, but my son’s favorite right now is the LEGO Technic set he got for Christmas. It’s very, very cool: LEGO Technic Cherry Picker ($12.99 at LEGO.com). If your kids go through LEGO sets like candy, visit the subscription service Pley, which lets you rent LEGO sets ($15 and up per month).

Unless you’re seriously out of it, you’ve heard of Minecraft, which Pavliscak says is a “creative game that engages problem solving and isn’t just this close-ended thing.” For younger children, our expert suggests trying out the “incredible and very creative” Toca Boca digital apps.

Toca Boca digital apps for kids

 

Coupon tips from our editors banner

Fat Brain Toys: Get $3.99 flat-rate shipping.

Toys R Us: Grab free shipping on $49 or more.

Yoyo.com: Get 15% off your first order and free shipping on $49 or more.

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