Five Things You Can Do Now to Help Engineer a Child’s Interest in STEMYou know the saying: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I’m one of those lucky ones. As an education outreach coordinator at Burns & McDonnell, I am not only living my passion, I’m witnessing those special “student spark” moments. You know, that moment when a child experiences a true connection with a subject he or she never even considered. In my industry, those moments are tied to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

“The future of the economy is in STEM,” says James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition. The challenge is that the number of STEM jobs reportedly outweighs the number of STEM professionals. In fact, jobs requiring STEM skills are growing at seven times the rate of non-STEM jobs. By 2018, more than 2 million STEM jobs in the U.S. will remain unfilled because there won’t be enough qualified candidates to fill them.

The number one question I get from parents and educators is, “What can I do to introduce my children to STEM?”

Here are five easy tips to help engineer a child’s interest in STEM:

  1. Use the words. The first step to discovering STEM is understanding what those four letters represent. Ask them; and then define what science, technology, engineering and math are and how they impact our society.
  1. Find examples in everyday life. When you’re on the seesaw with your child, share that it’s one of six simple machines and explain how the machine works. When you’re driving by a substation, explain how it is connecting electricity to power your house, your neighborhood, your city. Tapping into the curiosity of how things work can be incredibly exciting.
  1. Engage in STEM activities. There are endless simple, inexpensive (and often free) resources to introduce kids to the concepts around STEM. Check out Amazon and hobby stores for games and kits. Pinterest, Steve Spangler Science and Burns & McDonnell have fun and engaging experiments online that you can try with your kids, such as how to use a magnet to find real iron in that bowl of cereal you eat each morning.
  1. Encourage destruction. Problem solving is one of the most valuable skills in STEM careers, so encourage your kids to take things apart and figure out how to put them back together again. Use parts from old devices to create new inventions, such as an old toy motor to create a motorized coloring machine.
  1. Visit science centers and events. From science camps to Maker Faires, check out what’s available in your city and make it a family outing. Add it to your spring break or summer vacation itinerary and experience science centers outside your area, such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and Science City at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri.

Emily Rhoden is an education outreach coordinator at Burns & McDonnell. To reach Emily and learn about more STEM activities and resources, visit our website.

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