Cultivating future scientists and honing the critical and analytical thinking skills in young minds are not easy feats and should probably start at home and at a young age. While books and classrooms are the time-proven and traditional ways of learning new things, there are other educational platforms that one can use for sparking and developing interests in STEM among kids.
Where to begin is almost always the first challenge. I have often been asked by parents where to obtain reliable and excellent resources for STEM-related activities. The good news is that there are tons of STEM resources available across a wide array of platforms or tools. It is just a matter of choosing which ones are the right platform or tools for you and your kids’ interest. The choice of course depends on your expertise and comfortability as an educator, although most of these resources are easy to adopt. Here are some resources that one can use, though this is not an exhaustive list.
In this age, there are a lot of online materials – from websites dedicated to a specific field of science to online apps that you can download. For instance, if you are interested in botany, Botany Depot is a useful resource for kids and parents. It contains a lot of information about the world of plants, their usefulness in our everyday lives, book suggestions, hands-on activities that kids can do, and much more. BioEd Online, developed by Baylor College of Medicine, is another comprehensive resource for students in grades K-12 and for parents and teachers as well. The American Museum of Natural History has a great science educational website for kids that focuses on the ‘ology’ field (https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology) – which ranges from microbiology and anthropology to climate change, physics and earth science. The website contains tons of information on the different fields of science so one can choose which field you want to focus on, and also includes educational games and activities for kids. For astronomy or anything related to the cosmos, the NASA Kids Club is an excellent website for kids across all ages.
If you want a more accessible, on-the-go tool, online apps for kids are also available. A really great place to start with is Science NetLinks, maintained by the American Society for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). They have a good collection of apps from a wide array of scientific fields suitable for children of different ages: for example, GoSkyWatchPlanetariumapp, Agent Higgsapp (physics), Matific(math), goReact(chemistry), iCell(cell biology) and many more. NASA Kids Club also has some free downloadable apps.
Sometimes a hands-on experience can be a better way of teaching scientific concepts. And they could be more fun for kids as well! Do-it-yourself science projects can be useful for this type of learning and activity. There are DIY projects that do not require a lot of materials and can be easily performed by kids. Science NetLinks has a list of after school resources or activities the kids can do (http://sciencenetlinks.com/afterschool-resources/). Another good website that lists down some DIY projects: https://www.weareteachers.com/outdoor-science/. For instance, you can make and plant DIY ‘seed bombs’ by using recycled materials and planting them in the yard. This way, kids learn about ecology, recycling, and plant life cycles.
If your kids love indoor activities, a potential supplement (though maybe not an alternative to other resources) for fun activities for kids and parents that teaches science concepts are board games. Though it might seem counter-intuitive, there are board games and even video games that have been developed, or currently being explored, that rely on (teaching) scientific concepts. For instance, the board game, Evolution which was also recently launched as a videogame, was developed by Dutch biologists. You learn how species adapt, survive and evolve under different environments and the impact of climate change on species survival. And for developing your creativity and building skills, ever heard of Minecraft?
What if you don’t have access to any of these resources? Of course, one can always rely on the old-fashion way of learning things: books! There are science books for all ages (even for infants, as I recently found out!). You can start with the simplest book that explains science and technology concepts, then build from there. As a science teacher, there are also programs that connect you with scientists such as the Skype-a-Scientist program where you can partner up with scientists from across the country. Although this is targeted for middle or high school students, this is a great way of making students learn and know what being a scientist entails and how to carve a path towards a career in STEM. Finally, Pueblo Science exists for that reason.
About the Author
Dr. Candice Lumibao is a plant evolutionary ecologist, studying the ecological and evolutionary processes driving variations in plants and their associated microbiomes, and how these variations impact their ability to respond to global environmental changes, including climate change. She became a mother in 2019.