The Attenborough Effect: How to get kids interested in STEM subjects
It's never too soon to start learning about our planet, and how we can take better care of it. Here, Rachel Hall, Managing Director at online educational resource provider Busy Things, shares four ways that you can spark your child's interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths).
With shows like Blue Planet II shining a light on environmental issues, more and more of us are deciding to make eco-friendly choices, such as avoiding single use plastics and choosing sustainable products. This movement which has become known as the 'Attenborough effect' — and the younger generation has been particularly enthusiastic about it, with school students rallying together to demand action on climate change in record numbers earlier this year (BBC).
The Attenborough effect is also thought to have fuelled an increase in GSCE science entries this year, with uptake for double science rising by 4.8% (EducationBusiness). It's thought that young people are becoming more interested in STEM subjects at school in the hopes of turning these skills into careers which will discover new solutions to help save the planet.
Even if your little ones still have quite a few years to go before they pick their GCSEs, there's still a lot you can do to encourage your children to explore science, maths, engineering and tech. In this article, I'll share a few ideas you can use to instil a love of STEM subjects and sustainable living habits — you never know, they might just grow up to be the next David Attenborough!
Encourage outdoor learning
Getting outside for a walk with your little ones has all sorts of benefits: it’s great exercise, it helps to instil a love of nature in your children, and it can encourage all sorts of scientific skills, too. Autumn is an especially great time to get out and about, as there are plenty of seasonal changes to observe and learn about.
Scavenger hunts are a good way to help teach biology: you could ask younger children to help you collect a variety of fallen leaves, pinecones, and conkers, and take them home to learn more about them or create collages or artworks. Don’t be afraid to let them get messy while out and about, either — learning through the senses is an important part of their development, and it’s all part of the fun.
For kids who are bit older, taking a notepad and pen or using your phone can help to enhance the educational benefits of a simple walk to the park even more. You could try spotting and identifying different wildlife and plants using the internet or an app or taking a survey of things you observe on your walk. Both of these things might seem like fun and games to your kids, but they teach research and survey skills, too.
There's no doubt that today's children love tech — if anything, you probably have trouble convincing your kids to look away from their video games, tablets, and phones. But computer literacy and engagement with tech can be very beneficial: it’s all about the content your children have access to. So, try to make sure that their screen time is as educational as possible by loading up your tablets and computers with some child-friendly educational apps.
There's fun educational games to cover almost every aspect of the curriculum, including STEM subjects, so you should have no problem finding some to suit your child's age and ability. Coding and programming are an increasingly important part of the school curriculum, so consider downloading a few educational child-friendly apps that will show kids the basics of computer code and running and debugging programs. I'd also recommend choosing games and apps that have parental locks and controls, so you can keep your kids in the app and focused on the task at hand.
Get involved with STEM toys, games and experiments
Whether it's baking, making DIY slime, or building structures or vehicles, there are all sorts of fun activities you can do at home that teach topics related to STEM. For instance, baking cupcakes teaches children fundamental skills such as weighing, measuring, and following instructions, as well as basic chemical reactions — like what happens when you add bicarbonate of soda to your cake mix. And, making models or playing with bricks can help with problem solving and engineering skills, especially if you build according to a plan.
While many of these might seem like play time, they also help to lay the groundwork for more complicated science experiments later on in their school careers. It will also help to show your kids that there's a lot more to STEM than book learning, and that all of these skills have real world applications that they can use every day.
Include eco-friendly STEM activities in everyday life
There are plenty of simple ways you can incorporate STEM learning opportunities into everyday life, many of which will also teach children to be mindful of the environment. For example, you could start a vegetable patch in the garden together, or encourage them to look for products with organic, recyclable or compostable icons when shopping at the supermarket. Or, you could task your little ones with collecting as much litter as they can during the walk home from school, which will help to teach them the importance of recycling and disposing of rubbish responsibly. This is great for the environment in your local area, too.
Early exploration and play can help to foster the skills needed to succeed in STEM subjects at school, so it's never too soon to introduce these topics at home. Try a few of suggestions I've given here — at any rate, they'll certainly be great fun for all the family.