Experts in education, industry, and government agree that science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects are vital to our continued economic well-being. Yet, fewer children are choosing these subjects. In the US, the number of STEM-related jobs will grow to over nine million by 2022, but only 16 per cent of high-school seniors are proficient in maths and interested in a STEM career, according to the country’s Bureau of Labour Statistics. 

Here’s how parents can motivate children to take interest and be proficient in these well-paying fields. 

Tap young minds

“Talking to them about flowers, plants, insects, the weather and food from such a young age can help develop [a sense of] scientific enquiry,” says Jane Whitby, Founding Principal, Newlands School. 

Creative learning can begin as soon as a child can interact and play. “Let them create and explore with household and recycling materials, facilitating their natural curiosity. There is no best toy — how often do we see children playing with wrapping paper and boxes rather than the toys inside?” asks Samuel Holliday, Assistant Head Teacher at Kings School Nad Al Sheba. Even materials that could be seen as the preserve of the arts — paper, glue, paint and straw — could kick-start a child’s journey into STEM activities, he adds.

Ask and answer 

Children are naturally inquisitive; encouraging this curiosity can help parents find what interests them. “Ask children why they think something happens: to make sense of the world around them,” says Holliday. “Exploration, risk-taking and learning from challenges and failure will be far more beneficial to them in later life than a short memorised response.”

Making children part of the cooking process will help them understand changes in ingredients, timing, capacity and weight. “Not only does it encourage them to eat healthy, it also develops their science, technology and mathematical education,” Whitby says. 

Look for shapes 

Encourage children to think about how objects are shaped by going on a hunt through the grocery store to look for rectangles, circles and squares, before moving on to three-dimensional solids such as cones or pyramids. 

“Looking for shapes, angles, time and numbers when going [out] is very important, although it should not be done in a teacher’s style,” explains Whitby. While identification is one aspect, Holliday says the accompanying discussion will help children join the dots between all of their experiences, building the capacity to ask their own questions, think critically and draw their own conclusions.

Money matters 

Teach kids about money and they’ll learn practical maths. Compared with usual arithmetic, this real-life application will engage and stimulate. 

Shopping is an ideal way to introduce money skills and can build an understanding of money and its role in society. 

“When my child was nine, I gave him money to buy a product from three different shops, with the condition that whichever shop he chooses to buy from, he could keep the change from the money,” says Whitby. “He compared the prices of the items from the three shops and bought the one that allowed him to keep the maximum change. Since that day, my son has always been a great saver, has excellent understanding and interest in money and is now very entrepreneurial and inventive.”

Playful projects

Playtime is a great way to get kids into STEM. There are tonnes of educational toys on the market that promote creative and critical thinking, including building sets, brainteasers and art projects. 

“Find some thing that brings a spark to a child’s learning,” Holliday says. “Science kits, drones and robots controlled by algorithms will help in their first steps in coding and debugging, but any toy that has mechanical parts or bricks to build gives children vital skills that will help them with mathematical skills.” 

Whitby agrees: “Technology and engineering skills can be developed by giving children toys and activities that require building, making and allowing things to be redone again and again and where the solutions are not fully provided to them.” 

— With input from