Inside a baby’s mind: “Blocks have no flavor. Cats are soft. Colorful leaves crunch.”
Babies and toddlers are naturally scientific explorers. Without guidance, they will form hypotheses, run experiments and reach conclusions — all day long.
Some will keep tinkering with the world and become adults who confidently make basic household repairs, maintain their vehicles, and make clever ideas become reality.
As kids grow up though, not all will remain tinkerers without a caregiver’s influence. Here are five ways to encourage STEM curiosity while respecting your child’s interests.
Provide a Workshop
As Virginia Woolf observed, a creative person needs “a room of her own.” Any man cave owner would agree.
Ideally a workshop area is especially reserved for tinkering; it’s not the same space used for homework or other activities. A single purpose helps encourage STEM curiosity and a project-focused mindset.
Key design elements though are good lighting, ventilation, a child-sized table and bench, and easily accessible materials.
What sorts of materials? Professional kits are handy but not necessary. Kids can accomplish a lot with odds and ends from the recycling bin, especially when they’re young. For all ages, look through our Pinterest board “Fun STEM Projects for Kids.” More ideas about kids’ workshop materials are below too.
Organization is important, so provide bins, desk drawers or the equivalent – yet resist the urge to keep this area supertidy. Putting everything away could seriously interrupt the flow of genius!
Some households should also keep fire extinguishers nearby. You know who you are.
Stock a Tinkering Box
Materials and tools can be stored in a well-organized way, but it’s great to also have a hodge-podge tinkering box. The randomness helps encourage creativity.
A tinkering box for very young children might include objects such as pipe cleaners, safety scissors, glue, empty cereal boxes and cardboard tubes.
As older children become more capable and safety-conscious, you can provide better quality materials and tools such as a hammer and nails, copper wire, chisels, saws and drills.
It’s also excellent to provide objects to dissemble and rebuild, such as cassette players, computers and radios. Modarri cars are great for starters!
Include manuals with exploded diagrams when possible and appropriate.
Support Brainstorming & Documentation
Providing a large space to write and sketch is a great way to support a budding scientist. A large chalkboard or whiteboard for the workroom wall can be very handy for capturing “Eureka!” moments, making calculations or organizing long-term plans.
Journaling is important too; it helps people to reflect, to plan and to become inspired. Sometimes we don’t know what we know until we write it.
With younger children, help start a journal by asking them to draw what they built. To extend this, have them draw the object in use — perhaps by their favorite friend or book character — or to draw the item with a creative modification. Add a quote and the date for annotated records!
Older children can take serious notes and follow the scientific method with rigor. They might document their genius online too, but the benefits of maintaining a private paper journal are irreplaceable.
BE the Scientist You Wish to See…
Adults can encourage STEM curiosity and scientific thinking by modeling a scientific approach to problems. Even around pre-verbal kids, it’s valuable to narrate your everyday troubleshooting. Whether you’ve burnt toast or are fixing a computer, you can say “Now I’ll try ____________ because ________________________.” Your child will pick up on advanced problem-solving skills, plus your pets might learn a thing or two.
Modeling your scientific curiosity can help make it contagious. Working together on DIY projects is a great time for this!
There are lots of STEM questions to ask when playing with Modarri cars. Use scales and compute how many cars would make a pound. Test the speed of various hybrids, and try out different tires and terrains to explore friction… Turn a car into a hovercraft!
Check out our Pinterest board for classic toys that parents and children can make at home!
Follow Your Child’s Interests
Rube Goldberg machines… a fantastic STEM genre to explore with kids!
Whatever your child’s interests and goals, they have something to do with science… because science is everywhere. How did famous artists make their oil paints, for example? What’s the best arc when hitting a baseball? What’s inside a TV?
The better you understand your child’s interests, the better you can help fit STEM into their life. Here are a few more ideas:
- Make engineering challenges. Incorporate favorite toys or a friend. “Build a newspaper bridge that can hold five of your dolls” or “Build a tower that’s as tall as your sister.”
- With more advanced kids, together build a Rube Goldberg machine using their favorite toys and/or to accomplish something related to one of their passions. (Feed the dog?) This is a great way to apply Newton’s laws and explore simple machines such as wedges and pulleys.
- Get interesting STEM-related books. Most STEM books are nonfiction, but STEM fiction is a quickly-growing genre. Links to book lists including fiction and non-fiction are at the end of this article.
- Find local events and extracurriculars that might be of interest to your child.
- Provide STEM-friendly toys like wooden blocks and LEGOs, age-appropriate chemistry sets, and DIY Modarri cars!
How do you nurture STEM curiosity? Logged-in Modarri users can comment below.
Links to STEM & STEAM Book Lists
Consider books from the following lists to encourage STEM curiosity.
- “Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12” – From the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council
- “Multicultural STEAM Book List, K-5” – From Reading is Fundamental
- “STEM Nonfiction Reading, Middle School” — From GoodReads
- “Women in Science” & “Female Scientist Heroes in Fiction” – From GoodReads