When bonding with baby, you’re likely not thinking about his or her future career path, but it’s never too early to start, especially when it comes to teaching baby about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), says GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling. STEM-related jobs make up the fastest-growing job sector in the US, and getting baby involved with STEM activities and toys now will help develop these interests and skills as he or she gets older. This is especially important for girls, “who need empowerment beyond what the traditional pink [toy] aisle has to offer them,” Sterling says.
Even though the number of boys and girls taking STEM-related courses in grades K through 12 is relatively equal, by the time these students graduate from college, only 25 percent of STEM degrees are awarded to women, with a nearly $16,000 annual salary gap between genders. “I'm very aware of how much a parent’s admission of a fear of math can influence their children, particularly girls, and that’s one of the biggest roadblocks inhibiting kids from getting into STEM,” Sterling notes. She says the best thing parents can do for their children is to encourage education and exploration around seemingly simple household tasks and activities. Read on for ways you can start laying the foundation for a lifetime love of STEM.
1. Show parents taking on different roles at home
Make sure dad isn't always the one who fixes the lightbulb or hammers nails to hang a painting. Show mom does more than cooking or cleaning. Kids start to interpret these gender roles at a very young age.
2. Embrace (or fake) your inner math wiz
Even if you’re self-conscious about your math skills, don't let it on. Research shows kids at a very young age (especially girls) will lose self-confidence in math if they see their mothers intimidated by it. Share how you use your math skills in everyday life, whether it’s calculating the tip for a bill or using fractions while baking.
3. Count, rhyme and sing
Using numbers in simple phrases like “One, two, buckle your shoe” helps babies recognize patterns, which is one of the most important aspects of STEM learning because it helps in predicting outcomes. You can even count hugs and kisses before bed to show how to use numbers.
4. Demonstrate cause and effect
Turn the lights off and on in a room and explain what’s happening: “When I flip the switch up, the light goes on. What will happen if I flip it down?” Simple games like this can teach your child about technology and build skills for future scientists.
5. Go on a shape hunt
Discover shapes and sizes everywhere. Offer a square cracker or cut a piece of cheese into a triangle. Ask your child to compare sizes. Use words like smallest, small, medium, big, bigger and biggest to describe food.
6. Link words with actions
When you move baby from one position or place to another, put words to your actions. When you place baby down, say ‘Now down you go to play!’ These simple words build the foundation for future math and engineering skills.
7. Sing about STEM
Songs with repeated phrases like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or “Wheels on the Bus” can teach children about patterns.
For more about Debbie Sterling and her toy company Goldieblox, read our exclusive interview here.