Back to school: Don’t forget about the importance of science!

We are at the start of a new school year. For the past week, I have watched many friends post images of their children on social media celebrating this new beginning. (And yes, I am guilty of following this trend too). Many children held signs showing their new grade, age and what they aspire to be when they grow up. We will look back at these memories with smiles as our children age and head towards adulthood.  Many of these careers are attainable, like a veterinarian or a police officer, whereas others are much less likely, such as a princess or a superhero. And some children realize they just want to be “me” throughout their life, choosing not to define themselves by their career choices.

If you ask my children today what they want to be when they grow up the answers are typical for their age. A teacher. A rock star.

If you ask me what I want my kids to be when they grow up the answer isn’t a scientist, a doctor or an engineer. It isn’t anything in particular at all; they will need to follow their own path and decide for themselves. We can only give our children the tools and skills to be able to make these important decisions. That is our role as parents, guardians, caregivers, educators, and community.

These are not science skills. These are life skills.

And this is why science education is important especially at a young age. It isn’t really about the science at all. You are not going to explain quantum physics with any great success to most 4 year olds (or most adults with the exception of my physics friends (you know who you are!)). But what you can do is use science, through hands-on activities, or flashy experiments, or even by just having a conversation, to teach our children how to problem-solve, think critically, learn to express their thoughts both orally or in writing, and to ask good questions. It’s about children learning to use deductive reasoning and mathematics. It’s about learning how to fail, and using this lesson to improve or adapt. These are not science skills. These are life skills.

The ability to wonder and be curious is natural to a child. Children, in fact, are born as scientists, and engineers. They first observe with their eyes and as they learn to speak they express their curiosity with words. The “why” phase can sometimes be frustrating to an overtired parent, but nonetheless, it remains an important part of growing. They build things out of blocks, legos, or just about anything. And they will stand by these masterpieces with such pride because they did it all by themselves. They organize items into patterns, the early stages of developing their math skills.

We should celebrate and acknowledge these milestones, as they inch closer and closer towards independence. Always encourage, never discourage growth. The little celebrations may appear small, but to a child, they are as big as being nominated for or even winning an Academy Award.

And yes, many of their milestones, whether you realize it or not, are from a science foundation that started back when they first opened their eyes. And like a house, with time, we build onto that foundation, brick by brick.

…science is providing the foundation for my children to become successful citizens in our society.

When we started STEM Play Every Day, almost 2 years ago, I was solely in the driver’s seat, planning the experiments and prompting for answers. This is not the case today. Now my children are thinking, observing, and not only posing their own questions but finding their own solutions to these problems. I often sit back and just observe; I am truly in awe of what a child can achieve. I’m proud that my children are unknowingly adding “bricks”.

Will my children be scientists when they grow up? Only time will tell. But for now I’m content that science is providing the foundation for my children to become successful citizens in our society.

And as a parent, that makes me smile.

I wish to thank another STEM mama who graciously gave me permission to use an image of her son’s back to school chalkboard.  When she’s not prompting science to her children, she can be found making beautiful handmade items. Check her out at Hugs, Kisses and Stitches

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