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How do I encourage STEM?

As a non-STEM parent I often wonder what I can do to encourage my daughters to embrace learning in this area.  

I don’t play computer games, code, conduct scientific experiments or generally ‘get under the bonnet’ of anything mechanical.  I worry about whether my lack of interest in these things will inhibit the career choices my children make and being an avid reader (thank goodness I can at least pass that on!) I know how important these areas are. 

It’s much easier to share the things you are interested in with your child but what about the things you’re not?  Especially if it’s not a trait that you or their father shares.  Does this put them at a disadvantage compared to peers that do come from one of those backgrounds? 

I’m sure there are scientific studies that have answers to those questions – but what I have learnt is that you can’t force an interest in something.  If your child is going to be the next Marie Curie, Bill Gates or Lady GaGa you’ll probably get a pretty good sense of their interests early on.  Encouraging them to explore these interests through speaking to your school, connecting with local clubs and borrowing books and DVDs from the library that help to develop them are things we can all do.

As a busy working parent I also know there is only a limited amount of time each day that I get to spend with my children and by the time the homework has been done and the chores completed I’d want our time together to be spent doing something with them that they enjoy.  This may simply be sharing the news from their day or snuggling up to watch some tv before bedtime.  What’s important is the connection that you share in these brief moments.  By spending time doing what they like to do they will realise that they are important for who they are to you, not what they can achieve or become.

With children on the cusp of turning into teenagers I find that I have to tune in very carefully to the mood and mind set they’re in.  Sometimes we can have a lively debate on the way to school in the morning listening to the news and voicing our opinions, other times I’ll be lucky to get a goodbye before they head off. 

My learning from my 13 years of parenting (I’m definitely still a novice!) - follow their lead in the brief moments you have each day but try and carve out some time at the weekend or on school holidays for opening their eyes to new things, whether these be in nature, technology or sport.  Demonstrating your interest in learning regardless of the topic, discovering new things together and showing that learning can continue whatever your age is surely the biggest gift we can give.

Bronwen Burton, Head of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Bright Horizons

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