What is a Makerspace?

What is a Makerspace?

If we break down the two words that comprise the word ‘makerspace’ you would get the most general and high-level answer to the question 'what is a makerspace?'. Simply put, it is a ‘space’ for ‘makers’, a designated area where one is able to create something.

A lot of questions arise from this.

WHO are these makers?

WHAT can or do they make?

WHAT is found within a makerspace?

WHY is there a need for a designated ‘space’ to make something?

Before we answer these questions, it’s important to note that there is no governing body. That means no definitive rules and regulations for what defines a makerspace. That is why the definition provided above is likely going to be the most accepted version.

This does us no favors in understanding the makerspace concept though. Especially those of us who have no idea what it is let alone what it even looks like.

To help understand, think of science, woodworking, or computer labs in an educational context. Makerspaces build on that concept but without the strict rules or regulations (aside from safety rules of course). These spaces can be set up anywhere, for anyone, to make anything. The goal here is to learn, tinker, explore, and make.

Who are Makers?

If you are a living, breathing human being then congrats! You, sir/madam, are a Maker!

Mark Hatch (TechShop co-founder), in his ‘Maker Movement Manifesto’, listed several characteristics of what makes a maker, well… a maker. Some of these include the passion and drive to make something, to give, share, learn, participate, and support.

Maker Movement Manifesto - Mark Hatch

Chris Anderson (former Chief Editor of Wired magazine) lists three primary characteristics of a maker mindset.

While there are slight differences in what defines a maker, it is unanimous that makers are producers.

They are tinkerers and experimenters.

They are learners, learning new concepts through experimentation and hands-on activities.

They are willing to fail.

They are willing to collaborate and share their ideas.

What can we Make?

You can make anything! You don’t necessarily have to think of something original. With a maker mindset, you can re-create an existing product or item from scratch. The difference here is you get to put your own twist or add your own flavor to it. This could be in terms of aesthetics, design, or functionality.

Perhaps you do have a new idea. Makerspaces are a perfect place to tinker, experiment, and design prototypes.

The beauty of a makerspace is it can be what we make of it.

For instance, in a school, students are constantly learning new principles and concepts. Teachers can set up a makerspace that facilitates this learning.

For example, instead of explaining some physics theory wouldn’t it be great to first demonstrate it? Wouldn’t it be great to let students tinker their way into learning instead of hammering it into them with a drawn-out lecture? After all, Newton didn't theorize endlessly before discovering gravity.

I’m not suggesting that we completely do away with lectures. What I’m saying is intentional project-based learning would be the perfect supplement to traditional teaching methods.

Yes, there are science, computer, and woodworking labs for that sort of thing. The difference here is the ‘open play’ mindset. Within a science lab, teachers give students instructions to get from Point A to Point B. Like mindless robots, they carry out the instructions.

This significantly limits one’s creativity, critical thinking skills, and initiative.

In a makerspace though, you’re allowed to play, tinker, and explore based on the knowledge you hold. The end goal is loosely defined with no intermediary steps. It is entirely up to you to determine what and how to make something.


The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge."

— Seymour Papert

What is found within a Makerspace?

The only limitation within a makerspace is the set of tools available. This is actually a big plus because you can set up a makerspace according to your specific needs.

To get an idea of the type of tools usually found within makerspaces, Make The Data held a survey on the type of spaces and maker equipment used.

Maker tools usage analysis

You can get a bit more creative within a classroom setting. Here are just some items you can find in a school makerspace.

Where are Makerspaces found?

Makerspaces can be found in public libraries, schools, universities, museums, and non-profit organizations. Heck, you can set one up in your home. There are other specialized organizations built specifically to hold maker spaces. Organizations such as FabLabs and TechShop have been around since the early and mid-2000s. Unfortunately, TechShop filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and has since closed down all locations. 

The good news is that libraries and schools are opening new makerspaces at a rapid rate. Thanks in large to high participation in experimental makerspace setups.

What is the point and benefits of a Makerspace?


If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.”

— Roald Dahl

History of Makerspaces

Makerspaces grew out of the rise of maker culture - a culture of creation over consumption. Where DIY projects took off in a rapid fashion over the past couple of decades.

This formed into what is known as the maker movement. This movement was propelled even more by the advent of rapid technological advances. Tools that were only available in industrial settings started showing up in the general market for all. 3-D printers, Raspberry Pi, Arduino microcontroller made the process of going from design to prototype seamless. This, coupled with the advent of the internet allowed for individuals across the globe to share knowledge, ideas, and designs.

Starting in the early 2000s, small organizations were being formed to provide a designated space for makers. A significant formation was that of FabLabs. With the help of the National Science Foundation in 2002, Neil Gershenfeld (and the ‘Center For Bits and Atoms’ at MIT) deployed the first Fab Lab. The idea behind it was for it to work as a design workshop open to anyone.

It strived to provide a space to allow for research and experimentation. Their motto - “to empower, to educate, and to create ‘almost anything’”.

Since then, other communal places followed suit. Libraries, museums, and schools started setting up experimental workshops to gauge interest. The feedback was very positive, from students, teachers, and patrons alike. The rest, as they say, is history.

Benefits of a Makerspace


Tinkering is a mindset – a playful way to approach and solve problems through direct experience, iteration, experimentation, and discovery.

— Martinez & Stager

Benefits of a Makerspace

Makerspace Example Projects

More Resources

Here are some resources to expand on everything we’ve covered so far. You will find books, videos, articles, project-based websites, and actual makerspaces you can visit.

To learn more about Makerspaces

Books

Videos

What is Making?

Every child deserves a Makerspace

The Maker Movement in Schools

Makerspace Project Ideas and Guides

Books

Websites and Blogs

Videos

The ‘Make’ YouTube channel has a huge library of videos to keep you busy with more examples of projects. 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChtY6O8Ahw2cz05PS2GhUbg

Setting Up a Makerspace

Videos

Classroom Tours.

The Budget Makerspace Project - $500 or less

Makerspaces to Visit

What next…?

Hopefully, you now know what is a makerspace and why it exists.

I’ve provided a starting point to get involved through this article. But that’s all it is, a starting point. 

If you are an educator, get the conversation going about setting up your own makerspaces in your school.

If you are a parent, set up your own makerspace for your child. It doesn't have to be fancy or high tech, a simple starter space is sufficient to get things going.

If you are simply curious and marvel about getting to tinker and experiment to your heart’s content then get out there and join the makerspace community.


The Maker Movement allows students to strengthen humanistic values through projects and experiences that require the use of their heads, hearts, and hands. Students are introduced to creative technologies that bridge the digital and physical worlds. Through whimsical projects, students take an interest in the concepts and ideas that might normally be offered through a textbook or worksheet. The Maker Movement also emphasizes the necessity of problem-finding, problem-solving, and the power of social learning through sharing and collaborative work to solve issues small and large. Working with unfamiliar materials in novel ways provides authentic experiences for students to deepen their understanding of energy and energy transfer.” [3]


So share ideas, ask questions, learn, explore, and most importantly, MAKE something. Your mind will thank you for it.

References

[1] The Maker Movement in Education

[2] Design, make, play : growing the next generation of STEM innovators

[3] Bringing the Maker Movement to School.

Scientific Method Worksheet & Example for Kids

If you want to jump to the good stuff, you can download your free scientific method worksheet (with several templates!).

Now, whether you’re a parent or a teacher (or a fellow human being...) you’ve most likely heard of the scientific method. You’ve likely even used it to perform some research and experimentation in your heyday (i.e. high school days).

Whether you were passionate or not about this whole science thing, you had to admit the scientific process worked!

Going from mere observation to potentially discovering something new is fascinating. Heck, most times (especially in an academic setting) it was more about proving something to yourself. For a child, whose mind is in a constant state of exploration and imagination, there’s no better process to teach than the scientific method (OK, maybe also the engineering design process).

This post will serve to get you brushed up on the scientific method. You will find a scientific method worksheet (of three variations) I’ve put together. You will also find links and videos that will help you perform a science experiment and teach the concepts to kids of all ages!

What is the Scientific Method?

The scientific method at its core is a way of gathering information about the world around us. Scientists use the scientific method to test their ideas and theories about how things work. It is the most commonly used process for finding out if something is true.

Why Use the Scientific Method?

Scientists and researchers use the scientific method to make sure that their research is accurate. It does this by allowing us to gather evidence and use logical reasoning.

Other benefits being…

Steps of the Scientific Method

Scientific Method Process Poster

You may see a varying number of steps of the scientific method from other resources. Since this is geared towards preschool and elementary school kids we break up some of the steps for ease of understanding.

(Click to download the poster)

1. Make an Observation

This is more of an informal first step. You are to make observations on something in nature, such as a rock or an animal, and take careful notes about what you see. Here, you also do research to gain knowledge about the problem and to identify possible solutions.

2. Ask a Question

Identify a single problem or ask a single question based on the observation. Is there a way to improve what you’ve observed? 

3. Form a Hypothesis

This is where you make educated guesses or predictions about what might happen when you experiment with this object. Pick one guess, because this is what is known as the hypothesis. In other words, it's an educated guess about how something works or why something happens in nature.

For example, if you wanted to know how plants grow, you might hypothesize that plants need water, soil, sunlight, and air. Bear in mind, a hypothesis needs to be testable in order to form a definitive conclusion.

4. Experiment

Test your hypothesis. Make sure to only change one variable in your experiment during each attempt -  this is known as controlled variables. Keep everything else (i.e. all other variables) the same during the experiment.

5. Analyze the Data

Time for some data collection and data analysis. Look at the results of your experiment and try to figure out what it all means. Document your findings.

6. Draw a Conclusion

In this last step, we draw conclusions. If your experiment did not support the hypothesis, that’s okay. This does not mean it was a bad experiment.

After completing the first experiment, you may need a completely new hypothesis. This is your chance to refine your hypothesis and plan a new experiment. Even if your conclusion does back up your hypothesis, you might take an entirely new path you want to explore.

Another large part of a science experiment is communication. You want to communicate your discovery by writing a paper. This allows others to replicate your experiment and understand it from top to bottom.

The Scientific Method in Action

Funny Scientific Method meme

Let's now walk through an example to see how exactly each step in the scientific method works.

  1. Observation: In this first step, John notices that his bathroom faucet has spots of a green-like substance.
  2. Question: What can he do to get rid of it?
  3. Hypothesis: He first thinks vinegar might help. But one of his friends suggests spraying orange juice. John thinks orange juice might work because of its acidic properties. So that's what he goes with as his hypotheses.
  4. Experiment: John gets to testing his hypotheses by spraying orange juice over the green substance on the faucet. He waits for 1 hour before washing it down.
  5. Results Analysis: John finds that the orange juice did nothing to remove the green substance.
  6. Conclusion: John can safely determine that his hypothesis was wrong. Orange juice does not remove the green stuff on the faucet.

John will now try his original idea and carry out the experiment by spraying vinegar. He will repeat all steps starting from the hypothesis. He can continue to try different solutions until a hypothesis is proven to be correct.

Download Scientific Method Example Worksheet

Here are a few free scientific method worksheet templates your kids or students can use. They are deliberately designed to be different from each other. Pick the one most suitable for your teaching style and let the kids get busy experimenting!

Other Resources

Videos

There's no better learning medium than video - just ask your kids! It draws and keeps attention for a much longer period of time than any book can. Here are some engaging videos to get a basic understanding of the scientific method.

The Scientific Method Song (by Jack Hartmann - 3:45 minutes)

Children learn the scientific method faster with this catchy acronym using the first letter of each step. Teachers can use this incredible song in class to motivate kids. The rhythm, lyrics, and catchy tune make them quickly learn it and want to sing it over and over again.

The Steps of the Scientific Method for Kids (by Free School - 3:15 minutes)

In this short, easy-to-follow video you learn the basic definition of the scientific method and how it helps. Then it goes through all the steps and what needs to be done in each step.

Guided Discovery “The Scientific Method” (by BrainPOP Jr. - 7:49 minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZly4wlkMOw

A nicely animated video with a very engaging introduction. If your kids love stories then this one is perfect as it explains the scientific method in a story-driven manner.

The scientific method (by Teacher's Pet - 4:05 minutes)

Short but packed with concise and relevant examples. It also provides tips on how to carry out each step.

The Scientific Method: Steps, Examples, Tips, and Exercise (by Sprouts - 8:38 minutes)

As the title and the length of the video implies, this one has you covered. With engaging animations and examples, your kids will get a better grasp of all the individual steps and how they relate to one another. This one is better suited for the older kids around or over the age of 10.

Scientific Method Worksheets & Books

You can find plenty of quality scientific method worksheets and exercises online (free or paid).

Free Scientific Method Worksheet Resources

Paid Resources

Wrapping it up


The scientific method of examining facts is not peculiar to one class of phenomena and to one class of workers; it is applicable to social as well as to physical problems, and we must carefully guard ourselves against supposing that the scientific frame of mind is a peculiarity of the professional scientist.”

— Karl Pearson

The resources and information in this post should be more than enough to get you jump-started in implementing your own science experiments with your kids. 

Besides its hands-on nature, the scientific method can also act as a way to re-affirm science principles and theories. You know, the ones you have a hard time explaining or getting through to the kids. It also has all the characteristics of a perfect STEM-based activity. One that can actually and potentially be used in the future in all its glory.

With the scientific method in their arsenal, your kids can take on those previously-dreaded science projects with confidence and enthusiasm!

10 Benefits of Reading To Children & Tips To Get Started.

So you've heard you should be reading to your kid, but like myself, never quite understood how it helps children's development (besides learning to read).

You may also be looking to get started with this whole reading to your kid thing. You just want actionable advice without all the fluff theory.

(I mean if you're gonna spend a good chunk of time every day, you at least wanna know how it actually helps your kids and how to do it right, am I right?)

Well, that was me a few weeks ago. So I dug into all the studies, white papers, and guidance papers from reputable organizations on this topic. What you see in this post is a condensed, simplified, and actionable version of it all.

Below, you will discover real benefits and tips backed by studies and research - some you probably already knew and some that will make you go "Woah, that's neat!".

So, let’s get started!

What are the Benefits of Reading to Children?


Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or a duty. It should be offered as a gift."

— Kate DiCamillo

Reading provides many benefits for adults and children alike. It is a way for us to consume and learn new information. It also can be a form of entertainment. Really, it can be what we make of it.

To instill in our child's life this basic yet essential life skill from the very beginning, we first need to understand the many benefits of reading. Once we understand that, then taking action happens almost by itself.

When you help your child learn to read it truly is a magical experience. This becomes only more evident as the positive impact it has on your child's life unfolds before your very eyes. They develop into capable young readers with a positive attitude towards reading, writing, and learning.

Kids Learn to Value Books and Stories


There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

— Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

When we are reading aloud to our children, we present literature as a completely different world full of new experiences and emotions. By reading aloud, we bring the words to life. We are able to present books as a form of entertainment as well as a source of knowledge.

By introducing the concept of reading from an early age, our children view this activity in a positive light. They start to view it as a norm rather than an extraneous effort or chore. This eventually cultivates a lifelong love of reading from early childhood.

Books open up doors to places where we are allowed to lose ourselves, de-stress, learn and increase our knowledge. With Americans reading fewer books than ever, instilling this essential habit from early childhood has become more important than ever.

Gallup Poll - Americans reading fewer books than ever

Their Vocabulary Expands

The more you read, the more words you know. The more words you know, the better you are able to put your thoughts into words.

Children learn new words from the conversations they have while reading books together.

When children hear stories read aloud, they become more familiar with the language found in books.

Based on a study [2], a child who has been consistently read to until the age of 5  is introduced to a whopping 1.4 million MORE words. Food for thought anytime we lose motivation to continue reading to our little ones.

By the numbers - Vocabulary boost due to reading

Language Development

Studies have shown that reading at home with children from an early age is associated with increased brain activity in areas connected with language development and literacy skills.

Children are natural learners, so they are naturally absorbing information while reading. They are discovering that sentences have a structure of subjects and verbs, words have meaning & that language can be successfully conveyed in many different ways.

An important aspect of language learning is phonological awareness - the ability to manipulate the sounds of a language. It is a key building block for reading and writing.

Rhyming and phonemes are important in early literacy development. Playing with these elements allows children to develop foundational skills for reading, writing, and spelling. Phoneme awareness can help them break words up into syllables which makes it easier to read unfamiliar words.

Cognitive Development

Reading aloud serves to support brain development in more than one way. Cognitive development refers to the way in which a child thinks, explores, and solves problems.

When kids are involved in shared book-reading, they tend to learn new vocabulary. They also practice the concept of decontextualized language (the use of language to convey knowledge to someone who has minimal experience on the subject matter).

Children learn concepts of the written word and story structure (i.e. beginning, middle, and end).

Studies have shown that those who read on a regular basis tend to have healthier brains. It's easy to understand why as it is a more complex task than a passive activity like watching TV.

Emotional Development


Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.”

— Malorie Blackman

When parents read more to their children they learn the words to use to describe difficult feelings. As a result, they can communicate more effectively when those feelings arise.

Sharing a book will also give kids your perspective on the world and teach them empathy with others. They will have an opportunity to explore different cultures by the way of storytelling. This leads to a better understanding of the world around them and increased social skills.

Lastly, it can help a child de-stress (yes, they experience it too). Sitting close to a parent while sharing a book can do wonders for a stressed child.

Increased Attention Span, Focus, and Discipline

When listening to a book being read, children tend to be sitting still. They develop a longer attention span, increase their listening skills, and even exercise their memory retention skills.

One study [1] found that parents who read to their children noticed a stark difference in the quality and quantity of instructions followed by their children.

When you combine this with a regular routine, a child learns self-discipline. Before long they will be pestering you to read to them instead of you chasing after them.

In today’s world of scatter-brain distractions, regular reading gives us the perfect opportunity to slow down. It gives us permission to relax and concentrate on one thing at a time.

Better Comprehension and Communication skills

We’ve already established the language and vocab boost kids get when reading books. That is an asset they can use to better communicate with others, whether that be in verbal or written form.

In numerous studies [3] [4], children experienced improved comprehension and language complexity skills. This was bolstered by parents pausing and allowing children to discuss the events that had just occurred in the story.

Increased Creativity and Imagination


There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island.”

— Walt Disney

Children are already much more creative and imaginative than adults. Why not put your child's imagination and creativity to practice by letting them visualize stories in their own creative way. It gets them thinking outside the box while sparking and stimulating curiosity on various elements of this world. It also boosts critical thinking skills as kids are constantly connecting the dots of a progressing story.

After all, the best writers of our times were avid readers as well.

Bonding

Pediatricians recommend reading together as it provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your child. It gives you both something to talk about and share opinions.

Babies especially feel more secure when they hear a familiar voice or tone - it helps them recognize and be comforted by the voice of their parent or relative.

Reading to your child is important for more than just bonding; it also provides them with a sense of intimacy and well-being. This allows them to feel close to you, and it fills them with love and attention.

Academic Performance


If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.”

— Roald Dahl

Early exposure to books & reading, particularly in the case of parents' reading to their kids, positively impacts children's language and literacy skills. Early 'readers' score better on language-themed tests later in life. [5]

Before you’re able to answer a question or solve a problem, you first need to know what it's asking for. Reading comprehension allows you to identify the different parts of the question and where important information is found. This way, you are able to find find gaps in your own knowledge and work on it. This is a key aspect to academic success regardless of the career path taken.

Actionable Tips on Reading to Your Child


Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”

— Emilie Buchwald

General Guidelines to Follow

Where to find books

Make it a routine

Remove distractions

Get them involved

The goal is to read with them, not to them. Get them involved by asking them to repeat words or sentences. This will vary greatly between younger children and older children. But here are some tips to get them involved…

Make it fun!


You're never too old, too wacky, too wild to pick up a book and read to a child.”

— Anita Merina

Reading to Infants

What to Read

There are stark differences that occur between the time a child is born up to the age of 18 months. So pick out books according to your child’s age.

0-6 Months - Books without words are best here. One word per page also works or pictorial books with lots of contrast. Good options here are nursery rhymes or books with specially-made fold-outs.

7-12 Months - Look for books that have simple drawings or things they are familiar with, people doing their jobs, or common events. Soft or stiff board books with thick pages are best.

12-18 Months - For children this age, read books that feature familiar things like animals, characters, or common objects. Look for books that have great pictures with lots of detail or have a progression of simple activities. Your child is starting to be able to really enjoy them now as they are able to recall and relate.

How to Read

0-6 Months - Infants want and need your attention, so try reciting rhymes and songs that you remember by heart. When reading books to them, let them hold their favorite toy. Extra points for reading stories to them at bedtime as it helps them relax and drift off to sleep.

7-12 Months - This sequence recommended by ECLKC is perfect to start practicing with this age group:

12-18 Months - Continue to sit close to your baby and read to him/her, making sure to make it a pleasant, intimate experience. This will help your child associate reading with feelings of safety and security.

When you're reading to your child, try telling them what sound the letters make if they don't already know. For example, if you read the word "snake" together with your child, make a hissing noise. Kids will figure out how to connect sounds with pictures in no time!

Make noises and don't be surprised if your child joins in! You might also notice that your baby looks at the book alone and makes sounds too.

Reading to Toddlers

What to Read

Toddlers will still enjoy books that have familiar characters. They will also enjoy picture books and texts with lots of information and details. You can give them some short stories, fairy tales, info-books, and fictional works which contain a range of topics.

In terms of look and feel, you can now get children's books with actual paper pages. You still want to get picture books though but with a bump up of the number of words on a page.

How to Read

Reading to Preschool & Elementary School Kids

What to Read

At this stage, you have more options in selecting books with complex plots and even complete chapter books. Your young readers can also shift to non-fiction books, magazines, or even daily mail to get introduced to new vocabulary.

How to Read

Continue to follow the guidelines in the toddler section, but now take their lead. They may even shift to independent reading at this stage. Continue to have read-aloud sessions though. You want to continue healthy discussions to maintain and develop everything they’ve learned up to this point.

Takeaway

Benefits of reading to Children - Infographic

If there’s one thing you take away from all this, it should be to simply start reading to your kids. It won’t be perfect, it won’t be smooth. Nothing ever is when getting started.

As established in this post, it all begins at home. You have the opportunity to set a solid foundation for your child. All from the comfort of your own home with a small amount of time per day. The benefits, as seen in the studies, really do last a lifetime.

References

[1] Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading.

[2] When Children Are Not Read to at Home: The Million Word Gap

[3] Home Reading Environment and Brain Activation in Preschool Children Listening to Stories

[4] The Effects of Storytelling and Story Reading on the Oral Language Complexity and Story Comprehension of Young Children

[5] Joint picture-book reading correlates of early oral language skill

What Are STEM Toys? And Do They Actually Help?

While shopping for toys for our kids, we often come across the term 'STEM'. Some of us know what it is and see its benefits. Some of us brush it off as a fancy marketing term. Some (or most?) of us simply want to get something fun for the kids! But exactly what are STEM toys? How do they benefit our kids besides keeping them busy?

STEM toys are specially designed to teach children fundamental skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. They claim to promote curiosity and creative thinking and help kids grow in these important areas.

Bold claims! But do they all deliver on these promises?

Too often I've seen toys slap on the term as a marketing ploy. Unfortunate, but true. And sometimes, there actually is great benefit a child gets from playing with a given STEM toy.

So I've gone out and researched what differentiates a good STEM-based toy from all others. I also read up on some research articles and studies to verify if it's worth our time and money to seek out these specially designed toys.

In this post, I will dispel the world of STEM toys. How they help kids, and what you should look out for when making a buying decision.

What is STEM?

STEM  stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Though the acronym is fairly straightforward, the idea and the reasoning behind its inception is far from it. STEM is more than just a collection of subject areas deemed important for our children's education. It is also a learning methodology that encourages hands-on and open-ended learning.

With strong backing from the US government, STEM education has become quite prominent lately. The underlying reasons are a mix of skills shortages in the job market and the increasing demands for the ever-changing world that we live in.

What are STEM Toys?

STEM Toys are a great way to teach your kids essential and fundamental concepts at an early age.

These acquired skills, learned at an early age, stay with them throughout their lives. These could be ‘hard’ skills that help them understand science, technology, engineering, and math concepts in a concrete fashion. Or these could be ‘soft’ skills improving their thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills. 

Learning in a fun, engaging, and hands-on manner is why STEM toys have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. They fill that gaping hole between playtime and learning. They can be fairly simple and open-ended while some require focus and attention.

These educational toys can have your kids doing basic coding and programming robots. They can introduce children to the scientific method and the engineering process to solve problems. They can have them practice fundamental math skills. All before they enter elementary school or even pre-school.

Before kids are scared away or put off by the oft-dry learning environment in schools, STEM toys provide us an opportunity to instill fundamental concepts within our kids. Concepts that will excite them early on in their childhood and prepare them for the world.

Types of STEM Toys

STEM Educational Toys can come in many forms. It's a good idea to be aware of the options available to us. The type of STEM toys we get will be heavily based on what we want to teach our kids or what they find interesting. I’ve broken them down into six categories to better understand the landscape of educational toys.

Types of STEM Toys - Science

Science Toys

These are largely experiment-oriented. A child either goes through a specific set of instructions to get to an end result or uses certain equipment to explore the real world. If your child has even a hint of curiosity and loves cause-and-effect situations, these science-based toys will be right up their alley. Examples include science kits such as chemistry or biology sets. Scientific equipment like microscopes is also a great way to get them interested.

Types of STEM Toys - Technology

Technology Toys

We live in an increasingly digital world. Kids need not wait until school to learn basic coding or technical concepts. There are plenty of toys that teach basic programming principles [2] while mixing it with a bit (and sometimes a LOT) of fun. Examples include coding robots/toys/apps, robotics, and snap circuits.

Types of STEM Toys - Engineering

Engineering Toys

Engineering toys aim to introduce kids to the world of engineering and architecture. They improve motor skills and building ability. They also generally come with their own creations for which kids can follow instructions. There's the added benefit of doing this as a team of parent-child or siblings. Examples include building blocks like legos, wooden blocks, and magnetic blocks.

Types of STEM Toys - Mathematics

Mathematics Toys

The one topic everyone deems unimportant yet we use it almost on a daily basis. Examples include the classic abacus, mini calculators, and math card games.

Types of STEM Toys - Cognitive Thinking

Cognitive Thinking Toys

Besides the hard skills outlined above, STEM toys can also improve a child's general yet widely applicable skills. Kids level up in their logical, critical, and creative thinking. In fact, basic block-building was associated with improved mathematical performance in one study [1]. Examples include colorful blocks, Legos and Rubik's cube.

Types of STEM Toys - Motor Skill Building

Motor Skill-building Toys

These are a special subset of toys made for infants and toddlers. Back when I thought of STEM as nothing more than a collection of subjects, I questioned how those basic ‘STEM’ toys would help my little one gain knowledge in science, tech, engineering, or math! Absurd, right?

Knowing what I know now, with STEM being more than just the sum of its parts I get that it is also a way of learning.

These types of toys aim to improve basic yet critical skills such as hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

How STEM Toys Benefit Children

If I had a huge amount of money, I would donate it to getting a nice classic set of hardwood blocks for every child on Earth.

- Jeffrey Trawick-Smith

A child’s brain is changing and developing at a rapid pace. So it only makes sense to let them learn, explore and engage with different types of toys.

What we DON’T want to do is have them learn in a passive manner. We don’t want to always feed them instructions or solutions.

We want them to think independently. That’s where STEM toys come in. These toys when designed right, encourage children to use their hands, think creatively, think logically, get active, apply and practice specific skills.

Here are just some of the benefits STEM toys come with.

  • Toys can help kids find motivation for STEM subjects. This is important in fostering their love & understanding of these disciplines. With a looming skills gap in the workforce, it is becoming increasingly important to prepare our children for the demands of the future. 
  • Toys like Legos encourage hands-on work and help the brain develop cognition. Studies show they can lay a solid foundation for all four subjects, especially math.
  • Toys and play help kids build persistence and resiliency. Kids learn how to take risks, including those that involve making mistakes. This way they learn how to handle them well, brush them off and continue playing with the same consistency.
  • Toys have the ability to teach collaboration and social/emotional skills. Something greatly needed in the workplace. It's never too early to start.
  • STEM toys encourage kids to take healthy risks in a low-stakes environment. This increases their confidence to make decisions in other areas of their lives.
  • Toys can be a great way for kids to explore their interests and identify potential STEM careers. They offer endless opportunities that allow them to exhibit things they like and dislike.
  • Toys are great for teaching problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and how to take your time. All in a fun and engaging environment. Children learn to observe, analyze, ask questions, and come to solutions on their own.
  • Toys that encourage fine motor skills stimulate the parietal cortex. This is the area of the brain that deals with spatial relationships and converging. Spatial reasoning skills have proven to better prepare children for school. [1]
  • STEM Toys are a great option to try if you're looking for some good quality family time. Further, studies have shown when parents engage in their children's education, kids do better in academic settings.
Benefits of STEM Toys

Buying Guide for STEM Educational Toys

Hopefully, you now (or already) see STEM as more than just a buzzword. More so, the value in the idea of STEM education. That’s great! It is vital to understand something before deciding to implement it, especially when it comes to our children.

So now you may be wanting to get those little hands busy. But, where to even begin? Is it as simple as searching for 'STEM Toys' on amazon and buying the first thing that shows up?

Unfortunately, there is no governing body verifying the viability of a self-proclaimed STEM toy. It's why almost every other toy you see out there comes with the term slapped on there, merely as a marketing ploy. It is up to us to distinguish high-quality educational STEM toys from the sea of noise.

Here are some questions to ask when looking at a potential STEM toy for your child. Keep in mind, it doesn't have to check all the boxes. I'd say if it satisfies at least half of these requirements then go for it!

  • Does it encourage hands-on activity? A key characteristic and the heart of STEM as a whole is its hands-on learning approach.
  • Is it age-appropriate? Getting an advanced chemistry set with small parts for a 3-year old is probably not a good idea.
  • Is it open-ended? Encouraging free play without any constraints builds their creativity.
  • Does it incorporate one of the STEM topics? This is less of a requirement for toddlers and infants.
  • Does it promote trial and error? Letting kids make mistakes and coming to their own solutions builds their problem-solving skills.
  • Is it fun and engaging? This is a big one, as these terms are quite subjective. You know your child better than anyone, so get something that will pique their interest and keep them engaged for longer periods of time.
STEM Toy Buying Guide and Tips

The Toy Association put together a simple yet comprehensive list in a nice graphical format. You can refer to it here - 14 Unifying Characteristics of STEM Toys.

Wrapping it up

Do you need STEM toys to instill and develop STEM skills in your child? Do you need them to develop core disciplines and cognitive skills? Nope.

Do they help in accelerating your child’s growth? Are they a good supplementary learning tool? You bet!

These toys help make the learning process easier for kids, and the teaching process easier for parents and educators.

STEM is a learning method aimed to prepare children for the world of tomorrow - toys are just a gateway to that ultimate goal.

Whether kids play with regular toys or STEM toys, we need to remember to let them just play.

Let them create.

Let them explore.

Let them make mistakes.

Let them fail.

Let them solve puzzles.

Let them learn and think on their own.

Most importantly, let them have fun and enjoy their childhood.

References

[1] Finding the missing piece. Blocks, puzzles, and shapes fuel school readiness.
[2]Tufts - What they learn when they learn coding - investigating cognitive domains and computer programming knowledge in young. (PDF)

9 Fun & Simple Math Card Games

Nothing beats a fun learning session with the kiddos like some math card games!

There are plenty of resources out there containing a long list of math card games. I picked out the top 9 games I've played with my little ones (and my older nephew). I threw together a pretty image for each game to help them understand the rules of the game faster (really for me but let's keep that between us!). I hope you find these useful too!

These games can be played with kids as young as 6 years of age all the way up to 13-year olds. Your kids will get to learn, practice, and level up in fundamental math skills. This sets a solid foundation for them to excel in an academic setting. All you need is a deck of cards (and some pen/paper to record scores).

So if you are in need of a fun way to pass time with the kids without resorting to staring at a screen. And you want to low-key teach them foundational math skills while doing so, keep reading!

(Just as a DISCLAIMER, I got all the games from other sources which I'll refer to accordingly. Do check them out for more information on the each game!)

Counting On

Math Card Game - Counting On

Source: Creative Family Fun

Gain or Loss

Math Card Game - Gain Or Loss

Source: Guided Math

Triple Digit Dare

Math Card Game - Triple Digit Dare

Source: Math Coach's Corner

Card Bingo

Math Card Game - Bingo

Source: Top Notch Teaching

Close Call

Math Card Game - Close Call

Source: Math Geek Mama

Once Through The Deck

Math Card Game - Once Through The Deck

Source: Let's Play Math

Make Ten

Math Card Game - Make Ten

Source: What We Do All Day

Odd-Even Race

Math Card Game - Odd-Even Race

Source: The Positive Engagement Project (link in wrap-up section)

24

Math Card Game - 24

Source: Learn With Math Games

Wrapping It Up

If you want more, check out these resources for loads more math card games!

The best advice I can give here is to just start playing! We don't want to or need to tell them that these games will require math skills. The minute kids hear the word 'math' they imagine some super difficult problems, They tend to overthink it.

So quickly review the rules with them and just get started. You and your little ones will end up enjoying the game so much more. All the while learning and practicing fundamental math skills!

Why is STEM Education Important? Dispelling the Myths with Cold Hard Facts!

The term “STEM” is thrown around quite a bit these days in the education world. I’m sure we’ve all wondered why.

Besides the personal benefits it comes with, we as a society are in need of individuals who are ready to meet the demands and challenges of the world we live in today. STEM was created to solve this need.

Having studied the computer sciences and engineering all my life, I can attest to the substantial benefits it has had on me personally and professionally. Having worked on many projects with an under-staffed team, I can also attest to the fact that we are in great need of skilled workers

The QUESTION is, are we, and is our education system preparing our students for the world of tomorrow? 

I did extensive research to dispel the myth around STEM education. How and why did it all begin? Why has it become so important? How do we all benefit from it? And how do we move forward? Let’s get right into it!

What is STEM?

STEM is more than the makeup of four subjects thrown together. It is more than a fancy acronym.

It is a philosophy that encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and innovation through hands-on learning.

It switches a student’s thought process from a mode of consumption into a mode of production.

It promotes the crossover of different fields to create cutting-edge solutions.

It is an applicable style of learning replacing outdated industrial-age rote learning. This critical component allows one to apply acquired knowledge immediately.

It is about using Science, Math, Technology, and Engineering to solve real-world problems. This is a stark contrast to the imaginary problems we find in textbooks.

It is an approach where students can take foundational concepts to research, explore, design, and build solutions.

It is an evergreen form of education that comes with a long list of personal, social, and economical benefits.

STEM Overview Infographic

We are in dire need of folks that can hang with the technological demands of today and the future. Individuals who can innovate. STEM education provides guidelines to develop students for the world of tomorrow.

The importance of STEM

To understand the importance of STEM we need to understand why the term came into prominence in the first place. In a 2005 report, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” it was made clear if the US education system were to stay as it is, it would lose its place as a world leader in technological advancements. A change was needed, and that change was a deeper focus on a collection of subjects that bring about innovation. Subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

That, however, is the tip of the iceberg in answering why STEM education has become so important.

There are several other factors making the need for STEM education even more apparent.

The key to success with STEM lies in the parents’, teachers', and educators' hands. If we understand the reasons for and the benefits of it, then it’s simply a matter of implementation. So let’s tackle those first steps of understanding STEM on a deeper level!

The World Needs Innovators and Problem-solvers

Why is STEM Education Important

From past inventions to the ongoing innovations we are seeing in today’s world, sharp minds were behind them all. These minds needed a strong foundation in one of or a combination of STEM subjects. Whether it be innovation (i.e. the advent of AI, space exploration) or solutions (COVID-19 vaccine, climate change research), the folks behind them harnessed their STEM skills to change the world for the better.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, for better or for worse. For problems like climate change, we are going to need the best minds in science and technology to rectify the problem. For advancements like AI, there is a need for a more technology-literate workforce.

Now more than ever, we need to prepare our future generations for the world of today and tomorrow. We need them to be equipped to take on the most complex challenges and problems. We need to instill soft skills such as critical thinking in young people. With an increasing population and problems, the next generation will have to formulate practical ideas and find innovative solutions. Solutions to help supply meet demand, fight poverty, viruses, and economical problems. For this, we need a STEM-literate society that is able to work together, share ideas and solve problems.

Shortage of Skilled Workers

“It appears the need for STEM talent has never been more critical. There are more STEM jobs today than there are applicants. Our country isn’t producing enough talent to fill these positions.”

Manish Mohan, KForce Chief Global Talent Officer

As the world increasingly needs problems solved, so will the need for problem solvers. There are many roles in STEM fields going unfulfilled in the job market today. A STEM-literate workforce is in an all-time high demand.

While some have argued against such a need (calling it a myth), we need only look at the numbers.

Statistics - STEM Job Growth between 2020-2030.

With baby boomers retiring, the demand for certain products and services rising, and new advanced technologies being continuously introduced these numbers come with no surprise. Forget designing and implementing innovative solutions, we first need to address the demand for essential needs and services. The global economy will thank us for doing so.

Close the Gender and Minorities Gap

The ethnic and gender gaps are real, more so in the STEM world.

Based on a 2014 research by the NSF (National Science Foundation), female participation in STEM-related majors rounds out to about 20%. Minority participation is an even more abysmal average of 5%.

Why are females less likely to pursue STEM-based occupations though? According to Pew Research Center [5], some of the major reasons include...

Minorities (blacks and Hispanics) experience barriers in a different way. According to Pew Research Center [5], some of the major reasons include…

We need a diverse workforce to thrive as a society. With a diverse workforce, we get varying perspectives that will produce the most viable product or solution. It makes good business and economic sense to have an increased number of skilled workers.

In the end, we need a world where everyone is able to thrive in an equal manner. The US government coupled with focus programs is a good start. Programs such as summer camps, local science centers, and student clubs are all created to provide these opportunities. The hope is it will lead to breaking these barriers and providing an equal platform for everyone to excel.

Benefits of STEM Education

The benefits of a STEM-based education are plentiful. Everyone wins in various ways.

How Educators Benefit

Educators are the key to it all. The school is after all where a child’s journey begins. When we propel a child with a robust STEM education from a young age, the path becomes that much easier for everyone. Here are some ways educators benefit from STEM education.

How Children Benefit

Children are the primary beneficiaries of the system and rightfully so.

Readiness for Higher Education

Currently, 78% of high school graduates do not meet the readiness level for STEM-related college courses. By integrating STEM learning techniques we better prepare our kids for higher education and their future career.

Soft Skills

How STEM Education Helps Kids

STEM education helps students level up in many important life skills.

Life and soft skills such as -

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Project and task management
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Decision-making
  • Leadership
  • Persistence
  • Creativity

All these not only help in academia but in every aspect of life.

Rewarding Career

STEM disciplines and careers are also financially-rewarding. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage of a STEM job ($89k) is more than twice that of a non-STEM job ($40k). [1]

Statistics - STEM median salary

How Society Benefits

When kids are nurtured to be problem solvers, society benefits by having all the aforementioned issues resolved. Critical problems will be addressed making it a pleasant world for all to live in. There will be sufficient workers to fill roles requiring a specific ability. No longer will there be such a huge gender or minorities disparity in the workforce. Innovative solutions will be had for all to enjoy and make life easier. The economy will bloom with entrepreneurs creating new businesses, in turn creating more jobs.

How To Move Forward

It’s important to take a step back and understand once again that STEM is not just a collection of topics deemed important. It is a way of teaching and learning. A method that prepares our children for the world of today and tomorrow.

The government and other large organizations realize this. And thus are creating strategic partnerships to develop a pipeline for students to grow into the skilled workers needed for the future. There are dime a dozen of these STEM education programs to facilitate the growth of children.

Let’s do our part as parents and educators. Let’s be proactive in integrating STEM activities and techniques into our everyday teachings. Let's take advantage of the STEM education programs available to us. By doing so, we take one step closer to closing the much-dreaded looming skills gap. Our children reap the rewards by the way of a rewarding career. And we as a society benefit from a better world to live in.

References

[1] Employment in STEM Occupations

[2] The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing.

[3] Help Wanted.

[4] U.S. Department of Education STEM Investments

[5] Real-Time Insight into the Market for Entry-level STEM jobs

[6] Pew ResearchCenter

The Engineering Design Process for Kids

The Engineering Design Process is used to solve countless problems and create innovative, cutting-edge solutions. Solutions we use in our everyday lives. From bicycles to cars to yes, even our smartphones. The process isn’t exclusive to complex problems, technology, or engineers. In fact, it can be used to tackle almost any task! Whether it is planning a vacation, a DIY project, or even creating art. 

Why should kids learn it though? Besides the obvious academic benefit, it gives them a framework to harness and improve on critical skills from problem-solving, creative thinking, to collaboration. Kids are natural inventors. Give them a specific object and watch them come up with a dozen uses for it. All they need is a process to follow.

As a Software Engineer, I’ve used it to develop many solutions in my career. I can tell you first-hand the many benefits of the Engineering Design Process.

But that alone will do you no good. So I dug around for a full day to find the best resources to teach your kids the Engineering Design Process. Along the way, we will also learn what the entire process is about, how we can apply it, and its many benefits. So let’s jump right in!


What is the Engineering Design Process?

No solution is ever spontaneously discovered. Rather, it is found through an iterative approach of research, trials, and tests.

The beauty of the Engineering Design Process is that it can be applied to any problem to come to a solution. Notice that I said “a solution” and not “the solution”. This is because, with the Engineering Design Process, multiple solutions are inevitable. This leaves us with the luxury of selecting the most suitable solution.

Engineering Design Process Flow Diagraam

In my humble opinion, the Engineering Design Process is a major contributor to STEM education - more on this later. It ties in perfectly by giving kids a platform on which they can harness their imagination with a supportive thought process.

It teaches kids a plethora of hard and soft skills. We will discover all the exciting ways a child can benefit from this super useful process. It’s a process that applies in an educational setting or even everyday activities.

The Steps of the Engineering Design Process

For the sake of completion, I have listed out the complete 7 steps of the Engineering Design Process. You will see varying numbers of steps from other resources, but the primary essence of the process is present regardless of the number of steps.

If you prefer a simpler approach for introducing to kids, check out the engineering design process for kids as laid out by the Museum of Science in Boston at eie.org/why-eie.

With that in mind, let’s review the 7 steps and what each step requires of us.

1. Ask - Identify the problem we are trying to solve.

2. Research - Use every resource available and take notes.

3. Imagine - Brainstorm as many ideas as possible.

4. Plan - Decide on and design solution.

5. Create - Build out or implement the solution.

6. Test - Test the solution and have others test it. Gather feedback.

7. Improve - Evaluate and improve upon the solution.

Remember, the key with the Engineering Design Process is to cycle through as many times as needed. How do you know when you’re done? It all depends on what you come back within the ‘Test’ step. That’s your litmus test on the viability of your solution.

How the Engineering Design Process benefits kids?

Benefits of Engineering Design Process

The Engineering Design Process is a gift that keeps on giving.

From an educator’s perspective, we are better able to engage students in problem-solving activities. The Engineering Design Process gives us a concrete step-by-step framework for kids to follow - no vagueness, no doubts.

Each step allows them to practice different skills. All the while opening up the gates to many other STEM topics. Whether that be in the science/technology realm where we are developing computer programs or in the creative realm where we are writing a paper.

From a child’s perspective, the benefits are many! Here are just a few.

  • Introduces pre-school and elementary school kids to the world of engineering. It puts them in the role of engineers. They are now responsible for driving the process from problem to solution on their own.
  • It teaches kids problem-solving skills and promotes critical thinking. They're better able to dissect a problem in many ways.  Which then allows them to determine possible solutions in a creative and calculated manner. No shooting blindly and hoping for the best here.
  • Students learn the fundamental art of preparation. The ‘Ask’, ‘Research’, ‘Imagine’, and ‘Plan’ steps of the Engineering Design Process teach how to best prepare with limits and constraints in mind.
  • Kids learn to work in an environment where they’re constantly collaborating and communicating. To create and develop the very best solution, one must attentively listen to and work with others.
  • It opens them up to the concept of open-ended questions and design thinking. With formal education, students begin to think of each problem as having one pre-determined solution. The Engineering Design Process flips this thought process on its head. It teaches them that innovative solutions are seldom found in a book or on the internet. Instead, they must use their imagination. They must research, design solutions, and evaluate. They must combine their accumulated knowledge and skills in creative ways.
  • Kids retain information better when learning and applying principles in a concrete manner. There are no abstract or vague theories going into one ear and out the other. No, if they’re to find and create different solutions, they must apply these learned theories and principles.
  • Fosters a growth mindset as kids don’t stop at the very first solution. The ‘Improve’ step encourages further improvements upon testing. It forces them to evaluate and think outside the box. This results in removing constraints and is where true innovation is achieved.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, students learn to take risks and handle failure. The repetitive nature of the Engineering Design Process sets up failure as a stepping stone to the eventual solution rather than a dead-end.

How do you teach the Engineering Design Process to kids?

Let’s get one thing clear, you do not have to be an engineer to teach it. The “engineering” is there simply because that’s how engineers solve problems. All you need is to learn the structure of the engineering design process and what each step entails. Then you can take and apply it to just about any problem.

Let’s look at some creative hands-on ways of teaching the engineering design process for kids. These can be used for pre-school or elementary school kids at home or in a classroom.

Videos

Kids will frown when asked to read a small article. Tell them to watch a video, their eyes will light up!

Here are a couple of simple and engaging explainer videos you can show them to get started.

A quick 5-min explainer for kids by CrashCourseKids.

Explainer with a real-world example by PBS - Taco Party (my personal favorite!).

Activities

Once they have a decent understanding of the Engineering Design Process, let’s get them practicing the steps. Let's get them creating!

Science Buddies have a couple of great activities for just that.

PBS Kids has an engineering challenge with an interactive group activity for grade levels 3-8

Learning Kits

Teachers Pay Teachers have good engineering learning materials available for purchase at reasonable prices.

Some notable ones...

You can also search for more teaching material on their website.

Articles and Books

The Institute of Education Science has an in-depth article on teaching the Engineering Design Process.
www.files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1171674.pdf.

The World Economic Forum compiled a list of 5 children’s books teaching engineering principles.
www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/childres-books-engineering-creativity-persistance/

Everyday Activities

I’m a firm believer in the always-learning approach. Here are a few ways you can incorporate the Engineering Design Process into your kids’ daily lives. 

Wrapping it up

I hope this article gave you some ideas on how to apply the Engineering Design Process for kids.  The cool part about it all is the process applies to truly any problem, be it big or small, educational or personal.

The benefits are plenty and it will serve as a solid foundation to further STEM-related exercises and learning.

So check out the resources above, and build on them with your own research. You will find plenty of exercises and problems for your kids to solve!

Why Kids Should Learn To Code - Top 5 Reasons

The pace at which our world is continuing to go digital is truly astounding. The inner makeup of our digital world is comprised of perfectly aligned 0s and 1s - often abstracted into a human-readable language known as code...

The coming generations are going to need to be aware of the technology they’ll be working with on a daily basis. Bonus points if they know of its inner workings to some degree as well.

Now I’m not here to tell you that every child should learn to code. Each child is unique, and as such, they may not be into the wild world of programming.

What I will say is coding opens up a plethora of opportunities for our children. They won’t all necessarily take the road down an IT career path (though the IT job market is hungry for young coders).

What happens when a kid learns to code is they immediately become creators. They level up in so many different ways as I’ll outline below. As a professional Software Engineer, I can attest to all these first-hand.

So let's find out why kids should learn to code!

1. Coding helps improve problem-solving skills

There’s no doubt that problem-solving is an essential skill in almost every aspect of our lives. Never in our lives will we come to a point where we become ‘Master’ problem solvers. With each new challenge comes a sub-set of new problems that we must solve to overcome. To nurture our kids to be self-sufficient we need to expose them to new challenges from the outset. Problem-solving, much like a muscle, gets stronger by practicing and pushing our limits.

How Coding Helps

The very core of coding is taking something from concept to reality. Along the way, we will encounter many (and I mean MANY) problems and hurdles. It’s frustrating without a doubt, but it motivates us to think about a problem from many perspectives. It gets us into the habit of breaking down a problem into smaller, more manageable ones.

A major benefit of coding is that you can test your solutions immediately. This helps kids stay motivated. Think of a solution -> apply the solution -> test -> doesn’t work? -> think of another solution, rinse and repeat! All done without any external dependencies.

Very rarely do we encounter problems that have never been seen or solved before. So why re-invent the wheel. Let kids use the power of the world wide web and search away! The exact answer to their exact problem is not always out there. However, by looking around for similar solutions our kids learn to research and apply them to their specific problems. A good researcher makes a great problem-solver.

Don’t take my word for it though, here’s a real-life case study on how programming reinforced problem-solving skills in kindergartners:

2. Coding expands creativity

As adults, we often think creativity is a natural talent that only a few are gifted with. How wrong we are! Yes, there are some who have high levels of natural creativity. The rest of us, however, can work to improve this crucial life skill. Instead, we get into the mindset of “we either have it or we don’t”. And as we age, we start to look at the world as it is rather than how it could be or how we can change it. Kids are naturally creative. Give them any object and they can come up with multiple uses for it. Whereas we automatically resort to saying “No dear, that’s a spoon - you can’t use it that way”. With all this creativity brimming inside our kids, why not let them put it to good use and keep it going well into their adulthood.

How Coding Helps

Writing code allows kids to bring their wild imaginations to life. With coding in their arsenal of skills, the world is truly their oyster. By lining up 0s and 1s according to one’s idea, something truly unique can be created. All this while allowing our little ones to practice another important skill that is experimentation. Kids get permission to try new things. What can they create? Anything that sits behind a screen - apps, websites, video games, animations, etc - or even something more mechanical in nature like simple toys.

Another great benefit here is it fosters whole-brain thinking. Left-brain thinking is associated with analytical thinking and right-brain thinking with creativity. Coding requires both of these modes of thinking to solve the most complex problems. Practicing these simultaneously will come in handy as kids get into more advanced subject matters.

3. Coding makes you resilient and persistent

If you’ve read about any successful person you would have noticed it wasn’t good luck or natural talent that helped them reach their goals. No, it was hard work, resiliency, perseverance, persistence, and good old-fashioned grit. These traits helped them keep going during the most difficult times. Their mind was made and it was a matter of when, not if, at that point.

How Coding Helps

As a professional Software Engineer myself, I can tell you first-hand that coding can be the most frustrating thing at times. When something doesn’t work the way it should, especially after trying numerous solutions you NEVER want to see a line of code again. But, there’s that slight yet lingering curiosity inside you. Why? Because in the world of code, you’ve sniffed the potential. You’ve seen everything so far come to fruition. You don’t want to quit now, not after everything you’ve already been through. Not when you’re this close. This is the essence of resiliency, persistence, and perseverance that is found in all successful people. Kids learn to see things to the very end, to see failure as a stepping stone, to acknowledge that no skill is immediately acquired. Only those with high levels of persistence are ultimately rewarded.

Coding not only nurtures us to not give up, but it also helps us to intelligently analyze a problem then attack it in a calculated manner. It’s easy yet extremely time-consuming to try anything and everything until something sticks. There are dime a dozen folks doing that. It takes someone resilient to take a step back and breathe. Then acknowledge the problem,  and analyze and document the most viable solutions. Then resolve it in a handful of tries.

4. Coding is fun and engaging

Learning does not have to be boring, mindless repetition of theories and principles. With distractions being flung at us from every direction, we need to make learning material engaging and yes, sometimes even fun. This helps our kids stay motivated and attentive.

How Coding Helps

Coding is fun and engaging right out of the box. No need to come up with fancy techniques to capture your kid’s attention. Learning programming fundamentals should not be limited to reading theoretical principles. Yes, learning the fundamentals is important. What’s more important is putting the newly acquired knowledge to practice. This is where coding shines. Kids see immediate results of their hard work. This keeps them motivated and engaged as they see their efforts come to fruition.

It even makes the oft-dreaded mathematics a fun time. Coding eliminates the mindset of “Yeah, I’m never going to use THAT in real life!”. With coding, you can visualize abstract concepts. You need to be able to analyze data, think logically, and break down problems - skills required when dealing with Math!

5. Code is EVERYWHERE

You likely don’t need convincing of this statement if you’re reading this. Everything from the browser you’re using to view this article, the countless apps on your phone to the voice assistants to video games are all made up of hundreds of thousands of lines of code. Regardless of the type of programming language used, in the end, they are all broken down into nothing but 0s and 1s. I’m not saying we should all be coding, but don’t you think our kids should at least be aware of how the technology (they use on a daily basis) works?

How Coding Helps

I had second thoughts about including this in the article because I think coding goes beyond just collecting a paycheck and calling it a day. But, this article would be incomplete without acknowledging the growth rate at which our world is becoming digital.

For one, the growth rate of the IT industry is 4x that of any other career. The job market is begging for more coders. Due to this, the salary can be quite lucrative compared to other more traditional careers.

Secondly, and more importantly (at least for me), when your kid learns to code they become producers, they become problem solvers. No longer do we need to rely on software companies to resolve glaring problems. We can solve them right from the comfort of our homes. Code does not discriminate. Today, the gap between professional and personal tools available has diminished. The only difference is talent, and as we’ve covered above that can be built on with plenty of practice.

What next?

If you see the benefits of introducing your kids to coding, there are plenty of learning programs out there to get your feet wet. Some notable ones include:

- Tynker

- Scratch (a programming language built specifically for kids learning to code).

So pick something, get them started, and it may just open up a whole new world for them!