Op-ed: Parental Involvement Critical to STEM Interest

Parents have many roles in a child’s life: caregiver, guardian, disciplinarian, adviser and coach. Parents are a child’s first teacher. We teach our children how to talk, walk, use proper manners, tie their shoes and dress themselves. We teach them how to ride a bike, and how to get back up and try again. We read to them, and help them understand some of life’s most difficult situations. We encourage their curiosity and patiently respond to “why?” Then we send our children to school, and they learn from professional teachers. But our role as a teacher doesn’t end.

As parents, we want the best for our children, including a successful career that allows them to support a family and gives them opportunities beyond those that we have had. I’ve written before about how we must counsel our students to pursue their dreams, but prepare for reality. The odds of our children playing in the NFL or landing a recording deal are slim, even for some of the most talented.

The reality is that most children will not play professional sports, sing on Broadway or star in a film. The reality is that the most in-demand, high-paying college degrees are in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. But to engage our students in STEM, we must spark an early interest in math and science.

Sixty-five percent of scientists and STEM graduate students say they developed their interest in elementary school, according to a study in the March 2010 International Journal of Science Education. Another study shows that students decide as early as second grade whether they like, and think they are good at, math. If we do not encourage our students early on, many will begin narrowing their career choices well before middle school, and in many cases, eliminate some of the most promising, rewarding career possibilities.

So how do we do this, especially if we as parents aren’t particularly strong in math and science? First, we must be engaged in their education and provide a support system that encourages learning and places importance on a quality education. We must encourage our students to be curious and creative, and we can help them develop as problem solvers and critical thinkers.

We can encourage students to participate in extracurriculars such as robotics clubs, or guide them to resources like Kahn Academy that can help them better understand challenging subjects. With the Internet, resources for summer learning are only a click away, and through engaged, hands-on learning with our students, we can open their eyes to the exciting possibilities that STEM offers.

To read the rest of this article, posted in US News and World Report, please click here.