From trying a new recipe in your kitchen to experiencing a live stage to watching the leaves change color outside, STEAM – that’s science, technology, engineering, art and math – is everywhere. Understanding and being exposed to these concepts is critical for kids and their futures. But keeping them engaged in STEAM? That isn’t always easy.

“The most powerful way to ignite this passion in others is to directly engage them in a wide variety of STEAM-based experiences,” says Michael Egan, seventh grade teacher at Larson Middle School in Troy; he also presented during Metro Parent’s STEAM + Learning Fair in late September 2019.

“Research shows that the critical period to do this is during the elementary and middle school years, because once students reach age 14 years old, most of their attitudes and interest toward STEAM fields have already formed.”

So how can you spark STEAM interest in your child? Read on for advice from three local experts.

1. Make learning ‘EPIC’ for kids

Advice from Gary Abud Jr., author of Science With Scarlett

As an author, award-winning educator and 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year, Gary Abud Jr. knows a thing or two about keeping kids engaged in their subject manner. But today’s kids experience a world where they can command virtual assistants to control appliances, stream multimedia anywhere, anytime – and endlessly capture photos and video.

So how can learning compete with all that and meet the curiosity children have for their worlds? The key is to make it EPIC – which stands for experiential, image-rich, participatory and connected. Here’s how to do it.

Create a learning experience. Facts fade, but stories stick. Make a way your kids to encounter firsthand what they are learning about. Then they’ll be able to retell the story of what they did.

Allow the learner to participate. Kids want to be involved, hands-on and try things for themselves. Even if they won’t get it right the first time, give them a chance to take part in the learning process – and not just watch someone else do it.

Make learning image-rich. We live in visual times, and images make learning stick even more than words. Visuals influence how information is perceived, so incorporate them whenever possible. Because kids these days don’t know a world where you can’t take photos or videos on demand.

Allow learners to connect with others. Learning is social, and so are kids. They don’t want to learn alone; they want to be in community with others. Give kids a chance to discuss or try what they are learning with a partner. If they are your only learner, be their partner!

Chalk, talk and walk. Draw it out for kids to show where things are headed. Help kids reflect on their learning by talking about what they’re noticing and thinking with them. Give kids a chance to refine their thinking by trying things for themselves, even in a new or different way than they originally learned/saw it.

Take learning deeper. Help make learning “EPIC” for your learners with these resources for doing activities, reading together, making thinking visible and talking about science:

2. Discover the STEAM of the stage

Advice from Sam White, founding artistic and executive director of Shakespeare in Detroit

STEAM plays a big role in the theater, and Shakespeare in Detroit helps kids discover the science of lighting a production, the technology of sound design, the engineering or construction of a stage and the math of building a set – along with, of course, the art of performing.

“Theater is absolutely the A in a STEAM exercise, and the other four letters can be the bridge to having your child understanding all of the elements that make the awesome show they saw possible,” says executive director Sam White, who also runs school STEAM programs for students in grades 3-12.

When it comes to getting kids geeked about theater, White offers these suggestions.

Take kids to a show. Every element of STEAM lives at the theater.

Introduce a theater element at home. Once you come home from the theater, or the next day when interest is still high, introduce an element from the show – like the science of lighting by using watercolors to show how colors can be mixed to make new colors the way the lighting designers used lights in the show. Visit your local dollar store to get a palette of watercolors and show how kids how mixing red and blue becomes purple, for example.

Talk about sounds. Ask your kids what sounds they heard in the show, such as bells, and if they can make those sounds with something at home – just like the bells you hang on the Christmas tree every year, or those cute little noisemakers and handclappers you can get from the dollar store to make the sound of a horse galloping.

3. Explore your extracurricular options

Advice from Michael Egan, seventh grade teacher at Larson Middle School in Troy

As a middle school teacher, Michael Egan knows just how tough it can be to get kids excited about learning STEM concepts in the classroom – let alone encouraging them to continue that learning at home. But it’s not impossible. Discover three easy ways that are well within the reach of any parent.

Getting involved in after-school activities. Extracurricular activities and competitions such as the Science and Engineering Fair of Metro Detroit, FIRST Robotics, Science Olympiad, Future Cities and scouts offer a great way for students to engage with STEM concepts outside of the classroom.

Purchase science kits. Ready-to-use home science kits and experiments, such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino and basic circuit kits and coding games offer a run, interactive way to teach programming and electronics.

Visit a local venue or nature center. Hit up a nature center, visit the Michigan Science Center in Detroit and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum to get learn in a fun way. Take advantage of camps, too.