STEM based careers are projected to grow by more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. How do you plan to prepare your children for their future lives in potential STEM careers? SimplyFun Playologist Mary Kettering shares her experience with how SimplyFun games can give kids the STEM head start they need.
Interested in helping kids prepare for their future? Click here to learn more about becoming a SimplyFun Playologist.
SimplyFun Playologist Mary Kettering lives in Ashland, Ohio with her husband, Brian, daughter, Cici and son, Asher. Family favorite hobbies include playing games (of course), reading books, playing outside and dancing. Mary is also an accomplished musician and she is the Principal Second Violinist with the Ashland Symphony and the Fiddler Player/Singer with the Northwest Territory Bluegrass Band.
I spent endless hours as a kid creating complicated contraptions with my Erector® sets, testing the boundaries of physics building elaborate sand castles at the beach, and conducting experiments with my small chemistry kit I received at Christmas. My brothers and I built a transistor radio, our own tree house fortress, and wooden sail boats to race at the local pool. I didn’t know it…but while I was busy playing, I was also busy learning about science, technology, engineering and math, i.e. STEM.
Over the last decade or so, policy-makers, business leaders and educators have pursued adding more STEM curriculum to children’s education. This flowed from the realization that the future economy needs many more people who are knowledgeable in the STEM fields. In addition to the content of the subjects themselves, STEM education is essential to developing problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation and sense making abilities, among many others. These skills transcend the STEM content itself. They are vital to navigating a happy life and charting a great career.
More recently, academics and thought-leaders have added arts to the equation, resulting in the acronym STEAM. This addition reflects the understanding that the best problem solving, critical thinking, etal requires creativity, imagination, emotional intelligence and many other abilities developed through art. One only needs to look at the success of the iPhone to see the power of STEM by people with great artistic ability. Or, marvel at art that blurs the lines with science such as Aeolus by Luke Jerram, the Lava Project by Bob Wysocki and Jeff Karson, Strandbeest by Theo Jansen, or anything by Andy Goldsworthy.
Certainly, STEAM topics can be learned by reading textbooks and taking notes during a teacher’s lecture. However, the learning will be woefully incomplete. Perhaps more than any other subject matters, STEAM education is most successful when children learn by doing.
As a thought experiment, imagine a child who learns how to build a structure out of blocks by reading a manual. Imagine another child who actually builds the structure. The building process probably includes a few failed attempts where the blocks fell or did not fit together the right way. After successfully building the structure, the child then takes is apart and starts to build something new from her imagination.
Who learns more?
Your intuition is probably saying that the second child learned more. There is ample science that validates your intuition. For example, one conclusion from the scientific research is that how we play and how much we play directly shapes the architecture of our brains. In other words, play and experiential learning makes our brains significantly more creative, intelligent, adaptable, resilient, curious and empathetic in ways that typical instruction based learning cannot do alone.
I have worked in the play world for over 20 years. I observe over that time that children are naturally drawn to STEAM topics. If we want to nourish and stroke these interests, the best way is through play. Kids want to play. They love to play. And, they learn STEAM best through play, which is sometimes called project based learning, experiential learning or learning by doing. Whatever it is called, playful learning is essential to children’s achievement in STEAM.
On a final note, I’m reminded of a story detailed by Stuart Brown, PhD in his book entitled Play, How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul. The short version is that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), perhaps the premier aeronautics company in the world, had a major problem. Engineers hired in the late 90s were not capable of certain types of problem solving essential to performing at the highest levels, yet their counterparts from the 60s and 70s were. After exhaustive research, they discovered that how the engineers played as children directly correlated with their performance in the company. Now, when JPL interviews potential candidates from the best universities in the world, they explore how much they built, tinkered, explored and otherwise played and learned using their hands and imaginations.
About the Author
For over 20 years, Matt Brown has been leading high-performing teams to develop vibrant business cultures, invent and launch high-impact branded platforms, and turn around underperforming brands and businesses. Matt consults with Fortune 500 and early stage companies, usually working with the C-suite. He also co-founded a couple of companies including big BOING, an integrated strategy, innovation and development company that partnered with Kraft, Disney, Coca Cola, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, Learning Curve and others to invent, design and launch (or completely overhaul) major domestic and international brands.
Sometimes all it takes is a game to help kids learn easier.
All work and no play isn’t always the best way to help your child learn. Wouldn’t it be nice to just play for a while, especially when science says it’s one of the best ways to retain information?
Having fun with others is just one of the ways your child and even you learn and remember things. Give it a try with a fun, educational board game and you’ll be surprised at just how much your child remembers afterwards. You’re creating memories and your kids don’t even realize how much their minds are growing.
Laughter Enhances Memory
Playing games tends to make people laugh and relax. Studies have even shown that humor activates the brain’s release of dopamine, which has been linked to long term memory retention. Your kids may be just enjoying a fun game, but while they’re laughing, they’re learning math, science, language, social skills and more.
Dopamine Helps Boost Long Term Memory
Many studies have been done on the effects of dopamine on memory. It’s considered a reward chemical since it makes you feel good. It’s released when you’re happy or proud of yourself. Dopamine helps modulate the hippocampus, which is a vital part of long term memory. By creating happy memories with play, you’re helping boost your child’s long term memory retention as well.
Memories Are Linked To Strong Emotions
According to this article in Brain World, some studies have estimated as much as 95% of reactions are motivated more by emotion, including memory. Stronger emotions equal stronger memories. It’s why we often remember our strongest positive and negative moments best. The same applies to children. A teacher asking them to memorize facts isn’t going to trigger an emotional response. A fun game played with their friends or family creates a stronger, positive memory, leading to a higher rate of retention. Add some play to learning and you’ll create lasting memories full of educational value.
Play More And Learn More
Take the time to break out some educational board games with your children. It’s not only fun for everyone involved, but it also boosts memory. Learning doesn’t have to be dull. Let children play more and they learn even more.
Image: Ashton Bingham
Helping your kids develop a love of learning is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. What better way to do that than with an activity that kids naturally love, like play?
We are all blessed from birth with the ability to learn from play. Think about the creativity of your toddler who discovers the pure awesomeness of finger painting with jam and peanut butter (rather than eating it.) Or their curiosity in seeing what happens when trying to flush (name the object) down the toilet? We can see the love of learning happening every day with these little ones, so how do we keep that going as our children approach school age?
We begin first by setting the example. Kids emulate the things they love, especially the behavior of their parents. Remember the first time your little one used a word reserved only for mommy and daddy? They follow where we lead.
Your first step is review the activities YOU do every day that demonstrates your continued love of learning:
Do you share your admiration for others that are still learning?Second, we create the environment for learning for our kiddos. Many things we do each day can be turned into play and learning moment with just a little bit of thought on our part:
With just a bit of thought, even the most boring activities we do can be turned into a play moment that provides the opportunity to learn.
About the Author
Patty Pearcy is President and CEO of SimplyFun LLC, a direct sales company whose mission is to build smarter kids and stronger families through the amazing power of play. Prior to SimplyFun, Patty spent 25 years in senior operations management and financial leadership roles for several multinational companies.
The Summer Slide. There are many ways to tackle it to ensure your kids are prepped for the upcoming school year. SimplyFun Playologist Julie Harrison shares her tried and true method for getting her kids ready for the classroom.
Q. How old are your children and what grades will they be entering this school year?
A. My girls are ages seven (almost eight), going into 3rd grade, and age six, going into 1st grade.
Q. What types of play do you and your children engage in over the summer?
A. Our days typically start with art or imaginative play. We have been playing outside at the park or the pool and we play games in the late afternoon/evening to connect as a family.
Q. Is there a specific time in the summer that you begin focusing more on school readiness? If so, when?
A. I think it’s important to focus on school readiness throughout the whole summer in order to prevent the summer slide. I want my kids to go back to school without having to relearn what they learned last year and focus on building their education.
Q. What does your school readiness regimen include?
A. Reading every day is extremely important. We also use math workbooks and television programs that focus on geography on a regular basis. The summer is a great time to check out local museums to learn more about art, history and science, too!
Q. What SimplyFun games have you used in your school readiness program for your children?
A. I love SimplyFun games to enhance learning opportunities. Letter Slide, Clover Leap and Spell Trek are our favorites for language. Math Room, Whirly’s World and Hook ‘Em are the favorites for math. We’ve played Let’s Drive and Let’s Jet to learn more about geography, and Mirror Mansion to learn about the science of reflection. We also have fun with Bee Alert and Tar Trackers to sharpen memory skills.
Q. What are the results you have experienced by using SimplyFun games and play in general to help your children prepare for back to school?
A. My kids have really developed their social skills, especially winning and losing, by playing SimplyFun games. The games also reinforce the education that they’ve had and build on it in a fun way! Most importantly, though, is that we are connecting as a family on a daily basis.
Q. What is some advice you would give to other parents who are committed to preventing the summer slide and prepping for back to school?
A. My advice would be to enjoy the summer months and use SimplyFun games to “sneak” in some learning opportunities while developing better relationships with your kids.
Q. Are there any specific SimplyFun games that you recommend?
A. SimplyFun has fantastic games geared for different ages and levels of education. There are so many to choose from, whether it be math (Digger’s Garden Match, Math Room or Math’d Potatoes), language (Pass the Rooby Roo, Spell Trek or Get 4 & Score), science (Dinosaur Challenge, Kilter or Mirror Mansion) or geography (Global Ranking, Let’s Drive or Let’s Jet). Some great strategy games would include Bypass, Chess on the Loose and Trifusion. Summer is full of get-togethers and we like to play Eye to Eye, Qualities and Perspectives with the other adults.
Q. Any other information you would like to share?
A. In today’s society, I think it’s extremely important to connect with your kids on a daily basis and make sure that they don’t grow up staring at screens. I think that screens can take away from traditional play and forming relationships with others.
One Thanksgiving holiday while visiting family, I watched my dad and brother-in-law play Kilter with my kids and their cousins. It was such a delight watching them laugh and form better bonds while playing the game! The connections that are formed through game play are amazing, and important.
Do you have a method for preventing the summer slide? Share it in the comments below.
SimplyFun Playologist Julie Harrison lives in Redondo Beach, CA with her husband, Andrew and two daughters, Courtney and Amanda. When she’s not helping other families connect with SimplyFun games, she and her family enjoy playing, dancing and swimming.