We live in a world where scientific and technological innovation drive almost every corner of our lives and every aspect of our economy. The children of today face a future where it's estimated that growth in science, engineering, mathematics and technology careers will far outpace growth in virtually every other industry(1), and science education can be an excellent way to prepare them for that future, both at home and at school. But regardless of future career paths, science education is a fun, accessible way to teach kids of any age to be proactive in satisfying their own curiosity about the world around them.
1. Science Education Fosters Children's Innate Curiosity
Children are all born natural explorers. Even very young babies like to conduct experiments and test how the stimuli in their environments - and their own bodies - function and react to external forces. Providing plentiful tools, resources, and opportunities to learn about the way the natural world works lets a child's creativity direct their experiences and fuel their discoveries.
Creativity is the basis for all technological innovation, and by giving children a methodical scientific framework with which they can explore answers to any questions they may have, educators can foster a hands-on multisensory environment that will encourage a lifetime of self-directed learning. Children of all ages can be taught to approach solving any problem they may have with the scientific method, thereby developing the habit of seeing a line of inquiry completed from its start to a satisfying finish.
2. Capturing a Child's Interest in Science Early Is Critically Important
Though some kids may discover a passion for the sciences and science education in junior high or high school, for many others, that may be far too late to capture their interest. According to a recent study by the National Center for STEM Elementary Education at St. Catherine University(2), nearly a third of all fourth grade students had already lost their early interest in science, and half of all eighth graders considered science education to be totally irrelevant to their future career goals. Engaging high school students with science education isn't a total lost cause, of course, but the research is clear that it's much more effective to engage with children as young as preschool age to truly capture their interest and cultivate a lifelong love of scientific learning.
3. Science Education Prepares Kids for the Future
There's no question that the future of our economy will continue to be dominated by new discoveries in science and technology. A rigorous education in science throughout childhood is a concrete way to ensure that the children of today are prepared for the job market of tomorrow. There is no better way to prepare children for the technological and scientific innovations they're sure to come across in their lifetimes and to make careers in those fields accessible. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published a report that discovered that 93% of STEM careers have higher median incomes and wages than average(3). Providing a thorough education in science for kids means opening doorways toward future high-earning career opportunities.
4. Developing Critical Thinking Skills Early
The scientific method is a simple but methodical framework for clearly identifying a problem, identifying a possible solution for that problem, and then rigorously testing whether the solution works. It's easy enough for even toddlers to understand, but can support even the most complex scientific experiments. Children can develop critical thinking skills by putting the scientific method to use through child-friendly hands on activities that test out answers to their questions about the real world. By working through real-world experiments that they can experience with their own five senses, science education encourages children to use logic and reason to arrive at evidence-based conclusions for any questions they may have throughout their lives.
5. Instilling the Confidence to Fail
Science for kids can be a means for educators and families to foster in children the confidence to take risks with their ideas and beliefs - even if it means that they turn out to be wrong. The fact is that many scientific experiments will come to the conclusion that the hypothesis - the solution to the problem that the child proposed at the start of the experiment - turned out to be wrong. Being wrong in your assumptions can look like failure for many children, and can feel very defeating and discouraging. However, having access to the scientific method, which can support an infinite number of experiments and hypotheses about any given problem, gives children the tools to keep on trying to find a correct solution.
In this way, STEM education teaches kids that a scientific hypothesis that an experiment proves wrong isn't a failure; it's just the first step in finding the right answer. Knowing that they just have to keep trying and that they'll eventually arrive at the right conclusion instills confidence and perseverance in children - two qualities that can benefit them throughout their lives in a wide variety of situations.
6. Access to Great Role Models
The history of scientific discovery is filled with tales of heroes and innovators who defied convention, dared to think outside the box, and made breakthroughs that were previously thought impossible, all in order to solve some of humanity's most pressing problems. When kids conduct scientific experiments and engage in hands on activities, they can more easily contextualize and connect to what they're doing by learning about the brilliant men and women who asked the same questions in the past. Learning about scientific innovators of the past gives kids access to a plethora of stories about inspiring role models, and science education allows children to form personal connections to some of humanity's greatest thinkers.
7. Organically Teaching Collaboration and Teamwork
Learning how to effectively work with your peers as you work together to see a project to its completion is a crucial social skill that serves kids well into adulthood. Many experiments require that children work together to see it through to the end and get the answers they're looking for. Science education teaches children to compromise, communicate, take turns, and share credit in a naturalistic setting that needs the input of every single participant. Everyone's contribution is important to the completion of the experiment, and children can learn to take shared pride in its success. Collaborating and learning with peers in an academic setting is vital for all children, and there are few better ways to teach it.
A child doesn't have to plan for a career in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics to benefit from a rigorous background in those subjects throughout childhood. Science education uses real-world scenarios to teach kids of all ages valuable skills that benefit them throughout their lives, and gives them the confidence to fearlessly pursue their interests and passions.