Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • August 2018
Written by 

The importance of STEM learning

According to the Afterschool Alliance, innovation will be the primary driver of the future economy. By intentionally integrating science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into youth development programs, we prepare children for that future. Moreover, in doing so, we equip today’s youth with the skills they need to tackle the problems of tomorrow.

STEM is a curriculum-based idea of educating students in four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This curriculum is unique in that it integrates all four of these subjects into one versus teaching these subjects individually. STEM helps students think outside the box to learn and problem solve using real-world applications.

Effectively integrating STEM involves pushing youth past their comfort zone to achieve things they may not have thought they could. This curriculum creates interest and excitement by providing a new way of learning by creating fun activities like creating toy zip lines, making homemade slime, Lego building challenges, paper plane engineering challenges, making and testing catapults, and so much more! These types of activities engage youth, encourage teamwork and collaboration, allow for multiple solutions and approaches, unite inventions with science and engineering content and learning, and allow youth to relate their learning and experimentation to what they know and experience. Through STEM, students connect the knowledge they are gaining with real-world situations they may encounter. It also helps increase students’ awareness and interest in education and career pathways.

According to STEAM Powered Family, the number one benefit of STEM for elementary schools is that it fosters a lifelong love of learning. Elementary students often have an amazing sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness that naturally leads them into exploring and learning. It not only fosters knowledge for students but it also strengthens the relationship between the staff or teachers who are exploring these activities with the students. STEM creates a foundation that makes learning enjoyable and engages interaction between students and staff/teachers rather than lecturing in a note taking setting.

If your child’s school does not incorporate STEM-based learning into their curriculum, learn about simple experiments you and your child do together at home. A simple web search will bring up a list of sites to get you started with ideas such as:

  • Does it float? Fill a sink or bathtub with water and find out what floats and what sinks. Ask your child questions to get them thinking about what might happen with each object you try.
  • Make “Oobleck.” Mix cornstarch and water, then see how it reacts when you squeeze it and then when you release that pressure (recipe can be found at
  • Create a marble maze. See what happens when you have inclines, declines and turns in your maze. Ask your child what they observe as the marble moves through the course.

Another option would be to find an after school program that utilizes and encourages learning through STEM activities. Tapping in to a child’s natural curiosity is a great way to prepare them for life’s many challenges.

References: Afterschool STEM Hub. .

STEAM Powered Family. .

Kathryn Herzog

Kathryn Herzog, PhD has worked for the YMCA of the Fox Cities for many years. She has been at the Appleton YMCA for 13 years, and is currently the Program Executive Director of Child Care Services. She recently received her Doctorate from Marian University. Contact Kathryn at [email protected]

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