My post-pandemic back-to-school guide: Confidence through STEAM

LAST week, I shared how important it is to develop the 21st century confidence skill early in our children. In my experience, it has really helped equip my kids against school bullying. I also shared two main self-help activities that I encouraged with my children, which included learning and “content” or material enrichment activities, such as sports and games.

This week, let me share my “one-size-fits-all solution” on how I combined academics with play during their formative years. I have seen how these efforts have not only built my children’s confidence, but also transformed them into holistic individuals who perform well beyond school.

Personally, I call this solution the Magic of STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics. I first learned this when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers, and I felt really relieved. I was and still am an “art” person. I always felt torn when I was little, because it seemed like you could only be good at one thing. I was driven to pursue the mathematical side in me, and so I completed an engineering course.

However, I have always kept my soft and artistic side in my personal poetry, writing and art time. I believe that made the difference both in my production and in my vision as a person. So, finding “STEAM” showed me how my kids can enjoy both worlds freely and effectively.

STEAM is very useful for learning content in 21st century learner skills. Why? According to my own observations, my young children did not really know the subjects at the start. They only knew if an activity interested them or not.

And without a doubt, the most interesting for my children was when we were playing. By injecting STEAM activities from an early age, they were doing math, science, logic, engineering, without even knowing it. When they entered school age, they felt more relaxed when these topics were introduced to them.

Another main benefit of STEAM for me follows the thoughts I shared last week in Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, especially when you expose them to various “gaming experiences”.

From the book A Mind of Their Own: Building Your Child’s Emotional Well-Being in a Post-Pandemic World by Katherine Hill, it shares Carol Dweck’s view that children with a growth mindset “see challenge as an opportunity to learn and difficulty as an inevitable part of the learning process”.

He further shares that for these children, “failure means they have to try again” and that they persist despite setbacks, which is a great opportunity to develop emotional resilience. I like the shared thought that “different kids may have different abilities, but it’s what they think about their ability that’s crucial.”

So while STEAM can be seen as developing the “hard” knowledge skills, I value it the most on how it has developed my children’s strong willpower in pursuit of tasks or goals that may seem impossible at first. I’ve shared in previous posts how my artistic six-year-old daughter was called out by her teacher for simply staring at the ceiling fan every time she was presented with a math problem, but she gradually worked her way up to represent his current school in MTAP competitions; or how my shy, more musically inclined boy resolved to make it into college basketball, even though he was rejected for two years in a row, and now he will represent his school in an international basketball competition basketball in Mexico this year.

Below are some STEAM tools and activities that I recommend for different stages:

Toddlers: Paints and coloring materials used to draw numbers and arithmetic symbols; sorting activities; STEAM toys, like Learn with Me Count and Learn Cookie Jar and Techno Kids Action Blocks.

Preschoolers: As you observe how your child learns more effectively, inject tools that foster curiosity and interest. For example, Marcus is a “tactile” learner, which means he likes to tinker with his hands when learning. I would alternately pull out my grandmother’s abacus, math bingo sets, or various block and number games, and just allow her to play with them. Starting science experiments early like with the Crayola Marker Maker, I believe, has helped my kids love science, while also making them more curious in the process.

Elementary school students: My latest discovery is a “phygital” (physical + digital) math game method that is more suited to today’s digital kids. You can go to YouTube and find the Numberblocks channel and use Learning Resources’ MathLink builders to build math skills from counting, models to elementary school math. Injecting coding and experiments into family weekend playtimes should also be a staple given the constant innovations our kids have to adapt to. I found the Code and Learn Spacecraft, as well as the Crayola Liquid Science Kit, very interesting.

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