Thursday, July 17, 2014

"STEAM" Heat: Creativity is Key

There’s been much in the news lately about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in our education system. There are fears that America is falling behind many other countries in training young generations to fill jobs that will keep our nation on the leading edge of job creation and economic prosperity. It seems hard to argue against STEM and many people are fully on the bandwagon about it.

However, some folks do argue that with a heavy focus on STEM learning, the arts are being ignored. They lobby for adding “A” to STEM for STEAM because STEM is nothing without creativity and innovative thinking. Can't argue against that either. The STEAM idea is definitely heating up.

Think of the many everyday products we use that may not have even existed had companies not created and presented them with innovative design, clever marketing and advertising, and striking presentation or packaging. The mesh of tech and creativity is all around us.

But let's step away from the education arguments and focus on what parents can do to help children supplement their education and learning outside of school.  Hands-on activities and family educational outings often lead to “aha” moments in which kids realize what it takes to create something from scratch, or come to understand how things work in real life.

Games and toys have also always been a huge part of learning. The added element of fun takes the pressure off formal education. Games can quietly convince kids of their skill levels and help them realize how much they do know and use in real life. At Fundamentally Toys, we take a strong focus on toys that teach in addition to providing fun. Even purely fun toys can teach kids simple things.

I know I learned a lot by playing as a child. I built structures with Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. I got a fascinating bug book for Christmas one year that I clearly remember to this day. My family played board and card games in which I used mathematical skills and strategic thinking to try to win. School art projects gave me ideas to try other artistic endeavors at home – from coloring books to paint-by-number sets to free-form painting. Piano lessons never made me a musical prodigy, but clearly helped me understand choral singing later in life and how to dance and move to music and to even better appreciate musical performances.

Kids are naturally going move toward their strengths and interests. While it's great to encourage them toward what comes easily, it’s important to notice if your child might be shying away from a subject because she or he thinks they are not good at it. Don't let them give up without exploring what the issue is. It may all be in the learning approach. I remember my daughter struggling with fractions. She liked to bake, so I got an idea to help her learn. I pulled out the measuring cups and spoons. Suddenly, she had an “aha” moment in which fractions clicked in her mind. She easily understood and in the process turned out to be an excellent baker, too!

It won’t be long before kids will be heading back to school in Houston. Time to get minds back in shape. Stop in this weekend, July 18 – 20, 2014, and save 20% on all educational toys and games at Fundamentally Toys.

Full STEAM ahead!

Debbie School, Owner of Fundamentally Toys


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