As adults, it’s hard to retain curiosity in the world around us, nor to find time to be creative. As a parent, I also know how easy it is to accidentally discourage these skills in our children. It often feels like creativity means mess and curiosity means potential danger or an endless stream of hard questions at the most inconvenient times – like that “How are babies made?” question cropping up while you’re in the middle of the supermarket! However, I genuinely believe that curiosity and creativity are two of the most important skills I can encourage in my children. Not only are these rewarding life-long skills that can bring fascination, joy, fulfilment and so many other benefits, but also for me they are inextricably linked to science and engineering, subjects I’m particularly thinking of today as its US National STEAM/STEM Day (8th November).
I volunteer as a STEM Ambassador because I want to inspire children’s personal interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and help them understand the vast range of potential STEM-related careers. They will not suit everyone but I believe, historically, many people with huge potential, particularly girls, have not had the chance to consider STEM careers seriously.
So many STEM careers featuring on lists of highest earning jobs (e.g. Reed or Glassdoor), the current skills storage in the STEM sector and indication via the Nesta study into skills needed in employment in 2030 that these skills will remain in demand there is no doubt that STEAM skills will stand young people in good stead for their future. If this can be achieved, in part, by nurturing children’s curiosity and creativity from the youngest age, surely, it’s worth giving that a try?
So is it true that curiosity and creativity are key STEM skills? Hopefully, it’s not too surprising that curiosity is seen as the foundation for any young scientist. It is what inspires the Why? What? and How? questions that feed their interest and knowledge. What may surprise you is that creativity is considered so important.
The more familiar STEM acronym has been broadened to STEAM by many recently to include Art or The Arts to emphasise the importance of creativity in combination with STEM. I’ve talked about inspiring creativity before but as Sir Ken Robinson famously said in his TED Talk, “Creativity is as important as literacy”. For too long, popular opinion has considered STEM skills and creativity to be almost mutually exclusive, with education branding us either an arts or sciences student. Yet, it’s the combination that provides the real magic. Einstein claimed his violin playing helped him come up with the theory of relativity and that’s not uncommon, various studies have shown a link between artistic hobbies and scientific brilliance. Creativity, it seems, is what inspires the ideas, innovation and problem solving that lead to real advancement.
STEAM opportunities in schools:
It worries me that so many schools struggle to focus enough time on nurturing curiosity and creativity. However, there are an increasing number of opportunities out there in this area for schools to take advantage of, and the schools that embrace these see incredible results. I’ve just received the new STEM magazine from the IET that goes to every school which includes so many amazing opportunities. I feel privileged to feature in the magazine talking about the success I had running First LEGO League JR this year as a STEM Ambassador for my local school – the children still talk about it and some tell me it is what has made them want to be an Engineer (and it was so much fun!). There as so many other opportunities listed for every stage of school from Faraday Challenge Days, to the Big Bang Fair to Kids Invent Stuff (not just open to schools), not to mention the opportunities STEM Ambassadors, like me, can offer for free. If you know a school that isn’t taking advantage of these then give them a nudge! I’m frankly a bit jealous of children today, I wish this stuff had been around when I was young.
STEAM in popular culture:
STEAM is also becoming increasingly part of popular culture / entertainment and it starts young. Mainstream TV channels like CBeebies now have a string of STEAM related shows. Messy Goes to Okido and Maddie Moate’s Do You Know are amongst my 5-year old daughter’s favourite shows. Okido just launched its 2nd season and continues to make great use of a cartoon-based fictional world to inspire curiosity and communicate science facts. Their founder Dr Sophie Dauvois, like me, is passionate about the combination of inspiring curiosity and creativity, and so the brand also offers science events and a wonderful magazine that is a strong on creativity as it is on science. I have to admit to finding Do You Know almost as fascinating as my daughter (do you know how a bath is made or mushrooms are grown? I do now!) These do a great job of providing female STEAM role models too, which is just so important, helping to turn the tide on out-dated gender stereotypes. And, it certainly doesn’t stop at pre-school, nowadays there are endless YouTube channels (like Kids Invent Stuff and Maddie Moate), STEAM events, magazines (like Okido, Whizz Pop Bang and National Geographic Kids), online courses (like JAM), toys and books out there to suit all ages and interests. This year’s Year of Engineering in the UK has also particularly had a wonderful stream of activities, events and other initiatives – we loved the summer challenge in this household.
It really does feel like things have changed and STEAM is everywhere if you look for it. Will it have made the difference the STEM sector needs? Only time will tell but, from my experience, the national enthusiasm for STEAM is definitely increasing and that can only be a good thing.
As the UK’s Year of Engineering starts drawing to a close, whether you are a parent, teacher or otherwise have an interest in STEAM, let’s all take the time to encourage the individual creativity in the children in our lives (whether that’s art, music, creative writing, coding, culinary creativity, craft, construction or wider making), let’s help inspire their ideas and make use of what’s out there to nurture their personal curiosity.