Parents and adults can ‘spark’ youth interest in science

Parents and caring adults can help youth develop an interest in science outside of the school day which may help lead to a rewarding career.

According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) 2009 nation’s report card, less than one-third of United States elementary and high school students have a solid grasp of science. Even more staggering is the fact that only five percent of our college graduates earn science, technological, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) degrees, yet the National Governors Association reports that STEM job holders earn 11 percent higher wages compared to the same-degree counterparts in other jobs.

In 2010, the unemployment rate for STEM workers was 5.3 percent, for all other occupations, it was 10 percent. Over the past 10 years STEM jobs grew three times faster than jobs that aren’t connected to the STEM fields. STEM jobs are predicted to grow 17 percent from 2008-2018. Compared to Japan’s 66 percent and China’s 59 percent of college graduates in the same fields, the question has been posed as to how the U.S. will be able to compete in the present global and technological industry. Why is there a lack of interest in science career fields? What can parents and other caring adults do to help youth develop an interest in science?

Science is about discovery. MSU Extension defines it as the study of the world around us. Parents and adults who work with youth can ‘spark’ a youth’s scientific interest by focusing on the youth’s interest in a specific topic or question. Often times, adults want to provide the easy answer to a youth’s question, but it’s actually through the process of scientific discovery, trial and error and exploration that youth will develop an interest to learn more. Some techniques that you may use include: 

  • Start with a ‘spark’, i.e. a topic of their interest.
  • Pose a challenge for them to figure out.
  • Direct them to find the answer to the questions they have.

Check out Science Buddies for Parents to see more resources and ideas on how you can play a role.

4-H offers many non-formal avenues in which parents and adults can get involved in helping youth ‘spark’ their scientific interest that may then lead to a STEM career. MSU Extension offers many opportunities for youth and adults to learn more about science, they can attend after-school ‘Science Blast’ events, adult and teen leader science workshops and visit the hands-on science blast in the class curriculum guide at MSU Extension’s Science Blast site.

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