STEM vs STEAM: What’s Best For Our Kids?

The importance of teaching our children science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts is well-established, but some argue that the arts should also be added to the mix. We delve into both sides of the debate…

Kids playing with wooden earthtiles

When our grandparents went to school, they were urged to choose a profession and stick to it for life. If you decided to become an accountant when you were 15, chances were that you were still an accountant the day you retired. Possibly a very bored accountant.

While our generation had a wider range of career choices than our grandparents did, we were still expected to acquire a rigid set of skills that weren’t very useful in the real world. Did we really need to learn cursive and Latin? Probably not. I also have two words for my teacher who told me I needed to learn long division because I wouldn’t always have a calculator on me: iPhone, baby. 

The Rise of STEM Education


Today, students are encouraged to develop a wider and more practical set of skills to help them succeed in the current economy and be ready for the future. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) have been identified as critical disciplines for 21st-century workers, prompting elementary and middle schools around the country to implement STEM programs. STEM education is widely accepted as the way of the future.

But STEM doesn’t just teach children concepts specific to those four disciplines. It also helps them develop higher-level skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication and entrepreneurship. These are the types of aptitudes the next generation needs to achieve success in an ever-evolving world. 


What is STEAM?


STEAM stands for STEM plus the arts – humanities, language arts, music, dance, drama, visual arts, design and new media. Proponents of STEAM say that the addition of the arts sparks students’ imaginations and prompts them to think in creative and innovative ways. It helps them integrate the different brain structures associated with scientific creativity and artistic creativity to come up with forward-thinking solutions to modern problems.

But STEM purists believe that throwing the arts into the mix detracts from the core disciplines. They argue that STEM borrows from various artistic disciplines when necessary (such as when designing a product or describing findings), but the arts don’t need to be explicitly included.

According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, an organization that connects past inventors with future innovators, it doesn’t matter whether we choose STEM or STEAM as long as we use hands-on experiences to teach children the key concepts. Whether they join a “maker space” at school and contribute their skills to a joint project or they attend a STEM camp, it’s these real-life experiences that teach them to think outside the box. 


STEAM innovators who are changing the world


While we don’t want to take sides on the STEM vs STEAM debate, these STEAM visionaries have made a significant impact in their relatively new field. They’ve impressed the world with their unique ability to combine artistic creativity with scientific innovation.

Jewelry that saves lives

Leah Heiss is a Melbourne-based designer and researcher who collaborates with experts in nanotechnology and engineering to develop jewelry and other wearable devices that monitor various health conditions. The Smart Heart necklace monitors cardiac health, the Diabetes Jewellery delivers insulin to diabetics and the CaT Pin detects loneliness by monitoring the presence or absence of conversation.

Drones that deliver vaccinations

At 19, New Delhi computer scientist Hunar Batra already has several impressive inventions under her belt. She helped develop drones that deliver vaccinations and disaster relief materials to remote areas and she’s working on a voice application that will provide healthcare literacy to rural Indian populations. 

A prosthetic arm that shoots sparkles

Fourteen-year-old Jordan Reeves is the co-founder of Born Just Right, a non-profit organization that builds creative STEAM-based solutions to help kids with differences live better lives. She designed a prosthetic arm that shoots biodegradable sparkles for her alter ego, Glitter Girl. She’s also one of the founding members of STEAM Squad, a group of girls who work together to get other kids involved in STEAM.


The Tot’s Favorite STEM/STEAM Toys


Convinced about the benefits of STEM/STEAM education? You can start introducing the core concepts to your child at home with these innovative toys. While they’re marketed as STEM toys, there’s an artistic component to each one. Perhaps the arts are a natural part of STEM after all! And the debate rages on…


Big Future Toys Earthtiles 

Big Future Toys Earthtiles allow kids to imagine, build and learn while having loads of fun. Consisting of 32 wooden magnetic tiles, kids love using Earthtiles to create little houses, castles, rockets, mazes and more. Ages 3 and up.

Big Future Toys Earthtiles

Big Future Toys Earthtiles 




Modular Robotics Curiosity Set

The Curiosity Set by Modular Robotics is a fun activity for the whole family. It encourages kids to develop their understanding of computer science using Tactile Coding. The little robot blocks will intrigue, fascinate, and inspire builders for hours on end. Ages 4 and up. 

Modular Robotics Curiosity Set

Modular Robotics Curiosity Set




Copernicus Robotic Arm

Another great family activity, kids can build their own robotic arm in under an hour! Featuring pre-cut wood pieces and hydraulics, the kit encourages problem solving, critical thinking and creativity! Ages 12 and up.

Copernicus Make A Robotic Arm Kit

Copernicus Robotic Arm




Copernicus Crystal Growing Kit

Children of all ages love this science-based activity kit. Place the paper tree in the tray, add the terraforming solution, and watch the micro-crystals grow and cover your tree in pink blooms! Ages 6 and up.

Copernicus Crystal Growing Kit in Cherry Tree

Copernicus Crystal Growing Kit





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