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 (STEAM) should also be added to the mix. We delve into both sides of the debate…
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.
Stacking and building possibilities are endless with this 50-piece block set. Made from sustainable rubber wood this block set encourages creativity as well as the development of math, fine motor and language skills. Age recommendation: 3 years +
Want to help your tot sharpen their fine motor skills while learning the basics of Workshop 101? Tender Leaf’s Bench is just the size tot’s need to tinker away, while discovering how cogs work, vices clamp and bolts secure! Age recommendation: 3 years +
Another fabulous Tool Bench by Tender Leaf, the Table Top is great for smaller spaces and is made from sustainably-sourced FSC-certified wood. Age recommendation: 3 years +
When it comes to understanding how to engineer buildings, bridges and ramps, activity toys like PlanToys’ Ramp Racer is the perfect introduction. Age recommendation: 18 months +
Another fantastic construction set is PlanToy’s colorful crane! Made of child safe wood and water-based paints, it will help demonstrate how humans have learned to lift and re-locate heavy loads with ease! Age recommendation: 3 years +
3…2…1… blast off! While the Hape Four Stage Rocket Ship will encourage imaginative play, it will do double time introducing your tot to the concept of space exploration! Age recommendation: 3 years +
A wonderful alternative to screens, the Lunii My Fabulous Storyteller is an interactive way for kids to listen to engaging stories! Suitable for use with headphones (thank goodness!), the device lets your tot choose the hero, setting, second character and object of their story and then voile: story time! Age recommendation: 3 – 8 years
The Clixo Rainbow Pack allows your kid to turn 2D shapes into amazing 3D creations however they choose! Different shapes and pieces are connected by snapping the red magnet and the blue magnet together and the pieces are curved in different ways to allow endless design possibilities. Best of all, you don’t need a flat surface to build! Age recommendation: 4 years +
The Clixo Itsy Pack is a fun activity for the whole family and this smaller version is perfect for on the go entertainment. It encourages kids to learn science, spatial, and develop their tactile skills through endless 3D construction possibilities. The clickable shapes will intrigue, fascinate, and inspire builders for hours on end. Age recommendation: 4 years +
Learning a second language has been shown to help increase a child’s ability to retain information, build empathy and hone communication skills. Habbi Habbi makes it interactive and fun to learn Spanish and Chinese with their book and electronic reading wand set!
Kid O’s clever magnetic stylus and tablet set will teach your child number recognition, while encouraging correct pencil grip and numerical formation. Age recommendation: 3 years +
- Active Play is one of the best ways you can help encourage and promote both your child’s cognitive and physical development. See our guide to 12 top active play toy picks.
- A bike that can be used from 12 months to five years? Yes, please! With a version made of sustainably sourced wood and one made of pre-loved recycled residential carpets, the Wishbone 3-in-1 Bike is winning awards.