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Jumpstart Your Kids' STEM Education This Summer

07/07/2015 12:20 EDT | Updated 07/07/2016 05:59 EDT
Shutterstock / Tatyana Vyc

Twenty years ago, none of us could have accurately predicted what life would look like in 2015. And while we don't have crystal balls now, we do know that Canada's workforce over the next 20 years will be increasingly shaped by science and technology.

Today's kids will see tremendous career opportunities thanks to the rapid growth of the technology sector and the emergence of the digital era -- as long as they have the right training in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The problem: we're simply not equipping our youth with the right skills, knowledge, interest and confidence they'll need to take the wheel to drive our future economy.

Research by science outreach charity, Let's Talk Science, found that fewer than half of Canadian high school students graduate with senior STEM courses. This is a sobering statistic given that of the 10 highest-paying jobs in Canada, seven are found in STEM industries.

And when it comes to STEM, it's never too early to start. In fact, a report by The Council of Canadian Academies stresses the need to build fundamental STEM skills in early childhood.

So with school out, there's no better time to bring STEM in. The key: make sure it's fun.

Here are three smart -- and engaging -- ways to jumpstart your child's capacity to learn while helping set him or her up early for a career in a STEM-related field.

Toys & Games. How do you encourage kids to learn new things? By making it fun, of course! Luckily, there's no shortage of toys and games that promote critical thinking and math concepts. Parents can start by introducing coloured pattern blocks, origami, or Lego bricks to teach their kids about geometry and engineering. Great toys like littleBits and Snap Circuits can also inspire a budding electrical engineer.

For young girls specifically, there's also a line of award-winning constructions toys called GoldieBlox that are designed to develop early interest in engineering and confidence in problem-solving. Roominate also has a line of toys that help girls develop important STEM skills during play: hands-on problem solving, spatial and fine motor skills, self-confidence, and creativity. With toys like these, your daughter won't just be playing with a dollhouse, she'll be building and designing its architecture.

Online & Mobile Apps. While you want your kids playing outdoors as much as possible in the summer, chances are they're going to head straight for an iPad or mobile device when they're inside. Instead of wasting time crushing candy, steer them towards these apps, which may pique your kids' interest in tech-related fields.

Designed for kids ages three to six, the Sid's Science Fair app uses three science fair games to help kids with experiential learning in core science and math concepts like classification and identifying patterns to charting and sequencing. And if your kids are into the movie Frozen (whose aren't?), Code with Anna and Elsa at Code.org is an online resource that teaches an hour of code through the beloved Disney characters.

If your children are a little older (ages six to 12), HOPSCOTCH teaches kids the fundamental concepts of programming while making it fun and easy to use. For ages 10+, the Science360 app engages users in science and engineering by using images and video from around the globe, while the NASA app allows kids to explore astronomy and outer space.

Camps. While availability will depend on where you live, parents should be on the lookout for educational summer camps, which are becoming increasingly popular across Canada. For instance, in the Toronto area alone, parents can choose from the Girls Learning to Code camp, Innovation Camp Thinnox, which has programs for kids ages six to 18 in animation, game programming, architecture, robotics, and more, and York University's SciX -- Science Explorations, which provide a fun and interactive experience in science and engineering for youth ages eight to 14.

Whether exposing your kids to a little extra STEM time plants the seeds for a future Dr. Roberta Bondar or just gets them really excited about learning new things, one thing is certain: time with STEM is time well spent.

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