There’s a lot of buzz about how kids learn best. The lingo alone can be overwhelming - STEM, hands-on, 21st century, technology-driven, personalized, project-based and so much more. Teaching and learning today can feel so much different than when we were in school and can frankly be overwhelming at times! We know that figuring out exactly how your child learns best is one of the most challenging, important and rewarding parts of being a parent and we want to help you unpack some tools for the journey.

First things first - Why does school seem so different than when we were kids?!

We hear this from parents and teachers alike - it may seem like the world of education has gone through a pretty extreme transformation in the last 20 years - and you’re exactly right! Over the last three decades, teaching has transformed into a much more personalized experience for students. Rather than asking kids to complete tasks to gain knowledge (hello worksheets!), students are being asked to discover and explore topics in order to gain an understanding of the world around them.

This is, in part, a reaction to the change in our workforce. Think about the jobs your parents or grandparents had - more than likely they were roles that required a great deal of task completing and direct application of skills. Now think about the jobs that exist today - so many more positions are requiring people to think creatively, work together in teams and solve problems. It’s no surprise that this same mindset has trickled down to our schools - and for good reason! The earlier kids are exposed to these skills, the more innate they become. Just like exposing your baby to print long before they are able to read, studies show that the more experience kids get applying critical thinking and problem solving skills, the better!

So What Does it All Mean?

This is where all that fancy new lingo comes in. How often have you been at a school event or meeting up with friends in the park and someone drops a term like STEM or project-based learning? Almost daily! So what does it all mean?

Let’s start with the basics - 21st Century Learning is a way to describe the shift in teaching and learning from a paper/pencil, product-based structure to one that is hands-on, personalized and focused on process, rather than product. This might mean that kids are only working on one problem but are able to explain the how and why behind their answer, rather than just memorizing a formula. A deeper understanding leads to great transfer and application of the skill which is exactly what learning is all about! One of the best ways to practice this skill is through the lens of STEM.

STEM is simply an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It’s not a specific type of teaching or learning, but rather an intentional focus on these areas and their relation to each other. Well designed STEM-based activities are always grounded in the 4Cs:

When kids have the opportunity to grapple with an unknown problem, use what they already know along in conjunction with what they’ve learned, combine ideas to figure out new information and communicate their learning with each other and their community, they are showing off some seriously powerful learning and understanding!

What Can Parents Do to Help?

As our community continues to become more reliant on technology and professions continue to evolve, it’s important that we give our kids every opportunity to try out these important skills. Consider using the next school day off as a chance to challenge your kids to build a bridge with empty plastic cups or legos. Feeling extra adventurous? Try stacking pennies on top to see how strong you can make it!

But the most important takeaway? Remember to keep learning fun! At Operation Wonder we know that kids learn best when they get just the right amount of challenge, mixed with a whole lot of excitement. In fact, our favorite thing to hear is “We didn’t even know that was learning!” Our events combine the fun of escape room puzzles with an amazing STEM challenge to engage kids in ways you’ve never seen before. Ready to learn more about our amazing STEM Game Races events and interactive Wonder Hour STEM storytimes, and to see our STEM events for kids in action.

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