You Need Roots to Grow STEM
By Praba Soundararajan1
CEO & Founder, BOON-dah LLC
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education has gained a significant amount of attention over the last several years. One reason is that current data on school readiness and early math and science achievement indicate we are not giving our pre-school and elementary school children the support they need to be “STEM Smart”. In addition, there are several studies suggesting that every effort should be made to start introducing STEM topics as soon as children enter elementary school. Furthermore, recent studies have identified the elementary school years as the period when students form their interests in STEM identities and careers—much earlier than most people traditionally believed.
As a neuroscientist, I believe the key to addressing this issue can be found through understanding how the human brain develops after birth. During the first decade of life, the human brain is highly malleable and forms new synaptic connections. However, after this first decade, when most children are completing elementary and moving on to middle school, the formation of synaptic connections in the brain occurs at a slower pace. An excellent example of this is how we learn a language. Children are able to learn a language much faster when compared to learning it during adulthood. Therefore, in this early, formative, childhood period—especially during pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade—our children need exposure to STEM concepts to help develop their brains and explore and expand their creative potential. This is particularly important for science, which gets little or no attention in many elementary schools.
As a concerned father wanting to help introduce STEM topics to young children, I volunteered to read stories to my daughter’s kindergarten class. My goal was to encourage a positive shift by helping children develop their creative potential. To my surprise, it was nearly impossible to find good STEM books for young children. So instead, I did some research and talked to the children about great inventors and their incredible inventions. The response was amazing! I was surprised by their level of intelligence and how quickly they grasped scientific concepts—and especially by their desire to learn more. This experience served as the inspiration and motivation for me to start my own company, “BOON-dah”, to create books and educational products that help address this gap in the current elementary school system. As my first project, I started writing children's books for pre-school and elementary school children that explain simple scientific concepts and inventions in an imaginative and fun way. My first book, Pumpus Has A Glowing Idea!, was launched in October 2015 and two more books are scheduled to launch in 2016.
My books are designed based on how children learn a language: First they hear it, then they speak it, and then they begin to understand its grammatical components. Applying this same concept, my stories explain different inventions and scientific concepts to elementary school children: First they see it, then they begin to understand it, and then they begin to use it. By introducing STEM topics to young children through the integration of imagination with science, these books will help sow the seeds of creativity and interest at an early age, and will help encourage children to develop, nurture, and grow curious minds that will naturally want to investigate how things work.
In addition to teaching our young children math and science, it is imperative that we also teach them how to apply these concepts to create and innovate better designs and make the world a better place in which to live. For this to happen, we must expose our future inventors, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to STEM during their pre-school and elementary school years. To be successful, we need to change our approach in educating the next generation and focus on what I call the Four P’s. We must instill a passion in our children to figure how things work, the patience to find problems, the persistence to solve problems, and the prudence to learn from their failures.
By changing our approach to elementary education, we can plant the seeds of creativity in our children at an early age, spark and grow their interest in STEM, and help them develop the confidence they need to believe they can do math and science and pursue a STEM career. Hence, we need to develop these roots to grow STEM.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS. After reading this article, please share your thoughts by sending your comments to Praba@boon-dah.com. To spark a discussion, here are some questions for consideration:
How do you feel about today’s education system and where do you see opportunities for improvement?
Do you see a lack of STEM education in your elementary school and/or would you like to see more?
Do you introduce STEM topics at home, and if so, what are some of your favorite ways of doing this?
What opportunities would you like to see your children have as they complete their elementary education?
1Praba Soundararajan is a neuroscientist turned children’s book author, and the Founder and CEO of BOON-dah, LLC. He has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and is a registered Patent Agent supporting the medical community. Praba lives with his wife and daughter in Tampa, Florida. Please feel free to send your comments to Praba@boon-dah.com.