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In a survey conducted by the Royal Institution’s L’Oreal Young Scientist Centre in 2012, half of the children interviewed found STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects too difficult or boring. Too many kids quit because they don’t think that they are smart enough to learn STEM or that it is only relevant to jobs in medicine.

This mindset among young children is certainly worrying. We need children to be excited about science, and it’s best to start them early. Here’s why and how.

It’s Even Worse for Girls

Let’s talk about the numbers.

According to data collected by UNESCO, between 2014- 2016, only 30 percent of female students would choose science-related subjects in higher education. The number of girls choosing to enroll in Information, Communication Technology (ICT) is the lowest, at 3 percent. With many predicting the highest growth in computer-related jobs in the next 10 years, and 90 percent of future jobs requiring skills in ICT, the situation looks rather bleak.

It is not surprising that great efforts have been made to allow equal access, and to encourage more girls and women to participate fully in science. It is why we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, every year, on February 11th.

5 Ways Kids Learn Through Play

Children learn best through play. This has been proven, many times over, in different studies, over the years. While not all types of play is learning, we should look at 5 defining characteristics when we talk about playful learning experiences

1.   Kids should be having fun.

Surprisingly, they also learn better if things do not go as planned. An example are toys that ‘react’ in ways children do not expect.

2.   They should connect new information to their own experiences.

For example, my son could recite the numbers 1 to 10 by the time he was 2. It took him longer to understand when I asked him to get only three pieces of candy for himself.

3.  Their learning is hands-on, and they continue to focus, through distractions.

4.  They repeat their exercise.

When they try different things with their toys and getting different results, they can understand a new concept on a deeper level.

5.  They play with others.

Studies have shown that kids playing with their peers build larger and more complex structures, than when their play is “directed” by adults.

How To Encourage Science with STEM toys

We know toys are beloved by kids and fun, but STEM toys also allow kids to explore STEM-related concepts and help develop their problem-solving skills.

We asked Janie & Joe, voted Best Toy Store in Malaysia and winner of Parents’ Choice Awards in 2018, to help us choose some great and educational STEM toys for young kids. Here are some of their recommendations:

1. Learning Resources’ Gears! Gears! Gears! and Engineering and Design Series

Purdue University’s INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering compiles the Engineering Gift Guide every year. These toys help kids explore concepts in engineering thinking and design. The first two below were in the guide, but you could start even earlier with the 100-piece Deluxe Building Set, which can help introduce simple concepts of sorting and grouping.Gears! Gears! Gears! Machines in Motion

Age: 4+

Price: RM 199.00

Playground Engineering and Design Building Set

Age: 5+

Price: RM 149.90Gear! Gears! Gears! 100-piece Deluxe Building Set

Age: 3+

Price: RM 139.90

2. Coding with Botley, the Coding Robot, and Code & Go Robot Mouse

Both Botley, and Colby, were also featured in the 2018 Engineering Gift Guide. These toys introduce coding concepts to kids in simple and fun ways. With Colby, children start by building a maze, then program sequences for the mouse to chase the cheese. With Botley, children need to enter instructions on a remote control to move it around obstacles.

Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set

Age: 4+

Price: RM 349.90Botley 77-piece Activity Set

Age: 5+

Price: RM 499.90

3. Design & Drill Series

If you are looking for toys that will help develop hand-eye coordination and strengthen motor skills, these ones could be for you. They also encourage problem solving, patterning, and design skills.  While some girls might prefer the Flower Power Studio, the My First Workbench is gender-neutral and Brightworks allows them to make incredible, glow-in-the-dark creations.
Design & Drill Flower Power Studio

Age: 3+

Price: RM 199.90Design & Drill My First Workbench

Age: 3+

Price: RM 299.90Design & Drill Brightworks

Age: 3+

Price: RM 229.90

4. Nancy B’s Science Club Series – the Crime Stopper Scope and the Forensic Activity Journal

Nancy B’s Science Club Series is the brainchild of a former science teacher, and specifically designed to encourage girls to see the fun in science. A winner of the Parents’ Choice Recommended Award in 2013, the Crime Solver Scope and the Forensic Activity Journal is perfect for older girls who love to solve mysteries. It teaches young sleuths the finer points of crime investigation, such as the study of fingerprints and the difference between human hair and fibres.Nancy B’s Science Club Crime Solver Scope

Age: 8+

Price: RM 99.90

5. BrainBox Series

In 2018, Academics’ Choice Awards listed the BrainBox series as great buys for kids ages 7 and up. This timed, fast-paced memory game encourages kids to improve their observation skills, while introducing relevant facts in a fun way. There are many different topics you could choose, but we would recommend the BrainBox Maths, developed by a primary school teacher with 30 years of experience; and BrainBox Science, which covers important topics such as life cycles, the human body and plants.Brain Box Maths

Age: 7+

Price: RM 79.90Brain Box Science

Age: 7+

Price: RM 79.90

[All the toys listed here, are available for purchase from their store, in Bangsar Village, and their online store, at https://www.janieandjoe.com.]

Parents Can Do More Than Just Buying The ‘Right’ Toys For Their Kids

Don’t just stop at the toys, parents. The most important quality we could nurture in our kids is curiosity. Even Einstein said: “The most important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Encourage your children to ask the right questions which will help them arrive at the answers on their own.

Avoid trying to take over, and provide all the answers.

When they do get it right, try and praise the “process”, rather than the achievement itself. This is even more important when it comes to girls. Studies have shown that mothers and teachers are more likely to praise boys on this “process” (e.g. their hard work and focus) than girls. We need to be mindful not to do the same to our daughters.

Learning science should be more than about answering questions in a test. It is about paying attention to the world around you, asking questions, testing your theories, and making changes and improvements when you fail.

It requires bravery, focus and perseverance. These are the qualities you would want your kids to have, in preparation for a future that is filled with uncertainties, and a world that is constantly, and rapidly changing.

By Najmin Tajuddin

Over the past 15 years, Najmin worked as a management consultant, ran a community-supported agriculture (CSA) programme out of an integrated goat farm, and helped manage an equine centre. A biologist by training, this mum of three (5 to 13 years old) now has all her kids in school. She wants to spend more time reading, writing and gardening, and sharing her discovery of fun local places at Mums of Makchic.

In conjunction with International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Janie&Joe is offering a 10% discount to makchic readers! Promotion is applicable on their online store (voucher code JJMAKCHIC) and at their physical store in Bangsar Village II (just mention the makchic website to their staff). Valid from Saturday, 9th February to Monday, 11th February 2019 and excludes items already on sales/other promotions. Complimentary gift wrapping services are available to both online and physical store purchases.