Decoding STEM/STEAM: Key Messages from Toy Association’s Report

July 31, 2018 | A lack of diverse role models in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) careers, little exposure to STEAM professionals, and parental anxieties about math, among other topics, can deter children from wanting to explore science-and math-based subjects in school, according to The Toy Association’s in-depth report, Decoding STEM/STEAM.”

Assembled and reviewed by The Toy Association’s STEM/STEAM Strategic Leadership Committee, “Decoding STEM/STEAM” has a primary goal of helping toy manufacturers, parents, teachers, and the general public better understand the concept of STEAM and how toys and play can contribute to building these skills in children. Below is a summary of key messages expressed by the Committee:

  • Role Models, Stereotyping & Culture. Children need diverse role models to imagine themselves as someday being scientists, engineers, technology experts or mathematicians.
  • Seeing STEAM around Them. Children need more exposure to the different types of professionals in the STEAM community. For instance, most kids have no idea what an engineer might look like or the types of jobs they perform.
  • Fear of the “M” is Contagious. Math anxiety impacts 50 percent of the population and is also the major barrier to pursuing STEAM careers. Children are not born with a fear of STEAM/math, they learn it both through feedback and on a subconscious level.
  • Lost the “A” Along the Way. The right brain’s ability to be creative, visualize, think holistically, and imagine contributes incredibly to the areas of STEM and the “A” deserves a place in the acronym.
  • Work the Hands, Grow the Brain. Finger and hand movements occur in the same areas of the brain as math which explains why musicians and math proficiency are often correlated (very much a STEAM exercise). Toys that encourage fine motor skills have the added benefit of growing the brain, especially the parietal cortex.
  • Make It Open Ended. If we want to build scientists, artists, or successful individuals who can imagine things that have not yet been created, then we must allow kids to play with things that prompt the use of their individual imaginations. This reflects the need for a play product to be used in multiple ways — there is no one way to play.
  • Keep It Simple. Exploratory play with simple materials contributes to cognitive development. These experiences open up kids to learning and especially to creative and innovative thinking.
  • Transfer Skills. When playing with toys, kids develop skills that can be transferred to their studies and success in STEAM such as observing, abstracting, recognizing and forming patterns, dimensional thinking, modeling, transforming and synthesizing, along with communicating and collaborating.

“Our expert committee identified several challenges in today’s STEAM education as well as opportunities for toy manufacturers to help our society solve them,” said Anna Yudina, director of marketing initiatives at The Toy Association. “Toys can help combat stereotypes, spark young imaginations, encourage hands-on experimentation, and teach important skills in a fun and relatable way, therefore fostering a new generation of STEAM professionals.”

This article is part of a series in which Toy News Tuesday highlights key points revealed in The Toy Association’s report “Decoding STEM/STEAM.” TNT previously unveiled the meaning behind STEM and STEAM and exposed common misconceptions associated with the terms. For more useful facts, download the full report on The Toy Association’s website and a Decoding STEM/STEAM pamphlet to share with consumers.