By: Mandy Becker
I live in Arizona, a state well known for its beautiful cactus, its desert “dry heat,” its authentic Mexican food and, less positively, its consistently low-ranking education system. In Arizona, like other states that continue to fall behind in educating their students, many teachers are underpaid, overworked, underqualified, lacking current/working materials for their classrooms, or all of the above. These obstacles can make it difficult to provide quality education to our children, and subject areas residing in the STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—fields are nearly always obscenely impacted.
Elementary and early childhood education is so important for kids; a good education in formative years can position an individual for success later in life. So what do we do when our education systems don’t quite measure up? We find ways outside of classroom time to engage kids in doing science. And a great way to supplement science learning for kiddos is by exposing them to STEM oriented children’s books.
When it comes to teaching kiddos about science, to teaching kiddos about anything really, children’s books work. They teach while entertaining simultaneously, sneakily, whether we recognize it or not. We know a little more about history from following Jack and Annie on adventures in their magic treehouse, we experimented with science every time Ms. Frizzle took the class on a field trip. What we are exposed to as kids stays with us, and we can relate the concepts we learn as children to our learning as adults.
A great aspect of STEM children’s books is their accessibility: they are easy to find, they don’t take long to read, they have language geared towards early reading levels and they are constantly increasing in number. Kids can find science books (for free!) from libraries, the internet, schools, friends and (sometimes cheaply) from bookstores. And when these reads are written in a welcoming way to young audiences, with fun characters and minimal scientific jargon, they’re accessibility increases.
So what sets apart a good STEM children’s book from the masses? Tactile components work well for any education book, with pop-ups, pull tabs or different materials to touch, bringing little fingers to participate in the science behind the words. I’ve found books are more attractive when they also employ detailed and colored illustrations, immersing readers visually into the text. Of course, the text should be available to a wide audience, not too long or too hard for kids to wrap their heads around; illustrations help with this as well. Some science picture books even incorporate multiple storylines, one for entertainment and one for education, so readers can choose how involved to be in their learning.
Lastly, these books help us give science a face for kids to relate to. Learning is so much better with friends, and the characters we encounter in these stories can help us to see science in a whole different way: one that is fun, exciting, challenging and understandable.
“Hop on the Magic School Bus!” There’s always something fun to learn.
Some Great STEM Reads for Kids:
Dot, Stripe, Squiggle by Sarah Tuttle
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Many: the Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies
It Starts with a Seed by Laura Knowles
The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner
What Do They Do with All That Poo? by Jane Kurtz
One Day a Dot: the Story of You, The Universe, And Everything by Ian Lendler
Vinny the Vaquita by Jen Gabler
The One and Only Ivan by K.A. Applegate
Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins
The Magic School Bus Series
The Science Comics Series (Macmillan Publishers)
Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Ordinary People Change the World Series by Brad Meltzer
Future Astronaut by Lori Alexander
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber
Quantum Physics for Babies and More by Chris Ferrie