It’s a fact: Tech careers are one of the fastest growing fields in America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in technology will grow by 12 percent by 2024, adding about 488,500 jobs to the market.
These changes are, in part a reaction, to increases in cloud computing, storage and interpretation of big data and the trend of connecting everyday items to the internet, placing more emphasis on mobile computing.
With the amount of emphasize on tech these days, I wanted to help my nine-year-old niece explore these fields, but I didn’t have any idea where to start. And how should I make suggestions to her without being pushy? Though it took some research, here are six of the great tools and insights I’ve gathered to help my niece out:
1. Make It Hands-On
When I’m watching my niece, one of our favorite rainy-day activities is board games. And lo-and-behold, there are plenty of games and toys out there to introduce kids to the building blocks of technology. Kids — and adults, too — learn well through play, making toys and games a natural avenue for teaching.
Take, for instance, the popular toy Bloxels, which tries to blend the physical and digital worlds. By logically stacking and arranging the blocks, kids can form characters and scenery using a companion app. Another toy, Makey Makey, guides kids through techy creations by combining circuits with household items. Since both of these toys take a tactile approach, they’re great tools for parents who want to subtly encourage their kids.
2. Take Some Trips
Sometimes, my niece just can’t sit still, making the hands-on approach a little difficult. On those days, I like to take her to local activities, so she can walk around and engage at her leisure. To encourage her technological side, I’ve started to take her to more science and art museums, much to her delight.
As it turns out, you can learn about much more than history at museums. Chances are, many museums in your area have science and technology exhibits, explaining how different technologies were invented and harnessed. These exhibits give kids opportunities to approach what interests them and learn on their own accord.
3. STEM Books
Turns out, STEM books are the next big thing when it comes to getting kids interested in the sciences. In the interests of teaching kids about these topics, the National Science Teachers Association has compiled a list of books — suitable for children and teens — highlighting the stories and journeys of famous scientists, inventors and tech geniuses.
These books, with titles like “Ben Franklin’s Big Splash” and “Hello Ruby,” introduce readers to the underpinnings of physics, technology and ecology, all in an easy to digest manner. “Hello Ruby” even teaches the basics of programming. My niece particularly loves “Green City” by Allan Drummond, where townspeople rebuild their destroyed town in an environmentally-friendly way.
4. Teach Kids to Code
With tech careers growing as fast as they are, knowing how to code, or at least understanding how it works, is a necessary skill for young professionals. And just like learning a spoken language, kids should start as early as possible. Coding is part of a well-rounded education, as it teaches 21st-Century skills like critical thinking, communication with peers and the flexibility to collaborate — necessary for the future job market.
5. Support STEM in Schools
One thing my research revealed is that although we all know the importance of getting kids interested in STEM early, many institutions don’t have enough cash to provide kids with the necessary in-school opportunities. In order to make up the difference, nonprofit foundations have stepped up to teach kids about the sciences.
Many of these programs stress getting poor and minority youth interested and engaged. The thinking behind this is that white or Asian males mainly hold STEM positions, and minority school districts are usually the ones most strapped for cash and resources. By supporting your local STEM non-profit organizations, you’ll not only encourage your own children or relatives — you’ll also help countless other children find their passion.
6. Take Advantage of Teachable Moments
When discussing tech topics with the young person in your life, don’t be pushy and let it become a one-way lecture. Take the time to listen to their thoughts and feelings on science and technology. Try to dispel any limiting preconceived notions, such as the old classic, “Topic A is for boys, and Topic B is for girls.”
Use these as teaching moments and emphasize that interests and careers are not limited by gender. Despite recent social movements, these ideas are still somewhat pervasive. To that end, it’s important to let kids know you have their back, no matter where their interests lie.
After all my research on kids and tech, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned is when to back away. Kids need plenty of encouragement, but on the same token, too much encouragement may just produce the opposite effect. So if your child doesn’t seem all that interested in your current approach, read over this list and try a new one. Perhaps that may be just what sticks.