Supporting science, technologies, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at home

Two children looking at leaves with magnifying glassesThis page provides ideas for supporting your child in different areas of STEM (science, technologies, engineering and mathematics):

  • What is STEM?
  • Why is it important?
  • Creativity in STEM
  • Science activities
  • Building STEM capital
  • STEM resources for families

What is STEM?

STEM stands for science (biology, chemistry and physics), technologies (including digital and computing science), engineering (all types) and mathematics. As well as developing skills and knowledge in each individual subject, STEM-related education and training aims to develop young people’s ability to work across all subject areas through inter-disciplinary or project-based learning. This approach reflects the way in which STEM skills and knowledge are used in the world of work where a team with different types of expertise would work together to generate new knowledge, ideas and products.

Why is it important?

STEM underpins much of Scotland's economy. It is a key part of major sectors such as:

  • Creative industries
  • Life sciences
  • Energy
  • Food and drink
  • Financial and business
  • Universities
  • Tourism

The skills learned through engagement with STEM are valued by many employers including non-STEM related industries and these are increasing in number. For example, it is estimated that there are 12,800 new jobs a year in Scotland's digital sector.

Partnerships between schools and employers provide many opportunities for young people to develop their employability skills. Look out for these opportunities in your local area.

STEM in a nutshell

This new Nutshell guide explains what STEM is and why STEM skills are important.

Creativity in STEM

How can creativity support STEM?

Creativity is defined as the capacity to generate ideas, look at things with a fresh eye, examine problems with an open mind, make connections, learn from mistakes and use the imagination to explore new possibilities. Key creativity skills fall under four areas:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Curiosity
  • Imagination
  • Problem solving

Curiosity in children often leads to questions that are pretty tricky to answer. Some of these could be:

  • Why do I have a shadow?
  • How many different bugs are there?
  • How do planes fly?

STEM activities can encourage children and help them find out some answers to their questions.

Things parents can do at home:

  • Use a torch, pencil, paper and a toy to investigate shadows;
  • Go outside to investigate bugs in the ground. Visit your local library to do some research or find out about bugs at your local museum;
  • Make paper aeroplanes and test them to work out how planes fly.

Find out more about creativity with this handy guide.

Related links: YouTube - How can creativity support stem?

STEM and equalities

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) makes it clear that all children and young people have the right to an education which should include access to "scientific and technical knowledge". The UNCRC also states that children's rights and respect should be without ‘discrimination of any kind, irrespective of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

In terms of STEM we realise that children receive and absorb stereotyped messages about what they can and cannot do as a from a very early age. This can be in respect to their gender, race, disability and the other protected characteristics stated above.

The world around them and the representations they see inform and perpetuate these stereotypes.

Education Scotland is working with a wide range of partners to address and tackle stereotypes in relation to STEM. Practitioners, teachers and parents have an extremely important role to play in helping children and young people recognise that a broad range of opportunities are open to them and to reduce the external influence of bias or stereotypes.

Building STEM capital

Many children enjoy STEM subjects at school. Not all children will continue to study STEM subjects or consider a career in STEM. Parents have a key role to play in helping to boost their child’s self-confidence in STEM – sometimes known as STEM capital. Talking to your child about where they see STEM in everyday life and encouraging them to think about how that relates to a variety of jobs and careers can help build and promote their interest and knowledge of STEM. Parents do not need to know all the answers. Encouraging your child to ask questions will help them to grow in confidence in STEM. Watch this video to learn more about science and STEM capital.

Adult and children at STEM eventThere are a range of resources to inspire children to help them improve their STEM capital. Here are some things to think about:

  • How about doing some fun science experiments at home?
  • Does your local school or community group offer the Young STEM Leaders programme?
    Add link to YSLP
  • Does your local school have an after-school STEM club?
  • Why not take your kids to science and discovery centres to experience STEM in action. The centres have also produced activities and videos to enjoy at home:
  • Talk a walk around your neighbourhood and think about where you see STEM?
  • Look around your home and write a list of where you see STEM.
  • Check out activities being held at your local museum. Many museums have created online resources (these are just a couple of examples):
  • Check if your local college has free activities during science or STEM week.
  • Check if your local library has a free coding club.
  • Is your child interested in space and astronomy? Did you know that Scotland has designated dark sky parks?
  • Visit a local zoo or wildlife park and if you cannot get to one you can look online:
  • Going for a walk in the park can inspire children to talk about wildlife or plants.

Pathways in STEM

There are multiple pathways into a career in STEM including Further and Higher Education. This means that a career in STEM is open to everyone! There are also a range of STEM pathways through Foundation Apprenticeships such as:

  • Accountancy
  • Civil Engineering
  • Creative and Digital Media
  • Engineering
  • Food and Drink Technologies
  • Scientific Technologies
  • Social Services and Healthcare
  • Software Development

Foundation Apprenticeships are open to pupils in the senior phase.

Graduate Apprenticeships have entry requirements that are similar to an undergraduate degree but will also take into consideration alternative paths of learning.

Find out more about Developing the Young Workforce.

Related links: Apprenticeships in a nutshell

Careers in STEM

Scotland, like many other countries in the world, offers many exciting and rewarding careers in STEM. The skills gained through STEM can also open doors to careers in many other sectors. For instance, transferable skills such as the ability to solve problems, make accurate predictions and draw valid conclusions can be applied in many contexts. As a result, STEM skills are valued by employers across all sectors.

Information on the current and future skills demand in each region of Scotland can be found on Skills Development Scotland’s Local and National Work. Find out more about Skills with this handy guide.

STEM resources for families

Every day can be a STEM day for families with the following selection of resources.

I am a Scientist

The I am a scientist resource has lots of experiments for parents and children to try. Most of the things you’ll need to carry out the experiments can be found around the house or in the garden. The experiments are split into sections, depending on the age and stage of your child. Why not try some of these experiments and become a science family!

PDF file: I am a Scientist! (6.5 MB)

PDF file: I am a Scientist! (Gaelic) (8.19 MB)

I am a DigITal Explorer

I am a DigITal Explorer is a learning resource for families to engage in STEM activities using the world around them. The workbook is split into sections depending on the age and stage of children and families and supports them to learn about the digital world in a fun way. You can find out more about the work of some real-life IT professionals and try some of the activities and challenges as a family.

PDF file: I am a DigITal Explorer (4.9 MB)

I am an Engineer

I am an engineer is a learning resource for families to engage in STEM activities using the world around them. The workbook is split into sections depending on the age and stage of children and families and supports them to learn about engineering in a fun and challenging way. You can find out more about the work of some real life engineers and have fun trying some of the STEM activities and challenges as a family.

PDF file: I am an Engineer (3.1 MB)

PDF file: I am an Engineer - Gaelic version (11 MB)

I am a Mathematician

Parents and carers can play a vital role in reinforcing the importance of mathematics to their children, promoting a positive attitude towards it and making it a fun activity to do together as a family. The I am a mathematician resource will help parents to support their children's learning with fun activities to do at home.

PDF file: I am a Mathematician (8.6 MB)

PDF file: I am a Mathematician - Gaelic version (19.8 MB)