STEM for Kids in the Capitol Region
Building Hard Skills + Life Skills
By Michelle Chaudoir, Director of Operations & Chief of Staff, Learning Heroes
As a mom of two, I’m always looking for new ways to get my kids deep into STEM. In addition to the Smithsonian Institutes’ endless, must-see exhibits for locals and tourists alike, a little digging will uncover a treasure trove of STEM opportunities in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) to excite and inspire children of all ages. As you think about the right mix of learning + fun this summer, (and we all need a Summer ReMix after the last two years, right?), consider adding STEM to your child’s summer line up.
The science of learning is very clear that ‘productive struggle’ is essential for children’s development. For Rosie Riveters, a non-profit that offers in-person and virtual STEM opportunities for girls from Pre-K to grade 12, that means ensuring children get hands-on with STEM projects. “We build their mental muscle,” says Brittany Greer, the founder of Rosie Riveters, “so they walk away from a project knowing that anything can be learned by working at it. If you focus only on what a child is innately good at, you limit how they see themselves and their capabilities. Instead, by creating opportunities for children to ‘make mistakes’, observe what happened, and learn from it, you empower them with the confidence that they can learn and do anything when they keep on trying.”
Getting hands-on (and a little messy) with science, engineering, technology, and math is also among the best ways to build our children’s problem-solving and critical thinking, key skills for school and life, while helping them see themselves within a range of exciting STEM careers.
The good news for DMV families is that there are so many opportunities in our area to engage in joyful STEM learning! I’m highlighting three that are part of the national network of regional festivals called Remake Learning Days Across America that exemplify what it looks like to combine fun + learning in a space where it’s safe to try new things, especially important as we help our kids turn the page on COVID learning disruptions.
- The region’s newest STEM hub is the KID Museum in Bethesda, Md. located directly above the Bethesda Metro station. As the nation’s largest maker space for kids, the KID Museum, (where nothing is behind glass!) delivers in a big way on building kid’s skills — from coding to robotics and engineering design — through classes, camps, and events for members and non-members alike. Most importantly, hands-on STEM experiences at the KID Museum are designed to grow the “Mind of a Maker” — all of the life skills parents agree are critical, including perseverance, teamwork, and creativity. Join my family in checking out their events and Sunday Open Explore!
- Located in the warehouse district of Alexandria, Va. Building Momentum is another new STEM maker space. Through Innovation Academy camps and classes, children learn “hard skills” like welding, soldering, and laser printing while building “life skills,” like communicating with a team. Activities take place in “The Garden,” a colorful venue which inspires kids to combine STEM + the ‘A’ for ‘art’ to make STEAM. And they are conveniently nestled among storefronts offering dance classes and after-school sports. Get your feet wet with Building Momentum during their free open house every Tuesday and Thursday evening.
- Founded to build girl’s confidence in STEM at an early age, before research shows they lose interest and begin to turn away, Rosie Riveters has expanded its community-based programming to include both classroom-based programs (for boys and girls) and a virtual hub for families to have fun with STEM at home. A Rosie read aloud is a great way to set the stage for an hands-on activity about propulsion using simple items found around your home. My daughter, age 16, and nieces, 7 and 9, are among the thousands of local girls who call themselves ‘Rosies’ and learned early on about trying (and trying again) when their ideas don’t work out the first time.
How will your family explore STEM this summer? Discover opportunities at your library, in school, and in your own backyard. In whatever ways you and your family plan to mix learning + fun this summer, think about creative ways you and your kids can weave in the amazing STEM resources in our community — plus a little kitchen science and maker math.
Before school ends, be sure to connect with your child’s teacher to make a plan on which academic skills and life skills your child might want to work on this summer. Visit www.bealearninghero.org for more resources on summer learning.