By Penny Bauder.

How STEM Education has Impacted my Life

For this post, I’m talking about how STEM education specifically impacted and continues to impact my life, my career, and my business. First let me tell you just a little bit about my background, and what brought me to the career path I’m in right now. I’m an environmental scientist turned entrepreneur. Growing up I’ve always held a deep appreciation for nature. I spent most of my childhood building forts in the woods next to my house.

I grew up in the country in a little tiny town in Southwest Michigan, and like most children of the 70’s, I grew up outside. My parents would just kick me out of the door in the summer, and I wouldn’t come back in for six to eight hours.  I spent a lot of time in the woods and ditches in our backyard. We had a little pond in the backyard where, where I caught tadpoles. At night, in the summer, I’d catch fireflies. Because of my childhood spent outside, as a teen I gravitated towards taking environmental action for issues. During this time, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could do as a person, as a human, to make a difference on environmental issue.

In my undergrad, I started studying environmental science, and specifically became educated across disciplines such as clean energy, biology, economics, and anthropology. To me, this seemed the best way that I could arm myself with the knowledge to truly make a difference in the world. I went on to eventually receive a BA in environmental management and an MS in environmental science. Then I went on to work as an environmental scientist, environmental planner, and a climate change coordinator for different national parks all around the west. This led to jobs working in wild areas all over the United States.

I started my career as a park ranger working at the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. My first day on the job, I knew I had found my calling and I ended up spending the next 20 years working as a park ranger in different parks in Oregon, Utah, Washington, California and Alaska, where I work in Denali National Park and Wrangell- St. Elias National Park.

I ended my career as a park ranger once I had children and it was no longer was feasible to hike for days, backpack for days, and take bush planes out into the wilderness for days.

Green Kid Crafts Fosters Future STEM Leaders

So I quit working in the field and decided to start Green Kid Crafts. Green Kid Crafts is a children’s STEM activity company that provides kids around the world with different STEM activities that are sustainable. Today it’s become a leader in sustainable business and in the past 10 years we’ve shipped over 2 million of our green STEM packages to kids around the world. I am so immensely proud to say that in this way we’ve been able to influence a generation to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability. The mission of Green Kid Crafts today is the same as it was when I launched the business in 2010—to encourage kids to see themselves as leaders, as scientists, as designers, and engineers.

Green Kid Crafts really helps kids see themselves as these STEM scientists by encouraging them to discover, to explore and to create. As an environmental scientist, I really recognized a need for a convenient solution that would allow families to bond while enjoying screen-free, nature-based STEM activities that also empowered kids to take environmental action. I am a strong believer in taking action! Through Green Kid Crafts, I’m really hoping that in the coming years, we’ll be able to encourage even more kids to take action and to step into leadership roles in the environmental communities.

How you can Encourage STEM Learning at Home

I also want to spend some time talking about how as parents we can encourage kids into STEM fields and particularly how I, as a parent, try to encourage STEM learning in the home and in schools. I believe the natural world offers one of the best laboratories out there for exploring STEM principles. As a parent, the best thing that I can do to facilitate STEM learning at home is to encourage kids to spend time outside.

For example, I take my kids outside daily for nature walks. Sometimes this means a ramble through one of the wild areas next to my house or a hike in the hills. Sometimes we spend time in the city just strolling through the neighborhoods. We’re always doing nature identification on our walks and checking out our different field guides. Sometimes we do nature scavenger hunts, and I’ll encourage the kids to find things and check them off on a little nature scavenger hunt sheet, whether it be a stick or a special kind of leaf, or even a piece of trash. This encourages kids to start looking at their surroundings and looking at the natural world around them.

Another thing that we do a lot is we built rock sculptures. We paint rocks and explore engineering concepts through building rock cairns. We go outside and find smooth, flat stones of different sizes and we stack them to make different sculptures. Sometimes we’ll explore engineering concepts by rolling pebbles down ramps made from boards and sticks. Sometimes we’ll make nature people and creatures from sticks, leaves, acorns, pebbles and shells. All of these activities immerse kids in science, math and engineering.

Keeping a nature journal also provides kids with another outlet to connect play with natural and STEM concepts. Recording daily details and drawing in a nature journal seems so simple and it’s something that you wouldn’t necessarily think is STEM learning, but it really is! Encouraging kids to observe, draw, and write about nature can by a meditative STEM exercise.

Kids can also learn all about STEM concepts through play with our Green Kid Crafts subscription boxes. For parents that want another easy way to encourage STEM learning at home, our Green Kid Crafts boxes are certainly a very convenient way to do so because all you have to do is sign up for a monthly subscription and then we send you a box full of six to 10 different STEM activities. Some of the STEM boxes available for sale include Intro to Engineering, Color Science, and Rainbow Science. Three-box packs are also available for sale, including our Zoologist Pack, Activist Pack, and Animal Science Pack. Our Green Kid Crafts STEM boxes are just another tool you can have in your toolchest to teach your kids all about STEM.

How STEM Learning Helps Kids

STEM learning should be an integral part of every educational program because it encourages both independent and creative thinking. Kids are really given that extra room to think. In STEM learning, results are not simply measured by success or failure and mistakes tend to be celebrated as a path to learning and success instead of something to be feared. STEM learning environments are typically collaborative, project-based, and hands-on. Kids are encouraged to work on different projects specific to what appeals to them. They’re encouraged to decide on a goal and choose which skills they want to explore and achieve. This really allows them to discover and experiment with different methods, which bolsters creative problem-solving skill building. While technical knowledge is a requirement in many industries, creative, think-outside-the-box problem solving remains one of the most sought after skills within the job market. Creativity might seem like a skill that comes naturally to certain people, but I believe that it’s one that can be developed and fostered by a well-rounded education, particularly a STEM education.