I recently received a letter from a parent who saw my TEDx talk Belonging in Technology, What I Learned from Steve Jobs on the National Society of Black Engineers website. She was encouraged by it and wanted suggestions on how to cultivate her children’s interest and knowledge in STEM and robotics. This is what I wrote to her:
Thank you for your email. That’s exciting to hear about the interests and achievements of your children at an early age. Keep believing in them and letting them know they belong in technology. Keep looking for opportunities for your children to be exposed to and learn about STEM, robotics and Computer Science. There may be day camps or longer summer programs that would teach your children about robotics and STEM, particularly at nearby college or university. I recently met the co-founder of Tynker which is a website that lets kids learn how to program through games. Have your children try it out.
FIRST Lego League robotics is another opportunity. However be aware that sometimes there are not as many of our children that participate in FIRST but don’t let that deter you or your children. You may consider starting your own FIRST Lego League robotics team with children and parents from your child’s school. But be careful to balance your child’s passion and energy with the opportunities available. Reading lots of books, drawing, doing math-based puzzles, building things with Legos and clay, paper, or other readily available materials can be just effective as anything else. If your child has access to a computer, see if he (and you) can learn to write programs in a language like Python.
There are other free software tools like Alice from Carnegie Mellon and Scratch from MIT. Keep learning fun and creative. There are now things like Arduinos and Raspberry PI’s that children can learn about computer programming and building robots and they aren’t very expensive . I just met with a Computer Science professor at a top university who bought his child a Lego robot kit to spark his child’s interest.
I am working on a new low cost humanoid robot so hopefully one day it will be available for your kids to play with and learn from.
Also, consider opportunities for your children to learn about and participate in Design, particularly product or industrial design. This really cultivates the creative side of making things.
Above all keep praying for your children. If they have strong character and faith, anything is possible.