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Raising STEM Kids in a STEM World

by Rachel O. Williams, Founder of Paige & Paxton

· Tips for Parents,Science for Kids,Engineering for Kids,Kids and Technology

I love STEM, but unfortunately, I stumbled across this passion late in life and by accident. I grew up in a time when girls were discouraged from pursuing STEM fields and pursuits, and because of that, I had the perception that STEM was hard. Society programmed me to think that only the chosen few, mainly men, could excel at STEM. So like a lot of girls (and others) of my generation, it didn’t even occur to me to develop my math and science skills.

I’m writing this blog because I don’t want that to be the case for your children.

Even though I’m telling this story from the perspective of a woman of color, I know that this story rings true for many. As I travel across the country speaking to kids, families, and educators, many of us feel like STEM outsiders because we feel like there’s something missing. They feel like they're not smart or capable enough. I find this sentiment across race, class, and gender. But I’ve learned that, whether you are differently-abled or failed Algebra the first time around, you belong in STEM.

Let’s start from the beginning.

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My parents on their wedding day.

Some of my most cherished childhood memories were working alongside my dad in his workshop. He was a union carpenter who could “do math in his head.” That, coupled with his engineering mindset, allowed him to design, develop and build the most amazing things—from exquisite furniture and pedal-powered vehicles to intricate model train sets with tracks that wound through mountain ranges and over rivers, as they passed through miniature towns, all built to scale. It was like growing up in Santa’s workshop.

After graduating from college, I had an amazing career as an entrepreneur, producing corporate multi-media productions and later as a marketing communications manager for a consulting firm. As the PC revolution emerged in the late 1980s, I wanted to transition into computer networking or programming. I was discouraged by my husband: “Computer science has a steep learning curve,” he said...several times. To this day, I’m not sure whether he was referring to my intellect, my gender, or both.

I often lament for both me and my father. Although from different generations, we shared the same awful fate. Born in 1913 in Camden, Arkansas, the STEM doors of opportunity were closed to my father. He was relegated to a one-room schoolhouse and considered fortunate to become a union carpenter. I was politely nudged toward liberal arts because girls were “good at reading and writing.” It’s not only the individual loss that saddens me, but also the wasted human capital, particularly when it comes to my father. I often marvel at the inventions he may have created and the problems he may have solved.

Motherhood changed my perspective on how to teach science and math.

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Me (right), my daughter Jessica (center) and my daughter Kelley (left)

About the time I started raising my daughters, I realized that my trajectory could have been radically different with just a few tweaks. Mechanical engineer, chemist, or a computer programmer are all careers, based on what I now know about STEM, that I could have easily pursued.

I was determined to make sure that Kelley and Jessica would have the skills to pursue whatever professional opportunities presented themselves. For me, that meant making sure that they were proficient and passionate about math and science. At the time, these skill sets were “nice to haves.” Now we all realize STEM is a must-have.

In fact, it was Kelley and Jessica who convinced me to launch the Paige & Paxton Elementary STEM system to provide parents and teachers with the resources to give our youngest students STEM skills. (You can read more about that story here.)

My calling is helping parents like you figure this STEM thing out.

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Me leading a parent talk at a Paige & Paxton STEM make-a-thon!

Paige & Paxton grew out of my desire to do what’s best for all children. This blog is an extension of that.

Parenting is the most important job that you’ll ever have. Yet it’s also the trickiest. It’s on-the-job training with very high stakes. You never really know how you’re doing until it’s too late. Let’s just say there are no “do-overs.”

There are also the realities of the times in which we live—juggling earning a living, parenting, even selecting a school is a chore (public, private, charter or home) and the endless stream of classes and enrichment programs. It’s hard to sort it all out and to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. And then there’s the ubiquitous internet—both a curse and a blessing, providing endless distractions and endless opportunities for knowledge.

I have a job too. It’s to make your journey easier.

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It's never too late to learn! At the age of 59, I took my first Computer Hardware course at a local community college.

I was able to build my first computer...with a little help from my professor!

Here, you’ll find easy, practical ways to not only nurture your child’s STEM interest and knowledge, but also those other skills we cherish—critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, confidence, and innovation. There are so many little things that you can do to prepare your child to live and work in an ever-changing STEM world.

With two successful daughters, I know what works based on experience. (Been there. Done that.) I’ve also become an expert in terms of what works in nurturing STEM skills and proficiency among our youngest children. I’m here to share my insight with you to make parenting for you less stressful and frankly, a little more fun.

Do you have a STEM horror story that you would like to share?

Who completely discouraged (or tried to discourage) you from pursuing STEM? How did you overcome it? What are you doing to make sure that doesn’t happen to your child? Share your comments below.

Let’s keep this conversation going!

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About Rachel

Rachel Williams is a mom of two millennials, an entrepreneur, an award-winning children's book author, a marketing communications expert, and a fitness fanatic. She was the “alpha” tester of the Paige & Paxton approach over 20 years ago when she wanted to ensure that her daughters were excited and proficient in math and science, but didn’t have a STEM background herself. In 2011, her daughters came to her with an idea to bring the puzzle piece characters and build out an elementary STEM curriculum. Since then, the trio has been on a mission to change the course of the nation by making STEM simple for elementary schools and teachers to implement. Rachel has a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from the University of Missouri-Columbia.