Exercise calorie chart, Giant toothbrush, Womens anatomy chart

Why Science Learning Starts from Birth Consequences for STEM Fields and Public Health

The amount of development that a human child goes through in the first few years of life cannot be understated. Between birth and the age of six, children’s brains are extremely plastic, meaning that they can learn how to be creative, how to think independently, and how to teach themselves through experimentation. Emphasis on early-learning programs (even and especially for families that do not speak English at home) can support children in becoming life-long learners.

While it never hurts for a family to have labeled charts at home–for example, a family could have a labeled poster with a childrens portion plate or muscles in Spanish–childhood brain development occurs through social interaction and playtime. Doing something physical or watching an adult make something stimulates childhood brain development. To use the same example, an adult can teach a child the body’s muscles in Spanish by pointing them out, one at a time, and asking the child what they are used for. Parents can turn dinnertime into playtime by showing their children about portions of drunk glasses or by using meal portion plates.

As simple as educational playtime sounds, it is crucial for brain development later on, and children who do not get this social interaction will struggle later, particularly in STEM and science-related fields.

The United States is one of the lowest-ranked developed countries for graduating science and engineering majors. Nearly half of all college students who originally major in a STEM field eventually switch to a non-STEM major. As a result, only 16% of college graduates in the United States have a STEM major, and just 5% of the total workforce is employed in a STEM-related field. In spite of this, workers in STEM fields account for 50% of all economic growth in the US.

Not only are STEM-related fiends an economic driver in the United States, but a basic science literacy is crucial for public health. Children who do not learn how to read charts or interpret information will struggle later in life to understand medical information, such as a drug identification guide, an exercise calorie chart, or a cervix effacement chart. The child who learned the arm muscles in Spanish at a young age will be able to master the arm muscles in English, but the child who did not learn muscles in Spanish at all will struggle to remember them when they are talking to a personal trainer or physical therapist. The same child who did not learn their muscles in Spanish by the age of six will likely have little knowledge of their own anatomy and physiology, and may therefore have little conception of the habits needed to prevent serious illness later. For example, men who take PSA (positive-specific antigen) tests regularly can detect early-stage prostate cancer and other prostate-related illnesses and treat them before they become life-threatening. Individuals who are unaware of these medical tests or who do not understand how to interpret the results, by contrast, run a greater risk of serious illness or even death from conditions that could otherwise have been treatable.

A child’s brain has more nerve cells than the Milky Way has stars, and these cells go through the most development before that child is six years old. While parents and schools should have access to science and health education products, fostering curiosity and a love of learning starts at home with regular social interaction, with visual models, and with creative playtime. What could be simpler than that?

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