What is STEM, and Why Does It Matter?

Updated by Timothy Paradis

Cratejoy is your find-it-all-here Marketplace, especially when it comes to great gifts for kids. Helping your family enjoy learning and playing together is part of our mission, and nowhere is that more clear than when it comes to unique kits that inspire children to feed their curiosity. Along with an incredible selection of book boxes for kids, we’ve got you covered when it comes to encouraging young people to explore science, math, engineering, and technology, too!

So you’re in the right place to celebrate STEM Day! Fill it (and every day) with educational activities that encourage kids to explore their greatest interests and develop a lifelong love of learning, and make it a day that’s all about inspiring tomorrow’s scientists, artists, engineers and space explorers.

National STEM Day is celebrated on November 8th, or NOV8, a date that also represents the word innovate and was created to highlight the innate curiosity and capacity for innovation that exists in all children.

Celebrate STEM Day by allowing kids to dive down rabbit holes, brainstorming about their favorite topics, and weaving their passions with an understanding of the scientific process. Take time to empower kids to ask questions, seek out solutions and engage in the higher-level thinking that holds the key to a successful future.


What Is STEM?

STEM - which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - got a huge boost in American education in 2011 with President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he said.

The previous “Sputnik moment” came during the Cold War era, where America’s thirst to beat the Russians in the space race led to enormous investments and advances in science and technology. Post-Cold War, American education shifted away from this emphasis and toward classrooms that were focused on softer, more individualized learning. The tech boom of the 1990s and 2000s would once again demand an educational shift in focus away from the contemporary, student-centric teaching model and redirect our attention back to the sciences.

This speech was Obama’s call to Congress and the educational leaders of our country to renew our focus on technological innovation, especially in the field of early education, and this instructional shift would be coined STEM.

More than just a shift in focus back to these particular subjects, the STEM movement aims to integrate these subjects and emphasizes using technology to connect different disciplines. From early learners on up, students of all ages are encouraged to study any subject through a STEM lens, learning to apply the fundamentals of math, science, engineering and coding to any subject or project. Instead of older educational models that focused on rote memorization and computational drills, the STEM movement emphasizes learning the fundamentals through collaboration and communication.

STEM learning can help encourage today’s kids to be creative, research, and develop both critical thinking and problem solving skills through interest-driven learning. A crucial component of STEM is to bring classroom learning out into the real world. At-home learning through pre-prepped educational boxes like Two Pink Balloons make it easy for little learners to begin basic mathematics, develop pattern awareness and explore colors and textures, while children between the ages of 5-10 can combine social and emotional learning skills with STEM fundamentals through secret missions sent each month from Superpower Academy.



Despite seeing these acronyms used interchangeably, what is the difference between STEM and STEAM?

In short, STEAM represents an expansion on STEM-focused education to include the arts and humanities. The STEAM movement got its official start at RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design, where as early as 2010, the school started advocating for recognizing the important role that the arts play in STEM disciplines. This led to the creation of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

Championed by former president of RISD, John Maeda, STEAM is about understanding that design and creativity are essential to innovation. The concept of deep design is all about understanding that design is as much, if not more, about how things work rather than how things look or feel. The actual power of design is rooted in the scientific method.

Part of the STEM and STEAM revolution is about getting children to uncover knowledge on their own, and art is the perfect way to make that happen! Fire up the left and right brain by making a fall-inspired Leaf Tessellation or Circuit Bug , then keep the creative learning going with Green Kid Crafts , sustainable STEAM kits that deliver art and science to the door each month.


Why STEM Matters

Foundations for an Innovative Workforce

The experts agree that STEAM and STEM activities are essential for the future workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that science and engineering jobs will grow more than all other occupations, while the Department of Education reveals that just 16% of high school students express an interest in STEM, and fewer than half of those go on to enter careers in science and tech fields.

Research shows that, similar to language learning, kids need to be provided many opportunities in a wide range of settings to develop STEM fluency . Building a strong STEM foundation early on, and encouraging the mastery of basic STEM concepts, can promote lifelong learning that drives children to work in STEM fields.

Parents play a crucial role in constructing and reinforcing a solid STEM foundation. They wield long-term influence over their children, making them instrumental in providing the support needed to connect learning in and out of the classroom. Whether it’s explaining why your kiddo is outgrowing their favorite hoodie or getting hands-on with them building roller coasters and banjos with Groovy Lab in a Box , STEM concepts can be woven into day-to-day life. And these authentic learning experiences encourage and prepare kids to pursue STEM careers.


Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

Because STEM education emphasizes collaboration and cooperation, it represents an incredible opportunity to raise standards of equity in K-12 education and bring underserved and underrepresented populations into the fold of STEM careers.

Stephanie C. Hill, Senior V.P. of Corporate Strategy and Business Development at Lockheed Martin, is fighting hard to do away with what she calls “accidental engineers.” As a middle-aged woman of color, she grew up in an environment that did not expose her to STEM subjects and careers from an early age. She stumbled onto computer programming as a sophomore in college, and was immediately hooked. She would go on to become a software engineer.

But it left her asking some serious questions. How was she not intentionally exposed to these disciplines throughout her early education? Despite minorities being the fastest-growing segment of the population, they are also the least likely to follow a STEM career path. Recognizing that diversity drives innovation, she’s focusing on showing off the superpowers of STEM so that all students “gain an interest, maintain an interest, and ultimately, pursue a career in engineering.”

A study from 2015 reported that just 4% of Hispanic men, 3% of black men, and only 2% of black and Hispanic women pursue careers in science and engineering. These numbers reflect a disparity of access. Low-income schools in predominantly minority districts typically provide less computer exposure, have fewer science labs, and offer fewer hands-on learning experiences.

Exposure to STEM activities at an early age can help level the playing field and provide opportunity to students from all backgrounds. Along with expanding access to resources, it is essential for kids to be exposed to people in STEM careers that look like them. Finding a mentor (or becoming one) can help minority students navigate different educational paths, and monthly subscriptions like Black Girl MATHgic can reinforce math skills, reduce anxiety and expose young girls to role models that are just like them.


Prepare for a Paradigm Shift

Some of the largest existential threats to future generations need to be reframed as some of the biggest opportunities for today’s children to tackle head on. Facing the challenges of global climate change represents an entire paradigm shift to the way things are done now, and will require everyone to dig deep and construct big ideas. A STEM-centered education is crucial to laying the framework for a new way forward.

For more ideas on how we can all embrace our inner nerds and reveal our STEAM superpowers this STEM Day, check out all our activity-packed educational kits for kids !