A CORK mum got creative with her thinking to keep her five-year-old twins occupied while she works from home during Covid restrictions.
And now she’s sharing her fun, and educational, ideas with her 1,300 strong work community, through a weekly STEM activities newsletter, which not surprisingly, is going down an absolute treat.
Carrigaline-based Susan Dunlea is the leader of a medical device company’s hugely successful STEM Academy and she’s a huge advocate of encouraging young people to explore the world of STEM and the career options it affords.
In fact, she thinks that all kids should be regarded as budding scientists, to be nurtured and developed.
Though her company’s STEM Academy, she’s involved in delivering engineering programmes to both primary and second level schools locally and internationally, including a recent project to a girl’s school in Kenya.
Susan said her ‘lightbulb moment’ to develop the newsletter came while trying to keep her five-year old junior infants twin boys, Aedan and Casey, occupied and engaged at home. “You must start thinking outside the box to try and keep the kids entertained.
“Between working from home, home schooling and trying to keep the boys occupied, the day can be long. I know other parents feel the exact same way.
“I also love the idea of tricking the kids into learning without them even knowing it, and that’s how our weekly ‘STEM activities at home’ newsletter was born — to share helpful ideas on how to keep kids busy while actually learning something at the same time,” she said.
Susan says she tries to have a different theme every issue and so far they’ve included the wonders of space, or virtual field trips to museums, zoos, aquariums and libraries with a click of a button.
“We cover all the actual STEM subjects. So for Science we do lots of experiments such as DNA extraction and making cloud in a jar (a super simple experiment to teach your kids about weather).
“For Technology we try and encourage areas like coding; Engineering — experimentations such as jellybean building. For this, all you’ll need is a pile of jellybeans and toothpicks for your child to start learning about structures. Connecting toothpicks with jellybeans encourages your child to see which shapes hold together well, which shapes stack well, and which shapes are most interesting to look at — provided of course that they don’t eat all of the jelly beans before the end of the task!
“Then, for Maths, we try and make it fun with lots of math printable worksheets, making it all about solving problems. This requires mastering skills such as grouping, classifying, counting, and recognizing numerals, shapes and patterns,” said Susan.
Outside of this, the newsletter also looks at kids wellness and she suggests resources such as The Secret Treehouse Meditation, Cosmic Kids Yoga and exercise.
Outside of Susan’s work colleagues, the newsletter is being forwarded to their friends and friends of friends and the group STEM South West, (see stemsouthwest.ie).
She’s also passionate about getting girls into STEM as young as possible.
“Many all-girl secondary schools do not offer the same range of classes as boys’ schools (partly down to not enough students picking that subject). Traditionally, these weren’t subjects that girls were encouraged to explore and for that reason girls sometimes don’t think that they are capable of studying them.
“Nowadays we can squash that belief with the right encouragement at the right age. As long as young boys and girls are exposed to science and technology and are equally encouraged to study those areas, those with talent and a genuine interest in these fields will be able to develop that interest into a career.”
Susan’s boys are in junior infants and she says that STEM can be aimed at kids of all ages: “If you think your children are not scientists, you’re wrong, every child is a budding scientist. They ask a lot of questions about what’s going on around them, they notice a lot of great details and love to experiment and see what’s going to happen.
“STEM education isn’t just about giving students a big list of technical skills. It’s about building practical skills like critical thinking and problem solving and it’s about teamwork and creativity — no matter what path your child will ultimately choose, STEM can help get them there.”
Meanwhile, Susan’s husband Paul, who works for the defence forces, was part of a group who walked/ran/cycled 1000km for Irish Cancer Society recently.
Paul cycled 26km and ran 22km over two days with colleagues from the Army No. 1 Band (Dublin), Band 1 Bde (Cork) and Band 2 Bde (Athlone).
- Build a Lego volcano science experiment, it’s so easy and you can use any Lego you have at home. See https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/build-a-lego-volcano-for-baking-soda-science- experiment/
- Google introduced a 3D Animals feature for search. It allows people to watch augmented reality (AR) animals and places them right in your home (like below). It’s super fun for all the family. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIGSUvaJazc
- Make your own Stop Motion Animation Video. With just a few objects, and a smartphone, your kids can learn about the technology behind movie-making and create a video unique to their own likes and interests. See https://tinkerlab.com/easy-stop-motion-animation-kids/
- Build your own Funky Lava Lamp. With this project, you can make your own (temporary) lava lamp with household materials! It’s easy and safe, and it looks very cool. See http://www.sciencefun.org/kidszone/experiments/lava-lamp/