Education these days is as much about boosting self-esteem as it is about imparting knowledge. Kids are given credit just for participating in classes and sporting events, and while that leads to confident adults with great self-esteem, there’s growing evidence that it may not be the best strategy to encourage participation in and love of STEM studies.

A science summer camp may do more for your child’s love of science, technology and math, however, than all the praise in the world. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Kids Quit STEM

Many kids drop STEM studies like a hot potato as soon as they possibly can. The reason for this is simple: STEM subjects can be tough, and often children don’t believe that they are smart enough to figure them out. Because they are praised just for participating, they may find it hard to push through the difficulty of STEM subjects at school. This leads to the belief that because they don’t succeed immediately, they aren’t smart enough to master the concepts.

The truth, of course, is that STEM subjects have a learning curve, and it can take time to grasp the ideas. Even the smartest kids may need a little more time to master the subjects that STEM studies require them to understand, but once they do, the sky is the limit.

That doesn’t help if kids are giving up before they’ve given it enough time, because they’re so used to succeeding immediately. Kids need to know that it’s okay to face a little adversity, to struggle a little, and to fail occasionally. When kids are free to fail, they won’t be afraid to keep trying, and that’s exactly what success in STEM requires.

What You Can Do

We know that praise doesn’t necessarily encourage kids to put in the time an effort required to master STEM topics, so what can you, as a parent do? Give them opportunities to succeed.

Research shows hands-on STEM study opportunities like science summer camp can have a huge impact on kids’ confidence in these subjects. The experience gives them the opportunity to conduct their studies in a fun environment, and trial and error are openly encouraged.

Being able to try, fail and try again without negative consequences does more for your child’s STEM self-esteem and confidence than any amount of praise, and there are many great ways to encourage and reinforce this, such as:

  • Conducting experiments at home.
  • Visiting STEM themed museums and discussing great advances.
  • Science or STEM summer camps.
  • Fun science-themed activities at home or at school.
  • Science experiment toys.
  • Watching science and technology documentaries with your kids.

The most important thing you can do to encourage your children to take an interest in STEM is to make it interesting and fun, and to make sure they know that it’s okay to fail, as long as they try again. After all, some of the most famous scientists in the world, including Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla and Madame Curie tried and failed countless times before they made their big breakthroughs!

STEM is not easy. Most people won’t master the ideas the first time they are exposed to them. That’s okay. Instead of empty praise, allow your children to fail, learn, try again, and keep trying until they get it. Because that’s really the essence of science and technology.