It's worth seeking out fun activities that nurture children's interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A good STEM education is "as important to being well rounded as soccer, ballet and piano lessons," says UW-Madison learning science professor David Williamson Shaffer.
It's especially important to expose girls to STEM programs. According to the Girl Scouts Research Institute: "Girls find STEM interesting, but they are hesitant about STEM careers because they see it as an isolating field wherein they cannot benefit their communities." Madison-area STEM programs abound and aim to bust that myth for girls - and boys, too.
Expanding Your Horizons
Girls in grades 6-8 who might want to major in a STEM subject can get sneak peeks of different careers through Expanding Your Horizons on Nov. 10. In small groups, girls attend hands-on workshops on the UW-Madison campus and take field trips to Edgewood College, MATC, Strand Engineering and other workplaces.
"Engineering is one area that always seems to interest the girls once they understand what it is," says Heather Daniels, senior administrative program specialist. "Unlike many of the other areas, engineering isn't a subject that is taught in middle school."
Registration deadline: Oct. 26. Cost: $25. Space is limited to 350.
2100 Winnebago St.; 608-241-4605
At Sector67, Fractal offers fall weekend classes as well as winter, spring and summer break camps where kids build catapults, solar ovens and more. Heather Wentler, who has a B.A. in elementary education, launched Fractal to help kids bridge hands-on projects with science and math concepts taught in school.
"Tech/science/math were my worst subjects in school," says Wentler. "It wasn't until college and I started to teach those subjects that I fell in love with them, because I understood them better."
Fractal also offers outreach programs through the Goodman Center, MSCR and the Madison Children's Museum.
"Fractal does more than just teach kids about STEM. We teach social skills, how to think for yourself and how to act like a scientist through success and failure," says Wentler.
Most classes run $20-$35; space is limited to 10.
7615 Discover Dr., Middleton; 608-831-6479
BadgerBOTS offers programs, camps and courses for students in grades 2-12 in Dane County.
In FIRST Lego League (ages 9-14), teams build robots out of Legos and program them to solve real-world challenges (like food safety), culminating in a state championship. Last year, a team of eighth-graders in Madison built a lunchbox whose intellectual property was later purchased by Lands' End. For kids ages 6-9 there is Minor League.
In FIRST Tech Challenge, teens build robots made of metal, plastic and composites that have powerful DC motors and more complex parts. Teens graduate to FIRST Robotics Competition, where robots can be bigger and heavier and the season is highly compressed. The highest awards for both programs are for outreach and "communicating the wonders of engineering and science to improve our lives, for inspiring others to get involved," says Ben Senson, BadgerBOTS Robotics Corporation president.
Teams are ongoing throughout the year. Summer 2013 will bring camp, including one girls-only session. $150 per child forFIRST Lego League, $40 per child for Minor League.
Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland Council
"This is our 100th year, and we've named it the Year of the Girl, the goal of which is to see 50% of STEM careers held by women within one generation," says Katie Folts, Badgerland Council's STEM program specialist.
Today's scouts earn badges in digital photography, Netiquette and website design. They are also teaming up with BadgerBOTS to offer a Go GirlBOTS robot programming league. Also look for a geocaching day this fall, where girls will learn GPS technology while honing their outdoor skills.
Jackie Gehin, Dane County 4-H youth development program advisor, firstname.lastname@example.org; 608-224-3728
It's not your grandmother's 4-H anymore. Today STEM is a 4-H project area. 4-H is open to kids in grades 1-12 (in fact, one year out of high school as well).
UW Space Place Saturday Science Workshops
Villager Mall, 2300 S. Park St.; 608-262-4779
The public outreach center for the UW astronomy department, the Space Place offers free workshops with topics like "The Physics of Roller Coasters" and "Building with Bubbles" every Saturday at 10 a.m. for children ages 6-10 and their parents. No registration is required, but attendance is limited to 50.
Family Science Events
The UW-Madison Institute for Biology Education's ARMS Program (Adult Role Models in Science) aims to enhance science education in elementary and middle schools through science fairs, after-school science clubs at various community centers, and other after-school programs. It also offers free Family Science Days/Nights.
Mark your calendars
UW-Madison Science Expeditions
Science Expeditions is a free spring event to be held April 6, 2013, at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery to welcome people of all ages to campus to experience science. UW-Madison Technology & Arts
Summer Pre-college Program
Weeklong summer day camps on campus, for students completing grades 5-8, integrate technology and arts. They explore architecture, performance and visual arts, digital photography, and computer design. June 17-21, 2013, $325, scholarships available.
4-H Gateway Academy is a one-week summer day camp for middle school students where they are introduced to engineering concepts and careers through hands-on projects, team building and field trips. 2013 coed camp dates: July 8-11 (Memorial High School) and July 22-25 (Madison East High School). The program on July 15-18 (Memorial High School) is girls-only -a good thing, since nearly half of all girls say they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a STEM group or class.
I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.