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, email@example.com; 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.
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.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.
My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.
My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.
What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.
I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.