Parents have something of a superpower: the ability, according to Australian physicist, mathematician, children's book author, and parent Chris Ferrie, to cultivate and reinforce their children’s interests from an early age.
“Start with a library full of books about all sorts of animals,” Ferrie says. “That library will evolve, but into what? Eventually, the parents will claim the child has a favorite animal—lions, let’s say. To prove it, they will show you how the library is now full of books about lions. But these are books that they the parents bought because they thought the child liked lions. Of course, with all the positive reinforcement, and little choice otherwise, the child now indeed likes lions!”
Read to young children about STEAM subjects—science, technology, engineering, art, and math—and parents can help create a lifelong love for these foundational disciplines. “Fill a library with STEAM books and, lo and behold, you will have a child interested in astronomy or chemistry or robots,” Ferrie says. “Of course, this is an extreme example that for ethical reasons I’m not suggesting we test. But, the opposite is also true. Children can’t fall in love with astronomy if we never show them a space book or a telescope. Variety is the name of the game.”
Ferrie is the creative force behind Sourcebooks’ bestselling Baby University board book series. He has authored dozens of children’s books for the Sourcebooks eXplore imprint on a variety of complex subjects—for example, ABCs of Mathematics, Blockchain for Babies, Goodnight Lab, Quantum Physics for Babies, and Rocket Science for Babies.
His latest board book series, My First STEAM Words, which Sourcebooks will publish in April, includes five titles: My First 100 Science Words, My First 100 Technology Words, My First 100 Engineering Words, My First 100 Art Words, and My First 100 Mathematics Words. These picture books, illustrated by Lindsay Dale-Scott, were created to introduce the basic concepts of these subjects to kids at a very young age using simple and colorful artwork.
My First 100 Science Words, for instance, pairs words such as cell, continent, gemstone, magnet, and neuron with colorful illustrations. My First 100 Engineering Words includes words and drawings such as bearing, explosive, and sewer. My First 100 Art Words teaches the words fiction and dialogue to young readers on the literature page and words such as archeology, artifact, and empire on the history page.
In September, Sourcebooks will release an additional five books in the series: My First 100 Animal Words, My First 100 Construction Words, My First 100 Nature Words, My First 100 Ocean Words, and My First 100 Space Words.
Ferrie emphasizes the importance of introducing STEAM subjects to kids when they are young. “The later a child is introduced to something, the less interested they will seem,” he says. “A child with a room full of toys and books about cars is not likely to make space for a model rocket or book about the moon.”
Ferrie notes that the data suggests students involved in STEAM-based programs retain an interest in STEAM careers. But, he says, interest in STEAM subjects wanes without sustained exposure. Additionally, he says that reading frequently to preschool children helps them succeed in school and beyond. “One of the important lessons from the research is that sustained exposure to STEAM-based information and learning is key to retaining interest in students,” says Ferrie, who adds that he’d like “to start writing for older audiences to ensure the small science enthusiasts have avenues to maintain enthusiasm through reading.”