What are STEM skills?

By | November 13, 2015

The acronym STEM is being used more and more in education, in the workplace and even by toy manufacturers. But what are STEM skills and why should we care?

The simple answer is that the acronym STEM stands for academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. So STEM skills would then be skills related to these fields, but not limited to one field. This is still a simplistic answer and there is much more to it than just knowledge of the academic subjects mentioned.


Inner workings of a clock

Let me explain.

All of the STEM subjects mentioned need specialized knowledge. More than that, they need people to understand concepts from the other subjects. A good engineer will not only have engineering skills, they will also need to use scientific concepts and knowledge, technology and mathematics. All of these subjects are dependent on each other.

Apart from the subject specific skills, employers also want people who are able to reason and solve problems. This is one of the focus areas of STEM education.

A broader definition of STEM skills would include the following:

Analytical skills – being able to do research on a topic, develop a project plan and be able to analyse the results to draw conclusions.

Science skills – to recognize components of a more complex system, recognize the relationships between the systems.

Mathematics skills – for measurements and calculations.

Attention to detail – be able to follow a plan or diagram accurately, write instructions clearly and record data accurately.

Technical skills – troubleshooting to find the source of a problem to be able to debug an operating system or repair a machine.

Communication and cooperation skills – to be able to work as part of a team and interact with other people involved in the project.

Creative abilities – to be able to find different ways to solve problems and develop new ideas,

Organisation skills – to keep track of different aspects of the project including parts and the involvement of other people.

Maths and Science go together

Maths and Science go together

STEM skills are in demand

These skills are sought after in the workplace and people with these skills are more likely to land their dream job than those that lack them.

These skills need to be encouraged and developed from a young age and this is really why there is such a lot of talk about STEM education. Over the past few years a lot more emphasis has been placed on hands-on learning as opposed to learning from a book.

It is a known fact that students learn concepts a lot easier when they can explore them and not just read about them. If they actual build a model of a machine they are more likely to understand how the different components work together. In the process of building the model they have to follow the plan (set of instructions with diagrams) and translate the pictures into the 3-D model. They will make mistakes and will have to figure out what is wrong and fix it. They will often work together with other members in the team and have to learn to discuss concepts, cooperate with each other and share information.

Many schools have recognized the need for developing STEM skills and programs have been introduced to teach these skills to students.

What can parents do?

Parents also want to help their children to develop these skills and look to educational toys to help them to bridge this gap.

Fortunately the toy manufacturers have seen the opportunity and there are many toys and sets on the market that can help both the teachers and the parents to offer these learning opportunities to children. Many of these toy sets are also being marketed as STEM toys and some manufacturers are even using the STEM acronym in the name of the product as with the Zoob STEM Challenge Set (one of my favorites).

Can you build a model of this?

Can you build a model of this?

A few examples of other toy sets would include the K’Nex Simple Machines range or the K’Nex Bridge Building set. There are many others and you will find information about these on this site.

Having these types of building sets available to your children will not only help them to understand the concepts being demonstrated, but will also help them to develop the critical thinking skills mentioned above.

Share your thoughts:

Do you think parents should provide these types of toys for their children to help them develop these skills, or should it be up to the schools to teach them these skills?

8 thoughts on “What are STEM skills?

  1. Brandon

    This article sparked an idea and got me thinking…

    Interesting so your saying that if you get your kids playing with STEM toys you can in theory get them thinking like an engineer and making connections?

    I have tried doing math and science toys before and I will have to say it can be tough to get excited about them but that Exploring Machines Set from K’Nex that makes 4 differnt things and can make a elevator that is very neat to do at a young age.

    I also really like how the Zoob has been considered a toy that children after doing their tasks are allowed to go and play, talk about a double whammy. I love the fact that it teaches children teamwork and collaboration skills when they work together to solve challenges.

    These are really cool toys and some that I will definitely be playing with my son in the future.

    What is your recommendation for people who are wanting to start playing with a 3 month old? are there any fun toys that have also been shown to help develop a little infants brain?

    1. Lesley Post author

      Hi Brandon, thanks for stopping by.

      Babies and toddlers will get benefit out of just about any type of play. They have so much to learn that it is difficult to recommend any single type of toy. Unfortunately all the building toy sets that I have reviewed on this site are not recommended for children under 3 years old.

      When the child is older you can consider the junior versions of these toys. There is a Zoob Junior range and there is the Lego Duplo range that you can consider.

  2. coughlanmaureen

    I did not know the meaning of stem skills now I do thanks to your post!I thought your article was v interesting and informative.
    I hundred percent think that parents should provide toys for their children that would improve their stem skills.
    Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are vital skills necessary in today’s world.

    1. Lesley Post author

      When children get the opportunity to play with these types of toys it definitely gives them an advantage at school. We definitely need more people with these important skills.

  3. Anthony

    Thank you for sharing. I have a science degree, so I understand what STEM is. But, some of my friends doesn’t know about this. So, I can share your post to them.

    Speaking of STEM, primary schools in my place, Hong Kong, start to understand how STEM can benefit primary school students. So, they start to hire teachers who know how to teach STEM. However, most of the parents still don’t know about STEM. Your post and your recommended toy sets are useful for them.

    1. Lesley Post author

      Thank you for stopping by Anthony.

      It will be great if you share my post with some of your friends. Many people still don’t understand how important these STEM skills are and that they can be developed in children from a young age. There are many toys that help children to develop these skills without them even knowing that they are actually learning while they play.

  4. jessie palaypay

    You make an excellent point that stem skills should be developed at an early age. I tried engineering as a major in college but couldn’t deal with it and switched to business.

    Its amazing to see all the toys that teach engineering to young kids. What are your thoughts on vex robotics and their lines of toys? I see them in TV commercials lately.

    I had to build a vex robot with my classmates when I took an intro engineering class

    Thank you for your thoughts


    1. Lesley Post author

      I honestly have not done much research on the different lines of robotic toys to be able to answer your question on a specific brand. However, I think that children need to get exposed to these types of toys when they are old enough to understand the coding side of things. This will be different ages for different kids, but I definitely think they need to be introduced to them before they finish school. It sure will give them a head-start, especially if they intend studying engineering or other technical course.


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