During these challenging days of sheltering in place, families and kids are finding themselves wondering how to best use their time. The Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub, a partner organization housed at Umpqua Community College, is committed to providing support for our community — especially children and families — to be engaged in quality STEAM learning experiences.

In general, quality STEAM activities promote what we call STEAM Thinking. People are engaged in real world problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, inquiry, and creative innovation driven by questions such as….

  • What would happen if…?
  • How do you think it works?
  • What would you do differently?
  • I wonder why…
  • Imagine if…
  • What did you notice?
  • What do you think will happen?
  • What have you learned?
  • How is this like…?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • How might you test your thinking?
  • What patterns did you notice?
  • What details are most important?
  • What new ideas do you now have?

Sometimes we think about STEAM learning in terms of the disciplines the letters represent. But if we assume learning within any of the disciplines is STEAM learning, we may be short-changing our understanding of what STEAM education is really intended to be about.

The Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub is working to create a continuously growing set of resources and ideas that will help us develop students as thinkers, doers and designers.

Children are naturally curious and constantly ask questions. They keenly observe the world around them and are learning to connect ideas. They draw, take things apart, build and astutely observe others’ behaviors. They like to experiment and try new things.

In a nutshell, children are great natural learners. Children begin life “STEAM-ready.”

How your child can Be a STEAM Thinker:
  1. Talk with your child about STEAM topics. For example, talk about gravity when your child tosses a ball in the air. Discuss fractions or percent when you eat a pizza. Cooking provides opportunities to talk about measurement, boiling and evaporation. Toys and vehicles give kids a chance to learn about pulleys, levers and engines. Ask them to problem solve creatively like when you have no electricity and water for several days (Remember all those moments when we had to be STEAM Thinkers during the 2019 Snowmageddon!)
  2. Encourage curiosity and questioning. Display curiosity about things you see and show your own interest in learning. Your enthusiasm may be the greatest motivator for your child’s interest in STEAM. When your child asks a question, rather than giving an answer or a solution, urge him or her to research information and to come up with several possible solutions for a problem. Ask your child questions as well. Use open-ended questions (with no right or wrong answer.) For example: Why do you like that game (toy, car, phone app, etc.) so much? Who designed it? Do you think the design can be improved? What would you do to improve the design? Use questions to inspire further conversations.
  3. Encourage your child to think like an engineer. Help your child to pay attention to how things work. Kids should understand that there are usually many solutions to a problem. They can be creative and innovative when looking for solutions. They can create models of their solutions, try them out, and then improve on these models. Like an engineer, your child can identify problems, attempt to find solutions, try out the solution to see if it works, and improve on it.
  4. Make your home a STEAM-friendly place. Let your home reflect your kids’ interests. Does your child love to assemble things? Go with it. Playing with blocks and Legos is associated with later competence in math and problem-solving skills. Got a nature lover? Set up some outdoor learning opportunities for your child to explore. Set up a place for experimenting and building models. Provide a variety of materials and tools that children can access safely. These don’t have to be expensive. Consider things like paper cups, craft sticks, glue, foil, index cards and paper.
  5. Start exploring careers. Another way to encourage STEAM exploration is to help your children visualize themselves in a rewarding career. Rapid changes in industry are creating new types of jobs that require the STEAM skills you can help them develop. The Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub works with Oregon Connections found at
  1. . You will be able to set up an account for free and access information about many careers, including ones found in Douglas County! Be sure to tune into Douglas County Career Spotlights.

In summary:

At its heart, STEAM is about solving real-world problems. The world is going to need more and more workers with the skills to identify problems, visualize and create innovative solutions, and constantly improve on those solutions.

Encourage your children. Challenge them. Involve them in thinking like engineers. Your children can be among those who change the world for the better.

Gwen Soderberg-Chase is the executive director of Douglas County Partners for Student Success, www.dcpss.org, and the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub. She has been an educator in Douglas County for more than 40 years and is currently an Associate Professor of Education at Umpqua Community College. She also serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley and SMART.

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