By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association


It might be natural to mostly associate childhood learning with school classrooms, but really education is a family affair.

Studies show that when parents, carers and wider family engage with their children’s education, they tend to perform better academically, thereby setting them up for a future full of opportunity. This applies particularly to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as there are stereotypes around who can study and pursue these subjects, which family support can help to overcome.

This is where British Science Week from the British Science Association (BSA) comes in. We release free activity packs for children each year, to ensure everyone has the resources to engage with science. The Week takes places this year on 10-19 March, with plenty of ways for families to get involved.

Because of course, all parents and carers want the best for their children, for them to excel at school, but the degree to which families can play an active role in education differs. Societal barriers mean that for some families, engagement is not easy. As in so many areas of life, money and privilege talk.

Lack of opportunity 

A report by the Sutton Trust, a charity working to increase social mobility, found that parents from more privileged backgrounds are better able, in a number of ways, to involve themselves with their children’s education. They were more likely to spend time considering which school to send their children to, attending open days and read Ofsted reports, whereas parents from more challenging socioeconomic circumstances had to take into account the cost of travel to the school and other expenses like uniform when making this important decision.

The report also found that more affluent parents tend to be more likely to help children with their homework, providing a great opportunity to merge education with family time, and a chance to discuss and dispel myths around STEM. However, studies suggest that some parents have feelings of inadequacy around their abilities to help with school work due to limited or unhappy experiences of their own education.

Extracurricular activities can also help enhance a child’s education and allow family to get involved, but money rears its ugly head once more. Children from higher earning families are much more likely to attend extracurricular activities, as cost is less prohibitive, with trips to museums and other cultural spots also being more frequent.

British Science Week – a chance to celebrate STEM

So, barriers exist. But every child has potential, and every parent and carer, regardless of background should have the opportunity and access to resources to play an active role in their children’s science education.

British Science Week is a brilliant opportunity for parents and carers to get involved with their children’s school and their STEM education.

Schools celebrate in different ways, but a common event encouraged by the BSA is for parents and carers who work in STEM (which covers a broader range than you might imagine) to come into the school and share their experiences with the children. There are plenty of ways parents and carers who don’t work in STEM (or who would prefer not to give talk or workshop) to get involved, from sourcing equipment, helping out with events and activities, or attending science fairs schools often put on for British Science Week with their children.

Science is coming home

Free, low-resource British Science Week activity packs are also available to download each year, and the theme of the packs for 2023 is ‘Connections’. The activities can be run at home, as well as in classrooms, nurseries, or any other setting. They’re a brilliant resource for anyone wanting to bring STEM into their setting  to help children engage with science. The activities vary in the amount of kit required, but many can be done with common household objects. The activities are great for parents who aren’t sure where to start or don’t have the financial resources for expensive equipment.

There are three packs; Early Years for under 5s, Primary for children aged 5-11 and Secondary for young people aged up to 14, although of course these are just guidelines and the activities can be adapted and used across the age ranges.

The Early Years pack includes ‘See and eat vegetables’ (which only calls for basic craft materials such as card, pencils and glue) is about encouraging young children to start thinking about where their food comes from by creating a storyboard of broccoli’s journey from field to fork. Combining STEM learning with hands-on arts and crafts is an effective way of capturing children’s attention and making sure their parents and carers can get involved.

The Primary pack has more advanced activities that still centre the child in building or conducting experiments but ensure it can be a family activity. ‘Build your own barometer’, which requires items found around the house, has children learning about the climate and air pressure, and means they’ll have their own barometer they can monitor at home.

For older students, the Secondary pack also includes activities that encourage debate and conversation about the ethics surrounding STEM. ‘Replacing animal research’ could inspire a family conversation about testing on animals and allow young people to explore their ideas of alternatives. ‘Making manifestos’ asks young people to consider what STEM-related policies they might create, if they were in charge. With young people more engaged than ever with issues surrounding the climate crisis, this could be a fascinating one.

CREST Awards

CREST is an education programme run by the BSA, which encourages young people aged 5-19 to think and behave like scientists and engineers through student-led investigative projects and activities. The CREST library includes lots of resources to help with getting started, including Top tips for starting a STEM club. And activities and project ideas that are easy to run at home

Parents and carers looking to communicate more with their children’s school and encourage extracurricular STEM activity could suggest a STEM club using this easy guide.. Top tips for starting a STEM club. And activities and project ideas that are easy to run at home

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