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A gift guide for young scientists that won't break the bank

If you’re looking for a holiday gift that could turn your child into a budding scientist or engineer, you might find it right in your garage or your kitchen. Think: a hammer, a broken appliance or a chicken wing.

That's the advice of the University of Delaware's Melissa Jurist, who directs K-12 education for the College of Engineering.

She says gifts to encourage STEM learning don't have to come from a store.

"It's about not considering everything that's STEM expensive or prepackaged," she says. "It's mostly about exploring, versus, you know, 'There's an end to this experience.'"

In a piece written for the UD website, she suggests having kids tinker with balsa wood, a litmus test kit or a broken toaster -- easy to take apart and cheap to destroy -- rather than buying an expensive educational toy.

"Their eyes just completely light up and they think -- you know, 'It feels so good even though it feels so wrong!' But it's great fun," she says. "And there's a ton of stuff that you can learn with a broken appliance or a broken phone."

Jurist got her start writing curriculum for Sesame Street. She says STEM education has always been hands-on and exploratory, long before the acronym was coined in education.

 

"I'm excited about it," she says of the increasing emphasis on STEM curriculum in Delaware and elsewhere. "But on the other hand, I'm also very concerned about kids thinking, 'There's this STEM thing I have to do,' as compared to ... thinking scientifically about everything they do, which elevates all of their learning."

 

She hopes gifts like the ones on her list will teach kids STEM skills they can use across the interdisciplinary spectrum.

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