The nation’s largest STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) celebration took place this past weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The 5th USA Science and Engineering Festival featured more than 3,000 exhibits, 30 stage shows and attracted approximately 350,000 people. This year’s theme was “Where can STEM take you?” and the primary goal of the weekend was to inspire the thousands of kids in attendance.
The hands-on festivities of the weekend included playing games with robots, flight simulators, going on virtual reality space missions and our personal favorite here at NRPA, designing your own dream park.
This was our first year exhibiting at the STEM fest, and we wanted to show festival goers that parks and recreation centers are a great place for youth to engage in the variety of STEM programs that are being offered at many park and rec agencies across the country.
The highlight of my time at the STEM fest was asking kids if they enjoyed going to their local parks, and seeing their eyes light up. Once I asked them to draw what their dream park would look like, and that they could include anything they wanted, they eagerly grabbed a piece of paper and crayons and let their imaginations run wild.
Seeing the joy and excitement that these kids got out of being able to design their dream park brought me back to my childhood when all I wanted was a park where I could ride omalimphs (yes, that’s what I called elephants), have life-size Lego houses and pools full of Nickelodeon slime. Kids love their parks, even if they don’t have friendly dragons, unicorns, or ice cream airplanes. If I ever had any doubt in my mind about that, my faith was restored this weekend.
As park and recreation professionals, we are in such a great position to offer programs and activities that inspire the next generation, get them active and keep their creativity and imaginations alive and well.
Implementing STEM programs that are both fun and educational is a great start, and the rewards are priceless. I had a blast at the STEM fest this weekend, and thanks to all the kids who took me on imaginary tours of their dream parks — and a very special thank you to their very patient parents!
Click here to learn more about the USA Science and Engineering Festival.