Children with rucksacks standing in the park near school

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NEW YORK — Plenty of moms and dads hope their children go on to become doctors or scholars, but how early is too early to lay the foundation for their careers? A new survey finds that, on average, modern parents view age 5-and-a-half as the right time to begin plotting out and looking ahead to their future career paths.

Perhaps not surprisingly, more than half (56%) of the 2,000 parents surveyed already have their own ideas for what their kids will be when they grow up. Three in four participants hope their children gravitate towards STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) professions, with engineer, doctor, and web developer/programmer leading the way for the jobs they predict them landing.

Much has been debated about the types of subjects students should be learning in school today, particularly when it comes to what will be most useful for their future. The survey, commissioned by the Toy Association, showed that parents feel written and oral communication skills are most important for children to learn in order to become a successful adult, followed by tech/computer literacy, then mathematics. Money management and foreign languages rounded out the top five.

Nearly all of the parents in the survey agreed children should spend ample time developing STEAM skills. They find the best ways to foster those abilities are through STEAM-focused toys (67%), at-home experiments (57%), and educational apps (54%).

“Play is how children learn the skills and prowess they need for success in life, and the toys they play with are an integral part in helping them develop interests and passions that will serve as a foundation of a future career,” says Ken Seiter, Executive Vice President of Marketing Communications at The Toy Association, in a statement. “As parents visit the toy aisle, they should first look for items that truly allow children to explore an area of science, technology, engineering or math and allow the children to use their imaginations. Most importantly, the toy must be fun for children to play with and captivate their interest. Learning through play should always be a fun experience!”

But digital media is keeping kids from playing with these toys, parents say. Half feel competition with screens is the biggest challenge in the house when it comes to getting the kids to use their skill-honing toys and games. The survey showed that the average child logs about 3.5 hours of screen time daily — likely the reason that 45% of parents say their kids know how to use digital technology better than they can. Researchers found that children typically surpass their parents’ technology capabilities at age 8.

Some of that screen time may be a good thing for kids. The vast majority (85%) of parents want their children to learn how to code, and believe age 7 is when they should begin to learn the skill.

If you’re in the market for STEM/STEAM toys, the Toy Association identified 12 key characteristics of ones most beneficial to children:

  • Open-ended
  • Relates to Real World
  • Allows for Trial & Error
  • Hands-on
  • Child-led
  • Problem-solving
  • Includes Curriculum
  • Gender Neutral & Inclusive
  • Supports Parents
  • Builds Confidence
  • Encourages Creativity
  • Social/Emotional Skills

The survey was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of The Toy Association in January and February.

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