Every generation reflects on their own growing-up experiences and tries to line them up with their children’s lives and worlds. Change has sped up exponentially and the world has flattened out, competitively speaking. The knowledge economy knows no borders, and the U.S. has lagged behind the global market demand for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills.

Last year basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was named California’s after-school STEM ambassador. In December the Obama Administration announced that graduating 1 million more young people with college degrees in STEM areas in the next decade had been “formally designated as a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal.”

Celebrities and presidential proclamations make an impact, but parents continue to be instrumental in shaping their children’s futures. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) issued a position statement titled, “Parental Involvement in Science Learning,” asserting that the organization “believes the involvement of parents and other caregivers in their children’s learning is crucial to their children’s interest in and ability to learn science.” It goes on to cite research suggesting that when parents play an active role, kids attain higher levels of success “regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or the parents’ own level of education.” Similarly, FamilyFacts.org, summarizes a study by Janis E. Jacobs and Martha M. Bleeker, “Girls’ and Boys’ Developing Interests in Math and Science: Do Parents Matter?” reported in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development several years ago. The Family Facts summary states that “Children whose parents’ positive attitudes toward math and science were reflected in the toys they purchased and activities they engaged in with them were more likely to subsequently be involved in those arenas.”

Cultivating interests in reading, math, and science begins in pre-school, and putting in strong roots, helps shape lifetime opportunities.