Five-and-a-half years old: that's the age modern American parents believe is ideal to get their children started on their future career path, according to new research.
In fact, more than half (56 percent) of parents even have a specific career in mind for their child. The top jobs? Engineer, doctor, and web developer/programmer.
STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) skills have a growing importance in an increasingly digital and highly-skilled workforce, and American parents are clearly aware.
The new study of 2,000 parents of school-aged children found that 75 percent of parents want their child to end up in a STEM/STEAM career field.
The new survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the Toy Association, found that written and oral communication (60 percent), tech/computer literacy (58 percent), and mathematics (57 percent) were the skills parents believe are most important for children to learn in their formative years in order to succeed in the future.
More than nine out of ten parents surveyed said it's important to foster and encourage the development of STEAM skills in their children. STEAM-focused toys (67 percent), at-home experiments (57 percent), and learning-focused apps (54 percent) are the primary ways parents encourage the growth of these skills.
It's not all easy, however. 50 percent of parents cite competition with screens as their primary challenge in encouraging this development. The average school-aged American child gets approximately three and a half hours of screen time per day, and 72 percent of parents take steps to limit their child's time in front of screens.
The screen excess shows - 45 percent of American parents believe their child knows more about technology than they do.
These children surpass their parents' tech knowledge at approximately eight years old, and 72 percent of parents who lack their children's' tech expertise said this knowledge gap makes it difficult for them to help their child learn.
Of course, not all screen time is uneducational. 85 percent of parents have or plan to encourage their child to learn coding skills. They believe children should begin learning coding skills at approximately seven years of age.
"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. The choices in the toy aisle, however, can be overwhelming," said Ken Seiter, EVP, Marketing Communications at The Toy Association. "With parents' focus on encouraging their children to develop STEAM skills at an early age, the Toy Association has worked to identify 12 key characteristics of a good STEAM toy to help parents when making purchasing decisions."
Toys and play are a large part of the average American parents' plan in fostering STEAM skill development. In fact, 79 percent of parents say STEAM-focused toys have an important role in helping children develop STEAM skills, and 82 percent believe playing with STEAM toys will help their child develop an interest in those fields.
A majority (85 percent) of parents look for ways to encourage learning through play with their child. Parents surveyed said approximately 42 percent of a child's play should be dedicated to education and learning.
"In addition to the 12 characteristic we've identified in our STEM/STEAM Report, there are mandatory must-haves for a product to be considered a good STEAM toy. 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!"