7 ways you can encourage children to develop STEM skills

7 ways you can encourage children to develop STEM skills

When children are still in primary school it can seem a little too early to be thinking about their careers. But the skills, passions, and knowledge they pick up in their early years can be incredibly important.

As the workplace changes, STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills are becoming more in demand. In fact, research looking at the highest paying graduate jobs find degrees in STEM subjects dominate the list. Even if children choose not to follow a STEM career, the skills picked up can be invaluable for other roles, from problem-solving to creative thinking.

If you want to encourage a passion for learning and the development of STEM skills in children or grandchildren, here are seven tips that can help.

1. Encourage their natural curiosity

The good news is that children are naturally curious and ask questions about the way things work. Encouraging this can help improve their cognitive skills and the way they tackle problems.

At times you’ve no doubt been asked why things work or are a certain way. Taking the time to answer their questions can help sate their curiosity. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something either. Looking it up together, whether in a book, online or by watching a TV show, is just as valuable and provides an opportunity to teach research skills too.

2. Teach them to improve

While answering their questions is important, asking them is just as essential.

Prompting them to think and explore other options can lead to plenty of new learning opportunities and encourage them to think creatively. For example, ask how they’d improve the design of their favourite toy. Do they have ideas for how a toy car could be made to go faster?

It’s a method that can help them start thinking like an engineer, rather than finding a single solution or accepting how things are, they look for where improvements can be made. This gives you a chance to get them collaborating and learning from others too by encouraging them to discuss ideas with other adults, siblings, or friends.

3. Provide opportunities for creative play

While STEM involves thinking logically about problems, creative thinking is also essential.

Most toys encourage children to engage with their imagination and unleash their creativity. Simply giving them some tools and the space to play can help develop STEM skills. It can be as simple as a box, colouring pens, and a challenge to create something. Building blocks are also a great option for creative play that also helps them solve problems and try new things.

4. Let them experiment

If your child wants to experiment, let them! This might mean trying a new model for building a plane out of blocks or even undertaking a science experiment in your own home (there are lots of simple ideas that use household products online). STEM Learning is an excellent place to start if you need some inspiration, with activity ideas from age four up to 16.

Even if you know something won’t work, letting them try it is still worthwhile. They could learn a whole lot more from failure than someone simply telling them it’s not right. Encouraging them to ask why something hasn’t worked and to work on finding a solution can be invaluable.

5. Discover STEM TV shows and videos together

As STEM learning becomes more popular, there’s a huge range of TV shows and online platforms that can add to hands-on experience. These can offer a fun way to learn and ideas for activities they could do themselves too. Short videos are a great way to keep them engaged and explore problems that they won’t find at home.

6. Make STEM part of your days out

When you plan family days out, adding a STEM focus to some of them can renew their interest in learning. Museums, in particular, are a great way to find out more about the world and how things work. From traditional museums to those that offer a more hands-on experience, both can add value to the skills children are building.

Linking back to the first point and answering questions, encourage children to engage with the exhibits and keep a note of the things they asked but couldn’t answer while at the museum to explore later.

7. Don’t forget to take it outdoors too

STEM learning doesn’t just have to take place indoors. Exploring the natural world can help develop skills too. From building a den in the woods to mapping the night sky, there are many ways you can enjoy the great outdoors while still building interest in STEM subjects.

Research has linked green spaces to improved mental wellbeing, productivity and creativity. So, planning some time to search for wildlife or take part in a scavenger hunt could be just what’s needed to break up the routine.

 

5 tips for ‘switching off’ when you’re working from home

5 tips for ‘switching off’ when you’re working from home

Thousands of people have welcomed the shift in working from home. It’s helped us stay safe during the pandemic, as well as saving money and providing more free time. However, one of the negative effects is that the lines between work and personal life have become blurred.

Many employees are struggling with an ‘always on’ culture where they feel like they need to be constantly in work mode. It’s something that’s become even more challenging as work has become part of home life for some.

Almost half of employees say they can’t switch off

Some 44% of employees say they feel like they can never fully switch off from work, according to a survey conducted by Aviva.

Unsurprisingly, an always-on environment affects life outside of work. When asked, 58% of employees said work has led to them neglecting their physical health, while 55% said it’s impacted their mental wellbeing. It’s led to 43% saying they are troubled by how much work interferes with their personal life.

Working from home has meant it’s harder for many employees to switch off. But the pandemic has likely affected mindsets in other ways too. With competition in the job market high, workers may feel under pressure to appear they are always available.

However, wellbeing plays a crucial role in productivity. Employees who can focus on their home life, the things they enjoy, and stay healthy are more likely to be productive. So, what can you do to switch off from work if you’re working from home?

1. Create a dedicated workspace

If you have the space in your home, an office can help to create boundaries. At the end of the day, you’re able to shut the door and step away from work.

However, if a home office is out of the question, creating a dedicated space where you always work from can make the transition to a work mindset easier by creating a routine. Having everything you need throughout the working day close to hand can minimise distractions and procrastination too.

2. Give yourself some time to switch off

One of the challenges of working from home is that you don’t get the downtime between work and personal life that you normally would. Perhaps you used to enjoy reading a book as you commuted on public transport or played your favourite music on the drive home. These little routines can help you split the day up and transition from work to home mode.

We’re not suggesting that you set aside the time you normally would commute but a ten-minute activity at the start and end of each working day can help you separate the two. It could be going for a quick walk, listening to an audiobook, or meditating, for example.

3. Set normal working hours

One of the benefits of working from home is that your working hours may have become more flexible. Without a commute, you may decide to start work earlier, for instance. However, creating a routine can help you separate work and personal life. Set out what your normal working hours will be and stick to them.

It’s important that your working hours are well communicated too. Make sure colleagues, clients and other stakeholders understand when they’ll be able to get in touch with you and when they can expect a delay in responses. It can help limit miscommunication and ensure collaborative tasks stay on track.

4. Establish boundaries between work and home

Setting clear boundaries between work and home can be difficult if your home has become your workspace too. But setting boundaries can help create a clear distinction.

That means when you finish work, you focus on your personal life and give it your full attention, whether that’s meeting up with friends, pursuing a hobby, or simply relaxing with family.

It’s a process that should go the other way too. Taking time out of your working day to do household chores can blur the lines and you may feel like you need to catch up outside of working hours as a result. If you’re not used to working from home or it’s a temporary situation, this can be challenging, especially if you have young children at home. Where possible, try to keep home tasks to set times of the day.

5. Turn off work technology

At the end of the working day, turn off the technology. That includes checking emails on your phone or personal computer. It can be a difficult habit to get into a first. Especially if you’re used to keeping up to date with what’s happening. However, even checking your emails for a few minutes can pull you back into work mode and mean that projects or other tasks are on your mind for the rest of the evening.

There might be times when you must be contactable. Where possible keep these to a minimum and for certain circumstance only, for example when a deadline is approaching.

Financial health check: How do you score?

Financial health check: How do you score?

How do you rate your financial security?

When you think about your financial situation, what defines it as ‘healthy’? For 77% of Brits, financial success is having the financial freedom to do what they want without worrying, according to research from Schroders Personal Wealth. Yet, despite this, 48% of adults admit they feel stressed or overwhelmed about their financial situation at times. Taking the time to understand your financial situation and the steps you can take to improve could boost your financial health and overall wellbeing.

The research found that debt is likely to be the biggest cause of stress, with respondents saying becoming debt-free was the top way to achieve financial peace of mind. This was followed by being able to save regularly and taking steps to protect their family in case something should happen to them.

The research broke financial health into four areas. It found that while Brits are good at managing day-to-day finances, looking beyond this is something many are struggling with. In fact, overall, participants, on average, scored just 52 out of 100. Luckily, there are steps you can take in each area to improve your financial health.

1. Getting the basics right: 20/25

Getting the financial basics right is important for building a solid foundation. While the results suggest this is an area many are confident with, there’s still room for improvement.

The basics start with budgeting and how you manage your money. Essentially, you need to ensure you have more money coming in than you do going out. But it also includes how you manage disposable income, do you spend or save it, for example? We’re not saying you shouldn’t indulge in treats or increase your spending, but you should balance spending now with your future.

Even if you’re comfortable with your finances, budgeting is a useful exercise for reviewing your spending and ensuring you’re on track for long-term goals.

2. Manage borrowing: 24/25

While being debt-free was seen as the top way to improve financial health, there are times when taking on debt is unavoidable. Most of us would not be able to purchase a home without using a mortgage, for example. The good news is that most Brits are comfortable managing their borrowing.

The key thing to remember with borrowing is to ensure you can keep up with debt repayments. Missing payments could harm your credit report and access to borrowing in the future, as well as meaning you face additional interest and charges.

To get the most out of your borrowing, regularly review agreements and the amount of interest you’re paying. Switching to new lenders can help you access lower interest rates and allow you to pay off debt quicker. This includes searching for a new mortgage deal when one ends or transferring credit card balances.

3. Protect against the unexpected: 3/25

No one wants to think about something going wrong and it can mean we bury our heads in the sand. The survey suggests that’s the case when planning for the unexpected. However, by taking steps now you can improve your financial health and confidence. Two important steps to take are:

  • Creating an emergency fund that can be used if your income temporarily stops, for instance, if you were too ill to work. This should be a cash account that’s readily accessible. As a general rule, you should have three to six months of expenses in your emergency fund.
  • Taking out protection products that suit your priorities, such as Income Protection, Critical Illness or Life Insurance. We often take out insurance policies for many things in our life but forget about ourselves. Protection policies fill this gap and will pay out under certain circumstances that can protect you and your loved ones. It’s important to understand what policies cover before taking them out and to review any existing policies, you may have.
4. Plan for the future: 5/25

With financial decisions and pressure now, it’s not surprising that many aren’t focused on the future. Yet, the steps you take now can mean you’re in a far better position in the long term. Whether that’s your retirement lifestyle, supporting children through university or leaving a legacy behind for loved ones.

Thinking about your life goals now can help you make long-term aspirations far more achievable. Retirement planning is a good example of this. The sooner you start saving into a pension or taking other steps to build a retirement fund, the longer investments have to grow and deliver returns.

Review your financial health with a financial planner

It can be difficult to understand how the decisions you make now will affect your plans and lifestyle in the long term. This is one of the areas that working with a financial planner can help you with. From deciding which protection policies are right for you to how much to add to your pension each month, financial planning can help you balance the short and long term.

Please contact us if you’d like to book a meeting with a financial planner.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

A pension is a long-term investment. The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available. Your pension income could also be affected by the interest rates at the time you take your benefits.

 

The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation which are subject to change in the future.

 

Are Premium Bonds a good place for your savings?

Are Premium Bonds a good place for your savings?

With interest rates low and investment markets experiencing volatility throughout 2020, you may be looking for an alternative place to put your money. Premium Bonds are an option you may be considering, but you could end up missing out on returns.

What are Premium Bonds?

Premium Bonds are a type of investment product issued by National Savings & Investment (NS&I), but they work differently to other types of investments for two key reasons:

  1. The money you place in Premium Bonds is safe and fully backed by the government. This means when you want to withdraw your money, you’ll receive the same amount you deposited.
  2. Rather than receiving interest or investment returns on your money, you’ll be entered into a monthly prize draw. Prizes range from £25 to £1 million. The more bonds you purchase, the more times you’re entered. Prizes won are free from Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax.

As a result, if you’re lucky, your Premium Bonds could earn you far more than a savings account or investments if you won one of the larger prizes. However, there’s a real chance you’ll receive nothing at all.

One of the reasons that Premium Bonds are attractive is that your deposits are secure. When you decide to withdraw your money, you’ll receive the same amount you put in, but once you factor in inflation, your savings will be lower in value in real terms. This is because the cost of living rises each year and, unless your saving increase by the same amount, your money buys less. In the short term, this effect is minimal. However, look at the impact of long-term inflation and it can be significant.

To keep pace with inflation, your Premium Bonds would consistently need to win the prize draw. So, how likely is that?

According to Money Saving Expert, if you placed £5,000 in Premium Bonds and had average luck, you’d expect to win roughly £50 a year. Of course, there are thousands of people with Premium Bonds that have below-average luck and are potentially missing out on returns.

Recent change means 1 million fewer Premium Bond prizes every month

Since their introduction, Premium Bonds have been popular products. In fact, over 21 million people hold Premium Bonds and over £80 billion is placed in them. But changes in November 2020 mean they’re not as attractive as they once were.

Previously, the prize rate for Premium Bonds was 1.4%, this means each £1 bond had a one in 24,500 chance of winning a prize. The change meant the prize rate was slashed to 1%, resulting in odds of one in 34,500 per bond. That means over one million fewer prizes are given out each month.

As a result, there’s now a greater chance that your Premium Bonds will earn nothing at all, and inflation will affect the value of your savings.

With this in mind, should you use Premium Bonds?

As with every financial decision, the answer will depend on your goals and situation. If you’re looking to create a regular income or guaranteed returns, Premium Bonds are not likely to be the right product for you. However, if you’ve made use if other tax-efficient allowances, such as the Personal Savings Allowance and ISA allowance, they can be a useful option to consider.

How do Premium Bonds compare to savings or investments?

Before you decide if Premium Bonds are the right option, you should weigh up the alternatives too.

Savings: If the security of your money is important, a traditional savings account may be the right option. Assuming you stay within the limits of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, your money is safe. It will earn regular, guaranteed interest. However, interest rates are low and can mean your savings don’t keep pace with inflation. If you’re in a position to do so, choosing products with restrictions, such as locking your money away for a defined period, can help you access higher rates of interest. Saving accounts are a good option for emergency funds and short-term saving goals.

Investing: If it’s the potentially higher returns that are attracting you to Premium Bonds, investing may be an option. Money invested can deliver returns higher than interest rates, but this is not guaranteed, and your money will be exposed to investment risk. This means that your initial investment can fall, as well as rise, in value. Over the long term, investments have historically delivered returns, so a minimum timeframe of five years is advisable when investing. If you’re focused on long-term returns, investing could provide an alternative to Premium Bonds.

Finding a home for your savings

There’s no right or wrong answer when deciding where to put your money, but it’s essential that you consider what you want to get out of it and your financial circumstances. Please get in touch to create a financial plan that considers your options, whether you have a lump sum to save or want to make regular deposits.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Pension gap: How can women improve their security in retirement?

Pension gap: How can women improve their security in retirement?

We hear a lot about the gender pay gap, but one area that’s often overlooked is the knock-on effect this has for retirement savings. While progress has been made, on average, women are reaching retirement age with far less put away than their male counterparts.

The £100,000 pension gap

Eight years after auto-enrolment was introduced, the pension gap is closing.

As a percentage of earnings, 59% of women are now saving adequately for their future, according to a report from Scottish Widows. This is just 1% behind men and the narrowest gap on record. However, despite men and women saving broadly equal shares of their income, the amount they are ending up with at retirement varies significantly due to the pay gap.

On average, women are saving £1,300 less each year than men. Over a career, this adds up to a pension gap of £100,000. It’s a figure that can significantly affect financial security once giving up work and what is achievable in retirement.

There are many reasons why women are saving less. One of the key factors is that women are more likely to take a career break or work part-time, especially when they have young children. In fact, 75% of part-time workers are women. Women are more likely to work in low-income positions too. The average annual difference in median wage between men and women in full-time work is £6,100.

When looking at these differences, the focus is often on the short-term financial impact. However, the long term, and what it means for retirement, is just as important. There are some steps women can take to improve their financial security later in life.

1. Start saving into a pension as soon as you can

Retirement saving can seem challenging. The goal sum you want to achieve at retirement is large. However, you’ll be saving this over your entire career. Spread out across four decades, the amount can seem less daunting.

It’s never too late to start saving into a pension, but it’s never too early either.

The sooner you start saving into a pension, the better the position you’ll be in. To achieve the same goal, your regular contributions will be less. You’ll also have longer to benefit from investment returns, boosting your retirement fund further. Despite this, 17% of women aren’t saving anything at all. Even small but regular contributions can add up.

2. Take some time to review your pension arrangements

Under auto-enrolment, most workers will now be automatically enrolled in their Workplace Pension scheme. It’s worth taking some time to understand what you’re contributing, what your employer is contributing, and how pension investments are helping these contributions to grow. Your pension provider will also provide a pension forecast, showing an estimate of what your pension is expected to be worth at retirement. It can help you see if you’re on track.

You may also have pensions from previous employers too. Review these alongside your latest one. In some cases, it makes sense to consolidate pensions into a single pot, making your savings easier to manage.

3. Speak to your employer

Speaking to your employer can help you understand the benefits on offer.

For example, if you’re not eligible for auto-enrolment, your employer may still offer you a Workplace Pension scheme if you speak to them. There may also be other options for improving your long-term financial security, such as a salary sacrifice scheme that will increase pension contributions.

Under auto-enrolment, if you contribute to a Workplace Pension scheme, your employer must also contribute to it. This is currently 3% of pensionable earnings. However, some employers will increase this if you increase your contributions too. As a result, it can be worthwhile increasing your own contributions to benefit from this.

4. Continue contributing even when you’re not enrolled in a Workplace Pension

You don’t have to be part of a Workplace Pension scheme to continue adding to a pension. Whether you’re taking a career break or aren’t eligible for auto-enrolment, setting up your own contributions can help close the gap and keep retirement plans on track.

You can choose to open a Personal Pension or contribute to existing schemes, such as old Workplace Pensions. Even small, regular additions to your pensions can add up over the long term and improve your retirement prospects. You can also choose to add a lump sum to pensions.

5. Weigh up the pros and cons of diverting savings into a pension

When we think of financial security, it’s often the short-term we focus on. Given that 72% of women have experienced financial hardship, it’s not surprising that pensions can be an afterthought.

However, there are benefits to saving in a pension if you have long-term goals. You will receive tax relief on your pension contributions. That means an extra 20% will be added if you’re a basic rate taxpayer, and more if you’re a higher or additional rate taxpayer. It gives your savings an instant uplift. As pension contributions are invested, they also aim to deliver long-term returns.

If you’re in a position to do so, diverting money from your usual savings into your pension can make sense. However, you need to keep in mind that your pension money will not be accessible until you’re 55, rising to 57 in 2028. As a result, you need to be in a secure financial position and have an emergency fund in place before doing so.

The research found that 58% of women are worried about running out of money in retirement and 55% don’t feel like they’re preparing adequately. If you’d like to discuss your current pension arrangements and what you can do to secure the retirement that you want, please contact us.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

A pension is a long-term investment. The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available. Your pension income could also be affected by the interest rates at the time you take your benefits.

The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation which are subject to change in the future.