Incorporating STEM instruction is a growing focus in early education classrooms, although, STEM-related concepts have long been part of a young child’s learning experience. Blowing soapy bubbles - science. Using a tablet or interactive display to play a learning game - technology. Stacking blocks – engineering. Counting to 10 – math. What may have been seen as simply creative play, the focus on STEM instruction has led to more refined planning on the approach, activities, and tools used.
From birth to 5 years old is considered the most crucial period in brain development, so early childhood learning is essential. During this time, young children should be engaged in activities driven by observation, exploration, discovery, and interaction in which questioning and hands-on experiences are essential. It’s at this stage that inquiry and problem-solving can be introduced through STEM-related activities. By helping young learners explore their interests and what they’re curious about, the introduction to scientific inquiry is natural and can become part of their regular routine.
How to Start
Before you can expect young ones to relate their questions and interests to STEM topics and concepts, they first need to understand each component of STEM. Use simple examples through hands-on activities and exploration to describe science, technology, engineering, and math. For example, take the children out to the playground where there should be leaves scattered around. Ask them how the leaves got on the ground (science), then have them try to sort and count the leaves by size (math). If a leaf blower is used to clear the leaves, ask the children how the blower works (technology, engineering). Children can choose some leaves to trace, glue on paper, or shade around the edges (art for STEAM).
Taking advantage of what children see and experience in their daily lives will lead to rich STEM lessons. Make the most out of young children's curiosity and natural desire to understand the world around them.
Here are a few more simple ideas to get started:
- Create a dedicated STEM bulletin board, and with the children’s input, add pictures or items that are examples of science, technology, engineering, and math. When a picture or item is added, challenge children to think of how it can fit into two categories. For example, a picture of a bulldozer could be an example of both engineering and technology.
- Keep a running list of STEM-related questions the children ask (Why is it raining today? How come it’s only hot in the summer? Where do worms live? etc.). You can model this with think-alouds to help the young ones understand what questions could be asked to spark STEM-related thinking. Add to the list throughout the day, making sure to say how it can be answered using science, technology, engineering, or math.
- If you have a document camera, use it to magnify items they see regularly (leaf, blade of grass, flowers, etc.). Talk about what they observe and have them record in a journal (simple drawing, writing using sounds letter-sounds they know, or audio/video record).
This can also be a good time to introduce simple-to-use STEM tools such as 3D printers. With guidance, young children can design objects that would creatively solve problems they notice in their lives. For example, they can 3D print a cord clip for all device cords used at home to help keep things tidy and safe. Or they can 3D print counters, cubes, and coins so they can do math learning at home. Also, keep a running list of these types of solutions for future 3D projects.
The more that young learners are immersed in learning about the world around them and see themselves as active problem solvers, their interest in STEM-related topics and activities will grow. Nurture that and their curiosities will take them everywhere!
To learn more about STEM education solutions for all ages, click here.