STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM Education, a term initiated by the National Science Foundation, refers to an educational approach which integrates more than one of these disciplines.
My favorite way of better understanding STEM: STEM really is a philosophy. STEM is a way of thinking about how educators at all levels—including parents—should be helping children integrate knowledge across disciplines, encouraging them to think in a more connected and holistic way.
STEM/STEAM for infants and toddlers is about providing multisensory experiences: Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling are all important parts of meaningful learning experiences.
When my daughter Sophia was an infant and toddler, at home we began allowing her to touch leaves, watch spiders, hold sticks, listen to water and take her on nature walks.
Were we doing STEM infancy and toddler-hood?
Yes, I truly believe so. She was investigating the natural world around her, beginning to learn about how it works by testing it with her tiny fingers, watching it change, listening to its sounds, and feeling its textures.
The secret is to tap into their natural and innate curiosity about the living world. By simply allowing them to investigate, by encouraging them to ask questions about the real world, you are engaging children in STEM.
… something I feel that I am continually exploring in my own life as a mother and educator.
“Become more intentional about what you are doing. If you start by reflecting on what you are doing already, you will find you that you are already doing things in STEM and with an increase intention in your language and your ability to support children to predict what might happen next or explore or question, you will already be advancing those ideas of science, technology, engineering, and math.” (Dr. Killins on Bam Radio)
- Provide materials
- Join infants and toddlers in exploration
- Connect experiences to what children have done or experienced before
Invite children to use their senses and describe their observations• How do they feel?• What do they look like?• How do they smell?• How do they taste?• How does it sound?
Now that my daughter is much older, we often go on “nature walks” as a family, where we encourage her natural curiosity for exploration. She loves the opportunity to collect, pick up and look at or ask simple questions about almost anything: rocks, fossils, seeds, leaves, sticks, bugs, or whatever seems to be peaking her interest that day. As we collect, observe or discuss with her we are encouraging her to create hypotheses about the things we see, and look at the different designs and shapes that we find in nature, as an initial inquiry into engineering design. I would love to extend her experience by bringing along binoculars, magnifying glasses, and a child’s field microscope to deepen her investigations.
STEM Activities for Preschoolers… you’ve probably already done some…
- Go on a nature walk. Can be a great outdoor STEM activity for preschoolers. Take a reusable bag and encourage children to collect interesting objects (i.e., small round stones, leaves, seed pods, or flowers). Later children can sort their found nature materials into categories, such as color, texture, size, and shape. Skills used: math and science
- Cook together. Find a simple recipe for preschoolers. Follow the recipe letting children help measure and mix. Skills used: science, technology, and math
- Build ramps to test which cars, balls, or marbles go the fastest. Use a board, sheet of cardboard, or small table with one side elevated to make a ramp, this is often easiest in the block area. Roll a variety of objects, two at a time down the ramp to see which is fastest. Record your findings on a chart, or verbally share in the excitement with children. Skills used: engineering and math
- Play with water. Water is a rich STEM material. At the sensory table (bin with water). Provide tools to experiment with like a turkey baster, empty dish detergent bottles, plastic measuring cups, etc. to fill and compare. Skills used: math and science
- Set-up building activities with paper or plastic cups. Give a challenge such as, “How high can you make a tower of cups?” Measure each tower and record their height. Skills used: engineering and math
According to Dr. Sherri Killins, “What STEM does is give a label to what you are already doing… helping children to explore, observe, ask questions, predict, integrate their learning… its what we’ve always done in early childhood education.”
Some Resources I liked:
Be sure to check out the Children and Nature Network. Their site has a wealth of information on the back-to-nature movement.
The Boston Children’s Museum’s excellent STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide assists preschool educators in focusing and refining the naturally inquisitive behaviors of three-to-five-year-olds in STEM.