My kids love children’s museums. We have visited children’s museums in at least six or seven different states. Whenever we go on a vacation, we have to check out the children’s museum. Our kids have fun, my husband and I have fun, and it’s a win-win situation. Part of the allure, at least for us, is the broad range of experimental, educational play available to youngsters at the museums. Whether we are blowing objects up a wind tunnel or arranging mirrors to direct beams of light, our girls come away talking about what they’ve learned and asking insightful questions. At the heart of most of our play is the concept of STEM.
Science, Technology, Engineering,
STEM can refer to each of these topics individually or as an inclusive concept of encouraging curiosity, asking questions, exploring and engaging in the world around us, and problem solving. It is never too early to start down the STEM path as children are naturally curious and enjoy experimenting with the world around them. Engaging young children in STEM activities can be likened to playing with purpose.
Tiffany Pontesso, an early childhood educator and mom of three, shares, “I’m a firm believer in including STEM in preschools. Preschoolers learn best by playing. With STEM-based activities, they are encouraged to think, to ask questions, and to observe. Preschoolers are natural question askers and are curious about their surroundings. STEM concepts go hand in hand with this style of learning. I believe the earlier kids are encouraged to embrace this natural curiosity, the better and more active learners they will become.”
STEM in School
Incorporating STEM into the school day for our little preschoolers can be done in a variety of ways.
Karen Runnels, the Runnels Preschool Director, shares, “One of my favorite activities uses fresh cranberries and toothpicks. The children create geometric shapes of unique designs, connecting the toothpicks with the fresh cranberries. The open-ended activity allows the children to think creatively and problem solve, and work together or individually to create a wide variety of interesting structures. Some children create houses and interesting structures, [and some create] shapes and flowers. It was as stimulating for the teachers as it was for the children. The children are excited because everything looks unique; the creations of the others challenge the children to try something new, gets the children thinking, and opens their minds to think outside the box.”
And having STEM in preschool is important because children are usually already working on these skills.
“Starting at the age of three, students are coding, designing and building, conducting experiments, and integrating math,” shares Nikole Blanchard at the Dunham School. “STEM activities build on/correlate with lessons that students are learning in their classrooms. For instance, our three-year-old class is learning about the season spring. In the STEM lab, the students are testing whether eggs will crack when wrapped in different types of materials such as bubble wrap or feathers. The teacher models the role of a mathematician by graphing student predictions, as well as the experiment results. In the classroom, the students are hatching chicks and observing their behaviors. Learning is relevant and brought to life for the young ones through coordinated curriculum and exciting STEM lab experiences.”
STEM is SUPER
STEM activities have various benefits. Blanchard continues, “STEM allows children to be active learners while tapping into their natural curiosity, exploring the world around them, and asking questions. STEM integration at an early age builds a set of foundational skills and understanding of the world around them. When designing and building, students gain confidence in their ideas. They are encouraged to test ideas and take risks.
For instance, when asked to build a bug using recyclable materials in honor of Earth Day, there are no right or wrong answers. Kids are creative and it is amazing to see some of the end results.”
Try This at Home
Curious to try some STEM activities in your own home? Here are a few quick and easy ideas:
■ Catapult into Fun. Using large popsicle sticks and rubber bands, challenge your children to build a catapult that will fling small objects the farthest.
■ Cool it Down. Explore temperature with ice, rock salt, half and half, vanilla, and sugar, and shake your own ice cream!
■ Make Fun Colorful. Using food coloring and an ice cube tray, experiment with mixing colors. How many cool colors can you make?
Blanchard shares, “My hope is that by exposing students to STEM at an early age, it creates a positive perception of STEM, encouraging them to continue learning. All students, especially the little ones, need to be exposed to future-ready skills: creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and cooperation. STEM integration in education is the perfect way to do this.” ■