Celebrating STEM in Early Childhood
When we think about the future that is in store for our children and ourselves, we cannot help but to think about the importance of innovation. We want our children to be innovators, prepared for success. How can we, as parents and teachers, prepare the right foundation for our children so that they can have a prosperous future?
Innovation is tightly coupled with STEM subjects, so it is essential that our children have a strong STEM foundation. STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. There has been a nationwide call, including from the White House during President Obama’s State of the Union address earlier this year, to increase STEM learning for all children. Since STEM (and STEAM, with the A representing art) has been shown to have positive impacts across the entire spectrum of learning, it is important for teachers and parents to understand how we can bring those subjects into our children’s lives in a meaningful way.
In early childhood, STEM is found in activities that children engage in every day. In fact, children are natural born scientists! Science activities include exploring water and sand, comparing and contrasting natural materials, rolling balls and cards down ramps, and observing insects through a magnifying glass. Technology activities can include computers, but they also include working with tools such as scissors and with gears, wheels, and pulleys. Engineering happens when children plan and design structures with blocks and other building materials. Math activities include counting and matching shapes and making patterns.
Exposing children to STEM at a young age supports their overall academic growth and develops early thinking and reasoning skills. The real-life skills that children develop when learning STEM help make them better problem solvers and learners. So it’s not too soon to foster the incredible curiosity and inquisitiveness that are innate to children.
At The Learning Experience®, teachers intentionally plan STEM experiences that allow children to take the lead in exploring, forming theories, asking questions, and more. Play segues smoothly into learning through these activities, and STEM occurs every day in many areas of the classroom. Preschoolers have science activities built into their daily schedules, and engage in hypothesizing, experimenting, observing, and reflecting upon the results each week. Suddenly Science®, one of our enrichment programs, teaches children the scientific method through experiments and activities tailored for each child’s level of comprehension. The well-planned environment offered in our centers provides children with an array of learning experiences.
All students ages 2 ½ and older also participate in daily activities on the L.E.A.P. Interactive™ board, our proprietary interactive whiteboard where students enjoy engaging lessons while building their technology skills. The Learning Experience also offers BubblesU, a proprietary app which extends children’s learning beyond the classroom. Children ages 18 months and up, together with their parents, can enjoy enriching academic games, e-books, and videos on BubblesU, which was developed in conjunction with our robust curriculum.
In addition, this year our centers will be participating in National STEM/STEAM Day on November 8. It’s a day meant to inspire kids to explore and pursue their interests in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. During this event, the centers will host a virtual STEM fair, highlighting various STEM-related activities that take place at the centers each day.
There are also many steps that parents can take to foster STEM/STEAM learning in their children. Here are a few tips:
- Recognize that STEM learning can happen anytime, anywhere. Children’s play and exploration naturally leads to them being exposed to STEM concepts. But so can a trip to the grocery store! Have children compare two different fruits, and ask questions that encourage observation and description. Opportunities abound for children to count, identify shapes, and observe how things like grocery carts move.
- Encourage their natural curiosity. Provide them with a multitude of opportunities to explore, discover and create, both indoors and outdoors.
- Ask open-ended questions. Notice what they are doing during play, and ask questions such as, “Tell me what you are working on now,” or “What do you notice about how it’s moving?” This will promote their observational and thinking skills, and cause them to reflect, form theories, and ask questions.
- Allow children to create art at home, using materials of their choosing. Then explore your child’s process. When discussing art that he or she made at home or at school, encourage conversations about it by saying, “Tell me what you made,” or by asking, “Was it fun to make this?”
Children have natural tendencies to explore, create, and innovate. We can help children continue to develop those tendencies by providing them with rich opportunities for exploration and discovery. Innovation is the key to their future, and to ours, and a strong foundation in STEM will help ensure that the future will indeed be bright.