Some may wonder how STEM can be geared for children, but the short answer is – it was made for them! Children, birth through elementary level, are innately curious. When they are birth to two years old, we want children to imagine the world around them, we want to give them experiences to explore. When they are three, children are continuously asking “why”. They are not trying to push back but they are trying to better understand the world around them. When children reach the age of 4, they really start to wonder. They are putting past experiences and new understandings together to grow and learn. Through children’s first few years of life, play is a huge factor. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are some of the most fundamental areas in a child’s play. Let’s break it down to see how you can incorporate these four seemingly adult topics in simple ways for young learners.
Science ties into many aspects of a child’s day and is a great way to give opportunities for learning. The idea of cause and effect is a simple way to introduce science concepts. Science activities could include “painting” with ice, mixing paint colors, planting seeds, sinking vs. floating, or experimenting with baking soda and vinegar. Magnetic play is also an easy yet interactive way to incorporate science. Using metal jingle bells and Magnatiles during the holidays is putting two unlikely things together to build and create.
When we think of technology, we typically think of iPads. But technology at a young age should be anything that makes a job easier like simple machines such as cranes, wheels, and pulley systems. One way I incorporate technology into my classroom is through our building study where I encourage children to experiment with different objects and create their own pieces of technology. Tubes and string to make pulley systems or popsicle sticks and cubes to make bridges.
Children are experts in engineering, they’re always building with unlikely objects to create something unique. Try incorporating building into your lessons with simple supplies you may already have. Shaving cream and foam blocks, plastic cups for stacking, play dough and pipe cleaners, toothpicks and playdough, the options are truly endless!
At this age, math can include concepts like shapes, weights, and amounts. In my classroom, we talk a lot about things that are heavier and lighter using a basic balance scale to compare and visualize. We also point out patterns or shapes in our environment on clothing or toys. Math is all intertwined throughout all other STEM aspects through the use “How many”. “How many blocks can you stack before it falls over?”, “How many days does it take for a flower to sprout?”.
Overall STEM is an area that can help keep children curious. Curiosity, engagement, and exploration are all important aspects of a child’s development. They challenge children to think outside the box, grow their independence, apply new skills, and in some situations, learn to work and brainstorm with others. Introducing children to everyday simple materials and giving them the space to explore in different ways helps foster problem solving skills that can be applied in all parts of life!