Baking cookies, building a snowman, playing with blocks, and exploring water with different containers in the bath. What do these activities have in common? They all use STEM skills!
What is STEM?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
- Science involves asking questions, exploring, and discovering new things.
- Technology is the use of tools or equipment. They can be simple or complex.
- Engineering is designing and constructing new structures.
- Mathematics includes counting, matching, rhythms, and sorting.
We all use STEM skills everyday. Consider the picture above. What kinds of STEM skills do you see represented here? You might say that a child is comparing shapes and sizes, building block towers, and maybe even counting the blocks and making patterns with the colors. All of these are STEM skills!
Why is STEM important?
Children use STEM skills daily as they explore their world. As children engage in science, technology, engineering, and math, they are learning to observe their environment, make predictions about what will happen next, and think creatively. Although these skills might seem complex, children are already engaging in STEM activities that build these abilities. In fact, researchers estimate that more than 60% of children’s natural playtime is spent on math activities. So, the next time you see children counting, matching object, playing with rhythms, or sorting materials, encourage them!
We have written before about how children learn best from other people. The same is true for STEM activities! I-LABS research has found that when children work on STEM projects in groups, they are building their communication skills and beginning to understand the power of teamwork. Through group work, children feel more connected to STEM. They also report higher levels of motivation. Caregivers, providers, and educators can support STEM learning in groups by using sayings like: “Let’s work on this puzzle together.” Using words like together, partner, or group can motive children and allow them to feel included in STEM. This also shows children that anyone and everyone can do STEM activities.
Finally, STEM is important for children in the first five years of life because it helps them become ready for school. As children learn to ask questions, think critically, and use their reasoning skills, they are developing important foundations for later academic and social success.
How can we foster STEM skills?
Here are some ideas for fostering STEM skills in young children:
- Provide a variety of materials for children to explore and manipulate.
- Ask questions like “What” and “how” and “why do you think this happened?” This allows children to think through situations on their own and create a solution.
- Provide everyday tools for children to explore. For example, give children a rolling pin. This is a tool that can be used to roll out cookie dough or play dough. Children can explore how to use the rolling pin, and discover other ways it can be used.
- Talk about spatial relationships. How are different objects related to each other? How do they fit together?
- Use language like “over” and “under”, and “left” and “right.”
- Encourage creativity through building and using different objects and materials.
- Ask children to count objects, see if they notice any patterns, and categorize different items.
- Explore music and rhythm by drumming to a beat on pots and pans in the kitchen.
Enjoy learning and exploring through STEM with the children in your life!
For more information on engaging children in STEM, check out the latest I-LABS Outreach module: Early STEM Learning.