STEM is an acronym for -> ‘Science, Technology, Engineering, And Math.’
STEM is a learning approach which combines more than one of the four disciplines. But, is this an important subject matter for preschoolers? Most school leaders and parents also have the same question in mind, how can we be sure whether or not it is appropriate to begin STEM education at preschool level? Is it even possible to incorporate ‘Science, Technology, Engineering, And Math’ concepts into ECE? In reality, if you are starting with STEM education at the preschool level, you are already late!
Children are extraordinarily active learners, even when they are as young as 1-2 years. As parents or as school leaders and teachers, we should start working on building their STEM base as early as we possibly can.
When my son was just 5 months old, I took him out and let him touch flowers and leaves, he used to watch spiders and ants, he used to admire the birds flying in the sky, he played with sticks and stones, while doing all of these small yet significant activities he was actually indulging in STEM at such a young age. He got to examine and explore the environment around him. Slowly I could observe that he was becoming more and more curious about his surroundings, he was touching things with his tiny hands and trying to determine how the texture differs from one thing to the other, he was also paying attention to different sounds. I realized then, that the best way to teach STEM to a child (no matter how young or old) is to take them out in nature.
Being so keen on keeping STEM a priority for my child’s learning, I decide that I needed to send him to one of the best playschools or best preschools that have quality preschool development programs that instinctively and regularly engage young learners and build their critical thinking skills with both indoor and outdoor STEM activities.
High-quality preschool development programs offered by preschool accreditation agencies like QualityKG acknowledge STEM not just as an acronym but as a philosophy. These programs emphasize the importance of STEM and they also advise how teachers and mentors including the preschool staff and the parents can help students in integrating knowledge across different disciplines, encouraging them to think in a more connected and holistic way.
In my son’s preschool, if his math teacher wants the students to do a counting exercise, she takes them in the school garden and asks them to count real thing or objects like flowers, leaves or stones. When he comes back from school he is super excited to share how much he enjoyed his math class and how he was the first one to count 20 roses. This simple approach actually makes learning enjoyable and more relevant. In the following weeks his math class continued with the same practice of going out to the garden and counting things, only now his teachers added certain parameters. She started asking the young learners to identify similar objects, she made them explore different shapes and sizes, they were shown how patterns differ from flower to flower and then they noted how many flowers are there in a particular pattern. In the process of discovering their natural surroundings children go to learn concepts from distinct disciplines.
Apart from the math class, I have seen many other instances where the preschool teachers are using STEM for nurturing the curious preschoolers to tap into their intrinsic inquisitiveness.
Here’s how STEM is making way in early childhood education:
Water play –
Water is a wonderful and versatile source for teaching STEM in preschools. From ice melting activities to sink and float experiments, from salt-water density to water absorption experiment, from colored ice cubes to paper boats, the possibilities of water play with STEM are endless as well as fun.
Nature walks –
Schools are now coming up with outdoor activities like nature walks. These activities are centered on math and science skills. Students are asked to find interesting objects like particular types of flowers, stones or leaves. They are also provided with small bags in which they can store their findings. After the nature walk, students come back to their classrooms and perform different activities with their findings from the nature walk. These activities include sorting, counting, categorizing in terms of shapes, size, and color.
Engineering Activities –
Many preschools teach STEM through engineering activities like building bridges with paper cups or by creating paper cars and boats. Other engineering activities may include – making a pencil-balance, creating a paper cup tower, using milk cartons to create windmills, creating tabletop hovercrafts with a CD and balloon.
Grocery store excursion –
Teachers take the little learners out to a grocery store to buy some vegetables and fruits; this activity involves math and science. They identify different fruits and vegetables; count the number of items they are buying and then calculate the amount to be paid for the items. Also when the students are back in the classroom they can cook some non-fire child-friendly retreats.
Color activities –
These activities are used by many preschool teachers to help the early learners in discovering the science behind colors. Mixing different colors to create new ones, going outside on a rainy day to look at the rainbow, shining light on the glossy side of CDs, working with food color, sorting objects with respect to their colors are few of the activities that schools can use to introduce students to STEM concept.
Some preschools organize competitions involving DIY crafts. Little engineers can put together ramps to slide pebbles, balls made with aluminum foil or marbles to see which object goes the fastest. Cardboard sheet or old pencil boxes can also be used to create ramps.
In a nutshell –
The possibilities of introducing STEM in preschool education are endless. Young learners can be indulged in experiments, they can also try combining different material, they can build things and then knock them down, they can collect things and then sort them, they can have fun doing all of these activities and in doing so they also get to learn.