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How To Teach STEM To Preschool Children Through Play

How To Teach STEM To Preschool Children Through Play

What is STEM?

Benefits of teaching STEM

STEM vs STEAM 

Can you teach STEM to kids?

Teaching the 3 Rs with STEM

STEM activities at home

How to make STEM learning fun

How is STEM taught at Shaws?

Interesting STEM experiments 

Best STEM websites for kids

Looking to teach STEM to kids? STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning is more than just the latest buzzword in early childhood education; it’s an entire philosophy of learning that helps your preschool-aged children to develop 21st century skills and equips them to be future thinkers and doers.

But what is STEM all about, why does it matter, and how do you incorporate STEM principles in teaching your young preschooler?

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the following aspects of STEM and include tips on how you can help make STEM learning come alive for your child.

 

What is STEM?

STEM is an educational approach that combines the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Using these different elements, lessons are developed to help your young preschool child to apply these concepts in the real world. 

Now, some of you parents may find STEM to be a somewhat lofty concept—you may even wonder if you’re able to use its principles to teach your kid. In reality, young children (even toddlers!) can spontaneously engage in STEM learning, often without knowing that they are doing STEM! 

For example, when your 9-month-old baby picks up a rattle on the floor and shakes it, what happens? The rattle makes a noise. She discovers that her action (shaking) creates a reaction (noise). She then puts it in her mouth and bites it. 

You see her doing it and smile. She discovers that the rattle not only gives her pleasure, it also pleases you. Your young child starts to draw links between objects in her everyday world and the sensations they bring to herself and others! 

As you can see, a young child’s natural curiosity about the world is the perfect foundation for growing his or her STEM skills. 

Let’s break STEM into each of its components and skills involved:

  • Science – Observing, making connections, coming to conclusions, and asking questions about how things work.
  • Technology – Using tools, identifying problems, and trying different solutions.
  • Engineering – Using tools, identifying problems, designing and creating solutions, and building and inventing things.
  • Math – Sequencing, measuring, counting, patterning, exploring shapes, comparing (size/weight/volume/height/distance). 

Beyond these areas, STEM also covers additional areas like creativity, resilience, and innovation.

Why is it important to teach STEM to kids?

How does STEM education help your preschool-aged child? 

Apparently, research has shown that early STEM education is a predictor of future academic success—children who learn STEM concepts are better prepared to meet increasingly technology-focused demands in the workplace.

Benefits of teaching preschoolers STEM

Teaching STEM to children helps them develop 21st-century skills, such as the following: 

#1 Problem-solving 

STEM education teaches young children how to solve problems by using their critical thinking skills. By engaging in STEM learning experiences, kindergarten and preschool children can learn how to examine problems and then create a plan to solve them.

#2 Adaptation skills

To succeed in life, children have to be able to apply what they have learned to a variety of scenarios. STEM education teaches them to adapt the concepts that they learn to various iterations of a problem or issue. 

#3 Creativity and applying knowledge

With STEM education, children are not just learning by being taught information. They learn by experimenting and doing. They learn knowledge application, knowledge that applies to the real world. This motivates children to learn, as they know that the skills that they acquire can be applied immediately, and in ways that positively impact them and their loved ones. 

#4 Decision-making 

Through the approaches used in STEM education, children are able to better assess and weigh different options and make better decisions going ahead. Such skills are invaluable for preschoolers, especially older children transitioning into primary school.

#5 Media and technology literacy

STEM learning teaches kids about the power of technology and innovation. So, when children encounter new technologies, they will be prepared to embrace them, instead of being hesitant or fearful. 

#6 Teamwork

Children learn to work together in teams to find solutions to problems, record data, present findings, and knock their heads (and hands) together to resolve an issue. The end result? Your child would better understand how to collaborate with others and thrive in a team-oriented environment.

#7 Risk-taking and experimentation 

The process of doing experiments promotes a “let’s try it and see” attitude amongst preschool children. This helps to promote risk-taking and experimentation at a young age.  

#8 Social skills

Here, children will learn to collaborate and work together, giving them real-life practice in social skills such as how they should negotiate with others, or adapt their stance to achieve a group goal. 

#9 Communication

In the process of learning STEM concepts, your children will need to effectively convey their discoveries or questions in order to work well with others or to get help. 

#10 Resilience

During STEM activities, children learn to figure out how things work. It allows them to fail and try again. STEM education further stresses the value of failure as a learning exercise, teaching children to embrace mistakes as part of the learning process.

Regardless of your child’s future career choices, these skill sets go a long way to preparing them to be innovative leaders in their field. The bonus is that STEM learning is fun and children naturally love it!

STEM vs STEAM

What is the difference between STEM and STEAM? 

Well, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) was a term first coined back in 2001 to represent the rise in more technically and scientifically oriented vocations. Since then, there has been growing interest in this learning philosophy to prepare children for tomorrow’s jobs. 

There is another acronym that is closely related to STEM and is gaining popularity—and that is STEAM. STEAM includes the arts in the mix, which means there is an added emphasis on creativity and innovation. 

Whether we use the term STEAM or STEM, most people today associate these learning concepts with the same thing – the importance of Science ,Technology, Engineering, Math, Creativity and Innovation. 

At Shaws Preschool, we use the term STEAM, because we want Innovation and Creativity to be at the forefront of our teachers’ minds when they deliver the curriculum. However, whether it is STEM or STEAM, what is most important is that the children get the full benefits of this important element of the curriculum.

toddlers examining caterpillars

Can you teach STEM to little kids?

Ohhhh yes you can! In early childhood education, this is what STEM looks like for preschool children: 

Science

Science-related learning activities here include exploring water and sand, comparing and contrasting natural materials like rocks and soil, and rolling balls across the room. Or it can be as fun as looking through a magnifying glass to count how many legs are on the bug that was caught during outdoor play!

Technology

Technology-related learning activities include identifying simple machines like gears and wheels and pulleys. It may also include simple coding, where children learn how to programme little robots to do simple tasks. However, rest assured that your child will not be staring at screens the whole day! 

Engineering

Engineering activities happen in the building blocks play area, where the children plan and design structures every day with little teacher direction. It also occurs in the outdoor sandpits, as they construct magnificent structures and buildings with sand and any other materials they can lay their hands on.

Math

Math-based learning activities include counting, matching shapes and making patterns. Measuring is easy too, especially with unit blocks where children discover that two of the same-sized blocks equal one of the next size up.

Through all these activities, your child will also learn techniques in innovation and creativity to dream up and build new inventions while getting over the obstacles that stand in their way. 

How to teach STEM to preschool children through play?

Play is the primary means by which preschool children in the kindergarten and nursery ages explore the world, investigate its properties, and build an understanding about how the world works. So, a play-based curriculum (particularly one that encompasses inquiry-based learning like ShawsPlay) complements STEM learning perfectly.

Through play, preschool students engage in STEM concepts by actively asking problems, exploring different solutions, and developing an understanding of real-world concepts of form and function. 

STEM Activity 1: Can you fit into a box?

For example, one STEM activity that we might get our pre-nursery children to try out is to fit themselves into a box. Along the way, as they experiment and try different solutions out, we would facilitate the learning by asking questions:

  • Which box do you think you can squeeze into?
  • Why would you be able to fit into this smaller box?
  • If your friend can fit into box A, does it mean you can fit into it as well? Why or why not?

STEM Activity 2: Shadow play

Another example of a STEM activity suited for K1/2 children (aged 5-6 years old) is experimenting with light and shadows. We might challenge our students to select 2-3 of their favourite toys and set them up outdoors, observe how the sunlight casts differently sized and shaped shadows, and trace the shadows on a sheet of paper.

Shadow drawing with toys

Teaching the 3Rs (reading, writing, Math) with STEAM

STEM learning can also easily incorporate activities that encourage reading, writing and math skills (the 3 Rs of Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic). 

Try out these two activities to teach STEM to your preschool child at home!

STEM Activity 3: Be a 3-D Builder

In this first activity called “How Many Sides?”, challenge your kids to form 2D or 3D shapes using ice-cream sticks – with the number of sticks based on the number that they have drawn. 

This engaging STEM lesson can also include a writing element, for example by having the children write about what they’ve created, or to craft a story around their created shape. 

Child building 3D structure with spaghetti sticks and marshmallow

STEM Activity 4: Be a spaghetti engineer

For our next activity, your kids can play-pretend to be an engineer (with spaghetti)! 

Get them to construct a support structure using spaghetti. Encourage them to count the number of pasta pieces (or spaghetti strands) required to support a small book, and to note down their observations in their engineer’s notebook, such as what worked and what didn’t.

How to carry out STEM activities for Preschool Children at home?

STEM learning is not just embedded in the activity itself; it is also in how the activity is carried out. It takes a seasoned facilitator or guide to truly enable and accelerate STEM learning. 

Facilitate the discussions – don’t merely give your kids the answers (even if it is obvious). Instead, ask lots of questions. Make curiosity the name of the game. 

For example, ask questions like the following:

  • “Why do you think it is not floating?”
  • “The other one is floating and this one isn’t – why is that?”
  • “What could be the reason?” 

Remember that you are encouraging problem-solving skills and resilience in your preschooler. When children don’t know the “right answer”, it can be uncomfortable for them at first. However, do give them ample opportunities to experience and face up to that discomfort.

Tips on how to make STEM learning fun for young kids

STEM is also spelt F.U.N.! If done right, children will tend to enjoy their STEM learning sessions. 

Here are some teaching tips we use at Shaws Preschool that you can apply at home. 

 

  1. Choose topics your kids will enjoy
  2. Facilitate the lessons (ie. Gather the materials, set out the task, but don’t direct them every step of the way.)
  3. Let your child be in control of their learning as much as possible and encourage mistakes or doubts
  4. Allow them to work in groups, where possible
  5. Give them plenty of time to work on the activities and explore

How is STEM incorporated at Shaws Preschool?

STEM is very much a way of life at Shaws Preschool. Our play-based curriculum is combined with inquiry-based learning, which develops your child’s critical thinking by encouraging questions and problem-solving behaviour. 

We also make STEM concepts come alive through messy play. For example, by transferring water from bottle to bottle, your children will learn how to compare sizes and volume. They will also learn to ask questions such as how many “fish” can fit into the net, or how many cups of water does it take to fill this bottle? 

Interesting home activities to teach STEM to kids

Apart from the STEM lessons that we’ve shared above, you can also try your hand at the following STEM activities for young children

STEM Activity 5: Build structures without blocks

Together with your child, collect objects like straws and tape, plastic cups, playdough and straws, or even marshmallows and pretzels. Allow your child to link pieces together to create and build 2 and 3-dimensional shapes, structures, and towers.

Challenge their creativity by asking them these questions:

  • What are you going to build today?
  • How high can you make a tower of cups
  • How many shapes are there in your structure?

STEM Activity 6: Go on a nature walk

Take a reusable bag and encourage your child to collect interesting objects along the nature walk. When you get home, help your child sort their treasures into categories. As they do so, ask them questions about the colour, texture, size, weight, and shape of the objects collected during their “scavenger” hunt.

Best STEM websites for young children

Here are some useful websites to get you started: 

  1. STEAMsational
  2. Playdough to Plato
  3. Go Science Kids
  4. Hands on as we grow
  5. Science Bob
  6. National Geographic Kids

We hope that the above tips and insights into STEM learning for young kids have inspired and excited you to deep-dive into the limitless world of STEM. Remember that it starts with just a spark of curiosity and imagination, and that the journey of STEM learning never truly ends. 

For more insights on trends in early childhood education, do follow us on our Facebook and Instagram page.

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