STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. You’ve heard a lot about it, new school buildings are being built to house it, and there are thousands of books, activities and curriculum designed to enhance STEM learning. The idea of STEM goes beyond basic memorized facts. It involves making predictions and solving problems, integrating knowledge across fields of study, and developing the ability to communicate one’s findings to others. It starts in early childhood. And yes, it has lifelong benefits.
First, though, one cannot simply set aside rote memorization and basic academics in favor of STEM. The old basics are foundational skills to STEM. Foundational skills need to be taught in ways that are age-appropriate and fit the learning style to the individual child. Parents and teachers weave STEM learning into everyday lessons and experience. The good news is that you have probably been doing this all along.
Science is all around the home. Children observe such things as cooking, gardening, and home repair. Science is observation, asking questions, and guessing what is going to happen next. Encourage your child’s observation and theorizing by asking questions that don’t have specific answers.
Preschoolers love technology and many use it daily. Parents help by teaching their child, first, the appropriate use and care of the devices in the household and, second, how to use the devices to gain and share information. One way to use technology with children is to take a picture of their artwork and then help them share it electronically. A second example is to help children find and play fun educational games on devices.
Engineers and children are problem-solvers. Children learn to solve problems through practice. Give children time to solve to problems on their own. Rather than tell children what to do next, adults help by asking questions such as, ‘What do you think would work best, this or that?’ Then the adult steps back allowing the child to solve the problem.
Most parents count with their children. They might count out crackers at snack time and count stairs as they climb up or down. To extend math learning beyond counting, parents need to use and teach math words, such as ‘over,’ ‘through,’ ‘heavy,’ ‘far,’ ‘up,’ ‘inside,’ and ‘next to.’ Math includes being able to use words to tell the size, position, distance, or movement of things.
Most play is really trial and error learning, which is STEM learning. Parents enhance their child’s learning by providing age appropriate learning experiences and asking ‘what if’ questions. STEM learning in the preschool years creates children who have better school participation and achievement in middle and high school. STEM rocks!
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.