While many parents are comfortable working with their child with age-appropriate activities in reading, a few have mentioned to me that they are at a loss at how to approach STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. Some have asked if I recommend certain STEM kits or books. There are some good ones out there, but I don’t sell or advertise on my page.
What you might not realize is that you already do many STEM activities at home. As a parent, you can increase the benefit of these activities by asking questions and making observations. The following is an example of a botany unit I taught in my preschool classroom, one which you could easily replicate in your home.
I brought a potted hyacinth to school and presented it at circle time in preschool. It wasn’t far out of the ground so its narrow leaves were long, but still tight together. I asked the children what they thought it might be. One said a bug, another a banana, another thought it was a plant that ate things. The children were fascinated to watch it develop day by day as we checked its growth and observed changes. We drew pictures of the plant at its different stages and they practiced new vocabulary words to use to talk about plants. Two weeks later I brought a pot of daffodils. The students had to practice recall skills and learn the language of comparing and contrasting as we watched and recorded the growth of the new plant versus the hyacinth.
Another example of a STEM activity you can do comes if there is new construction in your neighborhood. Check on the building site often with your child. Ask him what is different in the building since the last time you looked. Ask how might that difference have come about. Identify and look for clues in the tools, machinery, and trucks. Thinking and guessing out loud are more effective teaching strategies than telling. Invite comment. Accept wrong guesses and answers on big concepts, but provide more input so that your child can learn the correct answer when it is appropriate to do so.
There are so many opportunities for STEM learning at home. A child playing in the tub or sink learns about volume and displacement. A child setting the table learns one-to-one correspondence, counting, and sorting. Putting away toys practices sorting by attributes. Playing in the sand or dirt and building with anything is engineering.
Almost any activity can be used as a STEM activity. It happens when you lead your child to make an observation, ask a question, or make a guess and then allow them to discover the answer. While you might need to support them by giving them a clue or two, try not to give them the answer. And who knows—you may just learn something new or observe something in a new way as you enter the STEM world alongside of your child.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.