Preschool is the perfect opportunity to introduce STEM. Children are naturally inquisitive explorers. It is our job as educators (including parents) to provide children the opportunity to learn STEM attributes. STEM is not just about the subject matter. Opportunities of teaching Executive Function skills are, or should be embedded in STEM curriculum. These skills include organizing information, staying focused, strategizing, planning, and exercising self-control. This is what we at New World Learning Academy define as “STEM Smart”. Learning these skills at an early age allows children the opportunity to learn without fear of failure. Incorporating Executive Function skills along the way can benefit a child for a lifetime.
STEM is about solving problems in multiple ways. There is not always one answer or solution to a problem. Sometimes we need to try multiple things before we are successful at solving any problem. When one answer is the wrong answer, that does not mean we have failed. Children often are afraid of failure and are not taught that an unexpected outcome is not always a wrong outcome. Children learn by doing rather than being spoken to. STEM brings that excitement of participation into a classroom that may otherwise be boring and unimportant to them.
My 5-year-old son joined a STEM Camp last summer and came home extremely disappointed and after just one day of camp, he wanted to quit. He explained to me that the teacher did all the experiments and the kids sat at their tables and watched as she spoke in detail about each step along the way. The children were never part of the experiments. They participated in the discussion of the experiments but they were not allowed to participate in the actual making of the project.
I asked him to give it one more chance, that maybe the teacher just wanted to show examples of how things will work. The next day he was even more disappointed. He explained that the teacher again did the experiments and the campers were to take notes and draw pictures of what she was doing. At 5 years-old, he wanted to get his hands dirty and dive into the project himself. He wanted to participate in the making of the project. Children have a natural wonder about everything around them and by allowing them to explore hands on they not only learn more, they crave to learn more. Children become more interested in things if they handle it themselves. How many times as parents have we tried to do something for our child and their response is “let me do it”? So… let them do it!
As noted in the National Research Council’s A Framework for K–12 Science Education Practices, “… before they even enter school, children have developed their own ideas about the physical, biological, and social worlds and how they work. By listening to and taking these ideas seriously, educators can build on what children already know and can do.”
STEM curriculum should start with a goal and use problem solving and evaluation skills to meet that goal. Educators can fine tune activities to help students learn how to problem solve and evaluate the information objectively to meet their goal. These are valuable skills that affect our everyday world. Grant Hosford, CEO of codeSpark says, “Computer science is the perfect gateway to 21st century skills. The logical problem solving and algorithmic thinking at the core of computer science force kids to think about thinking–a process referred to as meta-cognition that has proven benefits related to self-monitoring and independent learning.”
Nurturing early STEM does not mean educators’ focus shifts away from the needs and developmental stages of each child. There is a place for direct instruction and play. The key to early STEM learning is a blend of instructional methodologies. Children lead the pack in investigating, and ask open-ended questions that make youngsters reflect, frame speculations, make inquiries, and investigate more when educators purposefully arrange STEM experiences.
Just about any interest could be an opportunity to learn more about STEM. Taking a walk or a bike ride to the park can turn into investigating nature. Making nightly dinner is always an opportunity to introduce several aspects of STEM including measurements, encouraging a creation of a new recipe, researching food chemistry and planning the entire meal. Don’t be afraid to take every opportunity to educate your children about the world around them. It can be as simple as doing an activity and saying to your child, “hey, how did you do that?” You will be surprised at the questions and responses your child will begin to give as you continue to encourage them and show an active interest in any activity. Just remember, STEM is not about forcing your child into these curricula areas. The goal is fostering a love for exploring and learning.