STEM is fine, but STEAM is better! And luckily in early childhood STEAM is easy to implement! Everyday situations present learning opportunities and, when you offer your kiddo open-ended PLAY, it’s full-STEAM ahead with problem-solving, creative and divergent thinking, cooperation and collaboration, plus innovative and inventive risk-taking!
Recall: ALL growth and learning requires some kind of risk!
PLAY offers children age-appropriate risk-taking options. You do not need to sign your kiddo up for every tech camp or coding class to prepare them for what awaits them. In fact, I would strongly advise against that! RATHER focus on providing a wide range of hands-on experiences with real materials—engaging multiple senses—and giving them ample opportunities to interact with a wide variety of real people! Children need to develop a solid foundation through concrete experiences before they venture out into the abstract and virtual worlds!
Not sure how every day activities or traditional children’s toys can lay the foundation for STEAM? Continue reading!
Children are naturally exposed to and explore the natural sciences when they spend time outdoors. Growing a garden is a multi-sensory experience, rich with learning potential! Gardening gives kiddos 1st-hand knowledge about the wide range of seed types; requirements for seeds to sprout (soil,water,sun); and what’s needed to get from seed to fruit/vegetable—not to mention the different ways to create with the harvests!
Blocks are a classic children’s toy. Blocks also are an open-ended toy. When children PLAY with blocks-placing them, stacking them—it gives them 1st hand experience dealing with gravity and understanding how the design concepts of shape, size and weight are affected by gravity. This visceral understanding of gravity cannot be attained via an app—it requires hands-on experiences.
Technology is wonderful! Technology is a tool for people—to make their life easier or better in some way. Help your kiddo appreciate technology’s place in our lives and keep it in its proper context. For example—sharing one of their fantastic block creations with relatives lets them see how technology can connect people in a positive way.
Play & Grow has all kinds of manipulatives…wooden blocks, Duplos, MagFormers and more that’ll give kiddos hands-on opportunities to overcome engineering challenges. Like in the blocks above, children have to deal with gravity in their building. PLAYING, they learn through trial and error that asymmetric, uneven loads will lead to structural failure while designs employing symmetry and built on strong foundations remain standing.
Most of the time, the “A” in STEAM refers to Art, but there is so much more to offer kiddos if you give them the ARTS: music, art, and dance! Children are naturally attuned to the ARTS. Music, in particular, is something that’s hardwired into us. Give children access to different rhythm instruments—rhythm sticks or bells—and encourage them to express themselves creatively accompanying different styles of music; OR have different styles of music playing let them move their bodies as the music directs; OR paint to music—ASK how the music makes them feel; what they’re sharing in their paintings.
Understanding numbers (quantity), volume (space), weight (the correct term really being mass); sorting and categorizing (what’s alike/different) and more can be accomplished by taking a trip to the grocery store! Let your kiddo count out 5 apples. Compare an apple to an orange; an orange to a banana. Have them hold a 5lb bag of sugar compare that to a 5 lb of potatoes. Put several carrots in a bag…have your kiddo estimate how much it weighs. Compare their guess by weighing out the bag on a scale.
STEAM is better than STEM, but STREAM is BEST! Why? Because it’s NEVER too early to immerse your kiddo in language! With my Go PLAY Activity Cards™ I transform STEAM into STREAM! In addition to the fingerplays, chants/songs, or nursery rhymes, I always pair books with activities.
Following that pattern, I’ll recommend books for the above sections.
SCIENCE via gardening: READ The Sunflower House by Eve Bunting
We grew sunflower houses at preschool and they were always a huge hit! Companion planting is good for many reasons. Here, if you plant corn in between the sunflowers you’ll help keep some varieties of beetles away AND the sunflowers will help protect the corn from fall worms. Use different varieties of sunflowers—with different heights so kiddos can appreciate…an inspect…the wide range of sunflowers available! You could even add some (hardy) white alyssum or clover for an ‘indoor carpet’ and edge the carpet with aromatic herbs like spearmint to give the experience an added sensory element.
TECHNOLOGY via blocks: READ Bored, Nothing to Do by Peter Spier
If an imagination is the necessary 1st ingredient to new inventions, this book is a celebration of that as well as children’s tinkering and ingenuity! With just some normal items found in and around their home, a couple of boys tinker around until they surprise even themselves in what they’ve made.
Add a few accessories to your kiddo’s block PLAY—maybe add some visuals—and see what they come up with! Remember to document it by taking a photo to share with grandparents and/or to review later—maybe using it to build on further, but highlighting technology is a tool we can use to supplement our learning, never something to replace hands-on experiencing.
ENGINEERING via manipulatives: READ Building a House by Byron Barton Review what makes up house with your kiddo–the parts of a house. How would they start to build a house? Would they start with laying the floor or building a wall? How many walls would they need? Will there be window or door? If so, how many and how would the openings affect the overall structure? What goes on top of the house? How would different pitched roofs look? What would be the advantage of a steep roof vs flat roof? These are some of the considerations architects and engineers need to take into account when designing homes; choosing materials to build with; and performing a structural analysis to insure homes will be sound when constructed. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers and others ‘read’ the blueprints–which are essentially a recipe–to create the house as it was designed. Using manipulatives of their choice–wooden blocks, Duplos, Bristle blocks–let your kiddo give a go at building a house! FYI: Of course, this is a suggestion–none of these activities are mandatory! They might start off building a ‘house’ and then go off in another direction…that’s fine!
ARTS via Creative Movement ie, DANCE! READ My Mama Had A Dancing Heart by Libby Moore Gray
This was one of my favorite stories to share with the preschool kidlets—first because I LOVE to dance and also because I love the way this Mom models a ‘all-in’ attitude towards LIFE—embracing each Season in a unique style, distinctive to the time of year, and in a way that other families could easily emulate. Read the story—try out the moves…with or without the costumes, but make a treat or two to share afterwards!
You might like to be your own choreographers and let the music move your dancing spirit. Dance to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons! Share how your kiddo hears, feels and interprets the changes in the music (representing the changing seasons) in their dancing!
MATH via grocery trip: READ At the Supermarket by Anne Rockwell
How much more fun would a trip to the grocery store be than when it’s to get the ingredients for a cake?! Sure in this book it’s for a birthday—and if that works out for you, great! But it doesn’t have to be…your cake can be a celebration cake for anything! Start by letting your kiddo make the shopping list… of course, it may or may not be legible. I created a grid of small photos of grocery items where an “x” could be put underneath for pre-reading/writing kiddos. Another option: Your child could cut out pictures from magazines or ads from the newspaper and glue them onto their list.
At the store, let your kidlet collect the correct amounts of items and, when you get home, let them help –or DO, the baking (under your supervision) for some real fun…& learning! (Literally) Topping off the activity—remember to have them add their own special, creative flair by decorating the cake!
What next? Go ahead and (yes, it’s a blast from the disco-past) Cut the Cake!
Every day there are learning opportunities–the best kind are ones that arise in natural ways; that are of interest to your kiddo; and that continue to spark their curiosity to want to find out more! When you provide your kidlet with the time, freedom (remember you do not have to entertain them 24/7, 7 days a week!), space and materials … in other words to facilitate their PLAY, you are giving them the building blocks they’ll need for LIFE. When they are foundationally sound in STREAM the ending to the children’s song Row, Row, Row Your Boat really can make it seem like Life is but a dream!
Yours in Play!