To help prepare our Prime Time children for school and life ahead, beginning in February 2019, we are rolling out a new STEM enrichment program for all our schools.
What is STEM? It is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM activities involve our teachers presenting an age-appropriate approach to introductory science, technology, engineering and math principles that teach children how to explore the world around them, and how to use numbers to compare and contrast recognized natural, living and man-made materials. Science activities include teaching basic earth science, biology and the scientific method. Technology activities include an introduction to computer technology, as well as to cameras, radios, lights, magnets and other technical learning aids. Engineering in the early learning environment can be taught with simple blocks, levers, wheels, wedges, pulleys, gears – and more advanced building materials like Erector Sets and Legos. Math is taught by teaching how to measure, weigh, and count (including money) of common items
The most important thing to remember about teaching STEM to early learners is that they are perfectly adapted to learn STEM concepts, and it is not difficult to teach STEM to young children. The secret is to tap into their natural and innate curiosity about the living world. By simply allowing them to investigate, by encouraging them to ask questions about the real world, our teachers engage children in STEM.
Introducing children to STEM can be as simple as taking children outside into nature. It is abundantly apparent to most adults that once you let a child walk down a dirt path in a forest they immediately start to explore their surroundings. It is that sense of young explorer that we need to tap into; out in the playground and in the classroom. Ask questions of our little researcher, encourage more exploration, and provide more opportunities to return to these types of settings. While we can’t always take the children into the woods or out to a farm, we can all introduce children to earth science by planting a small garden and growing seeds in cups.
The Boston Children’s Museum’s STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide recommends the simple strategy of building young students’ confidence and making them feel like experts by asking “what” questions rather than “why” questions. “Why” questions imply that there is a correct answer. “Why do birds have feathers?” or “Why does the rock sink in the water?” are questions that have answers that children may not know, and may find discouraging. “What” questions, on the other hand, focus on what they are noticing and doing, and can be springboards for teachers and students to investigate together. “What are those ants doing?” What do you think they do when they go into that hole? and “What shapes do you see in those rocks?” and What are the clouds doing in the sky? are questions that invite children to observe, communicate, and be the “experts.”
Find opportunities to take your child on “nature walks” and encourage their natural curiosity for exploration. Give them the opportunity to collect almost anything: rocks, fossils, seeds, leaves, sticks, bugs, or whatever seems to be peaking their interest that day. As we collect, we practice counting, we create hypotheses about the things we see, and look at the different designs and shapes that we find in nature, as an initial inquiry into engineering design. Try to bring along binoculars, magnifying glass, and children’s field microscope to deepen your investigations.
To augment their curiosity even further, families can buy or borrow books about investigating nature, including the popular favorite, Magic School Bus. Look for TV documentaries on nature, and children’s science programming like Wild Kratts or SciGirls to reinforce a love of investigation with positive examples from media. In this way, you can practice cross-contextual learning, where your child is experiencing STEM concepts in different ways; getting hands-on investigatory experience and then also reading about others doing the same thing in her books or seeing ideas play out in TV programs.
This article is part of a young child health and wellness series posted for the benefit of parents by Prime Time Early Learning Centers. Prime Time is a family owned child care company that provides Infant Care, After Care, PreK, Prekindergarten, and Summer Camp programs for children from six weeks to 10 years of age in Paramus, Edgewater, Hoboken and East Rutherford New Jersey, and in Middletown (Wallkill) and Farmingdale (Babylon) New York. See what parents have to say about their experience with Prime Time Early Learning Centers on Google and Yelp!
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