STEM is an acronym. It was used originally by the US government to describe fields of study that helped immigrants get work visas: science, technology, engineering, and math.
Today, educators are linking these areas together in what is called STEM curriculum.
When we break down the acronym into its parts, we see that early childhood programs practice STEM activities every day.
Science activities include exploring water and sand, comparing and contrasting natural materials like rocks and soil, rolling balls across the room, and looking through a magnifying glass to count how many legs are on the bug that was caught during outdoor play.
Technology activities include computers, but also identifying simple machines like gears and wheels and pulleys.
Engineering in preschool happens in the block area. There children are planning and designing structures every day with little teacher direction.
Math activities include counting and matching shapes and making patterns. Measuring is easy too, especially with unit blocks where two of one size equal one of the next size up.
As a Little Professors teacher, you can expand kids’ science learning and lead them toward discovery by encouraging their natural curiosity; noticing what they are doing during play with water, shadow, or sand; and asking the right questions. You can get involved by asking children open ended questions: “Tell me what you are working on now.” “What do you notice about how it’s moving?” “What else have you seen other kids try?” Writing down their thoughts and ideas is a good way to document their growth in STEM curriculum to share with their parents.
Brain Building in STEM:
Science is a way of thinking. Science is observing and experimenting, making predictions, sharing discoveries, asking questions, and wondering how things work.
Technology is a way of doing. Technology is using tools, being inventive, identifying problems, and making things work.
Engineering is a way of doing. Engineering is solving problems, using a variety of materials, designing and creating, and building things that work.
Math is a way of measuring. Math is sequencing (1, 2, 3, 4…), patterning (1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2…), and exploring shapes (triangle, square, circle), volume (holds more or less), and size (bigger, less than).
Asking the right questions:
You’ve probably noticed that preschoolers ask lots of questions when they’re exploring:
“Where do clouds come from?” “Why is the ice melting?” “Why is the ball rolling over there?” Sometimes it feels like no one educator could have all the answers to their questions. But we have good news for you—you don’t need to have the answers to create memorable STEM experiences. In fact, the key to effective STEM learning at the preschool level is asking great questions right along with the kids!
One strategy for asking great questions is focusing on “what” instead of “why.” When you ask “why” questions, it implies there is a correct answer and the child is being tested. For example, if you ask, “Why is the magnet sticking to that kind of metal?” you may be just as unable to answer that question as the child is. But when you ask “what” questions, you’re starting a conversation and exploring right along with your children. “What” questions focus on what is happening, what you are noticing, and what you are doing—and those answers are right in front of you and your kids. By focusing your questions on what kids have observed and noticed, not only are you helping them develop valuable communication and observation skills, but you are also building their confidence by giving them questions they can answer as experts.