Our ever-advancing world needs bright minds to create and innovate solutions to global issues. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education is one way to expose preschoolers to these concepts at a young age and give them hands-on experiences.
It might seem like preschoolers are too young to grasp some of the subjects in STEAM, like technology and engineering. However, children can develop a natural curiosity for these subjects as they begin to explore and observe their environment. In addition, early exposure to STEAM helps preschoolers develop crucial communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
This article provides vital information about why STEAM education is essential, how to teach these disciplines, and some STEAM activities for preschoolers in the classroom.
What is STEAM education?
STEAM is an educational discipline that engages learners in the sciences and arts as a way to guide learner inquiry, communication, and critical thinking. It started as STEM before the integration of the arts in recent years to provide a more comprehensive education model. The integration of arts positively impacts children’s creativity, innovation, engagement, language, auditory skills, and spatial thinking. One main objective of STEAM education is to give children an authentic learning experience related to a real-world context. It includes multi-step questions, multiple ways to approach a problem, integration across disciplines, and failure—a necessary part of learning and growing.
In an early childhood setting, STEAM activities are open-ended, meaning they don’t follow strict rules. The importance is more on the creative process than the final outcome. For example, a child playing with dolls can make them say or do whatever they want. Also, STEAM activities have more than one right answer. Teachers act as guides or facilitators, helping children further their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Instead of telling a child what is right or wrong, the teacher prompts the child’s thinking to their own conclusion.
STEAM in early childhood education is about integrating two, three, or all the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math in your everyday curriculum. It’s not just about doing math during designated math time or science during science time. For example, children use blocks as tools or technology during block building exercises. They are developing their engineering skills by planning and trying different strategies to keep their building from falling down. They use trial and error, which is a scientific concept. When they pile up the blocks or put them in a line, they’re figuring out how to make them work. They explore which shapes of blocks fit best together, which is a math concept. You can embed art in this activity by asking them to draw their creations to keep a record of them.
Let’s look at each discipline individually.
Science activities help children figure out how things work in the natural world. In addition, experimenting helps them develop skills like observing, asking questions, describing what they notice, making possible predictions, comparing results, and sharing what they learn with others.
Technology is the use of tools to make tasks easier. The biggest misconception in STEAM is that technology must involve using electronics like computers or tablets. Electronics are part of technology, but you don’t have to add screen time in the classroom to incorporate technology. Technology is simply a fancy word for “tools.” Preschoolers use simple tools: pencils to write, scissors to cut, and magnifying glasses to look closely at an object.
Engineering focuses on solving problems by building and designing things that work. Children naturally think like engineers and engineering activities happen daily in your classroom. For example, children discover gravity, shapes, balance, and problem-solving when playing with blocks. If a child stacks a tower and it falls, they may think about why it fell and rebuild it differently to stand longer.
Art helps children communicate ideas or express themselves and what they know. For example, they may draw, finger paint, dance, sing, or act out a concept they’ve learned.
Math helps children understand the relationships among numbers, patterns, and shapes. It includes measuring, counting, sorting, comparing, and sequencing. You can incorporate math activities into outdoor and sensory play.
Why is STEAM important in early childhood education?
Think about how much the world has changed from 20 years ago; smartphones and online video-based education didn’t exist. Likewise, we don’t know what the world will look like in 20 years or what type of technology and jobs will exist. STEAM education prepares children for the future job market and opportunities with foundational skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.
A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth in STEM/STEAM-related occupations of 10.8% over the next decade with a median yearly wage of $95,420. However, STEAM skills can greatly benefit all children and their future learning, even if they don’t choose a career in a STEAM-related field.
STEAM education gives children basic knowledge and a firm foundation for more complex concepts in future learning. An early start in STEAM is highly beneficial because children have a natural disposition toward science with their sense of curiosity and creativity. The earlier they get comfortable with STEAM concepts, the easier it gets for them as they grow. Also, the hands-on approach makes it fun and exciting. For example, observing different objects in a glass bowl sinking or floating is more exciting than simply reading about them in a book.
How to teach STEAM
Here are some things to consider when teaching STEAM concepts to preschoolers:
Facilitate and guide
The teacher’s role in STEAM education is a facilitator, guide, or nurturer of thinking. Encourage children to wonder, ask questions, and make discoveries. Don’t give away answers or do experiments for them. Instead, let them be responsible for their learning to help them become self-sufficient.
Use STEAM vocabulary
Use STEAM language in the classroom so children can incorporate it into their communication. For example, use words like “observe,” “predict,” “compare,” “test,” “experiment,” and “record.” Also, praise the children with STEAM language. For example, instead of saying “Good job,” try saying “Good thinking” or “You’re a great problem-solver.”
Master your questioning technique
To nurture children’s thinking and increase engagement, you must ask questions correctly. For example, questions that prompt discussion include “What happened?” or “Why do you think that happened?”. Observation questions include “What do you see?” or “How are they the same?”. When you keep asking these questions, the children get familiar with them and can answer them successfully.
Get the children comfortable with teamwork through collaborative projects. STEAM works best with collaboration rather than individualized learning. As a result, children can learn skills like cooperation, listening to others, and taking turns.
Help them to embrace failure
Sometimes, we learn more from what we do wrong than what we do right. When engineers build something that fails, they learn what didn’t work and try again. Children should feel safe taking risks and embrace failure to learn and grow. They should know that sometimes their predictions might be wrong. Ask them questions like “What went wrong?” or “What could you do differently next time?”
STEAM activities for preschoolers
STEAM activities involve experimentation which helps children learn how the world works and inspires them to be curious learners. Here are fun STEAM activities for preschoolers in the classroom:
Stack paper rolls
This fun activity develops a child’s fine motor skills. Have the children create a tower by stacking toilet paper rolls. Incorporate art by having children decorate the rolls with glue, confetti, colored paper, or paint before stacking them.
Slide off the ramp
Create a cardboard ramp and gather various objects—some that can slide and some that can’t. Items may include a small ball, toy car, glue stick, markers, binder clips, and blocks. Then, ask the children to slide the different objects down the ramp to see which things slide and which ones don’t.
Sink or float
This science experiment teaches children about density and the concept of “sink” and “float.” Collect items that will sink or float such as crayons, rubber bands, flowers, pencils, leaves, stones, and paper clips. Ask the children to place an object in a water-filled clear container to see whether it sinks or floats.
Build a pretend train
This activity helps children develop fine motor and spatial reasoning skills. They also learn about working together, sharing, taking turns, and negotiating. First, draw a train track on a large piece of paper and place it on the table. Then, ask each child to pick up a block and move it along the track one after another.
Make a lemon volcano
Cut the top and bottom off a lemon so that it can stand. Break up the inside of the lemon with a butter knife. Ask the children to pour a few drops of food coloring (let them choose a color) inside the lemon. Then ask them to pour some baking soda on top. It will fizzle and foam and run over the sides like a volcano.
Make a rainbow in a jar
You’ll need a jar, water, and food coloring for this activity. Ask the children to add different colors of food coloring to the water. They’ll notice the colors mixing and forming a “rainbow in a jar.” You can use this STEAM activity to teach children about the color wheel and how colors are created by mixing other colors.
Play with oobleck
Mix two parts cornstarch for every one part water to make oobleck for messy play. It’s a fun activity that strengthens children’s sensory and fine motor skills. Ask the children to add more cornstarch or water to experiment with various consistencies. Add food coloring to explore color mixing and encourage children to pour it or scoop it with things like spoons, cups, or their hands.
Make edible finger paint
This activity is excellent for developing children’s fine motor skills. You’ll need whipped cream, Ziploc bags, and food coloring. Ask the children to place a blob of whipped cream in a Ziploc bag and add a few drops of food coloring. Let them mix it to distribute the color evenly. They can then squish it and paint with it using their fingers.
Education for the future
Using STEAM activities in your preschool classroom will expose young children to important concepts of science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Encourage children to experiment, ask questions, and learn from their failures. By engaging children in these activities, you’re positively impacting their communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities.
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