Imagine planning to build a tall and strong building. Once you’ve chosen the perfect location and prepped the site, there’s nothing else to do but build. But where do you begin? Where should you plant the structure’s foundation? The answer is most certainly not the fourth or fifth floor.
Similarly, parents and educators should not wait until students turn four or five years old before beginning to provide STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. The best time to begin is when children are at their most active learning stage – from ages one to three years.
This may seem easier said than done, especially for new parents. Fortunately, plenty of materials and tips available today can help you sow the seed of interest in these subjects while your child is still young, ready to absorb knowledge.
To help you out, here are the four most effective ways to introduce STEM in early childhood:
1. Bring Your Child to Nature
If you browse the Internet, you’ll find plenty of recommended ways to pique a child’s interest in STEM, but none is more straightforward and more effective than immersing him in nature.
When taking your child outside, have him bring a reusable bag or any form of container that he can use to store interesting objects he collected from the environment. This can be anything, from colorful stones and differently shaped leaves to flowers and seed pods.
As you go on this nature walk, ask your little explorer questions that encourage him to look closer into the things around him. Upon returning home, help your child sort the items according to categories like texture, size, shape, and color. With this activity, an early learner is bound to use skills in math and science.
2. Ask the Right Questions
STEM is a curriculum that focuses on teaching children four disciplines in an applied and interdisciplinary approach. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics all explain how the world works.
In short, STEM answers the questions that usually begin with “why” and “how.” However, your goal is to build confidence in learning, so you should be asking “what” questions instead.
Open-ended questions beginning with “what” followed by the word “if” work best in sparking wonder in your child. This type of question also allows children to feel more confident in thinking up answers.
In contrast, “why” and “how” questions tend to imply that there’s a single correct answer to every question that children may not know yet. And this can feel a bit discouraging for one who’s only just beginning to learn STEM.
Questions that start with “what” focus on pointing out their observations, which can serve as springboards for parents and educators to join the child in investigating the matter together.
For instance, asking a child “What are the ants doing?” will encourage him to look closely at the ants and communicate the things he notices, which then helps him feel like an “expert” in science.
3. Incorporate Real-Life Situations That Toddlers Would Understand
With STEM, people often assume that the subjects would be complicated. However, educators teaching these disciplines early in childhood should focus more on incorporating real-life situations that make it easier for little ones to understand. After all, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics basically explain what things are, and why and how they work.
Since education is most effective when curiosity is aligned with the subject, take advantage of situations that pique children’s interest, and choose certain activities that will fuel that urge to learn more.
For example, during a windy day, preschoolers tend to get curious about the strong winds and how they affect objects. Make the most of this opportunity by coming up with activities related to the wind.
You can do a blowing contest to see how far your child’s breath can move an object, like a ping pong ball across cove molding. Making sure that the molding is on a level surface, measure the length from the ball’s starting point to where it ended up after a huff and puff from your little one. Then, show him the distance the ball traveled because of his breath. You can also turn this into a contest during a playdate.
Of course, there are plenty of other activities your child can try even at his young age, such as:
When buying groceries, you can ask your child to pick out fruits and vegetables that he has never tried before. Then, ask him what he thinks is inside.
Once you get home, you can cut up the fruits into smaller pieces to see what the insides look like. From there, the activity can evolve into a tasting party, where everyone in the family can participate. Ask each member to identify their favorite fruits and vegetables and determine what the crowd favorite is by counting the votes with your little one.
In this activity, you’re teaching your child skills in science and math.
There are plenty of building toys you can use for this activity. For now, you can start with easy-to-find items in your home, like plastic or paper cups.
Begin with a challenge to build a tower of cups. To make it even more exciting, ask his siblings to join the game and see how they can make the tallest tower of cups. Then, measure each tower and compare the height of each one.
In this activity alone, you’re building engineering and math skills in your little one.
4. Learn Along With Your Child
As a parent, you might feel like you need to know everything to teach your child the things he needs to learn, but this is a grave misconception. In truth, parents help children more in studying STEM by learning it with them.
Remember that you don’t need to have all the answers to teach STEM to your child. All you need is an open mind and the patience to learn these things along with him.
When your little explorer asks you a difficult question you don’t know the answer to, don’t resort to “That’s too hard for me” or “I’m not good at math or science.”
Instead, say, “That’s a good question. Let’s figure out the answer together.”
Start Them Young
Beginning STEM education early is not impossible. In fact, it is most recommended as children learn much more quickly during their early years.
Of course, its effectiveness lies in how you introduce STEM to your little one. Try the methods listed in this article and watch as your child develops a love for STEM and for learning.
Maloy Burman is the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Premier Genie FZ LLC. He is responsible for driving Premier Genie into a leadership position in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education space in Asia, Middle East and Africa and building a solid brand value. Premier Genie is currently running 5 centers in Dubai and 5 centers in India with a goal to multiply that over the next 5 years.