When we talk about provocations, a common and increasingly more popular developmental assistant is STEM. STEM, an acronym for Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics sounds very technical, but it is actually an incredible source of exploration and discovery.
[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world”. – Former US President Obama.
STEM is based in the philosophy that children are natural problem solvers. It inspires creativity and encourages critical thinking. Imagine watching red blend into blue to create purple for the first time or experiencing the joy in determining if an item floats or sinks when placed in water. These simple activities are ones we have observed children constantly recreate in play situations, unaided or unmotivated by the input of carers or educators. This innate curiosity and desire to explore their world make children natural-born scientists.
“Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, their eyes, and their ears, and the resources of forms, materials, sounds and colours.” – Loris Malaguzzi
So how is STEM used in a classroom environment?
We are forgiven for thinking that in the past science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have been for the naturally inclined. The STEM philosophy is that all persons are naturally inclined to these learning facilitators. By nature, we are born into a beautiful world that inspires curiosity and wonder. Therefore, it is not much of a leap to extend that extraordinary natural world into our open space of learning. In this thought, STEM learning can begin at any age and with minimal resource.
How is STEM is implemented in Early Childhood Education?
A powerful introduction into the world of STEM is as simple as asking questions. Research by the Boston Children’s Museum shows that “What?” questions are more beneficial to a child’s confidence and development than traditional “Why?” questions. Although a child may not know the close-ended answer to a “why” question, “what” questions allow them to be much more creative. “What is happening to the paint?” or “What do you think will happen if add leaves to the water?”. These are examples of questions that allow a child to extend their realm of thinking beyond the taught or conditioned. We are welcoming children into scientific exploration, a journey of discovery with us. The encouragement of conversations and communication surrounding the things they are seeing, and experiencing is crucial in allowing children to develop a natural speech of discovery, something that will aid them in learning further in life.
The use of shadows and sunlight as natural tools in aiding discussion and play-based learning is critical to a real-world implementation that will serve children well in their furthered education and life. Just as cause and effect is so easily witnessed, as is the observation of shadow development. By bringing a shadow box into a child’s learning environment, they are able to replicate the science of the outside world for themselves and discover the abilities of objects to disrupt the ordinary flow of light.
“I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they can learn” – Albert Einstein
The greatest element of STEM when it comes to Early Childhood Education is that children’s natural interest is piqued. They are drawn to settings where their curiosity leads them to discover, create and uncover secrets about the world. Children are encouraged to reflect on that they have learnt during their scientific research. They discuss ideas, patterns and discoveries with others and determine results based on their own experience.
STEM is not grounded in planning and formulas. It is essentially encouraging a way of thinking for children that expands their minds, learning habits and critical thinking skills. STEM is not only a vital tool in early education centres, it is also an engaging way for parents to facilitate their children’s discovery at home and in the outside world. By creating a setting where children feel safe to explore and investigate the world around them, we are all becoming a part of their journey towards learning. And isn’t that the most beautiful part of it?