STEM is a neat little acronym for Science Technology Engineering & Maths. One idea behind grouping these broad disciplines into something memorable, is to draw attention to an emerging policy choice within schools, focused on increasing educational interest within STEM. By stimulating interest in STEM early on, we can begin to motivate more young people to study STEM at an advanced level and to enter STEM related industries. This is particularly important for Black individuals who at university for example, only represent 6.2% of students enrolled onto STEM related subjects*.
Why is it important to spark this passion for STEM when children are very young?
STEM subjects create the inventors, leaders and innovators of tomorrow. So we feel it’s important to spark the interest for these subjects early on. It’s also the highest paying industry. A study by the World Economic Forum done in 2021 showed the top 25 university subjects by demand and pay are all STEM related subjects. The demand for STEM skills in jobs is very high. Our society is forever evolving rapidly, for example, climate change and technology. STEM subjects will give children the skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, to deal with these challenges once they leave education. We believe introducing STEM early on can help to foster a life-long love of learning and help them perform better in school.
The idea of introducing STEM to children in the early years is to begin the process of creating scholarly minds. Little children who ask questions, seek out answers, solve problems and become innovators who go onto contribute to the human story. The sooner we get our little ones to see that our world is filled with shapes, materials, forces and numbers, is the start of something special in the form of inquisitive minds. Learning STEM enhances the below core skills for young children:
· Critical thinking and problem solving skills - encouraging children to ask questions and seek out answers. Problem solving is a critical skill in the early years
· Collaborative learning - as STEM subjects often encourage children to work together
· Enhances a child’s memory through experimental learning
· Improves communication skills - learn new vocabulary
· Exposes children to real world challenges and experiences
For example, a child taking part in a simple sink or float experiment may just look like they’re playing in water but they’re carefully considering whether the item will sink or float, making predictions and then analysing the item's features which could have caused it to sink or float.
How early years educators can nurture STEM in their teaching and learning with very young children
Encouragement and exposure to broad experiences is a good place to start. Try to nourish as best as you can the little sparks of interests you may see early on in the children in your setting. Introduce new ideas continually, invest in wide-ranging books and learning resources that stimulate an interest for STEM. From early on, some simple but effective things you can do include:
· Questions - ask ‘why,’ ‘what’ and ‘how’ as a way of getting children to explain their thinking
· Language - use words which link to STEM related topics like: balance, hard, soft, hot, cold, push, pull, high, low
· Exploration - encourage exploratory play, by introducing messy play with different textures and liquids of varying consistency
· Imagination - create experiments which include role-playing, scenarios and task specific activities
· Explanation - explain how simple objects and tools around the setting work
What families can do to encourage interests in STEM for their young children
Introducing STEM at home doesn’t have to be expensive. We created a pack of STEM activity cards where parents can create STEM activities and experiments using simple items from around the home or items from the supermarket. Simple science experiments using baking soda, vinegar and food colouring are always a hit with young children. Make it fun. If you're able to, activities like cooking help to develop early maths skills for example. The list below shows how you can incorporate learning maths when cooking/ baking at home:
1️) Counting - simple things like counting the right number of ingredients needed when baking can help improve maths skills
2️) Ratios - making pancakes is a fun way to practice ratios, by using the 3:2:1 ratio (300ml milk, 2 eggs, 100g flour)
3️) Geometry - children can explore the properties and names of different shapes and match the identical shapes through baking biscuits
4️) Fractions - making pizza is a fun way for children to learn fractions, they can divide the dough into different fractions
How creativity plays a part in STEM
STEM can also help to boost a child’s creativity; we usually associate creativity with art. However, learning STEM can help to spark a child’s creativity. When doing a STEM related activity children have to be creative when they come up with their solutions to problems. For example, creating a bridge using toothpicks and blu tac in our STEM activity cards. It’s an engineering challenge. But children also have to be creative with what their bridge looks like. Or creating a boat that floats, they have to be creative with the materials that they use. You may even hear some people refer to STEM as STEAM, where A for Art has been included.
If you think about the many technological advances humankind has achieved over the centuries, you should be able to appreciate the importance of STEM in our everyday lives. The for example is Denhue’s favourite technological advancement. It has transformed our ability to be connected globally. The thirst for flight has been achieved by combining maths and science, and by applying engineering skills to find technological solutions.
Continuing with the theme of flying, we want to introduce you to , an American engineer, doctor, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first Black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Mae’s story is one of high achievement and adventure. Mae’s introduction to STEM came from her uncle, who encouraged her interests for science, anthropology and astronomy. As parents and caregivers, the impact of your encouragement and feeding a child's curiosity can pay off massively, as we’ve just seen in the example of Mae.
*Stat according to the Black British Professionals in STEM
Denhue and Natalie have recently launched a STEM range, which includes a pack of 32 STEM activity cards using everyday items from around the house or items from the supermarket, great for both parents and early years educators, a STEM inventors journal: a little book of ideas to show children how new inventions are created and their latest book STEM inventors: Black inventors and innovators who changed the world.
Visit www.littlescholarsplayground.com for more information.
You can also listen to Natalie and Denhue discussing STEM in the early years in this episode of the FSF and Tapestry podcast.