STEM in Early Childhood

As educators, it can be difficult to find the balance between intentional teaching and child initiated learning experiences, particularly in areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) often where complex concepts require purposeful planning.

At the core of child initiated and play based learning are belonging, being and becoming. Belonging to a learning community, being in the moment of learning new concepts, becoming confident in learning and the skills that come with it.

STEM and play based learning have a reciprocal relationship where children take their learning in a direction they choose, providing educators and parents with teachable moments and sustained thinking.

Think about a child’s everyday routine, there are teachable moments that explore STEM in nearly every minute of the day. Let’s stop and think about meal time alone. Children explore concepts such as force and push and pull simply by getting a piece of food to their mouth. Mathematics are exposed when figuring out how many plates are needed to provide food for each child in the room. What about asking where did certain foods come from and how did they get to the plate or pointing out the use of wheels on the lunch trolley?

Children from an early age need to engage with science and have the opportunity to buildon their natural sense of wonder and connection with the world. As they build on their knowledge around scientific concepts, educators can scaffold the learning into multi-faceted experiences, incorporating more intricate detail.

“Play develops into planned and experimental exploring, problem solving, consolidating and practising, imagining and creating.” [Educators Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework, pg 31].

Equally as important as scaffolding, is the process of reflection, for both educators and children. As we explore STEM with children they will inevitably raise questions that we may not have the answer to or that will send us on
a journey of thought and consideration. Some questions that may resonate with you are:

  • Does the learning environment support independent exploration of scientific concepts?

  • Do the children have access to resources that will extend and enrich learning around science, technology, engineering and mathematics?

  • Are our intentional teaching practices purposeful and delivered with confidence around scientific theories?

  • What happens when we don’t have all the answers to the questions children pose?

    “Critical reflection on children’s learning and development, both as individuals and in groups, is regularly used to implement the program.” [Guide to the National Quality Standard, pg 10].

There are a whole host of outcomes and outcome related learning that comes from exploring STEM in an Early Childhood setting, some a little less obvious than others. For example, in an increasingly technologically advanced world, children are exposed to electronic devices at a very early age, both in the home and in the education setting. Although they are learning vital components of science and technology, children are also engaged in other learning skills that will last a life time through these devices. They negotiate wait times, take turns, attempt new challenges with enthusiasm, persist with a task, develop fine motor skills and engage in dramatic play, all of which cover many and varied areas of the Early Years Learning Framework.