Over the past five to seven years, news feeds on the internet, education blogs and state education policies have featured STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning. Now, early childhood educators are being required to instill a love for these subjects early in life. This isn’t really anything new. It is more of a matter of being purposeful as we guide children in their exploratory play.
Researchers, educators, state education departments and school districts have also realized that the creative skills in art and design help children innovate. Thus the acronym has been expanded to become STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
There is an exciting and powerful link between STEAM and early childhood. New research on brain development has shown that the brain is particularly receptive to learning math and logic between the ages of 1 and 4. STEAM skills are as important as learning letters, sounds, colors, shapes and numbers for school readiness. The question is how can educators integrate them into an already busy daily program.
One way to approach STEAM integration is through literature. Everyone loves a good story and especially young children. Children learn as they are guided through storytelling experiences to recognize patterns in language, to play and manipulate language, and to support the acquisition of phonemic awareness. Stories also help children learn about taking risks and trying new things. The characters give children a framework to explore how things work and the world beyond their home along with encouraging creativity. The books you select for your classroom should include both fiction and non-fiction that cover a variety of interests, topics, and characters. These first books and stories can become a core part of blending STEAM into your program.
Begin by selecting one book from your STEAM library and build activities from it. It could be a book about a bug’s life or an inventor. Start with the story and create activities from there. Use the questions asked by the children as your guide. Set up play areas that feature items from the story. For example, if the story is about a dump truck, place blocks and trucks in the building area, set up a sand table with different sized containers, and add items to count in a math area that the truck will dump. I used to say when I was a teacher, “give me a book and I can teach from that book for a week.” You can do the same and blend early language development and STEAM skills throughout the day. Give it a try and soon you will be moving full STEAM ahead.
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