STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, showing how these subjects are inextricably linked. Therefore, STEM education is a holistic approach to learning.
How do you teach STEM in early childhood education, though? Our STEM resources, STEM Detectives and Bringing STEM to Life, both agree that STEM learning occurs naturally through play. Are children not engaged in science, engineering and mathematics while mud pie making?
Play is how children learn. Our resources help early childhood educators to recognise STEM experiences within children’s play. And scaffold and model STEM concepts when these learning opportunities arise.
‘STEM’ education is a multi-discipline approach to learning, where the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are integrated into one interdependent concept. It focuses on developing higher-order thinking skills, which connect classroom learning to the real world.
STEM is important in early childhood education because it emphasises skills students need to be successful in our current and future world. Skills like collaboration, communication, problem-solving, research and creativity.
The global economy is changing because of technological advances. Current jobs are disappearing due to automation, and new jobs are emerging. Today’s young children are anticipated to need transferrable skills, relevant across all disciplines, to be prepared for future societies.
In children’s immediate future, STEM in early childhood in Australia creates confident, creative and involved learners who are prepared for the transition into primary school. Central to STEM are creativity, adaptability, independence and critical thinking skills. These skills and dispositions will help children progress through the Australian Curriculum.
As the co-author of STEM Detectives, Niki Buchan, says:
“As the world moves and changes at an ever-increasing pace, STEM thinking provides our children with the skills to not only survive but also to thrive.”
The key to best incorporating STEM into an early childhood setting is to provide children with time, space and lots of loose parts to play. As the authors of STEM Detectives, Niki Buchan and Bronwyn Cron, say:
“If children are given large periods of uninterrupted time to play with objects and resources that don’t have a set purpose and that they can change and manipulate in any way they choose, children will naturally explore complex STEM thinking and concepts.”
“Saturating” the education environment with resources for inquiry-based exploration creates STEM learning opportunities. Our blog, "How to incorporate STEM learning in early childhood," provides a comprehensive list of STEM resources.
Books are a necessity to incorporate STEM experiences within the early childhood education setting. Children’s scientific and engineering identities are supported when they read fictional and non-fictional storybooks about inventors, explorers, artists, etc. Additionally, they develop a better understanding of STEM concepts as they engage with the stories.
Essential Resources has two great STEM resources for early childhood educators:
STEM Detectives by Niki Buchan and Bronwyn Cron
A central idea of this STEM resource is how play and STEM are linked. “Providing opportunities for children to play – time, space and open-ended resources for rich experiences – supports STEM learning.”
The resource aims to support early childhood teachers in identifying STEM opportunities within children’s play. And show them how they can integrate STEM into their practices, learning environments and resources provided.
Bringing STEM to Life by Nicole Halton and Natashja Treveton
“Our job, as educators, is to see STEM. When we understand what it is we are seeing, and becoming comfortable with articulating that, we are making it visible.”
Bringing STEM to Life helps early childhood educators understand how children naturally engage in STEM concepts through play. Halton and Treveton provide real-life examples of STEM learning environments, interactions and resources to help teachers recognise these in their own educational settings.