Why is STEM important in early childhood education? STEM is particularly important in our ever-changing, ever advancing technological society. Up to 75% of the fastest growing occupations require significant STEM skills and knowledge.
Why the push for STEM in education?
Unfortunately, many STEM education programs use a direct instruction model. This seems in stark contrast to the creative, wondrous free thinking that is integral to true STEM engagement. While direct instruction may be a more practical way of teaching STEM skills in a school classroom with one teacher and up to 30 children as well as curriculum and time constraints, early childhood education offers an alternative.
What does this mean for early childhood education?
Fortunately, in Australian and New Zealand early childhood contexts, the Early Years Learning Framework and Te Whariki value a child focused, play-based approach. This allows the opportunity to be flexible with routines; to spend time building strong relationships with children that are nurturing and respectful and enable educators and children to be co-learners.
Consider this example
An educator observes some children taking a real interest in the volcano in the story they have been reading. At this point, they might consider creating a papier mache volcano and having the group observe the reaction of baking soda and vinegar, in a direct instruction simulated volcano activity. Although this activity might be fun, the children haven’t actually learnt about volcanos. They have learnt about a completely unrelated scientific occurrence – that when you combine baking soda with vinegar, it bubbles.
Instead, the educator could have a conversation with the children about what has interested them. What do they already know about volcanos? What do they wonder?
As the discussion unfolds, the educator might discover that the children already know quite a lot about volcanos. Then they may lead the group in a different direction altogether.
Perhaps the inquiry could lead to the experiment in the example, with the children wanting to test theories of how a volcano works. But if that were the case, it would be safe to assume that the children would have other suggestions for how this could work, rather than combining baking soda and vinegar.
The educator’s intentions were good. They were aiming to extend on an apparent interest and seize an opportunity to weave science concepts into their program. Yet, the adult-driven activity did little to spark scientific curiosity or deepen the interest or knowledge in the subject matter.
When STEM is embedded into early years programs and environments in meaningful way, children are supported to think creatively, to solve problems, to wonder about the world and to invent. It is an amazing opportunity!
Take a look at our other STEM articles to learn more.
Acknowledgement: The above adapted text and images are from Bringing STEM to Life by Nicole Halton and Natashja Treveton