Young Primrose student looks into a microscope while her partner smiles happily

Understanding STEAM in Preschool Classrooms

Lately, everyone seems to be talking about STEAM. It has become a hot topic in the world of education and in the business community, but what does STEAM have to do with your preschooler?

What is STEAM?

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. You may think some of these subjects seem lofty for young children to grasp. In some ways, that’s true. Young children may not be ready to understand multiplication or how computers work. However, they can develop a strong foundation for future learning by exploring STEAM skills and concepts through play and discussion, then applying those skills through more play.

For young children:

  • Science encourages investigation and answering questions, often involving experimentation.
  • Technology refers to using simple tools like crayons and rulers, as well as more complex ones like microscopes and computers.
  • Engineering refers to recognizing problems and testing solutions.
  • Arts encourage creativity and allow children to illustrate concepts they are learning.
  • Mathematics deals with numbers, but also patterns, shapes, organizational skills and much more.

understanding steam

Why should young children learn STEAM subjects?

They can be learned. Children have the ability to learn foundational concepts in these subjects at a young age. Preschools and other child care providers should nurture STEAM skills and concepts early on and build on them through ongoing opportunities for play and discussion.

They are useful. The skills children learn when engaging with STEAM concepts are transferable and useful across many aspects of their lives. For example, process skills, which include making observations, hypothesizing and critical thinking, are basic skills for math and science but are also valuable skills for learning any subject.

They are in demand. Have you ever thought about what your child’s life might be like in 20 years? In some ways it is hard to imagine what career options children might have as adults. One thing is certain, skills in science, technology, engineering and math will be increasingly important. For early education providers like Primrose, part of our responsibility to children is preparing them for the realities they’ll face later in life.

What should STEAM look like for young children?

An important part of our approach at Primrose is introducing children to the right activities at the right times. We introduce children to new skills and concepts when they are developmentally ready, making learning fun and natural.

Science, technology, engineering, art and math are part of daily life. So it makes sense that children should explore these subjects in an integrated way every day through books, discussions, experiments, art projects, educational games and more. This method is far more effective than limiting instruction of STEAM subjects or any subject to only certain times of the day or week.

How can STEAM be nurtured at home?

Look for ways STEAM concepts arise in everyday life and point them out to your child. For example, talk about how the seasons change while walking outdoors, where fruits and vegetables come from while grocery shopping, or the different colors that make up pictures in a book you read together. Asking questions is a great way to encourage foundational STEAM skills. “Why do you think…?” questions spark investigation and critical thinking, which are both crucial in grasping each element of STEAM. Fostering creativity through art or experimenting with fun science activities for kids are great ways to incorporate STEAM learning at home.

STEAM Boat Race Activity (Ages 3 and up)

You also can encourage STEAM learning through exploratory play at home! Children can channel their inner engineer with the boat race Home Learning Fun activity below.

Materials Needed

  • Cork
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tape (different types)
  • Craft sticks
  • Plastic straws
  • Empty plastic yogurt cups and water bottles
  • Old swim noodle
  • Other recyclables

Instructions

  • Work together as a family to gather recyclable materials like those listed above and design and build a few small boats out of the recyclables. It is also important to think about where you might host your boat race – kitchen sink, pan full of water, bath tub at bath time, etc.
  • Think about which items may float, what you may need to hold the boat(s) together, etc. Ask questions of each other to make your materials selections.
  • Once the boats are built, have each family member, place the boats in a tub or pan full of water. Have him or her blow ‘wind’ toward the boats to see how fast the creations travel.
  • Challenge each family member to build a faster boat and race two of them by each blowing and/or pushing on different boats at the same time. Discuss which boat is faster and why.

As children engage with science, technology, engineering, art and math, they are also building a strong foundation for learning in all subjects. With a little guidance from you and your child’s teachers, your young explorer will develop a love of STEAM and learning for life.