STEM Education: What is STEM and Why Does It Matter?

Preschool boy building a tower of wooden blocks

STEM Education, a term initiated by the National Science Foundation, is an educational approach which focuses on one or more of the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. In an era when technical and scientific skills are increasingly important in the work force, exposing children to STEM learning in the early years is key. 

Just as important, STEM learning is fun! It fosters important skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. It’s never too early to introduce STEM to your child.

STEM for Infants and Toddlers 

Young children are naturally curious about their world, so give them plenty of opportunities to explore and to learn through play.  With close supervision, offer real objects like an apple or a squash, a shiny water bottle or textured paper, which are much more interesting to the littlest learners than plastic toys and materials.  

STEM Activities for Preschoolers and School-agers

Continue to use scientific language to explore new STEM games and activities for preschoolers and school-agers:

  • ”S” is for science. The basis for scientific discoveries is being a good observer. Help build strong observation skills in your child by playing games that include examination, such as “I Spy” or “20 Questions.” Go on a nature hunt or try birdwatching. 
  • ”T” is for technology. Show how to safely search the internet to find the answer to problems you are trying to solve.
  • ”E” is for engineering. Offer building challenges that create STEM learning opportunities. Try building a tower with cups or make a bridge for plastic animals to walk over. 
  • ”M” is for math. Explain that patterns are displays that repeat themselves (can be in nature or manmade). Help your child look for patterns in the world such as repeating numbers on a license plate or rings of wood on a cut tree trunk.

Think about childhood experiences that fostered your love of science. Was it a visit to the local creek to find frogs and salamanders, locating a bird nest and recording the mama bird’s activity, watching your mom fix the leak in the kitchen sink, or playing float and sink with the boats and other objects in the bathtub?

STEM activities aren’t so much about planning lots of activities that require specific materials and processes; it is more about developing learning habits of inquiry and critical thinking skills.

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Preschool boy building a tower of wooden blocks
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