Making STEM learning a part of every day is easy if one is mindful of the opportunities that arise. In a previous guest post, Narinda Sandry explained STEMtastic: making it easy — in every classroom, for every child and teacher.
Last month I shared with you an excellent article from The Conversation by Kym Simoncini of the University of Canberra about Five things parents can do every day to help develop STEM skills from a young age.
There is a thirst for information about STEM in the wider community, and articles such as these generate a lot of interest. In response, I have compiled some suggestions to help parents Incorporate STEM learning into everyday activities – suggestions for parents. The handout, located in Classroom Management — For parents, is available for teachers to distribute free to parents.
The handout recognises that parents are their child’s most influential teachers and acknowledges the important role that parents play in the education of their children. Learning in informal situations can be as effective and influential on later life choices as learning in formal situations.
The most effective opportunities are responsive to children’s interests or initiated by their questions and tailored to meet their level of understanding and need to know. However, for this to occur, children must be offered a variety of experiences that stimulate their curiosity and provide opportunities to explore, investigate, discover and create.
What is STEM?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Because of their interrelatedness and interdependence, the STEM subjects are often taught together. Sometimes the arts are also included, extending the acronym to STEAM. Of course, language and literacy are integral to all learning.
It may be easy to think, “What do I know about STEM? How can I possibly teach it? How can I make it a part of every day?”
If we think about each component in the following simple terms, it is easy to see how they can be incorporated.
Science — observing, exploring, and asking questions about the world. Children are scientists when they observe and wonder about living things in the environment, ask questions about changes in the night sky and weather, or what things are made of and how they work.
Technology — asking questions about and investigating familiar objects in the environment, including what they are made of, how they work and why they are used. Children are working with technology when they investigate kitchen items such as cutlery, pots and pans, scissors, sieves and rolling pins; or the items we use to hold things together; such as adhesive tape, glue, string, split pins or needle and thread.
Engineering — exploring, designing and solving problems by building machines, structures and systems. Children are engineers as they try to figure out how things work, take things apart and put them together, as they build and construct.
Mathematics — exploring the world through investigating patterns, number, size and shape. Maths is more than just counting. Children are mathematicians when they count items, measure and compare objects, make patterns and complete jigsaw puzzles. Through discussion they are also developing thinking skills, solving problems and developing language.
It is easy to see how they are all interlinked in even the simplest projects such as designing a bird feeder, planting seeds, or building a castle for toys from blocks.
I often say that children are born scientists. From the moment they are born they are actively finding ways of figuring out how the world works, and how they can get it to work for them. Many of their investigations also include technology, engineering and maths. We just need to be on the look-out for learning and teaching opportunities as they arise.
Children’s knowledge, understanding and language increase as they have more experiences and engage in deep discussions. A strong foundation makes them more able to learn new things as their knowledge base expands.
STEM learning in everyday activities at home and away
STEM is not dependent upon expensive toys and science kits. It requires a keen eye, a curious mind, and an investigative spirit.
You involve your children in STEM when you encourage them to:
- Observe the world around them and notice changes that occur; including plants and animals, land and sky, rivers, ponds and oceans.
- Be curious about how things work, why things occur, and what would happen if.
- Ask questions about what they see.
- Describe what they see, hear, feel, smell or taste.
use appropriate vocabulary
Extend children’s knowledge and use of scientific language by using words appropriate to the concept and children’s stage of development. Avoid dumbing down unnecessarily. Ask children to describe what they see. Don’t always expect them to give explanations of why things may be occurring. The ‘what’ is often easier than the ‘why’. The why comes later.
be curious and interested, have a sense of wonder
You can help develop your child’s curiosity and interest by being curious and interested yourself. We can become so used to things being the way they are, that we cease to wonder and question and learn to simply accept. Try to see the world as if for the first time through the eyes of a child, and wonder.
seek answers and explanations
Help your child find answers to their questions by looking in books and online or asking an expert. Don’t be content giving a half-hearted explanation. Take the opportunity to find out for yourself. If you don’t have books at home, visit the local library or borrow from the school library. Visit museums and botanic gardens to ask experts, or ask an expert in your neighbourhood.
visit interesting places
Visit different places – the beach, botanic gardens, museums, rainforests, aquariums, wildlife parks, zoos, airports, walk your local streets and observe construction, visit displays and exhibitions.
learning in the kitchen
In the kitchen – mix, make, bake and observe changes; investigate tools — what they are made from and how they are used; find out about food — where it comes from, how it is grown or produced and how it gets to our tables; consider materials used in packaging and what can be reused or recycled. Read recipes, create menus, calculate quantities and costs, write shopping lists and purchase the items.
learning with blocks
Provide blocks, cardboard boxes and other loose parts for building and construction. Building with blocks creates opportunities for all-round learning; including, language, social skills, fine motor skills, problem solving, thinking and mathematics. Construction requires consideration of things such as size, shape, number and spatial reasoning. Children may need to share, describe, ask, imagine, be persistent, and use positional language (under, above, beneath, behind, on top of, beside, next to).
Provide dress up and other props for creative and imaginative play.
Playing alongside and with children as companions rather than directors provides even more opportunities for discussion and learning.
Read stories that encourage children to take an interest in STEM subjects.
Plant seeds, nurture them and watch them grow.
observe the environment
Go on nature walks — collect and compare leaves; collect, observe (and release) minibeasts; watch spiders build webs.
Observe and describe changes in the sky and seasons.
Play games that involve children in counting and help to develop mathematical concepts and understanding.
Encourage water play in the bathtub or in a trough where children can investigate floating and sinking, bubbles, temperature, volume, pouring.
Provide magnets and allow children to discover which things are attracted and which aren’t.
be a citizen scientist
Remember: The richer the experience and discussion, the greater the learning; and learning begets learning.
According to Lynda Colgan, Professor of Elementary Mathematics, Queen’s University, Ontario, in Science in the home boosts children’s academic success published in The Conversation:
“When parents actively participate in kitchen-sink experiments, they become STEM mentors. When parents become partners by contributing specimens to a child’s leaf or bug collection and then go a step farther by helping their child to categorize those treasures with the help of an illustrated website, they are modelling what scientists do.
When parents curl up with their children to read a science book together, such as The Way Things Work by David Macaulay, and then dig out the can opener to take a closer look, they are modelling learning.
When families watch age-appropriate television together — like Sid the Science Kid, Project Mc² or NOVA — parents are encouraging connections among STEM topics, everyday life, career possibilities and scientific literacy through their attitudes and actions.”
A few ideas to demonstrate how easy it is
Including interviews with these authors about their STEM-related stories:
Other readilearn resources for parents:
readilearn: teaching resources for the first three years of school.
Resources beyond worksheets – lessons for teachers made by teachers.
Let readilearn lighten your workload.
I appreciate your feedback and comments. Please share your thoughts below.