Growing minds – the importance of STEM in early childhood

(Article by Dept of Education NSW)

Children demonstrate a natural curiosity to the world around them by experimenting and investigating across a range of learning areas. Learning is not compartmentalised into curriculum areas but woven into discovery and investigation. As children play and explore, there is a natural crossover between science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Everyday routines and play experiences are opportune times for learning about STEM.

Understanding STEM

Science is learning about the natural world through observation, listening, and recording. It includes reasoning, classifying, experimenting, hypothesising, making predictions and wondering.

Technology involves designing, planning and the making of things to support us in work and our daily lives. It includes all human-made objects, non-digital and digital. It is about being inventive, identifying problems and creating.

Engineering is solving problems, using a variety of materials, creating and building things that work. It involves planning, designing and working collaboratively.

Math is about problem solving, reasoning, looking for pattern and structure, and understanding measurement, shape and quantity.

An example of STEM involves children playing in block corner as they investigate maths concepts such as length, shape, measurement, number, estimation, symmetry, balance and problem solving. Block play offers opportunities to build scientific reasoning, test assumptions and engage in physics. It can also include technology and engineering concepts when planning, designing, creating and constructing.

The relevance of STEM in early childhood

Many of the STEM areas are interrelated. A cross-curricular approach is a critical foundation for learning. Rather than teaching topics in isolation, interdisciplinary teaching helps children make connections across learning areas and strengthens the disposition for lifelong learning.

STEM experiences that are connected to children’s everyday lives increase motivation and engagement. Children are full of wonder, interest and curiosity, and are constantly investigating and making sense of their world. It’s these foundational concepts of exploring, questioning and speculating that influence future educational experience and provide knowledge required for an innovative and creative world.

Focusing on real world issues and problems, STEM explorations support children to develop skills that have become increasingly important for 21st century learning, including:

  • critical thinking
  • problem-solving skills
  • innovation
  • creativity
  • information and media literacy
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • self-directed learning.

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