What is STEM and why is it important in early childhood? | TOMY

Lamaze - Dr. Jeanette Cohen

Jeanette Sawyer Cohen, PhD specializes in early childhood development, maternal well-being, and parent-child interactions. We work closely with Jeanette and other experts to produce toys that we believe are developmentally appropriate for your child.
Monday, August 31, 2020

Your baby gazes at objects of interest, exploring the world with eyes wide. Your toddler points insistently, eager for you to name everything she sees. Your passionate preschooler asks hundreds of questions in a single day.  If you are the parent of a young child, you know quite well that children are full of wonder and curiosity.

Today’s schools embrace this inquisitive nature by providing opportunities for children to engage in STEM learning. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. (You may also see “STEAM,” which includes Art). Long before educators were championing project-based learning and student-led inquiry, babies and toddlers were leading the way with their innate interest in how things work.

Parents of young children are often focused on “school readiness,” wanting to parent in a way that sets their little one up for academic and lifelong success. Through play and hands-on experimentation, young children develop essential 21st century skills such as creativity and critical thinking. You can promote these skills, and build on your child’s early love of learning, by providing opportunities to observe, wonder, discover and solve problems together.

STEM learning starts with you. As tiring as it may be at times, show that you value your child’s curiosity. Listen to your little one’s questions, allow her to test hypotheses, support trial-and-error learning, and help her to make connections and draw conclusions from her experiments. Parents can facilitate early learning by slowing down, tolerating messiness, and resisting the urge to take over.

Everyday routines and sensory play activities provide rich opportunities for STEM learning. Science provides a framework for testing ideas, and math provides ways to measure the objects of our investigation. Build on your child’s interests to examine and measure properties of the physical world, using mathematical language for the concepts you’re exploring together: “Let’s find the longest one,” or “How many do we have here?” Create opportunities for scientific exploration by observing patterns, and allowing your little one to predict what will happen next. “Will this sink or float?” or “What happens if we try this?”

Engineering is a discipline dedicated to problem solving, and technology refers to any human-made tool that can help solve a problem. When faced with an unsolved problem, engineers use a “design process” that involves steps such as: plan, create, and improve. Incorporating these ideas into play supports your child’s cognitive and social-emotional development. When you help your toddler or preschooler with the planning phase (“Hmmm, that’s an interesting idea. How might we get that to work?”) you are building “executive functioning,” an important set of skills that include sequencing, prioritizing and task completion. Allow your child to try out his ideas, which will sometimes fail, in a way that models resilience (“I see that didn’t work out the way you had hoped. That’s disappointing. I wonder if there is another way to get this to work? What else can we try?”) The brilliance of the design process is that there is always another chance to make improvements. Helping your child learn this at a young age builds frustration tolerance and can help counter perfectionism. “Let’s try again” becomes your motto.

Young children learn best through hands-on exploration in the context of nurturing relationships.

Engaging in STEM learning through play builds on and celebrates your child’s natural curiosity and imagination. Have fun wondering, discovering, and creating together!

Learn more about promoting STEM in early childhood: