What does STEM look like in preschool and what is STEM anyway?

By infusing STEM into your early learning environment you will help build the skills needed for the 21st century

When Rae Pica from Bam Radio wrote me and asked me to participate in this next radio show, I looked at the topic and immediately knew that I had no idea what the topic was even about.  I mean, you may have heard of the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) before but I hadn’t heard of it and I sure didn’t want to talk about a topic that I knew nothing about.  Or did I? Come to find out, I know quite a bit about STEM and it is something that I bet you know more about than you think, too!

Rae Pica with Dr. Sherri Killins, Lilian G. Katz, Ph.D.,Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed.

First of all, if you haven’t ever taken a minute to listen to one of the Bam Radio interviews I have shared here before then this one is a must do!  Just listening to these ladies talk motivates and inspires me in my professional practice!  Today’s discussion is titled, “What, Teaching STEM in Preschool, Really?”  Click here to listen or hit play below!

What is STEM?

According to Dr. Sherri Killins, “What STEM does is give a label to what you are already doing… helping children to explore, observe, ask questions, predict, integrate their learning…  its what we’ve always done in early childhood education.”

The Distinction between Academic Learning and Intellectual Learning

Dr. Lilian Katz says, “It is important to know the distinction between academic learning and intellectual learning…. and most people don’t get that.”

Academic learning “by definition is the stuff that is clear like the alphabet, it’s no logic, it just has to be memorized… and it does have to be learned eventually.” (Lilian Katz onBam Radio)

Intellectual Learning “has to do with reasoning,  hypothesizing, and predicting, theorizing, and so forth and that’s natural.” (Lilian Katz on Bam Radio)

You want children to learn their academic skills in the service of their intellect so when they come and say, show me how to measure this or show me how to write that because they are doing an investigation – which is an intellectually based activity and it comes so naturally to all children.”  (Lilian Katz on Bam Radio)

How to Apply Stem in your Preschool Classroom

Our experts give the following advice…

  • “Become more intentional about what you are doing.  If you start by reflecting on what you are doing already, you will find you that you are already doing things in STEM and with an increase in your language and your ability to support children to predict what might happen next or explore or question, you will already be advancing those ideas of science, technology, engineering, and math.” (Dr. Killins on Bam Radio)
  • Remember that “The basic dispositions of science are asking questions then predicting what the outcome might be and then saying, ‘well, what data do I need to find out which is the right answer?’ and that is what children do in project work starting at age 3.”  (Dr. Katz on Bam Radio)
  • Do with things that are available that are in front of you. What isn’t in the best interest of advancing this knowledge is to imagine an ocean if you don’t live near an ocean or imagining a pirate that doesn’t exist. Use what is in front of you to create this learning and explore so you can test and try.” (Dr. Killins on Bam Radio)

How to Learn More About STEM

  • Think about something you want to know about and explore it and look up more information and then share this information with your children.  Use your natural curiosity – go into the concept of STEM by using your own sense of curiosity. (Dr. Killins on Bam Radio)
  • Put ideas into action, reflect on them, then figure out how you can take this idea or process up another notch to invite even more exploration, questioning, hypothesizing, observation and you will see that there is always another way.

The Importance of Play

“There are no greater natural scientists and engineers then young children. Inquisitive learners who learn STEM concepts through play. High quality early learning environments provide children with the structure in which to build upon their natural inclination to explore, to build, and to question.”  Once again it comes down to letting the children play! (JD Chesloff shared by Rae Pica in “What, Teaching STEM in Preschool, Really?“)

The Benefits of STEM

The link between early childhood and STEM is indisputable. Early exposure to STEM – whether it be in school, at a museum, a library, or just engaging in the natural trial and error of play – supports children’s overall academic growth, develops early critical thinking and reasoning skills, and enhances later interest in STEM study and careers. (JD Chesloff in Sparking a Child’s Interest in Science and Technology.”

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Picture of Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

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