The curiosity and wonder of toddlers and preschoolers are truly boundless. STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math—is an educational movement that taps into this natural inclination to explore, incorporating inquiry and creativity into students’ learning experiences. STEAM activities provide hands-on opportunities for students to discover the world around them.
There are far-reaching and long-term benefits of these practices for students’ critical thinking, collaboration, and creative skills. Incorporating scientific exploration as a mode of learning about the world opens children up to new and interesting possibilities. Using simple materials, building upon common activities and behaviors, and utilizing an open-discovery model, educators can integrate STEAM activities into daily routines. Incorporating questions and conversations that encourage young students to analyze their work and reflect on their learning can transform seemingly simple play into productive learning experiences through STEAM activities, allowing students to find their inner scientist, artist, or engineer.
Rocks and Blocks: Children love to build and create. Stacking and building a variety of materials and understanding size differences are key components to foundational principles of engineering. Further, practice with these skills helps to build mathematical conceptualization and promotes creative and critical thinking. As part of a lesson or during center time, expand open play to encourage students to get creative and deepen their understanding of how materials work together.
Invite students to create piles of various manipulatives or rocks. Talk about the tallest stack and the shortest stack. Ask students about which piles seem to be the sturdiest and which fall down easily and why. Have students consider how they might make changes to their structure to make it stronger.
Set up a building area for students to work together to build a house. Include wooden blocks, bristle blocks, or larger, plastic building blocks. Ask students if they would like to live in the house they built and why.
Water: Sensory play is a wonderful way for young students to experience their world through STEAM activities. Water is a safe material to use for exploring fluid dynamics, conceptions of volume, and the ways different tools and resources work. Partnering water play with conversations and experimentation allows students to build visual references and understanding for future learning.
Fill a large bin with water and give students several cups or containers. Encourage students to move water between containers. Ask students which container holds the most water and which container holds the least amount of water. Encourage them to figure out how many small containers of liquid it takes to fill the larger container.
Have students use spoons to move water between containers. Then, teach students to use a pipette and have them practice using pipettes to transfer water. Talk about which method is faster. Ask them to think about which tool would be best for transferring water a long distance and why.
Thinking Outside the Box: Utilizing materials in unique and creative ways is a great way to promote organic STEAM thinking and exploration. Encouraging students to see common materials in new ways helps to stretch their imagination and empowers them as inventors.
Using playdough paired with straws or marshmallows paired with toothpicks, encourage students to arrange materials into basic shapes. Ask how they could make a shape smaller or larger. Invite students to combine their shapes together to see what new shapes are created.
Using recycled materials such as paper towel rolls, newspapers, boxes, or plastic bottles, encourage students to combine materials to create something new. You might invite them to create a castle, an animal, or even an instrument. Ask students to share what they made and why they used the materials they chose.