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Fun STEM lessons for preschoolers

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

science, technology, engineering and math

The most lucrative college majors lie in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. It's never too early to introduce your child to these fascinating subjects. Find out how you can expose your little one to STEM learning.
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According to Payscale.com, the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM fields) comprise the highest-paying career opportunities for college graduates. What's important to understand is that exposure to these lucrative areas of study can begin long before your child is in high school or college.

Play your way to STEM learning

Dr. Craig Bach, Vice President of Education for Goddard Systems, Inc., is frequently asked how soon parents should begin introducing STEM subjects to their little learners. "It really isn't about introducing STEM topics to children," says Dr. Bach, "it is more about seeing the activities children naturally do for opportunities to guide them in STEM learning."

When preschoolers play with blocks or solve puzzles, they are already establishing a foundation for STEM learning. "The goal is to encourage a playful, inquisitive engagement with the environment and support children's play with appropriate activities, resources and tools," explains Dr. Bach. "The great news is that there are a lot of high-quality organizations and really nice resources being created to support early STEM learning."

Toy companies such as LEGO, Rokenbok and K’Nex all offer a range of toys that promote science, technology, engineering and math activities. And apps like Kodable.com provide great activities as well. Kodable describes itself as "the first step in early programming education for kids 5 and up" and provides "the skills needed to learn any programming language later in life."

Kodable helps even very young learners with logic, numbers, typing, reading and direction and develops problem-solving and memory skills. Fortunately, parents don't have to have a strong technology background to be involved. Adult lessons and resource guides include straightforward instructions and explanations of programming concepts while enabling children to work (or play) quite independently.

Tinker Toy Engineering Project

This activity from the Goddard Schools' national Teach.Play.Learn event supports 21st-century skill attainment and STEM learning outcomes. It is ideal for one or more children, ages 3 to 5.

Scenario: Your child identifies a problem and then uses Tinker Toys to develop a solution to address it. In the process, he or she learns the basic steps of completing an engineering project.

Activity: Work with your child to identify a problem he or she would like to solve. Try to identify a problem that allows for many different kinds of creative solutions. If your child has trouble identifying a problem, consider discussing different ideas that might inspire inventive thinking:

Future Transportation. In the future, we will need to develop new ways to transport people from one place to another. Encourage your child to build new ways for people to move around.

Living in New Places. What if we wanted to live under the sea, in a tree, in the desert, on the moon or on an elephant? What could your child create to help us do that?

Once the problem has been identified, lead your child through the following four steps:

  1. Brainstorm possible solutions and decide on one.
  2. Create a drawing or drawings of that solution.
  3. Build the solution using Tinker Toys.
  4. Explain how the Tinker Toys solution solves the problem.

Coding and Robotics Activity

This is a fun activity from the Goddard Schools for groups of two or more preschool-age children.

Scenario: A robot understands and responds to very specific instructions and often has limited abilities to do simple things. One child will play the role of a robot while the other child develops simple instructions to give to the robot. The goal is to accomplish the simple task of picking up a block and putting it on a table.

Activity: This activity builds fundamental intuitions about the difficulties and challenges of writing code for use in robotics.

Keep in mind

Not all children will understand left and right, so remember to know the capabilities of the group and give appropriate directions that they will understand. You may have to model or give the directions until the children get the idea.

1

Make the instructions

  • On 3x5 index cards, write short actions (e.g., turn left, turn right, bend down, move right hand, take one step forward) or draw pictures indicating simple movements and actions.*
  • Talk about each simple action with the children to make sure they understand.
  • Help the children put the cards in order and act out the instructions.
2

Create the robot

  • Have one child volunteer to be the robot.
  • Put a kitchen glove on each of the robot’s hands and a blindfold over his or her eyes.
3

Set the scene

  • Stand the robot a few feet away from and facing the opposite direction of a table.
  • Place a block on the ground in front of the table, making sure that the area is clear so the robot does not bump into anything hard.
4

Set the robot into motion

  • Explain to the children that the goal is to have the robot pick up the block and put it on the table.
  • Have the other children use the action steps on the 3x5 cards to shout out instructions to the robot until the action is complete.
  • Keep track of the order of the instructions.

This generates a great conversation with children about core issues in coding and robotics. Review the time and challenges involved in providing step-by-step instructions for accomplishing one seemingly simple task.

Bottom Line:

Engage your children in the areas that most interest them. Keep in mind that, unless it’s nurtured, the passion and creativity of your young child’s mind can begin waning as early as the first grade!

More on learning

Best-paying college majors
Why preschoolers love trains, planes and automobiles
Why parents should learn with their preschoolers

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