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They’re just getting started with structured learning, but kids in early primary can make leaps and bounds in STEM education with activities that prioritise fun.
When they start school, children are naturally curious and creative and it’s likely your little ones are eager to learn and experiment with hands-on activities. One study has found that most young people’s views of science are formed during the primary school years. That means it’s a smart time to encourage STEM activities at home to lay a solid foundation for future learning.
The challenge for both teachers and parents is to help young primary kids maintain their excitement and love of learning new things, while at the same time mastering essentials such as numeracy and literacy. At young primary level, exploration and play are still the most effective ways of learning and getting kids interested in STEM. It’s not about memorising facts or ‘skill and drill’. Instead, aim to spark that natural curiosity and dial up the fun factor wherever possible to best complement their classroom learning.
Maths is fundamental to all STEM activities. Research shows that children remember and grasp mathematical concepts more easily when they use charts, blocks and other concrete, hands-on tools. One simple tool you can use at home is a ‘hundred chart’ – the numbers one to 100 in a grid of 10 squares by 10. There are plenty of free STEM activity charts online, like this, or you can make up your own and print it out. Use props like coins, tiny biscuits and even grains of rice to play different counting games using the chart. Take it in turns with them and make up problems for each other to solve. Look for patterns. Try having kids colour odd and even numbers differently, or play a guessing game where you say ‘too big’ or ‘too small’ when they try to guess the mystery numbers. As children get more confident, you can add two rows to your hundred chart so that the numbers climb to 120, to help them get a grasp of higher maths skills.
There are plenty of easy and interesting ways to integrate fun maths into daily life: to start learning about shapes, play an ‘I spy’ game where your mini learners must find shapes in everyday objects around them – a circle in the light fitting, a rectangle on the breadboard and so on. Encourage children to count everyday items. Maybe the jars of jam in the fridge, the number of books in the house or the quantity of shoes in each closet – bonus points if they count pairs and singles. Bring in ideas of ‘more’ and ‘less’. You can play maths games like ordering the toys by colour and shape, getting them to sort the books by size or creating a family height chart and talking about the differences.
Did you know that little helping hands in the vegie patch is a great STEM opportunity? Gardening can introduce important early science lessons because it offers kids the chance to explore, observe and touch.
Even something as simple as planting alfalfa seeds using wet paper towels can demonstrate science. Herb gardens in small pots on the windowsill can lead to early lessons about biology, horticulture and botany. Plus, it’s fun to watch things grow.
Designing, modelling and experimenting are part of all STEM subjects. Designing and drawing their own inventions and making models out of clay, blocks or household objects are great ways of exploring maths, science and engineering concepts in young primary years. Make science interesting for kids by encouraging them to test the objects they’ve created. Does the building stay standing, does the paper aeroplane glide through the air, does the playdough car have wheels that roll? By letting them observe what happens, kids are engaging in the basics of experimentation.
Because collaboration is key in STEM (and in life!), their school holiday play date can even be an opportunity for STEM learning. Working in small groups gives kids the chance to discover their own skills and interests. If they are setting up a homemade volcano kit, who do they want to be: the builder, the organiser or the recorder?
Working in a group means young kids will share opinions and ideas with one another. Encourage them to describe and explain to one another what they are doing, why and how they are doing it. All this builds both teamwork skills and crucial communication around STEM concepts.
Good STEM education at this age sets the foundation for future learning, but it’s okay for kids not to have all the answers. Instead of jumping in to solve a problem or help them out, give them time to guess and hypothesise about how things work (or don’t work) or why something happens. It’s a natural way to keep stimulating their curiosity. Support kids’ inquisitive nature by playing games or STEM educational activities that introduce scientific method (hypothesise, experiment, record and discuss results). Try doing a blindfolded taste test (milk and dark chocolate is a good option) or see whether ice melts faster in juice or water. STEM activities are important to help kids understand that not all experiments work out; after all, much scientific research in the adult world is based on experimentation – trying out ideas and, when they don’t work, trying something new. Encourage children to start again with a different approach. Persistence and problem solving are also STEM skills and great life lessons, too.