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STEM 101: Why Preschoolers are Born STEM Stars


| By Fran Molloy; Additional Research by Amy Vagne | March 24, 2020

It’s never too early to start STEM learning. Toddlers and preschoolers are curious and eager to explore the world around them.

Ever noticed how babies will eagerly grab any object they can reach, experimenting with the way it looks and feels, tasting and shaking it to find out more? Once mobile, little ones often prod and pull things to gauge a reaction.

As part of their everyday exploration, young children are observing and taking risks, doing tests, messing up and trying again – all fundamental skills of a scientist, engineer or mathematician. It’s why the early childhood years are the perfect time to introduce simple STEM activities around science, technology, engineering and maths.

Start Simple, Start Positive to Build STEM Skills

Preschoolers are naturally curious, so encouraging them at this age is easy. Parents should look for learning activities that are engaging and fun. The best part is you don’t have to overthink it. Observe and ask questions about colours, shapes and counting. Basics like blowing bubbles, gardening, water play, construction blocks, making slime, playing with mirrors, rolling toys and balls down ramps and manipulating playdough are all easy STEM activities for kids.

For preschoolers, it’s about experimentation and while many of these activities may seem simple, they serve as an introduction to basic STEM principles, encouraging enquiry and invention skills, setting kids up for more in-depth STEM activities later on in life.

Encourage Toddlers to Use Their Senses to Explore the Real World

As adults, we use our senses innately: we know what to expect when we brush past lavender; we know how an apple tastes compared with an orange. The touch of silk and cotton are familiar to us, as are the colours and shapes of the world around us. But to those in early childhood, this is a whole new world.

Helping them to use all five senses every day ensures they develop a strong sense of observation and exploration all while encouraging physical activity. There are plenty of easy sensory STEM activities for toddlers in the real world. Play ‘I spy’ on the front porch, do a berry-tasting comparison in the kitchen, smell each plant in the herb garden, and let them play with textures – everything from squishy mud to soft cottonwool.

The Best Way for Young Children to Learn STEM is Through Hands-On Activities

Kids learn by mimicking adults, and in today’s smartphone-obsessed world, most will get acquainted with technology from the moment they can get hold of your phone. But it’s important to put some time and space limits around screen time. Australian health authorities recommend that children under two should not routinely have screen time unless video chatting, and that children aged two to five years should only view one to two hours of high-quality programming per day.

According to research, the most effective way to introduce young children to STEM is with a play-based, hands-on approach sans devices like phones, tablets and computers. Tipping water and mud in and out of buckets, building sandcastles or balancing blocks to form a tower teaches children about gravity, physics and measurement. While playing with bubbles, get kids to look for colours. Give them a range of kitchen tools so they can experiment to see which ones blow the best bubbles: what works and what doesn’t.

SEE ALSO: 10 School Hacks Your Kids Will Actually Use

How to Get Your Kids Interested in STEM

As parents, it can be so tempting to step in and adjust things while your kids are playing. But hold yourself back, if you can. You may feel like you’re helping but it can deprive young children of important learning opportunities. If a child’s building block tower is about to topple over, let it happen. That’s how kids learn about gravity.

Preschoolers playing with wooden building blocks as a STEM activity

When a tower has fallen, a young child will often be able to adjust and modify the way they stack the blocks based on what they've just learned; they are already thinking about science and engineering. By engaging in STEM education with other kids, this will help your child to develop their social skills. The activities themselves encourage little moments of learning and are amazing opportunities for them to understand complex STEM concepts naturally, without interference.

Easy STEM Activities for Toddlers

  • Stack wooden blocks in towers to try out engineering basics. Make a tower foundation using just one block, then two, then four.
  • Fill a bucket with small cups of sand to test measurement. Try cups of different sizes and compare them.
  • Show that air takes up space by pushing an upturned glass over a ping-pong ball into a clear container of water.
  • Use a magnifying glass to watch bugs to foster an interest in biology and the environment.
  • Collect different leaves and make a collage to encourage observation of the natural world.

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