STEAM! This new “subject” has been widely popular lately and seems to be growing by the day.
But here’s a little secret…
STEAM has been around forever. And children do STEAM activities on a daily basis without our intention.
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. The idea behind creating STEAM is to connect different subject areas into one to show kids that we use a variety of different skills to get results we want.
But this happens naturally in a child’s world especially when we follow a child-led approach.
In my opinion I think schools were realizing that kids were departmentalizing subjects and couldn’t see how different subjects are used daily in one project. But the downside of STEAM is that now kids see STEAM as an individual subject. Their purpose totally missed the mark.
When given the opportunity children naturally use different subject areas to learn about their interests. For example, let’s say your child is interested in birds.
Letting the child lead their own project, they use science to investigate different types of birds and experiment to figure out how things fly. They may use engineering when building their own bird’s nest. Moving on to technology a child uses a tablet to watch YouTube videos on birds and clay tools to sculpt their own bird. Art is found again when creating their own bird’s nest and when you go for a nature walk to draw the birds you see. Last is math. A child may use math to measure the width of a bird’s wings or nests. They may count eggs they find in a nest or measure ingredients to make nectar for hummingbirds.
You see when we follow the child’s lead and let them dictate how they’re going to learn about a topic, STEAM naturally emerges.
Related: 4 Aspects of the Adult’s Role in Child-Led Learning
Science is seen any time a child investigates something about their world and how it works. Hypothesizing and testing their theories also fits into science. For a toddler and preschooler, anything could really be considered science because they are exploring and researching new ideas every day.
This is not just computers, phones, and robots. Technology includes all tools a child uses to problem solve and explore. A hammer, loose parts, and art materials are all considered technology.
Any time your child is building or constructing something they are engineering. This includes cooking too!
Inviting a child to represent their understandings is the ultimate way to get a child to learn. It allows them to see their misconceptions, develop new questions, and express what they know.
Related: How to Incorporate Process Art at Home
Drawing, constructing, music, drama, and dance are all considered art. And a child should be able to express their knowledge through their own art “language.”
Some kids express themselves better through drawing or painting while others like music. Sicily expresses her knowledge best through imaginative play, or drama.
Keep a learning journal where your child can record their learning on the go. When you’re out on a nature walk and your child stops to investigate an ant hill, offer them the opportunity to draw what they observed. This can be used later to remind your child, and you, of their experience before investigating it further.
Counting, quantifying, weighing, measuring, equations, sorting, and shapes are all ways your preschooler may use math in their investigations. Even comparing and classifying are math skills.
STEAM for Toddlers
Toddlers naturally use STEAM in their everyday play experiences. We can help build upon their STEAM skills by offering cooking opportunities, lots of time for exploring new things, and multi sensory experiences.
Introduce a learning journal even though their drawings are not going to be anywhere close to what they actually see. It’s okay. The idea is to get them into the habit of representing their learning.
Introduce simple invitations for exploration and include art as a way to express themselves.
Related: What is an Invitation?
STEAM for Preschoolers
This is where your child will really start to own their learning in a child-led environment. They will start to take charge of their investigations. Your job is to provide the materials they need to complete their ideas.
Step it up by offering challenges such as “Can you build a lion’s den with these materials?” And make your invitations more sophisticated and based around answering their questions.
STEAM learning is always open ended. There is no right answer and the focus should be on the process not the end product. STEAM activities do not have to include each aspect of STEAM either. Science, technology, engineering, art, and math are all considered STEAM. The idea is to get kids to use more than one subject area when investigating. Which happens naturally if you let it.