If you have children, you’ve likely heard the term “STEM.” STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Educators and learning specialists have begun to focus on integrating STEM into lesson plans and encouraging more children to pursue higher education in these fields because strength in these areas can be beneficial in many ways. People in STEM-related careers often have higher incomes and diverse opportunities, and these skills can help people understand and solve the world’s most complex problems.
But did you know that STEM education is possible as early as preschool? Educators in Florida understand that incorporating STEM education in voluntary pre-kindergarten programs can help children thrive in school and life. This article will explore how teachers integrate STEM education into VPK programs, the benefits of this type of learning, and some examples of developmentally appropriate hands-on STEM learning for young kids.
Reach out to the New Horizons Learning Center team now to learn more about our VPK programs or to schedule a visit to our school.
STEM Education in Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Programs: An Early Advantage
When you think of the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, you may not immediately associate them with the preschool years. These concepts are broad and complex, and it may be challenging to see how little learners can really understand them.
But STEM education doesn’t have to include only deep dives into complex subjects and using computers to perform tasks. STEM learning can be hands-on, creative, and–most importantly–a lot of fun!
The primary goal of STEM education in voluntary pre-kindergarten programs is to encourage children to develop new, creative ways of thinking and problem-solving. Preschool-aged STEM lessons don’t resemble those taught in elementary school or beyond. Instead, these concepts are introduced through play, interactive experiences, and child-led exploration.
Research shows that introducing STEM concepts to children between birth and five years can help them understand and engage with these concepts throughout the rest of their education and later on.
STEM in Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Programs: What Does This Look Like?
You’re not likely to see rows of computers or complicated technology inside a VPK classroom. Instead, you’ll notice blocks and other building supplies, natural materials and magnifying glasses, marbles and balls, and so much more. And most importantly, you’ll see a dedicated educator happily engaging children in hands-on STEM lessons.
Here are some of the ways you may see STEM education in voluntary pre-kindergarten programs.
Young children are natural scientists who love to use all of their senses to explore the world around them. Simple science lessons for preschoolers may include:
- Testing what classroom objects will sink or float in water
- Examining details of leaves, shells, feathers, etc. with a magnifying glass
- Mixing baking soda and vinegar
- Growing a bean in a plastic bag or grass in an eggshell
- Learning what will and won’t dissolve in water
- Building boats with aluminum foil
- Observing how a paper towel absorbs colored water
- Making shadow puppets
- Discovering what will and will not melt in sunlight
- Exploring magnets–what will stick and what will not?
- Growing rock candy crystals
- Bake cookies with and without baking soda
Children learn best when they are engaged and excited–and nothing is more engaging and exciting than being able to see, hear, touch, smell, and even taste the results of your science experiment.
Kids today spend more time on screens than other generations. While screen-based tech can be part of a child’s introduction to technology, other play-based activities let them explore concepts in the real world without the extra screen time. These include:
- Making simple graphs
- Discovering what materials provide good insulation
- Making a constellation projector with a flashlight and construction paper
- Build circuits or mazes with Legos
- Disassemble simple electronics–radios, alarm clocks, etc. using child-safe tools
- Create recycled paper
- Learn to follow simple directions using a map
Kids don’t need to spend hours with apps and online videos to learn basic tech skills. Interactive activities can help them build a foundation of understanding that will help them learn broader concepts later.
Young children are typically very interested in understanding how things work. Engineering concepts can be introduced through play-based pre-K activities, such as:
- Building and observing a rain gauge
- Connecting paper towel tubes to make a marble maze
- Building a balloon-powered car
- Using simple machines, such as ramps or pulleys
- Making and flying simple kites
- Creating a simple catapult and launching cotton balls
- Toasting marshmallows in a homemade solar oven
There are many ways to encourage kids’ creativity and problem-solving abilities through simple engineering activities.
Teaching math to pre-kindergarteners doesn’t have to involve memorizing numbers or doing complex arithmetic. Instead, math education in a VPK may include hands-on activities that help children learn numbers, count, and understand the relationship between numbers, such as:
- Playing simple board games that use counters, dice, or spinners
- Simple card games like Uno, Go Fish, or Slapjacks
- Memory matching games
- Reading books that involve counting
- Singing songs about counting or numbers
- Cooking simple recipes that involve measuring ingredients
- Setting up a simple “store” in the classroom and giving children pretend money
- Playing hopscotch
These fun, active math activities will help kids learn how numbers and basic math concepts are part of everyday life and give them a great foundation to understand more complex concepts later on.
Learn More About STEM Education in VPK Programs
If you have a little learner in your life and want to know more about STEM education in voluntary pre-kindergarten programs, reach out to the dedicated team at New Horizons Learning Center. We offer high-quality VPK programs that will prepare your child for school success. Call now to learn more or to schedule a tour.