I’ve been watching our four 3-year-old grandchildren demonstrate STEM skills. They turned over rocks to look for worms and found “creatures” hiding in puddles at Kincaid Beach. They planned and built Lego spaceships and tall towers and knocked them apart to see how the pieces would fall. They passed along my iPad when the timer went off and signaled the end of their turn. They counted the number of garden gnomes we saw at the store (while calling them Santa!).
STEM seems to be popping up all over the place these days. From educators to employers, academics to economists – everyone seems to agree on two things: 1. There’s a shortage of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technology professionals and 2. Teaching those disciplines should start much earlier. STEM is the acronym widely used to describe the hard disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math.
Here in Alaska, the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) at University of Alaska Anchorage is “growing” engineers and scientists among Alaska Native students in what is becoming a national model for excellence. The success of ANSEP, part of which introduces middle school and high school students to science and engineering, is powerful evidence that teaching STEM disciplines should start early.
How early? Well, there’s also evidence that the disciplines in STEM are natural for very young children. Bringing more attention to STEM means nurturing their curiosity about the world around them. It means encouraging children’s questions and asking questions of your own to help them explore their environment. And it works. We are learning that math literacy is a strong predictor of success in school.
Early age-appropriate attention to STEM also helps children build important intellectual skills such as logic and the ability to analyze information. Simply put, consciously incorporating more STEM into early learning helps children be that much better prepared to succeed in school and in life.
How are you encouraging STEM skills with the young children in your life?