What is STEM and How Do I Teach it to my Kids?

STEM. This is catching a lot of attention these days. Do you know what it means?

- science
- technology
- engineering
- mathematics

Did you think it was exclusive to older children, or even adults? Not at all! These concepts are all part of children’s learning through exploration and discovery. Each week at our 3,2,1, Fun! program, parents explore STEM concepts with their children.

Did you know all children are little scientists? Everything about their world is open for discovery. They want to know “why,” “what happens if I do this,” “where does it go,” “how did that happen.” Children will repeat actions such as building a tower over and over again even though it keeps falling apart. They want to learn how to make it more stable and  they want to build it taller. Have patience! Though they may get frustrated, they are learning a STEM concept! Encourage questions from your children by prompting them with questions of your own, such as, “why do you think the tower fell,” “should we try it again,” “what do you think will happen this time,” and “what should we do differently?”

Allowing children to experience concepts hands on—by creating a learning environment where they can touch, manipulate, and explore their surroundings—will benefit them far more than only reading a book about a topic or watching a video.

Try these activities at home:

Science: Little scientists investigating the natural world

GLOVE-garden

  • Try planting some seeds. Watching something grow from a seed can be exciting and doesn’t have to be done outdoors. You can start the growing season early by planting seeds indoors
  • You don’t have to start them in a pot or container either. Try using a plastic glove! Children can drop a moistened cotton ball into each finger length, add a seed and then hang it in the window
  • Discussion about what plants need to grow—sun, air, and water—can occur as you daily monitor the changes together as the roots begin to break free from the seed
  • Once the seed has sprouted, transplant it to a little pot with dirt and continue to watch it grow

 

Technology: Exploring ways to use what they build for a purpose or action

Balloon Car2

  • Think “outside the box” and do activities that have less to do with an electronic device and more to do with hands on. There are plenty of apps available that offer activities related to technology, and children are getting more and more time on screens; offer something new by taking the device out of technology
  • Use technology to “research” a project to make with your children
  • A project we like to make is a little car or boat that can be powered for simple movement. You only need common supplies such as cardboard, a couple of wooden skewers (sticks), milk jug tops for the wheels, some tape, a balloon, and a straw. After the car is built you blow the balloon up, and as the air escapes through the straw it propels the car forward. You can find complete instructions here http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Balloon-Car

 

Engineering: Using their knowledge of the world around them to build and create

Build-Engineer

  • Yes, build and create!
  • Make blanket forts
  • Build simple structures using toothpicks and mini marshmallows or small candies
  • Use building toys, such as stacking blocks
  • Make things from recycled materials

 

 

Math: Increasing knowledge of counting, patterns, colours, and shapes to strengthen their ability to build and create with purpose

Color Mix

  • Get messy. Mix colours to learn about primary and secondary colours. Partly fill a sandwich bag with a small amount of shaving cream. Add a few drops from 2 different colours of food colouring. Have your children mix it all together to see what new colour is created. Have them predict ahead of time what will happen
  • Using different coloured recycled jug lids and stickers, make your own memory matching game
  • Create a container filled with random things you may find in a junk drawer (child safe of course), and have your children sort the things from smallest to biggest, or by colour or shape
  • Have fun with food! Break apart a chocolate chip cookie to count how many chocolate chips are in it. Estimate how many will be in each cookie, and compare the totals with the actual chocolate chip count

Looking for activities to do with your children, with STEM concepts in mind, can be a super way for you both to learn, be creative, get messy, and have fun!

 

Early Years Numeracy… in Planting

iStock_gardenAt 3,2,1, Fun! we explore numbers through play, stories, and rhymes with children 3-5 years old and their parents. Learning about sequences is important to children’s ability to grasp the concept that numbers have a special order.

We can demonstrate sequences by using a recipe, or step-by-step instructions. Another way is to say, “first we do this,” using words to describe the first step, “then we do that.”

There are plenty of opportunities to use simple numeracy concepts in planting activities, whether you are planting in a pot, the ground, or seedlings from another method. Recently in 3,2,1, Fun! we planted a variety of seeds inside a plastic glove.

First we compared the seeds—discussing the different sizes, shapes, and colours, and how some represented more visually the food they grow into. For example, watermelon seeds are familiar to us because we see the seeds in the fruit we eat. We tried sorting the seeds into big, medium, and small, and by shape. How many big ones? Then we planted the seeds—squash, pumpkin, bean, marigold, cucumber, watermelon, carrot, and sunflower—in our garden gloves.

You can also use the opportunity to discuss what plants need to grow (water, sunlight, etc).

Supplies needed for a garden glove:

  • A plastic glove (the kind you would use in food preparation)
  • Cotton balls
  • Water
  • Variety of seeds
  • Twist tie
  • Marker

GLOVE-garden

Steps:

  1. Soak five cotton balls in water, squeeze out the excess water
  2. Put a wet cotton ball in each of the glove fingers and thumb
  3. Add a seed to each cotton ball
  4. Write down the name of each seed on the glove finger where it was planted; you can add the date if you like
  5. Twist tie it shut at the top
  6. Hang the glove in a window that gets a lot of sun
  7. Wait to see what grows

It really works! As plants grow, or germinate, we have more opportunities with the children to observe the changes and compare them. Some seedlings have more shoots than others; some grow quicker than others. Watch for changes and see what happens. Sometimes something goes wrong and nothing happens, but we can be scientists and repeat the experiment to see if the results change.

Try journaling what you observe. Your children can draw the pictures and you can scribe the words for them.

Later on, you can transplant your seedlings into pots of soil or into a garden. Some children have already planted their new seedlings into their home gardens.

Good luck growing!

The Spring 3,2,1,Fun! program will be ending mid-June, but please phone the Centre for Family Literacy in Edmonton at 780-421-7323 for more information or visit our website www.famlit.ca

The End of Winter Means a New Garden… Yes, it Will Happen!

Eventually it will warm up and our thoughts may turn to planting a garden – at least one can always hope. Over the winter I debated about how to do my garden this year. I always have a ton of weeds and not enough time to keep up, but I still like having a garden. To find a solution, I went “digging” for information.

I found an idea that I’d previously disregarded because I have always done my garden the way my mom did hers when I was little. But if I want to get rid of weeds without using chemicals, the easiest thing to do would be to just cover up the garden. I’ve decided to compromise and cover half the garden with containers to kill the weeds – especially after finding this neat growing tip.

What is this brilliant idea? Well, normally part of my garden is potatoes and they take up a lot of room. This idea takes that horizontal space and makes it vertical – you go up instead of out, using much less space! Growing potatoes vertically also seems like a fun way to garden. How is it done? This website has some instructions:

http://www.kiddiegardens.com/growing_potatoes_in_tires.html

What does this have to do with literacy? The potato garden will be a project with my kids this summer. If we decide to use tires, as suggested, there will definitely be some decorating to do. We will have to decide whether we need weed cloth under the containers. We will need to figure out how many tire containers to plant. We will measure the potato plants regularly so we know when we have to put on more dirt. We will need to figure out how much water to give them and when. All of this is going to use a lot of vocabulary, numeracy and creativity.

The other thing we will do is read a great book called The Enormous Potato by Aubrey Davis. Asking questions about what my kids think will happen when our potatoes are ready to be harvested will be a fun way to tie in the book. Also, we’ll talk about what we’ll do with the potatoes at the end and look up recipes for a great way to close the project in the fall.

As I said in my last post – there will be an end to winter and a time to start planting. Have fun with your children, get dirty, and make it a literacy rich experience!

 

Time to Plant a Seed…

It’s that time of year when those of us who like gardening start making a plan.  What will we grow?  Where should we put it?  Is it safe to plant on the May long weekend (here’s hoping for no more snow)?

As it gets closer to the time, I’ve realized there can be a lot of literacy and numeracy involved in planting a garden – especially when you’ve got your kids helping you!

 My kids want their own garden, of course.  They choose seeds and we talk about whether they will grow well or not.  For example, we have some kind of critter that takes bites out of our carrots while they’re still in the ground – do we choose something else?  My son is also into herbs right now, so we talk about the different ways we could use them in cooking when they are ready.

We also plan out the garden so the seeds have the right amount of space, light, and soil.   We really have to think through how they grow and what the package is telling us – especially if it’s something we’ve never tried before.

Then comes the best part – the planting! We make our rows using two stakes and a string so they’re evenly spaced (at least that’s the hope – I think my garden is crooked). We plant the seeds the right distance apart, cover them, water them and then wait.

 When my kids were younger, we made a game of naming all the weeds that grow more quickly than our little plants. We’ve got the stinky one (stinkweed), the sticky, tangley one (not sure what it really is), the ouchie one (thistles), and the pretty yellow one that everyone is so determined to get rid of, but our guinea pigs love to eat (poor dandelions). That’s only a few of them, but you get the idea and I still use these names, even though the kids are older now!

These types of interactions and experiences help us reinforce the learning that is happening naturally, every day, in our lives as a family. I find myself learning right along with my kids in each situation – they have such a great view of what we do (and are much more patient in reading instructions most of the time). Gardening is just one way to help plant a seed that will sprout into so much more in our lives. Happy planting!