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!

 

Spatial Literacy and Awareness

Follow that MapSpatial literacy is becoming more recognized in recent times as a critical skill. One reason? Students with strong spatial skills are more likely to enter into the increasingly important fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (or STEM).

For success in today’s knowledge and technology-based society, STEM abilities are needed more than ever.

It all starts with awareness

Spatial awareness is the understanding of where you are in relation to another object. It’s also the ability to recognize the relationship of different objects to one another. Spatial thinking skills are required for everyday tasks, such as parking a car, merging into traffic, or estimating material needed for a project.

How does this relate to family literacy?

Spatial awareness starts early. Think of a baby learning to hold an object in her hand, or a toddler who has become obsessed with putting things into containers and taking them out again (and again, and again). This exploration is how spatial skills are developed.

Spatial concepts, along with other basic concepts, are essential for future success, and as your child grows they will need loving adults to help them develop these skills. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can help with the learning of these concepts just by talking in detail with your child, using directional words. For example, “We put the empty juice bottle inside the blue box on the shelf, under the sink.”

Although it may not seem like it, research shows that spatial awareness skills will translate into skills that effect writing, math, and motor skills, and allow us to problem-solve by visualizing and imagining different perspectives. It’s how we read maps, create charts, think of tactics to win team sports, design blueprints, measure distances, and plan travel routes.

If you doubt the importance of spatial literacy, just think of instructional diagrams for car seat installation and furniture assembly!

Thankfully, there are many ways to boost your child’s spatial skills.

Activities to try as a family

  • Play “I See.” “I see a cup. Where is it?” Use directional words: up, down, under, far, near, behind, in front of, left, north, etc. “The cup is on the table.”
  • Complete puzzles together that require fitting several shapes into a larger one.
  • Build with blocks, play dough, and clay.
  • Use Lego building instructions to play Lego. You can even find them online.
  • Play “Simon Says.” Your child has to copy your movement. “Simon says touch your toes!”
  • Create a “Scavenger hunt” complete with a map.
  • Study a map of your community. Talk about how to get from point A to point B.
  • If you’re going on a road trip, show your child on a map what route you will be taking.
  • Explore a world globe together and point out where you are.
  • Go for a walk and take a compass. Talk about North, South, East, West.
  • Try playing team sports like soccer or baseball with your child. Or, if you are able, enroll your child in a sports activity.
  • And, of course, read books that address spatial concepts. See below for ideas.

Books recommendations

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
Follow That Map! by Scot Ritchie
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
Big Bug by Henry Cole

Rosie's Walk  Follow that Map  Actual Size  Big Bug

In the C.O.W. program, we bring a variety of toys and homemade activity ideas for parent and child to explore together, because developing spatial awareness (like all other literacy skills) requires exploration and interaction above all else.