Using STREAM Techniques After Disasters to Keep Kids Learning and Engaged

Guest Post
by Andrew Roszak
Executive Director, The Institute for Childhood Preparedness

With natural disasters on the rise, many child care programs have endured floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe weather conditions. These programs face many obstacles when re-opening, including a lack of electricity, supplies, fresh drinking water, and food, as well as the on-set of fear and mental health conditions in children.

We are always searching for new ways to make child care providers and teachers more resilient. One new trend is to incorporate principles of STREAM into early childhood education – to help students learn about S: Science, T: Technology, R: Reading, E: Engineering, A: Arts, and M: Math.

In the absence of a standard operating environment, and without creature comforts – such as electricity, providers may want to think about how they can incorporate the principles of STREAM in a post-disaster setting.

After a disaster, children experience trauma and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and they need emotional, physical, and mental support. The ideas of STREAM help children recover by embracing the concepts of collaboration, partnership, and problem-solving. As a practical matter, many of these STREAM concepts can be applied without electricity – think less screen time and more outdoor time to explore the world and environment around us!

A study conducted by The Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma found:

  • Social support from teachers and parents had a large influence on how children coped post-disaster. This support led to a decrease in post-traumatic stress reactions in youth (PTSD, anxiety, and depression).
  • STREAM helps children learn and cope after a disaster. For example, cooking a healthy meal in the classroom teaches children how to measure, read, follow directions, and work together.

STREAM can also be used to teach children about emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. If children understand why disasters happen, it can help ease their anxieties and show them how to prepare for other emergencies they may face throughout life. Emergency preparedness supplies, such as solar-powered cell phone chargers can showcase STREAM techniques – showing children how the sun can be turned into electricity.

Child care providers can help children cope by:

  • Having discussions about natural disasters that are prevalent in the area.
  • Ask local emergency organizations to visit your classroom and teach children about emergency equipment, i.e. fire extinguishers. When children understand how and why things happen, it can help them work through their feelings of trauma.
  • Have children help build emergency preparedness kits.
  • Participating in drills helps children become better critical thinkers. Drills help children understand why they must evacuate or shelter-in-place during an emergency.

How Child Care Providers Use STREAM in Puerto Rico Post-Hurricane

Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and child care providers had very little to work with post-disaster. Findings from our Puerto Rican focus groups found that 21% of programs changed their locations and many were without power for almost 9 months. On average, child care programs were closed for 6 weeks. Many faced delays reopening due to:

  • Damage to roofs, fences, gates, doors, and windows.
  • Loss of valuable equipment and transportation vehicles.
  • Mold and flooding.
  • Broken water filtration systems, broken air conditioners, and lack of electricity.

When they were able to reopen, teachers and child care providers faced little to no resources, supplies, and limited electricity. To keep children engaged and learning, providers used the principles of STREAM.

How Child Care Providers Can Use STREAM with Limited Resources

When areas affected by natural disasters begin to recover, living organisms begin to regrow. Providers can take this opportunity to teach children about how animals and plants live, grow, and thrive in the neighborhood. It makes for a great science lesson:

  • All animals need food to live and grow. They obtain their food from plants or other animals.
  • Plants need water and light to live and grow, and animals depend on their surroundings to get what they need, including food, water, and shelter. 
  • Plants depend on air, water, minerals (in the soil), and light to grow.
  • Animals can move around, but plants cannot, and they often depend on animals for pollination or to move their seeds around.
  • Different plants survive better in different settings because they have varied needs for water, minerals, and sunlight.

Many STREAM activities are hands-on. Even if a child care program is short on supplies, children can still learn and thrive. Providers can utilize common classroom items, such as dustpans, blocks, flashcards, beads, legos, colored pencils, and puzzles to build, cut and paste, draw, and creatively collaborate.

Lesson Plans for Child Care Providers Using STREAM


  • Rock collection: Examine rock shapes and sizes.
  • Observe weather patterns.
  • Use a magnifying glass to inspect different elements.
  • Have children touch the rocks and explain how the various textures feel.


  • Use scissors, gears, wheels, and pulleys to create objects. These items are hands-on, and no computer is required.


  • Gather children and read age-appropriate books.
  • Have kids draw out the shapes they hear with their fingers (i.e. what shape is the moon?).


  • Have children play with blocks.
  • Build a shelter structure or a quiet reading nook.
  • Have children build different shapes, bridges, towers, rainbows, and symmetrical designs using glow sticks. These also come in handy when the power goes out.


  • Drawing leaves that are found outside.
  • Have children feel the various leaf textures and describe all the colors.
  • Place a leaf below a piece of paper and let children trace the shape.
  • Go outside: Have children draw the sun, clouds, sky, trees, and animals. Ask children how they feel about nature.


  • Children can learn to count by using objects found around school and outside.
  • How many apples are on a tree? How many slides are on the playground?


  • Ask children to name their favorite foods. Write down each food item on a large whiteboard or sticky notes. Amy Koester, Youth & Family Program Coordinator at Skokie (IL) Public Library says, “When you write the words that your child says on a piece of paper, you are showing that letters and words on the paper stand for real things and ideas.”

Disasters and emergencies are inevitable, and many child care programs now incorporate detailed emergency preparedness, response, and recovery plans in their curricula. Young children are the most vulnerable population in the United States, and parents and providers must do everything they can to keep children safe, secure, healthy, and happy. The tenets of STREAM embody the ideals of friendship, learning, growth, collaboration, and exploration. There’s no better way for young children to cope and heal than by practicing these models to reduce trauma, stress, and anxiety – all while learning about solving complex problems and better understanding the systems around us.

More about The Institute for Childhood Preparedness

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness was founded to empower early childhood professionals with the tools, training, resources, and skills they need to prepare, respond and recover from emergencies and natural disasters. Our multidisciplinary team is made up of award-winning first responders and early childhood education specialists with decades of real-world experience. The Institute is committed to providing trainings that are specifically designed for early childhood professionals and those caring for infants, toddlers, and children.

Contact our Executive Director, Andrew Roszak, for more information today:

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