What is STEAM?
STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. Many people think that STEAM can only be used with older, school-aged children. However, toddlers and preschoolers are naturally curious and enjoy exploring, discovering, and solving problems. STEAM can be an easy way to incorporate hands-on play and learning. Follow along to learn more about each component of STEAM and some activities to try with your little learners.
The T in STEAM
The T in STEAM stands for Technology. Many early child care providers and parents feel overwhelmed when they hear the word “technology.” Technology is all around us. However, recommendations for infants and toddlers say they should have no screen time, and preschool-aged children should only have a limited amount of time each day. So, how do we incorporate technology for our little learners? First, think of technology as a tool, especially for young toddlers. The definition of technology itself includes tools and simple machines. Preschool-aged children can have some time exploring computers and devices with supervision. However, it’s important to keep this broad idea of technology as a tool (or tools) in mind when working with toddlers.
Here are some easy Technology tools and ideas to incorporate in your setting:
Technology Tools for Toddlers
- Plastic magnifiers
- Colored Lenses
- Blunt plastic tweezers
Technology Tools for Preschoolers
1. Explore Pattern Coding
You have probably heard the term “coding” in reference to technology over the last few years. The basics of coding for young toddlers and preschoolers is learning about and recognizing patterns. Offer the children building bricks such as Lego®. For toddlers start a simple pattern with the blocks, such as purple, green, purple, green. Help them recognize the pattern and try to extend it. For preschoolers, encourage them to recognize and make more complex patterns. They might start by using three colors of blocks. For example, red, white, yellow, red, white, yellow. Then, have them try a more complex pattern that has two blocks of the same color. For example, red, red, white, yellow, red, red, white, yellow. Encourage them to extend the pattern for as long as they show interest.
2. Explore Switches and Gears
Offer the children toys that have switches and gears. For toddlers that might be a pop-up toy or a pretend cash register. Encourage them to manipulate the buttons to see what happens. Talk about their discoveries. Offer a simple gear toy such as the Caterpillar Gears Toddler Toy. The children can explore spinning the gears to see which ones turn. Do any not turn? Explore taking some off and spin them again. What happens?
For older children and preschoolers, offer more complex options. First, go on a gear hunt. Show an example of a gear and then search for them inside and outside. They might find them on bicycles or a can opener in the kitchen. Offer a gear toy set to the children. Encourage them to build in different ways using it. Here are some gear set options you might consider for preschool-aged children: Gears! Gears! Gears!® Starter Building Set or Turn & Learn Magnetic Gears.
3. Explore Sink and Float
Exploring sinking and floating might sound more like a science activity, but the tools you incorporate make it a technology activity also. Fill a plastic tub with water. Set various objects nearby. You might include bath toys, blocks, tissue paper, crayons, craft sticks, utensils, plastic bowls, and balls. Offer the children blunt tweezers and tongs to pick up and drop the objects into the water. Ask the children to predict which objects they can pick up with the tweezers? What about the tongs? Encourage them to test their ideas as they place the objects in the water. Which ideas float? Sink?
4. Explore Computers with Preschoolers
Children ages 3 to 5 may be ready for short amounts of computer time with supervision. You may use a computer or another digital device such as a tablet. Start by letting children know any expectations and boundaries around computer time. One expectation you might discuss is time limits. Children initially will learn how to click a mouse or tap the screen. You might start by accessing a book or song online. Teach children how to use the keyboard. You might open a word processing program and teach children to press the keys to type their name or press the keys for simple letter and number recognition. You might then move on to computer games that incorporate letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. Be sure to choose a program that is high quality and that parents are also comfortable with. Let children experiment on their own, but be available to help if frustrations arise. Be sure to teach children about when time is up and turning off the device.
Another huge part of the technological world is the use of cell phones. Teach preschoolers how to dial their parents’ phone numbers and emergency numbers such as 9-1-1. This will be especially important if you are the only adult present with children. Practice on a cell phone, a landline, and a paper phone printout such as this one from FunShine Express.
Up next: stay tuned to learn about the E in STEAM!