Does your child have an interest in figuring out how things work? Do they enjoy experimenting with their surroundings? You may have a budding engineer, astronaut, mathematician, or scientist on your hands. Even kids who are not naturally drawn to all things math and science enjoy exploring their environment and figuring out how they work.
STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, are activities that engage kids of all ages in these specific areas. According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing 14 percent per year and STEM degree holders command higher wages than their non-STEM counterparts.
While a career in the STEM field may seem a long way off for your preschooler, STEM education promotes critical thinking, increases science literacy, and enables innovation of new products in the future. Most would agree that jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math, science, and technology and it is never too early to start developing your child’s interest in these areas. Schools are enhancing STEM curriculums for classrooms, but there are plenty of things you can do at home to kick-start your preschooler’s love of science.
STEM in the kitchen
Your school teachers were right, you do use math and science in everyday life. You may already love cooking with your kids, so consider incorporating science and math lessons at the same time. While baking cookies, have your children help measure the ingredients and count the scoops of flour, then talk about what happens if you do not use the correct measurements, and discuss what the purpose of baking powder and baking soda is. (It leavens the batter to rise while baking.) Make the experience fun and educational at the same time. Your child may not even notice they are learning about math and science while baking and sampling tasty treats.
DIY science lab
Create your own science lab mixing station at home. All you need is several plastic or glass containers (see-through are best) of any shape and size. Fill containers with dry ingredients, such as baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cornstarch. Fill additional containers with wet ingredients such as water, white vinegar, lemon juice, and ice. It may be wise to lay towels underneath your mixing station or set up the ingredients outside so you can have fun without worrying about clean up. Once your science lab is set up, it’s time to get creative. Let your kids experiment with what happens when different ingredients are mixed. This activity is great for preschoolers but can also be adapted for older children by providing them with a journal to record the results of each combination of ingredients when they are mixed.
(Remember! Do not incorporate hazardous liquids or cleaning supplies into lab time. Even some common household products can become dangerous when mixed together; for instance mixing vinegar and bleach or ammonia and bleach can create toxic vapors. Always supervise “lab” time and remind little ones not to do experiments without mom or dad.)
Use what you have
Set up a sensory bin using dried beans, water beads, or rice as a filler then hide items inside. Ask your child to find the red dinosaur, count the green items, or close their eyes and guess what items they feel.
Encourage your little engineer or architect to build a tower using toothpicks and marshmallows or fill a tray with shaving cream and blocks and ask if they think the shaving cream will help their blocks stick together.
Sharpen their math skills with colored cereal like Fruit Loops. Ask your child to sort the pieces by color and count them. Then have them string the cereal on yarn to make a necklace. Make it fun and see what potential STEM activities you have laying around the house.
Preschoolers love to explore with their hands and all of their senses which makes the possibilities endless. Plant a garden, fill water glasses with food coloring and mix to learn about colors, count and sort items throughout the day, talk about and chart the weather, or play with magnets and a cookie sheet. STEM is all around us just waiting to be explored.
Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom to six kids, including three-year-old triplets.