With STEM education playing a larger role in children’s learning than ever before, many parents and teachers may find themselves concerned about the impact STEM activities may have on the importance of play in early childhood learning. However, STEM education is the perfect supplement to classroom learning centers as it naturally supports children’s interests and curiosity in the world around them.
Children learn through play, and learning centers allow children the freedom to explore new concepts through play, which is why STEM activities are a wonderful way to enrich a child’s learning process. Based in problem solving and reasoning skills, science is already a natural way for children to explore new subjects and situations through trial and error. This is why one of the many benefits of STEM is that it exposes young children to a problem solving approach to learning that aligns with their own curiosity, allowing them to develop crucial reasoning skills early on that they can apply to all areas of their life, not just math and science.
STEM Play is a wonderful resource for parents and teachers interested in exploring the many benefits STEM education has on young learners. Here are a few STEM activities focused on problem solving and reasoning skills you can try at home or in the classroom today!
Building Bridges Out of Recycled Materials
Use recycled materials to explore engineering concepts to build a bridge.
- Creating and designing
- Exploring and experimenting
- Using creativity
- Developing fine motor skills
- Using geometry
- Problem solving
- Developing environmental awareness
- Exploring physical science (properties of matter)
- Hole punchers
- Painter’s tape
- Pictures of bridges, such as the Golden Gate Bridge
- Recycled materials, such as paper-towel rolls, cereal boxes, cardboard boxes, and paper plates
- Rubber bands or twine
What to do:
- Tell children a story that includes a problem that could be solved with a bridge. Here is one example: “One time I was walking through the woods, and I came to a small river. I couldn’t get over it because it was too wide for me to cross. So I had to walk right through the water, and it was very cold on my feet. I almost fell in the water, too.”
- Ask children questions to get them thinking about the problem: “Can you tell me the problem that I had when I was walking through the woods? What would have helped me to get over the river?”
- Accept different answers from children. If no one suggests a bridge, add it to the ideas.
- Show the children pictures of bridges, and highlight the differences. You might say, “Some of the bridges are very big and long, but other ones are smaller, like one that I might need to cross the river.”
- Explain that they can visit the art center and use some of the materials there to create their own bridges.
- Later, have the children share the different ways they created their bridges.
Our Lemonade Stand
This activity will encourage children to design and build a lemonade stand.
- Developing visual or physical models
- Problem solving
- Graph paper
- Pictures of lemonade stands
What to do:
- Remind the children that they have already been using different menus that restaurants have. Note that they can find different types of food at different restaurants. Tell them that you know that most children don’t have their own restaurant, but they might have a lemonade stand!
- Ask, “Who knows what a lemonade stand is?”
- You might tell them a story about making a lemonade stand when you were young and how you sold lemonade right in front of your house. Try to make the story funny and interesting so the children get excited about the idea.
- Show children pictures of a lemonade stand. Tell them that they can begin to design their own miniature lemonade stand in the dramatic play center.
- Remind children of the steps in the engineering method that they can use for this challenge.
Problem: Make your own model of a lemonade stand.
Ask: How can you make a lemonade stand?
Imagine: Think about what is important for a lemonade stand and what materials you might use to make your model.
Plan: Draw your plan.
Investigate: Build your lemonade stand.
Communicate: Discuss if you want to change your stand in some way or if you like the way it turned out.
- Show children the graph paper they can use for drawing their designs.
- Tell them that after they have created a design, they can build their own tiny version of a lemonade stand.
- They can review their designs to see if they would like to make any changes to them. Ask them to make sure the model stands up well, and has a place for the lemonade and the money.
- If possible, leave the lemonade stands set up in a sectioned-off area of the dramatic play center for others to see.
Making Math Stories
Encourage children to draw a picture or act out a math story.
- Emergent writing
- Developing number sense
- Problem solving
What to do:
- Explain that you are going to tell children a story and that it includes math. Tell them that as they listen to the story, you would like for them to see if they can figure out where there is mathematics.
- Start the story with something like this: “Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had some pets. She had two cats, two dogs, one lizard, and one fish. How many animals did she have?”
- Ask the children to tell you how they can find out how many animals she had.
- Suggest that some children could act out the animals, or children could use stuffed animals to show each animal and count them. Ask children what they would like to do.
- Let children know that when they go to the math center, they can create their own picture telling a story with math, and the teacher can help record their voices telling the story that goes with the picture.
- Explain that you will leave the math pictures in the math center for other children to look at or to read and do the problems.