STEAM is a concept that has become increasingly popular lately and has even become a ‘buzzword’ in early childhood. It started as STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM embeds the Arts into these concepts. Adding the Arts into the STEM process is a natural process in early childhood. The purpose of STEAM is how these skills are integrated with one another instead of looking at each skill in isolation from the others. When children are young, they have not developed the habit of separating subjects into categories; they naturally blend these concepts as they explore their everyday environments. When we look at early childhood, this is an optimal time to capitalize on helping children to build these skills.
Science: Science includes observing and experimenting with materials; asking questions and working to find the answers; making predictions about what might happen and then seeing what really happens; sharing what you have learned with others; and figuring out how things work.
Technology: Looks at using tools to help get things done. Often when we hear the term technology, we think of computers, phones, or tablets. Technology is just a fancy term for tools. In early childhood, we see children use technology all the time, such as: scissors to cut; pencils to write; rulers to measure; and magnifying glasses to look closely at an object.
Engineering: Engineering is how we solve problems by using a variety of materials; designing and creating solutions; and building things that work.
Arts: The Arts are a way of expressing and representing what we know. Children may draw, sing, dance, or even act out what they have learned about a concept or represent what they are trying to figure out.
Math: Math includes many concepts such as counting, measuring, comparing, sorting, working with patterns, and sequencing. Children naturally engage in math concepts every day! When we look at math, there is a wonderful opportunity to engage in mathematical language which helps children to express what they know and have learned.
What might this look like in an early childhood classroom?
When children build in the block area, they are working on their engineering skills. They are planning and trying different strategies to make a creation, which uses trial and error which is a science concept. Even when children are just exploring the blocks by piling them up, putting them in a line, they are figuring out how to make the blocks work. Children also explore to see which blocks fit together, a math concept when we explore how shapes work. We can embed The arts, by encouraging the children to plan and sketch what they would like their structure to look like before building or after building their creations. And, of course, the blocks are the tools/technology that the children are using to create their structure.
This is just one example that integrates all areas of STEAM. Often, when children are engaging in activities, when we leave the activities open ended, they engage in 2-3 of the STEAM concepts at a time.
The children in our care right now, need to develop skills for jobs that are not even created yet. By providing opportunities for children to develop their creative thinking and reasoning skills now, we are providing them with skills that they will need for the future.
Bridget Meis, M.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. During her time with STARnet, she has presented on a variety of topics including: Apps and Assistive Technology, Social/Emotional development, Creative Curriculum, Teaching Strategies GOLD, Portfolios, Lesson Planning, Mathematics in Early Childhood, Science and Mathematics, STEAM and Family Engagement. Bridget has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education since 2003.