Educators emphasize the importance of introducing young children to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) early. However, for parents and nannies who don’t have a background in STEM, and for whom the days of grade school science experiments are long ago, the thought of introducing STEM concepts to young children can be quite daunting. Happily, engaging children in STEM while they are young is less about teaching equations and more about teaching how to problem solve!
Children are naturally inquisitive, as anyone who has endured a couple hundred rounds of ‘why? But why?’ can attest. STEM for young children is based on capturing the curious nature of children and teaching them how to reason it out independently. You don’t need to have a PhD in physics, biology, or mathematics to engage children in STEM based play. In fact, learning together can be half the fun!
Having children use reason, prediction, hypothesis, and problem solving to attempt to discover an answer to a question teaches critical thinking. It is easy to incorporate these skills into play, from activities that use chemical reactions, such as making elephant toothpaste, to nature walks that encourage children to explore their natural environment. Our Nanny Angels often incorporate STEM into the activities they do, through crafts and investigation of the natural world!
Encouraging children to form their own hypotheses about the natural world fosters their natural curiosity. When a child asks you why something works the way it does, ask them why they think it works that way. Once they’ve created their own hypothesis, you can help them put it to the test. Teaching STEM concepts can be as simple as walking through a forest with a child!
Aside from nature walks, experiments are another way to engage children, and are teachable through activities that children will absolutely love doing!
One classic experiment is the egg drop experiment. It is simple, and easy to adapt to any age group. The challenge is for the kids to design a contraption using various materials, usually recyclables, to protect an egg when it is dropped from a height. By designing a protective case for the egg and going through a trial and error process, children learn why their design might not have worked, and come up with ideas about what might work instead. Check out this website for a compete outline of the experiment. Beware… some eggs will have to be sacrificed in the name of science!!
Another classic, and a favourite amongst kids and Nanny Angels alike, is the explosive combo of baking soda and vinegar! This magically fizzy combo can be used in a variety of experiments, from film canister rockets to the classic volcano. Ana Dziengel at Babble Dabble Do has come up with a very cool version that uses the citric acid in lemons rather than vinegar to create tiny volcanos. She also uses dish soap and food colouring to make the reaction even more dramatic! You can read the complete instructions over on her blog.
For more ideas on how to engage children in STEM activities, be sure to follow our ‘Learn and Play’ board over on the Nanny Angel Network’s Pinterest.