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STEAM in Early Childhood

What is STEAM?

If you’ve been paying attention, STEM and STEAM seem to be real buzzwords in the educational realm, but what do these acronyms stand for? And how is this relevant to younger children?

The rise of STEM education

The acronym ‘STEM’ was introduced in 2001 by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and this kind of education first became a focus in response to the growing demand for skills in the job market. According to Forbes magazine 70% of organisations name “capability gaps” i.e. gaps in skills and knowledge in the workforce, as one of their biggest challenges. With major expansion of these industries, and lack of suitable recruits, STEM education seems absolutely imperative. Just as an example, from 2000 to 2010 the growth in STEM jobs in the United States was at three times the rate of growth in non-STEM jobs. Further afield, STEM education has taken hold worldwide with programs developed in the UAE, United Kingdom, Taiwan, Australia and so on.

Why include ‘the Arts’?

STEAM is simply STEM with the addition of ‘A’ for “Arts” but the difference that this makes

to programs isn’t as simple as adding another subject area. Instead, the Arts, are promoted in order to ensure that there is adequate creativity to ensure that innovation can occur within the STEM subjects. The World Economic Forum predicts that 65% of children entering school today will end up working in jobs that don’t even exist yet. Therefore, encouraging creativity, innovation and adaptability alongside scientific skills and knowledge is of paramount importance.

What does STEAM look like in Early Childhood?

Of course, in Early Childhood education we’re not sitting children down for Mathematics or science lessons, or even necessarily taking them for specific dance classes. So, what might STEAM look like for younger children?

Promoting creativity across the board is key to STEAM in Early Childhood; Arts and creativity provide ‘intensification and clarification of human experience’ (Smith and Simpson, 1991) for young children who use the Arts to explore and make sense of their life experiences. So, allowing children access to the arts and promoting creativity across the board will enhance all of their learning in other areas.

For older children, STEM and STEAM learning is often project based and this is something that we can also utilise in Early Childhood Education, of course making sure that projects are age-appropriate and sufficiently challenging. Many children when given the freedom to do so are happy to design and work on their own projects too.

Much of STEM/STEAM learning is about finding solutions to problems, and this is something that occurs quite naturally in our day-to-day experience of Early Childhood. Perhaps a group of children out for a walk will have to decide how best to cross a muddy puddle, or how to most efficiently move resources from one area to another. All of this is STEAM in action!

Much of STEM/STEAM learning is about finding solutions to problems, and this is something that occurs quite naturally in our day-to-day experience of Early Childhood.

Benefits of STEAM in Early Childhood

In Early Childhood the curriculum needs to be as broad as life itself because children are developing at such a rapid pace and yet have everything to learn. STEAM provides a holistic curriculum which encourages both scientific understanding and creativity and means that children learn to work across different disciplines utilising critical thinking skills, independence, problem solving skills, curiosity and confidence.

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