What is STEM learning and does my child need it?
Posted on: Friday July 5th, 2019
Posted by: Melissa Sawatzky
We are currently expecting our fourth and the one major insight I have after seven years of parenting is this: kids, like real people, are all very different.
Our three kids have vastly different personalities, interests, skills and needs. I’ve been surprised at how uniquely we need to structure their routines, boundaries and education to best align with each of them.
This brings me to STEM learning. Recently Kids & Company introduced a new program in select centres for preschoolers: the STREAM program (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and math). It’s best described as a preschool built on the pillars of Kids & Company’s proprietary programs around early literacy, artistry and movement, but with an additional special focus on STEM activities and a Montessori approach that celebrates self-led learning and a prepared environment. I said to another parent that this would be an amazing fit for my oldest, and she was confused that I wouldn’t want all my children exposed to this program.
First off, let’s talk about what STEM learning really is. The term has gained popularity over the last decade to describe education focused on integrating the traditionally-separated disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. True STEM education is meant to teach these areas in an applied and cohesive way to build the kind of knowledge and curiosity that will serve people well in the growing fields of computing, technology development, cloud-based applications, manufacturing automation and traditional engineering.
Much of the world has been embracing STEM education through government grants, private investment and non-profit programming. Why? Our trajectory shows that STEM-related jobs are growing faster than any other area: for example, in 2014 in the United States for every job posting for a bachelor's degree recipient in a non-STEM field there were 2.5 entry-level job postings for a bachelor's degree recipient in a STEM field (Source: Live Science, 2014).
Formal education in these areas used to focus on post-education with a primary-school foundation set in early science and math. Now educators are starting to understand that the kind of curiosity and passion for mechanics, construction, engineering, experimentation and mathematical categorization can emerge at a very early age, and both student and educator benefit from nurturing it early on.
There is increasing training and programming available to educators in elementary, junior high and high school to introduce basic STEM concepts and applications to children and establish a life-long love in the field. Kids & Company recognizes that as the first important step into education for our families, a program focused in this area helps in building a strong foundation for the children with interests and skills in the area.
All children engage in STEM learning spontaneously on some level or another through experimentation, discovery, physical manipulation and problem-solving – these activities are encouraged through not only our regular preschool programming but also in our infant and toddler programs. It’s a myth that only certain children will benefit from STEM. However, we sometimes see children with extra strength and interests in STEM areas, just like we see children with skills and interests in other areas such as imaginative play, movement, leadership, literacy, emotional intelligence, artistic expression and so on.
And this brings me back to answer my friend’s question: simply because STEM is a growing area of education, development and employment, and simply because it is currently an area of focus in our society, does not mean it is a good fit for all my children to explore. Definitely, all children will explore and experiment. But not all children are exploring STEM areas fervently and consistently; not all children love to take things apart and figure out how they work; not all children love to try something, tweak, try again, tweak, try, tweak, try, tweak and on and on. To circle back to what I first said, kids are all very different. And they will eventually grow to be adults who will pursue and take pleasure in different things.
My oldest child naturally does things that might lead him to be interested in the areas of STEM. He has an insatiable appetite for numbers, science and mechanics. He is extremely logical which makes him excited about mathematical problem-solving and patterns, areas with clear right and wrong answers, and testing out observations. He can sit and focus for hours on a particular project with patience I could only dream of. He loves having a knowledgeable mentor with him to guide his learning, ask provoking questions and provide correction when he can’t figure something out.
My middle son also enjoys construction and mechanics, but he loves sports and reading and singing and socializing just as much – in fact, he generally is the most enthusiastic in a room no matter what he’s doing, as long as he’s with others and has a voice. He likes to show off the numbers he knows but isn’t too interested in what goes beyond that, or understanding mathematical patterns or problems. He loves having a teacher facilitating activities for him and his friends, and thrives in a group learning environment where he can play, interact and inspire others.
Both my boys have unique skills, natural tendencies and interests that our family and their teachers are set on nurturing. But they wouldn’t both do well in an environment geared towards the STEM areas in a Montessori environment that requires independence, careful concentration and self-led discovery.
Want more resources on STEM learning?
- The A-Z List of NASA Websites for Educators
- STEM-Works for everyone (forum of articles and activities for STEM learning and exploration)
- Forbes Article on Insights into Early STEM Learning
- Four Things Everyone Should Know About Early STEM Learning
Want to hear more about the STREAM preschool program available at Kids & Company? Read more on our website or call 1-866-MY-KIDCO to inquire and get assistance in assessing whether the environment is a fit for your child.