STEM Play is a concept which pops up regularly, but what is it? In today’s blog post, I hope to cover this topic along with some practical, real-world activities you can use with your own children!
So, what is STEM play?
Quite simply, STEM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. This might sound like a crazy concept for a toddler, but actually they are using these skills all the time! For example:
· Does your little one build towers and building with blocks? That’s engineering!
· Do they notice if one of their toy cars is missing? That’s Maths!
· Do they explore different textures from materials in the garden? That’s Science!
· Have they used equipment, such as scissors, wheels, crayons or cameras to achieve a simple goal? That’s technology!
Why is STEM play important?
Research shows that children who have developed efficient STEM skills in early life, have higher achievement in both maths and reading in school. Children are naturally curious. They want to understand how and why things work. They want to know what will happen if they push that button or pull that string. Focusing on STEM play enables children to foster that natural curiosity in a way that builds upon other skills, too. They learn without even realising they are doing so and they problem solve while having fun.
Furthermore, STEM play helps children to learn about the world around them. They develop so many key skills along the way, but crucially, they develop the ability to problem solve. Regardless of the activity at hand, or the skills your child develops, having good problem-solving strategies opens an incredible number of doors to further and more meaningful learning.
This activity was perfect for Maths as it involved shape, colour recognition and counting. We also linked it to our science activities exploring bugs in the garden!
Do I need loads of equipment for STEM play?
Absolutely not! STEM play can use a variety of equipment or none at all! For example, ‘Look at that road sign. What shape is it?’ This is developing STEM (maths) skills while on a daily walk and with no equipment whatsoever.
· I wonder how many pieces of pasta you can fit on your spoon.
· Wow! How many bricks have you used for your tower?
· Which one of your cars is biggest?
· Can you spot 5 flowers?
· How many steps does it take to walk to the kitchen?
· How many birds are in the garden?
· How could we measure that without a ruler? How many leaves long is it?
How can I use STEM play to support my child’s development?
The good news is children are developing these wonderful skills every single day through play! Whether your little one is building a block tower, painting a beautiful sunny scene or sculpting a dog from playdough, they are developing crucial STEM skills. Our job as parents is to facilitate that development through simple activities and tweaks.
Below I have collated a list of examples for each STEM strand. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few suggestions to help you on your way. Have other ideas? Drop me a DM over on Instagram (@CatkinToys).
In this activity, Arlo had a range of resource to explore including different textures, how they react with each other, what they smell like and where they come from!
· Observing the world around them – seasons, day/night, position of the moon or sun.
· Mix different paint colours together.
· Explore the senses - Taste this. Is it sweet? Sour? Salty? Does this feel rough or smooth? What does this flower smell like? What can we see from the window? Can you describe it?
· Use messy play resources (find our free printable recipe cards here) such as moon sand, oobleck or aquafaba.
· Follow a recipe together.
· Explore the garden or Local Park. What animals live there? Why does that animal live in that location? What plants live there? Why are the leaves that shape?
· Could a fish live in this tree? Why not? What would happen?
· Will this sink or float?
· What happens if I shine a torch on this material? This one? A mirror? Glass?
· What does the inside of a plant look like? Cut one open. Press some flowers.
· Are these items magnetic?
· What happens if we put a doll in a swing? Shall we push? What if we pull? Harder? Softer?
· Make a weather chart exploring the weather across a week or month.
· What texture is this leaf? Let’s put it under our paper and colour over it with a crayon. What effect will it create?
· Make salt dough. What happens if I put a piece on the radiator? In the oven? In a cupboard? Outside?
· Create models of the planets and order them. Use household objects to represent scale. If Earth was the size of pea, how big would Jupiter be?
· Cress head eggs (put some cotton wool in an empty egg shell. Add cress seeds and water.
Believe it or not, this is a very simple algorithm. It is following instructions and continuing patterns, even if Arlo doesn't know it! He needs to look at what materials are present and continue the pattern using the most efficient tool. For example: is a spoon going to work well for pasta?
· Sort objects into groups. Which ones have pulleys? Wheels? Dials?
· Can we use this screwdriver?
· Follow patterns.
· Choose the most appropriate tools for a job.
· What happens if we hit an egg shell with a hammer?
· Problem solving – how can we dig a hole without a spade? How can we fill this cup without spilling any? Can we transport water in this sieve?
· What tool should I use to water this plant? What if it was inside? What if it was on a high shelf?
· Can you tell me how to pick up this cup? This is basic algorithms (a fancy word for instructions). The child should say lift your arm, move it forward, grab the cup, lift your arm higher etc. This can be great fun for kids such ‘walk forward!’ so you keep walking until you hit a wall. But you didn’t say stop!
· Use a calculator.
· Take a picture with a camera.
· Use scissors to cut. How do they work?
· Can we make a pattern using just triangles? Do they fit together? What can we do with this empty space?
Building blocks are a great way to support engineering skills.
Featured here are our Little Stories Wooden Blocks.
· Build junk models (models from household rubbish such as old cereal boxes).
· Design structures. If your child isn’t proficient at writing yet, get them to tell you and you can draw it!
· Build a cage that would hold a cat. Would it work for a snake? What changes could we need to make?
· What would our dream car be like?
· Plan and build a den. Oh no, we forgot a door! How can we fix it?
· Which material makes a stronger wall?
· Build a maze for a hamster. Could it have a slide? Could it have levers to push that release a treat?
· Why doesn’t our playdough giraffe stand up? How can we fix it?
· Can we turn this 2D design into a 3D structure?
· Why doesn’t this bottle float? How can we fix it?
· Can we make a bridge to hold this pencil pot from paper? Hint: fold it like a fan!
· Build a rope swing, tree house, bird house or a water slide.
This DIY puzzle was a perfect way to practice shape recognition.
· How many coins/pom poms/acorns can we fit in this box?
· Put a green leaf, stick, green leaf, stick. Can you continue my pattern?
· How many blocks tall is that table?
· What shapes have you used to make that picture?
· Can we add the four pencils and five pens together?
· What is on top of the table? What is below the chair? What is next to the book?
· Can we roll this round ball? What about this
· Hmm. We have 6 cakes here. Let’s eat one. How many are there now?
· How many forks do we need to get for dinner?
· Count in 2’s, 5’s and 10’s. How high can we get before the traffic lights change colour?
· Which one is tallest/shortest or heaviest/lightest? How much does this weigh? Measure?
· How many pencils wide is this table?
· Be a shopkeeper. Open a lemonade or ice-cream stand for family and friends.
· Share these pencils with all the teddy bears.
· Can we cut this cupcake in half? What if we cut it in half again? Now how many pieces do we have?
· How tall is our tower?
· Can we count in 2’s with every step we take?
· Can each doll have two pencils?
· Examine probability. If three coloured balls in a bag, what order do they come out? Can we record it? Is there a pattern?
· Measure ingredients for baking.
Other key points to remember:
Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers! If you’re asked a question and don’t have the answer, you can say ‘what a great question! Why don’t we find out together?’
Busy? Don’t worry! STEM activities don’t have to take hours. In fact, you could even ask questions or sing songs in the car on the way to school or work.
Technology doesn’t necessarily mean using electronic devices. It can be exploring how simple machines or tools, Such as: how do scissors work? What if wheels were square?
The best learning takes place when children have no idea they’re learning at all! The more fun they have, the more they will learn!
You can be as adventurous our as simplistic as you like. STEM learning doesn’t require huge, complicated set ups!
Remember to ask open ended questions – What would happen if…? I wonder if…? What could we do to…? Tell me about…? How did you…?
Follow your child’s interests. Pick activities that match what naturally interests your child. Are they car obsessed? Do they love dolls? Being outside?
A final thought…
How do you feel when you achieve something? At the end of a long day when the jobs are done and you can finally relax? That huge project at work is finally finished? Or the cleaning up is done? It feels great, right?
That’s how our children feel when they achieve, too!
Wow! My car can go backwards, too! I can draw on a leaf! Mixing red and yellow makes orange! It is a real sense of joy and massively contributes towards the development of self-esteem.
I once read that we mustn’t ‘rob our children of the opportunity to achieve.’ In other words, rushing in to help might feel as if we are doing our supportive duty as a parent, but too much support can actually mean we are preventing them from reaching the pure joy of independent achievement.
So, as unbelievably hard as it is, sit back, relax and allow them to work without your support. Being stuck is not a bad thing. The bigger the challenge, the greater that fuzzy feeling of achievement is at the end!
I hope you took some value from this blog post and now have a better understanding of what STEM play is and how we can integrate it into our every day play!
Have any great STEM ideas or comments and thoughts about this article? Drop a comment below or send me a message! We love to see your STEM play activities on our Instagram play hashtag too. Use the hashtag #CatkinPlay on any of your play activities!
May is #CatkinPlay STEM month! You can search the hashtag to find inspiration, or join in with your own play set ups. Each week, we choose a winner who will receive a 15% voucher to spend on absolutely anything in store and a dedicated grid post too!