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?