Summer has arrived, and although most of LA’s schools may be on hiatus, the learning doesn’t stop for students or for teachers. What does a child collecting seashells on the beach have in common with an educator attending a professional development seminar? Quite a bit, it turns out: they’re both engaging in important preparation for the school year! If you’re an educator and have a thirst for learning, Child360 offers learning institutes year-round to help you take your program to the next level. For an extra STEAM-kick, we’ve rounded up our favorite STEAM strategies, devised by Child360’s experts to be used by professionals in the classroom! (Note: These are also adaptable for home-use by parents looking for a little “extra credit.”)
Toddlers are filled with natural curiosity. It is our job as educators and parents to help encourage their natural desire to explore and discover so that they can be future innovators and problem-solvers.
— Jamie Hand, Preschool STEAM
1. Observe the child’s play, then ask questions.
Observing what children do during free play guides you to their interests, and you can expand on that engagement by asking open-ended questions that encourage critical thought.
Has the child decided that a pile of building blocks is a volcano? Great! What do they think a volcano looks like on the inside? What kinds of animals live around it, and what do they do when the volcano erupts? How hot is lava? What would happen if you poured water on hot lava?
These types of questions extend a child’s thought process by encouraging them to think about an answer, make educated guesses, and even test hypotheses. You’re inviting new, rich scientific language and supporting further curiosity.
2. Get outside.
The outdoors yields endless possibilities for STEAM to reveal itself: trees, grass, rain, sunlight, shadows, temperature, concrete, buildings, clouds, leaves, bugs and birds are all categories that can be scientifically explored. Observe what piques each child’s interest, then engage accordingly.
Let’s say the child is pulling you toward the swings. To make the experience fun and educationally richer, try asking, “How many steps do you think it will take to reach the swings?”
Let the child make a guess, then count aloud together as you walk. Once you arrive at the swing, you can talk some math: “It took 15 steps, and your guess was 10. You were very close, but it was five more than we thought.”
Simply by asking questions and encouraging the child to guess at the answer, you’ve taken a seemingly unscientific moment and transformed it into a mathematic experiment based on steps and counting!
3. Ask the magic question: “What do you think would happen if…”
This question is loaded with the potential for rich language, hypothetical reasoning, estimations, cause-and-effect thinking and fun responses. It can be as simple as talking about the weather. Try asking, “What do you think would happen if a bunch of clouds came and covered up the sky?”
If the child responds with a conversation about rain or cold, follow up with some more leading questions: “What would happen if it started raining? What would happen to the water once it came down? What do you think clouds are made of? If you could touch one, what would it feel like?”
Talking STEAM helps children build a solid foundation of reasoning and critical thought, build vocabulary to express hypotheses and conclusions, and stimulate imagination. And it’s so easy to do, once you have the essential tools.
Whether children are collecting seashells or helping measure ingredients for a Fourth of July apple pie – there is always an opportunity to nurture the scientific curiosity of young minds. Every child is born a scientist, each constantly exploring the unknown world around them!