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Six Questions that Promote Children's STEM Thinking

Children notice the minutiae of life, making them excellent scientists who intuitively question and research the world around them.

Written by: Jo Harris - Educational Advisor  

STEM play is an essential part of any early childhood program to create a learning environment in which children are encouraged to have regular access to resources that promote opportunities to hypothesise, test, assess and discover the world around them. In early childhood education and care services, children are constantly exposed to STEM play. To that end, setting up learning environments can be as easy as providing open-ended resources that are responsive to children's curiosity and inquisitive nature. Simple experiments and challenges that are set up as provocations for learning can be introduced formally and informally.

Depending upon the type of experiment that is offered will determine the level of engagement and interaction an educator will have in large or small-group learning. Inspiration can be drawn from many daily and routine activities that happen daily, but it is when children want to know more about the why of these experiences that it becomes critical to the learning process, and linked outcomes. 

Simplicity is Key to Setting Up STEM Learning Spaces 

Everyday objects can be ideal conversation starters that lead to the kind of learning spaces that children can spontaneously react to in their day. Discussions at the lunch table or snack time are often great opportunities that encourage thinking and investigation. Activities such as block building, estimating the number of steps to get from one place to another and then counting them, making, and playing with Playdough, building something with a shoe box, planting a seed in the garden, making a ramp for cars to drive over, and using a magnifying glass to see a tiny insect up close are all examples of STEM learning in action.

Whilst each of these activities could be planned by an educator at any time in response to observing any child, these are often experiences that occur naturally and incidentally. Applying the power of STEM to each one can help us see why it is so important to draw out the most important skills and learning dispositions they have, and how this is integral to children's learning now, and in the future. 




Six Questions to Promote Children's Thinking

It is not only the materials that children want to explore but an emphasis on what it is they want to discover about them. Children are excellent questioners, and even better researchers when supported in their play to nail down the answers to their million-dollar questions - Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How's of life.

Children notice many of the things we take for granted, such as the way magnets stick and repel to and from each other which can keep their interest for long periods of time. Taking the cue from their questions, educators can choose whether to provide an answer or the opportunity to investigate further.  Introducing magnetic wands, horseshoes or counting chips is perfect for conducting experiments and demonstrations of basic magnetism principles. Magnets encourage children's curiosity about physical science when they see the magic happen with their own eyes.

To give balance and an opportunity to extend learning, non-magnetic items could be added to test children's queries and thinking as part of their research.

Engaging interests with intentional learning activities can add to their penchant for STEM-related questioning. Using the Connetix Pastel Mega Pack, Connetix Pastel Run Pack, and Connetix Pastel Wooden Ball Pack, they can endlessly explore construction and ball run designs. Children can explore gravity and motion and the limitless potential for the ball run pieces - from sensory runs to sorting tubes, mazes, and much more.

Simple to click and fit together, children can feel free to spend more time perfecting their designs and increasing their complexity by adding features through trial and error. Younger learners who may prefer a more outcome-based approach can master the properties of magnetism by matching the scoops to the cone on the Colour Sorting Magnetic Maze.



Building and Construction Spaces are Ideal for STEM

Many aspects of engineering and construction are discovered during block play. Project Block sets contain the traditional 50-piece units ideal for all areas of STEM learning. Designed to fit together in specific ratios, they are excellent for supporting open-ended construction as well as other aspects of mathematical-based play. Children can test and assess concepts such as the height and weight of their structures during the building process to see what could be adjusted to ensure the foundation will keep its shape and integrity after completion.

Blockplay can become the optimal testing ground for the exploration of creativity in both thought and reality. Ideas can be formulated from drawings to models or vice versa. Solving problems can look and feel different in the 3-dimensional world. This space allows children to try out theories in response to their questions, or those set by educators. Different blocks serve contrasting functions with their size, shape, height, and weight. Combining block sets may even instigate new ways of thinking and play. 

Although the block area is a base location for play, these ideas can also be applied to other spaces, including art and role play. Children could make their own binoculars or telescopes with cardboard tubes, or one-of-a-kind hats or necklaces with a selection of open-ended materials. An important part of STEM-based learning is the opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts as to how to solve problems or challenges they face before, during, or after building in which questions arise. They might not always share the same opinion or thinking, so this is an opportunity to develop social skills in real-world situations through their play.



This type of thinking and learning is linked to the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) which emphasises the positive effects STEM has on both cognitive and social development in young children. The process of construction involves design and engineering; together this requires an element of skill to ensure buildings will hold their shape and form, drawing upon skills learned through STEM play. It is this same thinking in the Block Corner that would be applied during the yet-to-be-conceived buildings and services of the future that begin their conception in early childhood learning environments. The only difference is the size and scale in which the children are working, which poses alternative questions or challenges. 

For more ideas to support the dreams of our future STEM engineers, designers, developers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, creators, innovators, and builders please visit our Educator Resources page.



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