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The Wonder of Science Through Play

Children are naturally drawn to the concepts of STEM as they use their senses to understand the world around them.

Written by: Jo Harris Educational Advisor  

Children remind us of the wonder of being alive through their play and interest in everything around them. They acquire a vast amount of information on topics including physics, chemistry, and astronomy through their open-minded thinking and observation. Nurturing this is often best led by following the children's lead to finding some answers, or better still, a path towards deeper investigation and more questions.

In some circumstances, the incidental moments can lead to the development of greater experiences. Taking children's cues and carefully planning activities based on these open the door to deep investigation and exploration which is meaningful within the relevant context.

STEM is Everywhere Around Us 

Whether or not we recognise it, STEM is everywhere around us, and important to the way we live our lives. Essential to running the back-ended systems such as electricity and other utilities, we rely on these services and the people employed to keep them in continuous operation. In relation to young children, STEM is not something separate, but instead a driver of their learning. 

During children's play, they are naturally drawn to use their senses to understand the world around them. It is often when watching and listening to children as they investigate their surroundings that provide a basis for which resources to choose and set up to encourage further learning opportunities. STEM play is not limited to outdoor play, as learning can happen anywhere. Common areas of interest that pique children's curiosity as they respond to the world around them include weather, building and construction, and water play.

Building Upon Children's Natural Curiosity

Perhaps unsurprisingly the human body is a constant form of fascination to children. The vehicle that carries us through life is automatically operating, but it is children's questions and wondering about how this happens that make such fantastic STEM opportunities to discover and learn more. Introducing non-fiction reading and literature to children can give a great overview of the body from the inside out.  Adding a model skeleton, they can transfer the information from theoretical to practical as they engage with it. Completing a human body floor puzzle or studying a detailed poster, language can be developed as they learn the names of organs, muscles, and bones as well as creating a greater understanding of the function of each, and fundamental messages that encourage the care of their bodies.



Everyday Resources are Ideal for STEM Play

Since weather patterns generally dictate the kind of activities and experiences we are engaged in and reflect the current season of the weather, children will show a natural affinity to understand their influence. Few materials are needed to stimulate their exploration but becomes more important to extend their concurrent learning and understanding. During a  morning gathering the day's weather could be explored by recording the temperature using a weather chart and whiteboard marker, selecting the corresponding weather stones, or selecting the relevant seasonal puzzle.  Discussions could be held using these resources to compare the current conditions as well as those in previous days, weeks, or months.

Closer studies could be made using the addition of a wooden weather play set that reflects the time and season of the year as illustrated in the images. Weather experiments could be instigated to deepen knowledge of the elements of weather such as freezing or melting water and the kind of conditions required for each to happen. 



The joy and magic of seeing rainbows appearing in the sky is an endless source of conversation for children. Experimenting with light and water during outdoor play could be extended within construction play. Items such as the Rainbow Architect Shapes can encourage children's imaginative play, combining people and animals to create small-world play. Children could also experiment with classification skills such as sorting shapes by colour, type, and size - skills that align with scientific thinking and order. 

STEM Play Engages the Senses to Heighten Learning Experiences

A Bamboo Channel Construction and Water Play pack can be set up either in an indoor or outdoor setting and is a valuable addition to a Loose Parts or construction space. This set of natural bamboo channels contains a mixture of half and full pipes that can be used as scoops for holding different levels of water and sand. Children can set up their own channel systems, collecting and emptying the water through the ends of the pipe pieces. Play could be extended by making pathways for the water to move along the track. Adding a small boat can provide a visual tracker of the journey.  They can explore and discuss where in the tracks is wet, dry, empty, or full and learn about cause and effect by watching where the water moves to (or not) and why. Older children can begin to refine or rework their designs as they reflect on past experiences, making them more complex.

When not immersed in water, they can be built, balanced, and lined up to suit each individual project. More experimentation can occur, offering children easy access to items like marbles, cars, or small balls that could be added to run through the maze of pipes. Children learn naturally through trial and error and applying their understandings between each attempt. It is important for them to be able to engage with the materials to follow their instinct to explore and observe. 

Skills like persistence and resilience are fostered during experimentation as their imagination and creativity are developed whilst making discoveries and having fun. Water play activities can encourage and test thinking of STEM concepts. There is no set 'shopping list' needed to introduce STEM play, but instead placing emphasis on how you may use everyday resources is where the power is. Items that you may use frequently will not only serve their intended function but also have the potential to be the vital piece of an ongoing learning puzzle. 

For more information and ideas that encourage STEM-based play and learning please visit Bellbird's Educator Resources Page.






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