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How Children's Interests Impact STEM Engagement

Reframing STEM as part of a quality program encapsulates early childhood educators as play advocates.

Written by: Jo Harris - Bellbird Educational Advisor  

While we enjoy the ease and convenience that automation can give us, replacing effort with an increase in time, it affects other areas of our lives too. Our expectations and behaviours can and do change, in most cases the reward of having the extra time or avoiding onerous tasks. With a focus on the need to create a dynamic workforce, there has been much emphasis placed on the delivery of high-quality planning programs in the early childhood sector, and the importance of embedding STEM into the curriculum. The teaching of subjects like Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics could be perceived very differently by early childhood educators as their experiences will influence their approach to it.

For many early childhood educators, STEM has been linked to coding and robotics, or including digital devices in their program, which many service philosophies go against, in favour of promoting device-free play. However, with some direction, they can be supported to unpack some of the lesser-known aspects of STEM and STEM-based activities and experiences that do not require batteries! 

The beauty of these concepts is that they are incredibly diverse and with a bit of reflection and imagination can steer the thinking into more positive associations.

STEM Skills are Crucial to Australia's Changing Future

Australia, like the rest of the world, is in a state of continuous change. As we consider the future we imagine for our youngest citizens to be a part of, this requires planning in each area of our lives. In addition to the existing technology that we have come to rely on, there is also a need to recognise that there are essential skills and abilities to learn and use that aren't currently taught in traditional educational settings. Social and emotional intelligence is key to being able to reason, collaborate, and problem-solve issues that mankind has never encountered before. Hands-on learning can provide that foundation while developing children's confidence and resilience.

Advances in Technology impact Everything 

Currently, some of the most in-demand STEM-related jobs in Australia include software developers, medical and health professionals, trades and construction, teachers, engineers, and farmers. There are professions that currently do not exist yet though they will make up the workforce that the current generation of young children will be employed to do in the years to come, based on the way that we are living today. Considering the kinds of resources that are made available to children daily, technology has always been represented, but the difference today leans towards compact electronic handheld devices to suit a range of purposes over specific items with individual functions. From one generation to the next, we are introduced to new technologies as others are phased out. In years past, children may have engaged with tape recorders and compact disc players to listen to stories and songs that were more permanently stationed at a listening station. Currently, more children are more familiar with tablets and mobile phones. 


Educators might be excited or anxious about STEM

Drawing upon their existing knowledge and experiences with STEM, educators can be encouraged to view it as an opportunity to strengthen their current offerings but boosted with a new tilt in their inherent value. Taking the block corner as an example, a staple in most early learning programs, STEM could be incorporated into play with the addition of some intentionally planned questions to delve deeper into the learning process as it is occurring. Reframing what STEM can actually look like as part of a quality program, actually encapsulates what early childhood educators do most naturally - advocate play as an integral part of learning. Focusing on the joy of early childhood development, play can become enhanced through conversation, experience, and reflection.

Inquiry-based STEM education in the early years is a collaborative process

With the view of promoting children's curiosity, an educator may set a provocation by adding different materials to the block corner. Inviting children to combine them, and explore what happens when they are mixed up, provides an opportunity to develop their curiosity, planning skills, and sense of agency as they drive their learning and understanding. Incorporating STEM into an existing program can be something that celebrates the spontaneity children bring to their learning. Observing and listening to children's questions and comments through play are wonderful ways to start planning the experiences you could introduce and add to existing daily routine activities. 

Taking children for a walk could be reinvigorated if they were able to follow up on an interest that has arisen, such as noticing that different parts of the outdoor area are wetter than others after a rainstorm, or conversely, drier than others. Conducting some experiments with different sizes of containers to catch the rain located in different areas may provide some indication of why this occurring. 

Children's interests are important to successful STEM thinkers 

Inquiry-based STEM education involves educators responding to children's natural curiosity and helping to shape their learning experiences by adopting scientific processes within their play. Children are encouraged to ask questions and make discoveries alongside adults who provide guidance, make decisions together, and support them to continue their learning beyond their initial questions.

In place of non-fiction books, such as encyclopedias, children and educators can research topics through online search engines like Google or Bing, to find out information instantly. When creating a recipe, adults might use an online app instead of a physical cookbook. When documenting children's learning, educators might take photos or record notes on their devices rather than use written notes to capture the learning. 

With technology ever-present in our work and personal lives, it is not surprising that it will feature heavily in future professions that today's children will be skilled in and trained for. To address this, STEM skills have emerged to become progressively more significant. Business and economics analysts predict that developments in technology and our dependence on it globally could create as many as 50 million jobs by the beginning of the next decade. 

Embracing technology and STEM in the early years is an exciting opportunity to respond to creating positive opportunities for children to be actively involved in their learning which will prepare them for life. 

For more information and inspiration relating to STEM-based learning, please visit our Educator Resource Library.



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