Experts in education have agreed that there is an imperative to equip young learners with a thorough understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) before they graduate into the workforce. As such, the STEM concept has gotten quite popular amongst parents and teaching centres who are looking to start this sort of education for their child while they are younger. Children are actually capable of understanding STEM concepts when they are less than a year old, but only if these skills are developed intentionally.
The curriculum is based on the idea of educating students in these four specific disciplines through an interdisciplinary and applied learning manner. Instead of the usual approach of teaching these four disciplines separately, STEM education seeks to integrate them together in a cohesive way of learning based on real-world application.
However, it’s not just STEM now, but STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. “While STEM skills are indeed critical for advancement in today’s digital world, Art is a crucial component towards building lifelong critical and creative thinking for the new world. Essentially, STEAM integrates creativity and design thinking to drive discoveries. Take the iPhone for example, it is a cutting-edge gadget that combines innovation, technology with distinctive design, and craftsmanship,” said Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive of Science Centre Singapore, during the inaugural Preschool STEAM Learning Festival last month.
As the world evolves into a more tech- and innovation-dependent world, it is important for children to be equipped with STEAM-related skills that would be required as they enter the workforce. In addition to the myriad of job opportunities in the science, technology, and design industries (to name some) when they are older, STEAM education enables your child to have life skills such as managing budgets, knowing how to fix things when they break, and figuring out a procedure to get answers.
“Not every child grows up to become a scientist, engineer, or designer, but it’s important for every child to grow up knowing how to think like one. STEAM learning fosters just that—how to be creative, how to solve problems effectively, and how to think critically,” added Mr Lim Tit Meng.
So how can parents introduce STEAM thinking skills at an early age?
1. Find toys that have manipulative elements such as balls, blocks, and rattles for your child to play with. Your child will be encouraged to take control of these elements by throwing the ball further, building higher towers, or making the sound of the rattle louder or softer.
2. Pick up simple tools around the house and have your child explain the way they work. For example, you can ask, “What do you think a can opener does?” “How do you use a can opener?”
3. If you have an infant, try practicing repetitive play with him like letting your baby pick up a toy and drop it over and over. This helps give an idea about a concept such as gravity long before he learns about it in school.
4. Introduce children to four kinds of play:
- Pretend play, which allows children to use imagination to create fun
- Exploratory play, which allows children to be curious and create experiments or take things apart
- Guided play, which allows children to interact with their parents in a game or family activity
- Free play, which allows children to play however they like without adults involved
5. Encourage your child to be curious and ask “why,” “what,” and “how” questions as much as possible without the need to explain their thinking.
6. Use complex and accurate vocabulary words even when you’re with a baby. This introduces your little one to words at an early age which will in turn benefit his way of understanding words as he gets older.
7. Instil the concept of learning in your child by encouraging him to say, “I can’t do this yet” or “I don’t know what this is yet” instead of a negative, closed-off response. This helps him understand that he will eventually find the solution to the problem.