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What does STEAM look like in the Early Years?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths. This is a forward-thinking, integrated approach to learning that combines these subjects to guide children’s inquisition and critical thinking. 

Early years doesn’t necessarily come to mind for many practitioners and teachers when considering STEAM. However, STEAM is central to children’s learning and development in the 21st century. 

STEAM supports an array of valuable lifelong learning skills. We want to allow children to be engineers, architects, scientists, artists and mathematicians. Ignite a sense of discovery as children experience scientific, engineering and mathematical skills in their play. 

Be prepared for a flurry of questions as children’s curiosities are sparked! 

Foster children’s development of STEAM by providing children with opportunities to explore and discover. 

Through incorporating aspects of STEAM into play, children can be encouraged to: 

  • Show curiosity and a ‘can do’ attitude 
  • Seek challenge and enjoy meeting challenges 
  • Think of ideas and find new ways of doing things 
  • Solve problems 
  • Make links, predictions, estimates and hypothesise
  • Notice patterns
  • Test their ideas 
  • Plan and make decisions about how to approach a task 
  • Be able to change strategy and review their approach 
  • Communicate, collaborate and make compromises 

You may have noticed that all of the above are in fact aspects of the Early Years Foundation Stage Characteristics of Effective Learning. STEAM, therefore, goes hand in hand with the values of the early years. STEAM is about merging these important subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) into one. It is therefore a holistic approach, and this is exactly what early years is about: intertwining areas of learning. 

Below are ways in which an enabling STEAM environment can be created. Where children can experiment, investigate, explore, wonder and make their own discoveries. 

How to provide STEAM opportunities in the early years: 

Children need to be given opportunities to investigate, hypothesize and test their ideas through hands-on play and learning. Allow children to be engineers, scientists and architects of their own learning by creating an environment that will encourage and extend STEAM. This can be done by providing an array of resources for connecting, pouring, building and transforming. Provide children with guttering, tubing and pegs to connect, build and test out their ideas. 

Take a look at the video below to see how STEAM has been encouraged through the Outdoor Activity STEAM Lab Bench: 

Quick tips: 

  • Use different kinds of tubes with a variety of jugs and funnels. 
  • Use Messy Maths Measuring Bottles for children to explore measurements and amounts. This provides great opportunities for enriching children’s mathematical literacy. 
  • Mix the activities with a range of catalysts from the adult 
  • Allow children to select their own materials and tools 
  • Create a laboratory where mini scientists blend, mix, whisk and stir their concoctions. 
  • Set up a perfume station with herbs, petals and aromas – use potion bottles and pestle and mortars. 
  • Include ICT resources such as talking pegs, buttons and clipboards to record findings. Add metal detectors and microscopes for investigations and material explorations. Have a digital camera handy for children to record each other’s findings and discoveries.
  • Provide items for measuring, such as rulers and tapes. 
  • Enable children to use ramps and guttering for a variety of different activities. They could be used for rolling things down such as vehicles, cogs etc. You could place different surfaces on the ramps to see if this affects the speed.
  • Accessorise the unit with different tools. Think about the various skills involved. Can they blend, stir, pour, empty, mix, mash? 

Extend the provision by adding accessories that support and enhance play. A double-sided unit for instance allows for collaborative play. Add different sized bowls for mixing and creating concoctions. Hooks can be useful for hanging utensils and encouraging children to self-access and neatly put away the resources.

With the Outdoor Activity STEAM Lab Bench, children could pour liquids or roll balls down a ramp, place a variety of utensils, magnifiers or tweezers on the hooks or in the holes, or wind tubing through the holes into funnels. 

Incorporating technology will help children in making discoveries and recording findings. They could use the Outdoor ICT Metal Detectors to learn about materials and the Recordable Magnifying Glass to closely observe. Talking Clipboards can be used for designing and recording ideas.

Whether you use a microscope for exploring materials, or a camera for recording findings, children are able to develop a wide range of key STEAM skills.

Encourage children to be researchers, ask questions and be curious! Light a spark of curiosity as children begin to wonder about the world around them… 

 Support children through this journey by: 

  • Encouraging children to experiment through cause and effect: provide containers, whisks, mashers and jugs to use for transforming materials from solids to liquids. 
  • Give children a choice of different textured materials: to manipulate the speed of released objects and investigate forces in a developmentally appropriate way. 
  • Provide children with an assortment of joining materials: such as pegs, ropes and scarves. 

Providing children with an array of resources to explore and create will encourage them to wonder about the world around. They can connect, measure, problem-solve, pour, mix, transform, test, design and record. 

Ensure that children are only limited by their imaginations! 

With thanks to Angelica Celinska for writing this blog. Angelica has 10 years of experience working in the Early Years and Primary sector with a Masters in Early Years Education from the Institute of Education, University College London (UCL). 

Loved this article?

Register for our exclusive STEAM-focussed webinar panel discussion to hear more from Alistair, alongside panellists:

  • Tim Peake British ESA Astronaut
  • Anne-Marie Imafidon Stemettes CEO
  • Marsha Ivins NASA Astronaut
  • Craig Kemp Global EdTech Consultant
  • Simon Hunt Primary Teacher and Consultant

Early Years

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