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Why is STEM important in education?

Why is STEM important in early childhood education? Explore the reasons why STEM should be a key focus in education.
Why is STEM important in early childhood education?

Why is STEM important in early childhood education? STEM is particularly important in our ever-changing, ever advancing technological society. Up to 75% of the fastest growing occupations require significant STEM skills and knowledge.

Why the push for STEM in education?

Unfortunately, many STEM education programs use a direct instruction model. This seems in stark contrast to the creative, wondrous free thinking that is integral to true STEM engagement. While direct instruction may be a more practical way of teaching STEM skills in a school classroom with one teacher and up to 30 children as well as curriculum and time constraints, early childhood education offers an alternative.

Why the push for STEM in education?

What does this mean for early childhood education?

Fortunately, in Australian and New Zealand early childhood contexts, the Early Years Learning Framework and Te Whariki value a child focused, play-based approach. This allows the opportunity to be flexible with routines; to spend time building strong relationships with children that are nurturing and respectful and enable educators and children to be co-learners.

What does this mean for early childhood education?

Consider this example

An educator observes some children taking a real interest in the volcano in the story they have been reading. At this point, they might consider creating a papier mache volcano and having the group observe the reaction of baking soda and vinegar, in a direct instruction simulated volcano activity. Although this activity might be fun, the children haven’t actually learnt about volcanos. They have learnt about a completely unrelated scientific occurrence – that when you combine baking soda with vinegar, it bubbles.           

Instead, the educator could have a conversation with the children about what has interested them. What do they already know about volcanos? What do they wonder?

As the discussion unfolds, the educator might discover that the children already know quite a lot about volcanos. Then they may lead the group in a different direction altogether.

Perhaps the inquiry could lead to the experiment in the example, with the children wanting to test theories of how a volcano works. But if that were the case, it would be safe to assume that the children would have other suggestions for how this could work, rather than combining baking soda and vinegar.

The educator’s intentions were good. They were aiming to extend on an apparent interest and seize an opportunity to weave science concepts into their program. Yet, the adult-driven activity did little to spark scientific curiosity or deepen the interest or knowledge in the subject matter.

When STEM is embedded into early years programs and environments in meaningful way, children are supported to think creatively, to solve problems, to wonder about the world and to invent. It is an amazing opportunity!

When STEM is embedded into early years programs and environments in meaningful way, children are supported to think creatively, to solve problems, to wonder about the world and to invent. It is an amazing opportunity!

Take a look at our other STEM articles to learn more.

Acknowledgement: The above adapted text and images are from Bringing STEM to Life by Nicole Halton and Natashja Treveton

About the author

Nicole Halton – Co-founder/director of Inspired EC and educational consultant
Nicole Halton has been a proud member and advocate of the early childhood profession for over 13 years. Nicole is particularly passionate about the provision of quality early childhood services and children having the right to a childhood filled with risk, adventure and fun.

From 2005 to 2012, Nicole was the director of Woodrising Community Preschool and Child Care Centre, a service that has developed a strong reputation for its commitment to natural play environments and authentic experiences for children. During her leadership the centre was one of the first services to be assessed under the National Quality Standards and achieved the rating of 'Exceeding'.

In 2007 Nicole and her business partner Natashja Treveton spent countless hours discussing the need for inspiring professional development in their local area and, as a result, founded their educational training and consultancy business, Inspired EC. Their passion and enthusiasm in their beliefs have allowed the company as well as the services they offer to develop and expand and to ‘inspire’ thousands of educators Australia wide.

About the author

Tash Treveton – Co-founder/managing director of Inspired EC and educational consultant
Natashja Treveton feels strongly about children's rights to a REAL childhood, of imaginative play in open-ended environments. She is particularly passionate about children connecting with nature and she is focused towards those areas.

Tash began as an untrained casual 14 years ago, studied and gained experience through to being a service director as well as an educational leader of Woodrising Community Preschool & CCC in Newcastle, NSW. This became one of the first centres to gain an ‘Exceeding the National Standards’ level in the current rating system in the area.

In 2007 Tash and her business partner Nicole Halton spent countless hours discussing the need for inspiring professional development in their local area and, as a result, founded their educational training and consultancy business, Inspired EC. Their passion and enthusiasm in their beliefs have allowed the company as well as the services they offer to develop and expand and to ‘inspire’ thousands of educators Australia wide.

Tash is passionate and enthusiastic about anything related to children’s wellbeing and supporting adults to develop this. She has a particular interest in creating naturalistic playgrounds for children and communities and likes nothing more than getting in there and digging creek beds or creating fairy gardens.

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