My 8-year-old son is a self confessed math junky. You can ask him what his favorite subject is at school, and he will smile and say “MATH!” without hesitation. When he’s bored while standing in line at the store, or waiting at the doctors, I can keep him amused by quizzing him on math facts, (what is 50 plus 65 plus 32?) the more complex the better, he loves a challenge (my inner geek is thrilled). He’s fascinated by how things work, constantly wants to “build something”, and loves to experiments of any kind.
I want to keep that crazy little brain of his challenged, and get his brother (10) and sister (6) excited about math and science too. But time is short between school and homework and sports, and it’s not always easy to sift through the information available online.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to talk to the folks at Bright Horizons, who have been successfully using STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in their centers with a range of ages. They had some fantastic (and easy) tips on how to explore STEM ideas at home and make it fun for everyone. Be sure to read on through the end for some fabulous online resources. I can’t wait to get started!
Thank you to Bethany Whitemyer, Center Director at Bright Horizons at Pembroke, and Jennifer Keating, Center Director at Bright Horizons at the Hingham Shipyard!
What is STEM education, and why is it important?
STEM education has been a popular topic these past few years and many parents have questions around how they can work this into their child’s education and development at home. STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and is a term initiated by the National Science Foundation. It refers to an educational approach that integrates these four disciplines. Most STEM experts consider an experience to be a STEM activity or project if it incorporates at least two of the four disciplines. Early introduction to the excitement of science, technology, engineering, and math concepts has proven to be key in developing lifelong learners! Many believe that US students are trailing behind students in other parts of the world in these disciplines, so early exposure is important. STEM with young children can also be really fun!
At what age does Bright Horizons start introducing STEM ideas to children at your center?
Every program in our center participates in STEM activities. Infants and toddlers are ready and able to explore early STEM concepts, while preschool and Kindergarten Prep children are ready for more advanced activities and concepts. Our teachers support the children in their care every day through their interactions and by providing encouragement and guidance during exploration by observing, making inferences, testing hypotheses, classifying, and communicating insight.
What are some successful STEM projects/lesson plans that you have been working on at the centers this year?
Bright Horizons at the Hingham Shipyard’s Kindergarten Prep classroom learned all about the effects of ramp height on speed with the help of their good friend, Ron the Armadillo! This classroom STEM activity introduced the children to the concept of friction, solving engineering problems, making predictions, working on designs, and testing and analyzing results. Watch our video to see the fun and learning in action! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiSwO8ISMks
Can you recommend a simple STEM project for parents of preschoolers?
There are so many STEM activities that are perfect for the hands-on learning that preschoolers need. One of our favorite activities for this age is to experiment with structures. Take a few plastic cups and a few different types of paper, like cardboard, pages from a magazine, copy paper, card stock, or anything else that you have around, and some small toys like Legos, blocks, or a few pennies. Rest a piece of paper across the top of the upturned cups and then do an experiment with how many of the small items you can rest on top of the paper. You will see that the piece of cardboard will be able to support more weights than, say a paper towel. Try folding a regular piece of paper in half to see if it will support more pennies than a single sheet. Ask lots of questions while you experiment: What do you think? Why did it do that? What will happen next? What if we do this instead? We experimented with additional cups to see if that made a difference as well. We also tried putting the cups close together and then farther apart. Help your child estimate how many pennies or Legos the paper will hold. You could even make a graph with your older preschooler of the guesses. This exercise teaches important lessons about engineering, estimating, and scientific concepts like the strength, flexibility, and other properties of materials.
Cooking can also be a great STEM activity with preschool children. Math is incorporated when your child uses measuring spoons and cups to get the right amount of each ingredient. As you watch the ingredients come together to make something new, talk about the changes you see. Here’s a great play-dough recipe you can make with preschoolers:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 ½ cups salt
- 2 tbsp cream of tartar
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 cups water (add food coloring if desired)
Mix all ingredients in a large pot. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly. Form a large ball. Remove from heat. Cool and knead. You can add a scent like peppermint or lemon too.
What are some easy do at home science activities for babies and toddlers?
STEM education with babies and toddlers doesn’t need to be difficult. Done at an age-appropriate level, it is a really enjoyable experience for you and your little one. A great way to introduce STEM concepts for this age is to explore the properties of materials like water and sand. You can put a small amount of water in a dish pan and let your baby splash in it. Make the water soapy, or add ice cubes, sponges, or cups to it. You can do the same with sand in a small container. Add cars, spoons, or make the sand slightly damp for a different experience.
Experimenting with light can also be enjoyable and interesting for very young children. Use a flashlight to make shadows on the wall or cover the flashlight with different colors of plastic wrap. Shine the light through a small prism to see rainbows appear.
You can also make a simple light table with a plastic container and a few strings of holiday lights. Lay the lights in the plastic box. Let the cord trail out or cut a hole in the bottom of the box for the cord. Replace the lid and turn the lights on. The top of the box is your light table surface. Use your light table to explore lightweight colored fabric, x-rays, and any other translucent items. You can also put down paper and let your toddler finger-paint on the light table.
What are some ways that parents reinforce math concepts with children and keep it fun at the same time?
Parents can reinforce math concepts by asking questions that can introduce or enhance a skill, challenge the mind or expand thinking. Sometimes we don’t realize that many of the materials and activities in our homes are math related.
- Cooking: Measuring, weighing, counting, and estimating are terms and concepts easily introduced while cooking with your children.
- Comparing and Contrasting: Use everyday household items to compare color, purpose, and type.
- Sorting: Use “clean-up time” to play a sorting game. Ask your children to sort things by shape and size.
- Patterning: It won’t take your children long to begin to recognize patterns in their home. Go on a “Pattern Hunt” together.
- Exploring Shapes: Teach your children to recognize and form geometrical shapes and designs.
- Estimating: Make an estimating jar. Fill a container with any small household items and have your children guess how many. Then have your children follow up with counting the items. Soon, they will begin to get a feel for the estimating process.
By being aware of the many mathematical opportunities you can provide, you can encourage the discovery of mathematical concepts and foster the growth of your children!
What are your favorite online resources for STEM activities and information?
There are a number of great resources for activities available on line and at the library now. Here are a few good websites to give you some inspiration:
Bright Horizons Growth Scientists: http://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/science-for-kids
PBS Learning Media: http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/
Boston Children’s Museum Learning Resources: http://www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org/learning-resources
National Geographic Kids www.kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/activities/funscience
To learn more about Bright Horizons at the Hingham Shipyard and Bright Horizons at Pembroke, and other ways in which we introduce STEM concepts to children feel free to contact or visit us at any time!
168 Shipyard Drive, Hingham, MA 02043; www.brighthorizons.com/hingham
334 Old Oak St., Pembroke, MA 02359; www.brighthorizons.com/pembroke