Sunday, September 8, 2013

Preschool STEM

There is No Reason for Miniature Versions of University Classrooms

Preschoolhood is for play. There is no time for flash cards, no reason to create a miniature version of a university classroom. It is through imitation and open-ended but intentional opportunities for
experimentation that a child learns. And given time and space, a child can learn anything.

Open-Ended but Intentional Opportunities to Play with STEM

Every day I read articles about current STEM education trends and early childhood development. When I think about how my writing about Preschool Engineering fits in to the educational landscape, I find myself gravitating toward the play-based philosophy of education. My goal is to promote play-based STEM education. Specifically, I hope to inspire parents to see their child's play in a new light.

Seeing STEM Learning in Play

I think that by understanding that pre-math, pre-science, pre-STEM learning happens when a child is playing in the sand or helping to cook dinner, parents can relax with the "teaching" and purge all those undesirable toys and just encourage their children to participate in daily life. In fact, the National Association for the Education of the Young Child (NAEYC) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) are working to promote good beginnings:
Young children show a natural interest in and enjoyment of mathematics. Research evidence indicates that long before entering school children spontaneously explore and use mathematics—at least the intuitive beginnings—and their mathematical knowledge can be quite complex and sophisticated [20]. In play and daily activities, children often explore mathematical ideas and processes; for example, they sort and classify, compare quantities, and notice shapes and patterns [21–27]. (NAEYC and NCTM. (2002). Early childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings.)
In the article, NAEYC and NCTM go on to give specific examples of how teachers can support early childhood math learning. For parents, perhaps the idea that young children are naturally interested in pre-STEM might just need to be recognized. Then parents can find comfort in knowing that the informal education learned through imitation play is invaluable and can serve as the foundation for formal learning!

College Readiness or Preschool Prowess?

Taking this idea of play-based learning one step further, I can't help but extrapolate to college preparedness. I just read this on and thought to myself, "well, those skills are forming in my preschool engineer right now!"
Even in the field, we have amixed sense of what is needed to prepare our students for the future. More science, technology, engineering, and math, taught in traditional ways, does not a prepared graduate make. [...] Schools that can prepare students to be 'college and career ready' will have to embrace these skills and build upon them.
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
- Agility and adaptability
- Initiative and entrepreneurialism
- Effective oral and written communication
- Accessing and analyzing information
- Curiosity and imagination
So, let's see. How might these things look in preschool play? This is what I think it looks like in Mikey:

Critical thinking and problem solving
  Mikey wanted a toy that was too high to reach. He started to build a tower of stuff to climb. Part way through building he realized that he should only use hard things to stack. He replaced the pillow that he had grabbed because it was close with an upside down garbage can.

Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
 I let each child choose one video to watch after snacktime. Mikey asked his sister, "Anna do you want to watch the rollercoaster?" She typically answers, "yes." to everything he asks so he chose the video he wanted to see and made it "her choice."

Agility and adaptability
For a preschooler, this is called "sharing."

Initiative and entrepreneurialism
Mikey built a new sculpture out of a roll of duct tape and a cylinder. When I exclaimed how creative it was as he rolled it, he asked if I wanted to buy it for $686.

Effective oral and written communication
Mikey has drawn pictures of his favorite toys (animals, trucks) and tells stories, like nearly any preschooler, over and over again.

Accessing and analyzing information
Mikey turns on the iPad, unlocks it, navigates to "his" screen and finds the new game, Toca Builders by Toca Boca. He opens the game and proceeds to test each of the characters, experimenting with the blocks and colors and, in doing so, creates a new and awesome and physically impossible stack of blocks.

Curiosity and imagination
Wow. Where do I begin? 

Too Much of a Small Thing? Nah...Celebrating Learning through Play

Ok, ok. Maybe I'm making too much of a small thing. Obviously, my preschooler is not college-ready. But I have felt empowered to know that play is the fundamental way of learning for a preschooler. By stepping back and letting Mikey explore and play on his own I have begun to see the power of play. I have also been amazed to see his pre-STEM learning light up his eyes and, I think, his heart.

1 comment:

  1. I read an article recently where researchers were trying to figure out how children learn through play. They concluded that children learn through play by collecting (and presumably interpreting) evidence that is generated through the playful interactions. I thought the same thing as I read this -- the things children already do in play are the very things we are trying to teach them in science.

    Here's a link to the article