STEM is an approach to learning that integrates science, technology, engineering and maths.

Early childhood educators may feel pressured to incorporate STEM learning activities into their programs because of current trends. However, educators should realise they are most likely already doing so! Young children are the original scientists and engineers.

Children spend a lot of time tinkering, asking questions, and messing around with materials. Give a paper bag to a young baby and they will flap it and scrunch it in every way possible.

Some educators only associate STEM with iPads and robots because they have been told this is where future employment lies. Be careful with this approach, because a two-year-old child is not about to enter the workforce. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) considers childhood as a time to be: "the early childhood years are not solely preparation for the future but also about the present."

Another popular misconception is that STEM is about white lab coats and structured experiments. While they can be beneficial, young children will learn more about STEM with a pair of gumboots and nature play.

EYLF learning outcomes

STEM promotes curiosity, imagination, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence and confidence (4.1). STEM experiences involve problem solving, inquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching, investigating (4.2), and technologies (4.4).

How to conduct a STEM investigation

  1. Observe the children and identify a topic they are interested in.
  2. Write down their questions or things they want to know more about.
  3. Use different methods of exploration to find the answers.
  4. Let the children lead the project even if they change interests or take it in unexpected directions.

Different methods of exploration include:

  • Hands-on manipulation of materials
  • Observation of natural phenomena
  • Conducting surveys or interviews
  • Research using books and the internet
  • Role-playing scenarios¬†
  • Designing, making and testing something
  • Conducting simple experiments.

How to integrate STEM learning domains

Science, technology, engineering and math were traditionally taught as separate subjects. The significance of STEM learning is that educators integrate multiple domains into one learning experience.

Examples include:

  • Use technological equipment to measure the weight, dimensions or speed of different things (e.g a stopwatch or digital scales). Create a simple graph to compare and communicate the results. Take a photo of your graph and email it to the children's families.
  • In small groups, design, build and test something that solves a problem in your lives. Work with and combine different materials. Collaborate, negotiate and support your friends.
  • Start an investigation project. Guess the answers to your questions and then research the correct answers. Document your findings using photos, videos, and observational drawings.




Gowrie: Cultivating STEM skills in the early years with inquiry-based exploration