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The home is an exciting place for children to learn and grow. Many parents enjoy engaging in learning experiences with their children such as shared book reading and game playing. However, when it comes to making math a part of the learning experience, many parents are unsure where to begin. This blog post provides fun, practical math experiences that can be done at home to help children develop critical math skills.

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Dr. Michele Stites 8811081469?profile=RESIZE_180x180

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein

About the authors:

Dr. Michele Stites is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction/Special Education from the George Washington University and her M.Ed. in special education from the University of Maryland College Park. Prior to her appointment at UMBC, she was the early childhood intervention specialist for a large school system in Maryland. Dr. Stites was an early childhood classroom teacher for 10 years working in both general and special education settings. Dr. Stites’ research interests focus on inclusive mathematics teaching practices and young children’s mathematics learning. As an assistant professor at UMBC she also works closely with teacher candidates. Dr. Stites has been widely published in both scholarly and practitioner-focused journals.

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein is a Professor in the Psychology Department at UMBC and the Graduate Program Director of the Applied Developmental Psychology Doctoral program. She received an M.S. degree from Penn State University in Educational Psychology, a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Stony Brook University, and is a certified (state of Maryland) school psychologist. Her research interests focus on factors that promote children’s educational success. She conducts research on family and school-based factors and how they affect children from different demographic backgrounds. In addition to having several hundred scholarly publications and presentations, she has written blogs and summaries of her research for nonprofessional audiences. One focusing on math activities to do with young children was published in the Conversation in 2018, http://theconversation.com/5-math-skills-your-child-needs-to-get-ready-for-kindergarten-103194

The learning activities young children engage in at home lead to better academic skills. We know that children who read different types of books at home are more likely to develop foundational literacy skills (Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002; Serpell et al., 2005). And, many parents are confident that they know how to help their children learn to read (Sonnenschein, et.al., 2021). But what about math? How comfortable are parents with fostering their children’s math skills at home?

We recently asked 236 parents of preschoolers how confident they were assisting their children with reading and math skills at home. And, what we found was not surprising. Most parents thought it was very important for their children to read (86%) and do math activities at home (68%). However, they viewed reading as more important than math. Why do they view reading as more important? It may have to do with confidence. Only 32% of parents in our study reported that they were very confident in their ability to support their child’s math learning.

Given what we know about the importance of reading to children, and the need for more math exposure in the home, we should  link the two together! Making learning fun for young children and engaging their interest in such learning is positively associated with better academic skills (Sonnenschein et al., 2016).  Drilling children on skills is not (Serpell et al., 2005).

Many parents are confident engaging in dialogic reading experiences with their children and with minimal effort we can easily add math into the experience. Many parents also shared with us that they want fun, play-based ways to foster math skills at home (e.g. NO worksheets!). Here are some practical ideas:

Linking Storybook Reading to Math

  1. Expose their children to a variety of reading genres (e.g., storybooks, informational text) and find the math in the story. You do not need math themed books to do this! Count the number of bunnies, talk about shapes, find patterns, etc. Be sure to use mathematical language (e.g. “more”, “equal”, etc.) when talking about a math topic because it increases skill development (Akinci-Coşgun, et.al., 2020; Stites & Brown, 2019).
  2. Use a math themed book. Books like Anno’s Counting book and Ten Magic Butterflies are mathematically themed. Take the time to explore the math content. Questions like, “How many in all?” and “what comes next?” are great with counting books. If the book focuses on a skill like addition work on additional equations. “Wow, we just answered 2 + 1=3. Do you know what 2+2 equals?”
  3. Make use of digital and adapted books. If a child has a disability, adapted books are a great way to remove some of the barriers in traditional print books. In fact, all children, not just those with disabilities, often respond to the  different formats provided in these books.

Play-Based Math Learning

  1. Play board games. Games have been shown to be an effective way to engage with numbers and patterns. Take the time to question the child about numbers, shapes, and patterns.
  2. Take a nature walk. Notice the shapes in the leave. Count the clouds. The world is your oyster here!
  3. Build with blocks or Legos. Count the items and make patterns. Ask the child what comes next and how many there are altogether. Take some away and ask how many are left. Make shapes!
  4. Draw and create art. As the child is drawing ask her to make three more flowers. Use playdough and make shapes and patterns. And talk about the shapes the child and you create. The language used matters!

References

  1. Akinci-Coşgun, A, Stites, M.L., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Using storybooks to support young children’s mathematics learning at school and home. In Bekir, H., Bayraktar, V., & Karaçelik, S.N. (Eds.), Development in Education. Istanbul, Turkey: Hiperlink.
  2. Sénéchal, M., & LeFevre, J. A. (2002). Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 73 , 445–461.
  3. Serpell, R., Baker, L. & Sonnenschein, S. (2005). Becoming literate in the city: The Baltimore Early Childhood Project. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Sonnenschein, S., Metzger, S. R., & Thompson, J. A. (2016). Low-income parents’ socialization of their preschoolers’ early reading and math skills. Research in Human Development, 13, 207-224. doi: 10.1080/15427609.2016.1194707
  5. Sonnenschein, S., Stites, M.L., & Dowling, R. (2021).  Learning at home: What preschool parents do and what they want to learn from their children’s teachers? Journal of Early Childhood Research. doi:10.1177/1476718X20971321
  6. Stites, M.L. & Brown, E.T. (2019). Observing mathematical learning experiences in preschool.  Early Child Development and Care. doi:10.1080/03004430.2019.1601089.
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Engineering can feel like a daunting concept to implement with your preschoolers, but young children are already capable and interested in engineering and design problems! They ask questions and identify problems to solve. So how can you engage your preschoolers in engineering? This blog post explains preschool engineering during a free-play session by building on children’s interests and identifies crucial teaching practices to push children’s engineering ideas and thinking forward.

About the author: Gurupriya a doctoral candidate in the Ed.D Curriculum and Instruction program at Boise State University, Gurupriya's work and research interests revolve around high quality preschool STEM practices and opportunities for inclusion of students with diverse needs. She received her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Syracuse University and worked as a preschool teacher in inclusive preschool programs. Prior to that, she worked as a special education teacher for young children with developmental disabilities in India. As a Research Assistant at Boise State University, she assists in research projects assessing teacher and parent perceptions and beliefs on early STEM education, and developing teacher supports for the implementation of early STEM education.

This blog post contains excerpts from an engineering activity conducted in an early childhood setting as part of the author’s dissertation.

Shanina’s preschoolers have been reading about different animal habitats. Some children expressed interest in building shelters.

Children’s interests, including interests related to engineering, can be sparked in numerous ways. Recognizing those interests requires keen observation by early educators. Interest may come from reading a story on the rug, from observations and exploration during play, or from sharing about life outside of school, or in the form of an engineering challenge. Research suggests that preschool children should actively engage in inquiry-based projects by asking questions, collecting data, and presenting it. A skilled teacher is crucial in guiding children through the experience (Torres-Crespo et al., 2014).

Problem-based scenarios can engage children in STEM activities and expand their interests. Educators present young children with a problem relevant to their lives, then encourage and support children as they imagine, plan, create, and improve solutions to these engineering design challenges (Tippet & Milford, 2017). Let’s take a look at how Shanina used problem-based scenarios to engage her preschoolers.

Wooden blocks and plastic straw ‘forts’: building on children’s interests.

To expand children’s interest in building shelters, Shanina set up a provocation at the block area. She set up wooden blocks and plastic straws of various sizes and taped pictures of different shelters built using blocks and loose parts.8677047499?profile=RESIZE_400x

Then she posed a problem-based scenario and invited children to explore further, saying, “I wonder if we could build a shelter for the animals using the blocks and straws. How can we make it stay standing?”

Children initially began exploring the plastic straws, but a group of three children soon had an idea of their own—they wanted to build a fort. Shanina encouraged them by asking, “What is your idea?” and “What are you going to use to build the fort?”. Children specified that they wanted to build a fort that could fit the three of them inside and hold the weight of the blanket covering it.

Children began connecting the plastic straws and building a cube-shaped structure that was as tall as them. While building, the children had an idea to make an entrance to the fort by leaving one part of the structure open. However, this led to design flaws:

  • a) the structure began tilting to one side and almost tipped over due to the lack of a balanced foundation, and
  • b) the entrance was too small for the children to fit through.8677052895?profile=RESIZE_400x

Rather than point out these design flaws, Shanina gave children the opportunity to:

  • explore with the materials laid out at the block area,
  • create their structure using the materials they chose,
  • test out their creations to see how well they would hold,
  • reflect on the testing results, and then
  • problem-solve how to improve upon their creations

In doing so, Shanina observed how children worked together to build their fort, problem-solve to strengthen the fort, create an even foundation, and leave enough space to enter the fort.

To anchor children’s thinking in the engineering design process, Shanina asked open-ended questions such as, “what is your design for the structure?” and “how will you make sure it stays up?”. Open-ended questions can also support children in thinking critically about their design and work together to solve their design problem.

To complete their fort, children wanted to cover it with a blanket. Shanina prompted the children to think intentionally about their design, asking, “Do you think the fort will be able to stay standing with the blanket over it? Let’s find out!”

The children tested two blankets of different weights. The first was too heavy—parts of the fort gave into the weight. But rather than get dejected, the children rebuilt their fort, urging, “It’s ok, we can build it again!”. They negotiated with one another, commenting, “You connect the straws on that side, and I’ll work on this side” and “Can you get me some straws from the box?”. Upon completion, the children tested their fort with the second, lighter blanket and found that the fort held its weight well.

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By building on children’s curiosity, what started as a simple exploration of connecting straws transformed into a fort construction engineering challenge. With teacher facilitation, children worked together to construct the fort and think through issues that arose. Using a problem-based scenario, introducing open-ended materials and loose parts, and asking open-ended questions engaged children’s interests and encouraged them to think critically as they participated in a problem-solving process.

Often this begins by identifying and documenting children’s curiosity, wonderings, and interests and then building on it. It can take the form of children or teachers identifying a problem or question that needs a solution. Perhaps students identified something in the playground that needs fixing or have a question about how a tool works. Perhaps during a lesson on habitats, students want to know more about birds and where they live. No matter the starting point for students’ interest in a topic, posing or framing it within a problem-based scenario, introducing open-ended materials and loose parts, and asking open-ended questions can not only build on children’s interests but also further encourage children to critically think about and engage in the problem-solving process.

Suggestions

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 Do you want to know how to engage children in STEM virtually? We are pleased to invite Dr. Mere-Cook to share some of her experiences with us! 

About the author: Yvette Mere-Cook has a Doctorate in Special Education from the University of San Francisco and a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Boston University.  Dr. Mere-Cook teaches at Boise State University in the Early and Special Education Department and researches the role of early childhood STEM education on the inclusion of children with disabilities.  Partnering with Idaho STEM Action Center, Dr. Mere-Cook led a team of early childhood educators in a year-long exploration on how to integrate STEM with young learners, both with and without disabilities.  Most recently, Dr. Mere-Cook has also returned to the classroom as a pediatric occupational therapist working with preschoolers with disabilities and providing them opportunities and access to STEM as a vehicle that drives their IEP goals.   

With the new school year in full swing, several young children with disabilities are participating over virtual platforms. Although we all wish we can be in the classroom, I have found a way to bring STEM learning to life through engaging in weekly groups that provide our students time to explore, create, and share with teachers, families, and classmates. 

Young children with disabilities do not always have the opportunities to explore their curiosities and interests at school. Explicit instruction, adult directed tasks, and specialized interventions often take priority in specially designed preschool classrooms. These evidence-based instructional supports are critical but they limit students’ naturally occurring opportunities to explore, create, and solve problems in ways that are meaningful to the child (Huskens et al., 2015; McClure et al., 2017; Steinbrenner et al., 2020)

Therefore, I established a weekly group that meets virtually and incorporates the steps of the engineering design process, Explore, Create, and Improve (Museum of Science, Boston, 2018).  Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions that could be helpful to families/ caregivers and educators alike.

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How do I design and present the weekly investigations?

  • I get to know the children’s interests: I surveyed families asking them to list the activities or topics that were of interest to their children. Building, painting, and cause and effect games on the IPAD were the top 3 choices.
  • I incorporate and work on children’s IEP goals during STEM learning: Although all children’s IEP goals are different, they often have areas in common: expressive language, fine motor skills, and self-regulation. I am mindful to provide opportunities for children to work on these goal areas. I also invite the children’s teachers and related service providers to observe and take data on specific goals.

For instance, the STEM Group is a wonderful opportunity to address social interactions and communication. I usually have 5-6 children in attendance and I ask parents and caregivers to unmute themselves.  For working on expressive language, I ask specific children questions such as, “Holly, what are you using to make your ramp?” or “Sam, what objects do you have today?”.  When testing the creations, I will ask students to say “Ready, Set, Go”  or count 1, 2, 3.  I also encourage children to look and comment on each other’s creations.  For instance, I say:  “Look!  Matt is using a book with a hard cover as his ramp. Jill, how is your ramp different from Matt’s?  For some students that use visual supports, I bring the choice boards or sentence strip so they can express themselves.

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  • I have a plan, but I follow the children’s lead: I create multi-week investigations centered children’s interests (building) and classroom themes (Fall leaves, pumpkins). I make certain to adjust weekly challenges based on the children’s engagement in the previous week and use their ideas to inform our next steps. So I have a plan, but I follow where the children take me.     
  • I give parents time to gather the materials: I inform families of the suggested materials needed for the STEM group with a short video clip explaining how we may use these items to explore and create solutions for the problem that the children will solve. I make certain to do this before the end of the week so parents have time over the weekend to prepare.
  • I use existing resources: I use the framework from Wee Engineer, the Preschool Curriculum from Engineering is Elementary (Museum of Science, Boston, 2018) to frame our problem. I use familiar Sesame Street characters over the screen to frame our engineering challenge:

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For example, I shared my screen that had this slide and described the following problem:  

Elmo wants to visit Abby at her house but he needs a boat that will help him float down the river.  Could you help Elmo by building a boat strong enough for him to float down the river?  We then start building and creating. Some children build with materials that I suggest such as folding aluminum foil or testing out different plastic food storage containers. Others go to their rooms and grab blocks or other building toys to test in the water. A few students add to creations that their parents and caregivers start for them. 

What strategies do I use with families to engage their children in STEM learning?

  • Explore Alongside the Child: Families and caregivers help children participate over virtual platforms such as Zoom. So we encourage parents and caregivers to stay and explore alongside their children. I talk to parents during the sessions and model how to point out similarities and differences in materials. For instance, when building a boat for Elmo, one child had a small piece of wood  and some aluminum foil. I asked parents to describe to their child how these are different.  For instance, I model, “The wood is thick and heavy. The foil is thin and very light.” 
  • Find Everyday Items can Promote STEM learning: I try to encourage families to take nature walks to find materials to explore such as leaves, pine cones, acorns, and sticks. I also ask families to save recyclables and broken electronics. These items and other loose parts provide rich opportunities for STEM learning (Daly & Beloglovsky, 2015).

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  • Use Books to Strengthen and Expand on STEM Concepts: I look for books, both fiction and non-fiction, that connect to our STEM investigations. Right now, since libraries are closed or have limited hours, I try to give families links to Read Alouds. For the boat investigation, I provided the books What Sinks? What Floats? by Rozanne Lanczak Williams and What Floats in a Moat, by Lynne Berry. It’s helpful if you can give families these resources as a way to preview the main concepts that will be explored during the upcoming STEM group. 

What other helpful tips can I give to parents/caregivers and educators for engaging young children with disabilities in STEM learning?

  • Provide time. Not all young children or young children with disabilities explore in the same way. So set aside time to explore and wonder.
  • Leave materials out for further investigation. Children may explore for a few minutes and then move to another part of the room. By leaving materials out after the STEM Group and accessible to them, young children with disabilities can explore in their own way and in their own time.
  • Embed needed accommodations and supports. For some students, they may be wary about trying new things. Therefore, I use a First–Then board when introducing a new investigation. This helps them know what we will be exploring and then they can engage in a more familiar activity. Also, as an occupational therapist, I am always mindful of sensory sensitivities and preferences. When engaging in the boat challenge, I asked parents/caregivers to use warm water for those children that are sensitive to cold and offer tools that allows them to move the items in the water without having to touch it.  These include measuring cups, spoons, age appropriate tongs, and other tools (strawberry huller, large spoon, and clothespins). 8148022663?profile=RESIZE_584x

References

  1. Daly, L. & Beloglovsky, M. (2015).  Loose Parts:  Inspiring Play in Young Children.  Redleaf Press. https://www.redleafpress.org/Loose-Parts-Inspiring-Play-in-Young-Children-P1128.aspx
  2. Huskens, B., Palmen, A., Van der Werff, M., Lourens, T., & Barakova, E. (2015).  Improving collaborative play between children with autism spectrum disorders and their siblings:  The effectiveness of a robot-mediated intervention based Lego       therapy.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45,3746-3755. doi:  10.1007/s10803-014-2326-0
  3. McClure, E. R., Guernsey,L., Clements, D., Nall Bales,S., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N. & Levine M.H. (2017).  STEM starts early: grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood.” Education Digest 86(4): 43-51. http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/wpcontent/uploads/2017/01/jgcc_stemstartearly_final.pdf.
  4. Museum of Science (2016-2018). Engineering is Elementary, Wee Engineer Curriculum.
  5. Steinbrenner, J.R., Hume, K., Odom, S.L., Morin, K.L., Nowell, S.W., Tomaszewski, B., Szendrey, S. McIntryre, N.S., Yucesory-Ozkan, S., & Savage M.N. (2020).  Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with autism.  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice Review Team.
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 Can baby learn STEM? In this blog post, we've put together a list of commonly asked questions with answers. Let's keep reading to find out! 

About the author: Philippa Campbell, occupational therapist, has implemented early childhood/early intervention development, demonstration, and field-based projects in areas related to infants and young children with or at risk for disabilities and their families, using practices such as adaptation and Assistive Technology interventions to promote children’s inclusion, participation and learning. Specific areas of interest include interdisciplinary (interprofessional) education higher education models and participation of infants and young children with disabilities via approaches such as coaching/teaching parents (and other adults) to implement strategies successfully within natural environments. This work has been supported through grants/contracts from many federal and state agencies as well as foundations. Dr. Campbell has published numerous articles, chapters, books and other materials and presented work internationally and nationally.

1. Can children learn STEM at home?

Yes! Of course! Generally, we think about STEM activities as being specially-designed learning activities that require specific toys or equipment for children to investigate or problem-solve. But, opportunities to learn about STEM can occur naturally within the daily lives of families and their young children with and without disabilities. Everyday activities such as bathing, cooking and mealtimes, or even cleaning,  riding in a car, or doing chores or errands offer opportunities for infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children to learn about STEM at home. During bathtime, a child may use measuring cups or other containers to fill up with water, dump, or pour, learning about basic STEM concepts, such as cause and effect or concepts such as empty, full. A toddler might push a chair over to the stove and climb up solving the problem of how she can help cook the pancakes.  Both children have drawn conclusions from performing “experiments” within naturally occurring family activities and routines.

2. What can adults do to support STEM learning?

Children don’t necessarily learn STEM concepts just from simply being a part of activities and routines. Their learning is enhanced when facilitated adult-child interactions are used.  This means that the adults present during an activity or routine verbally point out STEM concepts and guide children to experiment, investigate, and problem solve.  During bathtime, for example, when children are playing with containers in the tub, the adult can narrate what is happening by saying things like “you are dumping water from one cup to another” or “you have the big yellow cup, I wonder what would happen if you pour the water into the little blue cup?”  When narrating what children are doing, adults can guide children by using language that is slightly above what the child is able to do.  For example, if the child is using one word, the adult might say “dump cup” – using language that is slightly more advanced than what the child is able to do.  The adult might also expand by saying “dump big cup” or “dump blue cup.”   Posing questions such as “I wonder what what would happen if ---” or “what do you think will happen when---“ set the stage for children to not just observe what happens but also be active participants by experimenting and problem solving.  Adults also may introduce key STEM vocabulary words so that children hear words associated wth science, technology, engineering, and math as related to a particular activity. 

3. How can we support STEM learning and participation for young children with disabilities?

While circumstances may limit children’s access and participation, limitations may be lessened and often totally eliminated by using environmental modifications and adaptations to activities, materials, or instruction.  Any naturally occurring activity or routine at home provides opportunities for STEM learning. Adaptations may be used to provide children with access to the activity and increase their opportunities for participation. When children actively participate with adaptations, they can acquire both foundational and complex thinking skills making up science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  Teachers, practitioners, and caregivers, the adults in children’s lives, should always be thinking about what they can do to figure out children’s interests, how they can use adaptations as go-arounds to ensure access and participation in activities, and what they can say to verbally support and expand children’s STEM learning.

4. What types of adaptations would help young children with disabilities engage and participate in STEM learning?

We can consider adapting the environment, activity, materials, requirements or instruction. There are many ways in which the environment or activities themselves may be modified to promote access and participation             

The following example illustrates how STEM concepts can be embedded into an activity that naturally occurs at home – in this case, cooking pancakes.  The table shows STEM concepts and suggests what the adult may do and how to address challenges to engagement and participation using adaptation solutions.    

STEM Learning AT Home: Cooking pancakes

Possible STEM Learning Concepts: Cause & Effect, Sequence, Measurement, Volume, Size, Matter; STEM Skills: Observation, Exploration, Experimentation, Problem-Solving

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3565545061?profile=RESIZE_180x180In previous blog posts, we have talked about how storybooks can be used to support children's STEM learning. In this blog post, we will share how to adapt storybooks to support STEM access for young children with disabilities. 

About the author: Sarah Pedonti, M.Ed., is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Developmental Psychology and Special Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education. Her research focuses on early reading and language interventions for young children with or at risk for developmental language disorders. She has worked in varied settings serving young children with disabilities, including Early Head Start, Head Start, North Carolina Pre-K (co-located within a Title I Engineering Magnet Elementary School), NC State’s Engineering Place Summer Programs, and the Office of Head Start’s National Center on Early Childhood, Development, Teaching, & Learning (NCECDTL)

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By Sarah Pedonti

Ph.D. candidate in Applied Developmental Psychology and Special Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education

Adapted storybooks are an easy and inexpensive way to help children with sensory, visual, motor, and linguistic differences to access STEM learning through reading. While dialogic (DR) and shared interactive book reading (SIBR) strategies have been shown to support children with and without disabilities in engaging with books (Lonigan et al., 2008; Mendez et al., 2015; Fleury & Schwartz, 2017; Towson et al., 2017), many children may also benefit from tangible adaptations and modifications to the book itself.

Adapted books can be categorized as a form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Some readers may be familiar with adapted books from seeing their efficacy with children with visual impairment (Brennan, et.al.,2009; Lewis & Tolla,2003), significant intellectual impairment (Erickson et al., 2010) significant motor or communication impairment (Light et al. , 1994; Light &  Kent-Walsh, 2003), or autism spectrum disorders (ASD, Carnahan et al., 2009).

However, adapted storybooks can promote access and engagement for all children in DR (Justice, 2006), and DR may provide an important scaffold for children’s understanding of more abstract content (Gonzalez et al., 2011). Abstract content in STEM may include more complex “academic” words featured in many informational and expository science books (“evaporation”, “reptile”), and that don’t appear in every-day conversation. Families that read expository books together are more likely to have longer, more complex conversations about the books afterward, and those conversations feature more diverse vocabulary (Price et al., 2009). Moreover, diverse academic vocabulary is essential to later reading success (Beck et al., 2008), yet many children with disabilities may struggle to access and comprehend it.

Storybook props and adaptations are therefore an important means of supporting STEM access for young children with disabilities. Many “high-tech” resources are now easily accessible for augmenting STEM storybooks, through tablets that support picture software such as Picture exchange communications (PECS) systems (Frost & Bondy, 1998), Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson, 2002) and electronic storybook apps such as Tar Heel Reader (tarheelreader.org). However, “low-tech” resources are often more easily reproducible at home, and may be more durable and feasible for families to implement than expensive software.

The chart below outlines 7 easy at-home storybook adaptations, categorized by the type of support they may provide (motor, sensory, communicative/linguistic, visual, or auditory).Download PDF here.

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References

Beck, I. L. McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2008). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction (2nd Ed). New York: The Guilford Press.

Brennan, S. A., Luze, G. J., & Peterson, C. (2009). Parents’ perceptions of professional support for the emergent literacy of young children with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 103, 694–704

Carnahan, C., Basham, J., & Musti-Rao, S. (2009). A Low-technology strategy for increasing engagement of students with autism and significant learning needs. Exceptionality, 17(2), 76–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/09362830902805798

Erickson, K. A., Hatch, P., & Clendon, S. (2010). Literacy, Assistive Technology, and Students with Significant Disabilities (Vol. 42).

Fleury, V. P., & Schwartz, I. S. (2017). A modified dialogic reading intervention for preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37, 16–28. https://doi.org/10.1177/0271121416637597

Frost, L. &  Bondy, A. (2002) The picture exchange communication system training manual. Newark, DE: Pyramid Educational Products.

Gonzalez, J. E., Pollard-Durodola, S., Simmons, D. C., Taylor, A. B., Davis, M. J., Kim, M., & Simmons, L. (2011). Developing low-income preschoolers’ social studies and science vocabulary knowledge through content-focused shared book reading. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 4, 25–52. https://doi.org/10.1080/19345747.2010.487927

Justice, L. M. (2006). Clinical approaches to emergent literacy intervention. Plural Publishing.

Lewis, S., & Tolla, J. (2003). Creating and using tactile experience books for young children with visual impairments. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 35, 22–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/004005990303500303

Light, J., Binger, C., & Smith, A. K. (1994). Story reading interactions between preschoolers who use AAC and their mothers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 10, 255–268. https://doi.org/10.1080/07434619412331276960

Light, J. C., & Kent-Walsh, J. (2003). Fostering Emergent Literacy for Children Who Require AAC. The ASHA Leader, 8, 4–29. https://doi.org/10.1044/leader.ftr1.08102003.4

Lonigan, C. J., Shanahan, T., Cunningham, A., & The National Early Literacy Panel (2008). Impact of shared-reading interventions on young children’s early literacy skills. In National Early Literacy Panel (Ed.), Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel: A scientific synthesis of early literacy development and implications for intervention (pp. 153– 171). Jessup, MD: National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved from https://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/NELPReport09.pdf

Mayer-Johnson, I. (2002). Boardmaker. Windows version 5.1.1. Solana Beach, Calif. : Mayer-Johnson, Inc. https://search.library.wisc.edu/catalog/9910538690202121

Mendez, L. I., Crais, E. R., Castro, D. C., & Kainz, K. (2015). A culturally and linguistically responsive vocabulary approach for young Latino dual language learners. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58, 93-106.

PACER Simons Center on Technology. (2017). Young Children, AT, and Accessible Materials - YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN280lcuR24&feature=youtu.be

Price, L. H., Kleeck, A., & Huberty, C. J. (2009). Talk during book sharing between parents and preschool children: A comparison between storybook and expository book conditions. Reading Research Quarterly, 44, 171–194. https://doi.org/10.1598/rrq.44.2.4

Towson, J. A., Fettig, A., Fleury, V. P., & Abarca, D. L. (2017). Dialogic reading in early childhood settings: A summary of the evidence base. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37, 132–146. https://doi.org/10.1177/0271121417724875

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We are excited to launch STEM talkABLE, a platform that individuals with disabilities and their families, peers, colleagues, teachers can share their stories and STEM learning journey.

In this first episode of STEM talkABLE podcast, Lily and Robyn share their stories and struggles in STEM learning. Robyn shares her fears of Lily failing, while Lily shares how she doesn't want to be treated differently because of her disability. 

Listen to Robyn and Lily's conversation:

 

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Lily Wells (Left), 14, and her mother, Robyn DiPietro-Wells (Right), live in Illinois.  Lily enjoys reading, writing, and hanging out with friends.  She will be a high school freshman in the fall of 2020.  Robyn works as a program coordinator for a grant project in the Special Education department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  They both have a strong sense of advocacy and endeavor to support others in developing similar skills to serve not only oneself, but also those with whom they interact in personal and professional settings.

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3565545061?profile=RESIZE_180x180Why is shared storybook reading so important?  How can we support children's STEM learning through storybook reading? This week, we invited Dr. Towson to talk about how to incorporate dialogic reading strategies into your storybook reading. Dr. Towson is an Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders with a joint appointment in the School of Teacher Education at University of Central Florida. She completed her doctorate in at Georgia State University in 2015 following 14 years of work as a speech-language pathologist and early childhood special educator in public schools. Her research broadly concerns building the capacity of individuals who work with young children with language impairments and those considered at-risk.   
5517173878?profile=RESIZE_180x180 By Jacqueline A. Towson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders with a joint appointment in the School of Teacher Education at University of Central Florida

Shared storybook reading is an excellent activity to engage in with your young child. Simply reading books with children exposes them to many emergent literacy skills, including print awareness (knowing top to bottom, right to left progression; front of book, back of book) (Mol, Bus & De Jong, 2009). Making the book reading experience interactive has added benefits for children’s oral language skills, key precursors to developing a strong foundation for later literacy skills (WWC, 2015).

Shared interactive book reading (SIBR) is an evidence-based practice that includes the intentional use of strategies such as child-centeredness, elaborations of children’s utterances, active responding, wait time, and evaluation of children’s response all while directing the child to the text, illustrations or concepts within a storybook (Hemmeter & Kaiser, 1994). There is also promising evidence for children with disabilities when implemented by researchers, parents, paraprofessionals and childcare providers (e.g., Fleury & Schwartz, 2017; Towson, Fettig, Fleury, & Abarca, 2017; Towson, Gallagher, & Bingham, 2016; Towson, Green, & Abarca, 2019). By engaging your child in dialogue around a storybook, you can guide your child’s learning of specific words or concepts.

Dialogic reading provides a framework with easy to remember acronyms, PEER and CROWD.

1. Prompt, Evaluate, Expand, Repeat (PEER)

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2. Completion, Recall, Open-ended, Wh-questions, Distance (CROWD) Prompts

CROWD stands for the types of prompts you can provide for your child.

  • Completion prompts are ones that allow you child to fill in information at the end of a phrase; repetitive text within a storybook are great places to try completion prompts (And the caterpillar was still…..).
  • Recall prompts are where you can ask questions related to things that already happened in the book. Usually staying close to the page you just finished is helpful for your child.
  • Open-ended prompts are those that don’t require a specific response, such as tell me what happened on this page or what do you see here?
  • The next type of prompts are wh-questions. Here you can use any form of what, where, who, why or when. Remember that some of these questions are harder than others.
  • Finally, distancing prompts are those that connect what is happening in the storybook to your child’s life. This is a great way to connect your child to the book’s theme. For instance, in the Very Hungry Caterpillar, you might say, The caterpillar eats strawberries when he gets hungry. What do you like to eat?

Using the Dialogic Reading framework, adults can make adaptations as needed for young children with disabilities. As children may vary in their understanding of prompts as well as their ability to respond, making small (or large) modifications can reduce frustration for both the child and adult while providing a comfortable space to encourage growth in language and emergent literacy skills. When presenting a CROWD prompt, adults may want to provide visual support by pointing to the pictures in the book. They can also present a dichotomous choice for the child, either verbally or by providing two pictures for the child to point to. When providing choices, adults can vary the transparency of the incorrect response by making the incorrect choice more or less obvious. It is always appropriate to model the correct response if the child is unable to either produce the response verbally or by pointing. While asking yes/no questions has less evidence for building language skills, this is another adaptation that may be helpful in earlier stages of language development. As with any adaptation, adults should gradually reduce the amount of support they provide to encourage more verbal participation in the shared storybook.

 

References

Fleury, V. P., & Schwartz, I. S. (2017). A modified dialogic reading intervention for preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education37(1), 16-28. 

Hemmeter, M. L., & Kaiser, A. P. (1994). Enhanced milieu teaching: Effects of parent-implemented language intervention. Journal of Early Intervention18(3), 269-289.

Mol, S. E., Bus, A. G., & De Jong, M. T. (2009). Interactive book reading in early education: A tool to stimulate print knowledge as well as oral language. Review of Educational Research79(2), 979-1007. 

Towson, J. A., Fettig, A., Fleury, V. P., & Abarca, D. L. (2017). Dialogic reading in early childhood settings: A summary of the evidence base. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education37(3), 132-146.

Towson, J. A., Gallagher, P. A., & Bingham, G. E. (2016). Dialogic reading: Language and preliteracy outcomes for young children with disabilities. Journal of Early Intervention38(4), 230-246. 

Towson, J. A., Green, K. B., & Abarca, D. L. (2019). Reading beyond the book: Educating paraprofessionals to implement dialogic reading for preschool children with language impairments. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 0271121418821167.

What Works Clearinghouse, U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, & National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2015). Early childhood education: Shared book reading. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/InterventionReports/wwc_sharedbook_041415.pdf

 

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At the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) center, we are developing and enhancing the knowledge on the practices and supports necessary to improve access and participation within  early STEM learning  opportunities. But many of you may question why STEM is so important in the early years. This week, we invited Dr. Clements and Dr. Sarama to share their insights with us.

About the Authors
3533786640?profile=RESIZE_180x180 Douglas H. Clements, Ph.D.
Dr. Clements received his PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Previously a preschool and kindergarten teacher, he has conducted funded research and published over 500 articles and books in the areas of the learning and teaching of early mathematics and computer applications in mathematics education.

3533793197?profile=RESIZE_180x180Julie Sarama, Ph.D.
Dr. Sarama received her PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Dr. Sarama has taught secondary mathematics and computer science, gifted math at the middle school level, preschool and kindergarten mathematics enrichment classes, and mathematics methods and content courses for elementary to secondary teachers. She designed and programmed over 50 published computer programs, including her version of Logo and Logo-based software activities (Turtle Math™, which was awarded Technology & Learning Software of the Year award, 1995, in the category "Math"). 

How important is doing STEM in the early years…really? If my children do more STEM, will it make a difference later?

Absolutely, but you don’t have to take our word for it!  STEM in the early years has been found by researchers to be surprisingly important for development through life.

Let’s take a look at math first. The math children know when they enter kindergarten predicts their math achievement for years to come 1 out to 10th grade 2. Math also predicts later success in reading,1,3 so math appears to be a core component of cognition. Further, knowledge of math in the early years is the best predictor of graduating high school 4. One more: Number and arithmetic knowledge at age 7 years predicts socioeconomic status at age 42, even controlling for all other variables.5  These predictions may show that math concepts and skills are important to all of school and life. However,  math is much more: Math is critical thinking and problem-solving, and high-quality math experiences also promote social and emotional development, literacy, and general brain development!6,7,8,9 No wonder early STEM experience predicts later success.

Inside children, language and STEM are “best friends.”  That is, connections between the development of math and literacy are numerous and it’s a “two-way street”.10,11,12 The more math language children learn, such as “more,” less, “behind,” “above” and number and shape words, the more math children learn.13 More surprising, preschoolers’ narrative abilities, particularly their ability to convey all the main events of the story, offer a perspective on the events in the story, and relate the main events of the story to their lives, predict math achievement two years later.14 And, going the other way on this street, children who experience more high-quality mathematics in preschool grow in their expressive oral language abilities (measured by assessments devoid of any math vocabulary15). In another study in the UK, doing math increased later scores on English by 14 percentile points.16 

The same is true with science. First, early science matters to later science. Children who have primary-grade teachers trained in the U.S. science framework17 score significantly higher than their peers in fifth grade.18 Second, science activities excite children’s “STEM talk” that reflects scientific reasoning, including observing, predicting, comparing, explaining, and generalizing19. And reading for comprehension and reading-to-learn requires concepts and knowledge of the world, both of which STEM provides.20  Doing more science increases primary-grade children’s science, and math, and reading scores.21

Not just language, but many cognitive and affective, or emotional outcomes improve with STEM. Let’s consider two: executive function (EF) and approaches to learning. EF, including cognitive flexibility, updating working memory, and response inhibition, is one of the most important general cognitive abilities. EF is highly related to academic success 22 and particularly important to children with disabilities 23 as well as to children from low-resource communities. Research also has confirmed the importance of engagement in learning or approaches to learning. In one study, it was the single best predictor of learning as far out as fifth grade 24 ). Such engagement in learning, including persistence at tasks, eagerness to learn, attentiveness, learning independence, flexibility, and organization, was especially important for girls and minority students. 

The good news is, high-quality STEM may develop both!22 For example, EF predicts math22 and predicts science learning.25 Early STEM offers a fruitful context to foster EF and approaches-to-learning in many ways: 26,27 

•    STEM elicits children’s natural curiosity about the world.

•    STEM providing a unique opportunity to engage children in hands-on learning experiences. These experiences promote critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, persistence, and other adaptive domain-general learning skills such as EF.

In solving STEM problems, children make observations, engage in rich conversations with teachers and other children, and think flexibly to come up with predictions and solutions to their problems. Inherent to STEM is the expectation that we learn from failures and mistakes.28 Children learn to try and try again, practicing risk-taking, persistence, tolerance for frustration, and maintaining focus. 26,27

References

  1. Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., . . . Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428–1446. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1428
  2. Stevenson, H. W., & Newman, R. S. (1986). Long-term prediction of achievement and attitudes in mathematics and reading. Child Development, 57(3), 646–659. doi: 10.2307/1130343
  3. Duncan, G. J., & Magnuson, K. (2011). The nature and impact of early achievement skills, attention skills, and behavior problems. In G. J. Duncan & R. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? Rising inequality and the uncertain life chances of low-income children (pp. 47–70). New York, NY: Sage.
  4. McCoy, D. C., Yoshikawa, H., Ziol-Guest, K. M., Duncan, G. J., Schindler, H. S., Magnuson, K., . . . Shonkoff, J. P. (2017). Impacts of early childhood education on medium- and long-term educational outcomes. Educational Researcher, 46(8), 474–487. doi: 10.3102/0013189x17737739
  5. Ritchie, S. J., & Bates, T. C. (2013). Enduring links from childhood mathematics and reading achievement to adult socioeconomic status. Psychological Science, 24, 1301–1308. doi: 10.1177/0956797612466268
  6. Aydogan, C., Plummer, C., Kang, S. J., Bilbrey, C., Farran, D. C., & Lipsey, M. W. (2005, June 5-8). An investigation of prekindergarten curricula: Influences on classroom characteristics and child engagement. Paper presented at the NAEYC, Washington, DC.
  7. Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Layzer, C., Unlu, F., & Fesler, L. (2020). Effects on mathematics and executive function of a mathematics and play intervention versus mathematics alone. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 51(3), 301-333. doi: 10.5951/jresemtheduc-2019-0069
  8. Dumas, D., McNeish, D., Sarama, J., & Clements, D. (2019). Preschool mathematics intervention can significantly improve student learning trajectories through elementary school. AERA Open, 5(4), 1–5. doi: 10.1177/2332858419879446
  9. Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., & Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The impacts of an early mathematics curriculum on emerging literacy and language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 489–502. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.12.002
  10. McGraw, A. L., Ganley, C. M., Powell, S. R., Purpura, D. J., Schoen, R. C., & Schatschneider, C. (2019, March). An investigation of mathematics language and its relation with mathematics and reading . Paper presented at the 2019 SRCD Biennial Meeting, Baltimore, MD.
  11. Purpura, D. J., Day, E., Napoli, A. R., & Hart, S. A. (2017). Identifying domain-general and domain-specific predictors of low mathematics performance: A classification and regression tree analysis. Journal of Numerical Cognition, 3(2), 365–399. doi: 10.5964/jnc.v3i2.53
  12. Purpura, D. J., & Napoli, A. R. (in press). Early numeracy and literacy: Untangling the relation between specific components. Mathematical Thinking and Learning.
  13. Toll, S. W. M., & Van Luit, J. E. H. (2014). Explaining numeracy development in weak performing kindergartners. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 124C, 97–111. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.02.001
  14. O'Neill, D. K., Pearce, M. J., & Pick, J. L. (2004)Predictive relations between aspects of preschool children’s narratives and performance on the Peabody Individualized Achievement Test - Revised: Evidence of a relation between early narrative and later mathematical ability. First Language, 24, 149-183.
  15. Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., and Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The Impacts of an Early Mathematics Curriculum on Emerging Literacy and Language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 489-502. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.12.002.
  16. Shayer, M. & Adhami, M. (2010). Realizing the cognitive potential of children 5–7 with a mathematics focus: Post‐test and long‐term effects of a 2‐year intervention. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 363–379.
  17. National Research Council. (2011). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
  18. Kaderavek, J. N., Paprzycki, P., Czerniak, C. M., Hapgood, S., Mentzer, G., Molitor, S., & Mendenhall, R. (2020). Longitudinal impact of early childhood science instruction on 5th grade science achievement. International Journal of Science Education, 1-20. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2020.1749908
  19. Henrichs, L. F., Leseman, P. P. M., Broekhof, K., & Cohen de Lara, H. (2011). Kindergarten talk about science and technology. In M. J. de Vries, H. van Keulen, S. Peters & J. W. van der Molen (Eds.), Professional development for primary teachers in science and technology: The Dutch VTB-Pro project in an international perspective (pp. 217–227). Boston: Sense.
  20. McClure, E. R., Guernsey, L., Clements, D. H., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M. H. (2017). STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. New York: NY: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.
  21. Paprzycki, P., Tuttle, N., Czerniak, C. M., Molitor, S., Kadervaek, J., & Mendenhall, R. (2017). The impact of a framework‐aligned science professional development program on literacy and mathematics achievement of K‐3 students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(9), 1174–1196. doi: 10.1002/tea.21400
  22. Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., & Germeroth, C. (2016). Learning executive function and early mathematics: Directions of causal relations. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36(3), 79–90. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.12.009
  23. Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2019). Executive function and early mathematical learning difficulties. In A. Fritz, V. G. Haase & P. Räsänen (Eds.), International handbook of mathematical learning difficulties: From the laboratory to the classroom (pp. 755–771). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
  24. Bodovski, K., & Youn, M.-J. (2011). The long term effects of early acquired skills and behaviors on young children’s achievement in literacy and mathematics. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(1), 4–19.
  25. Nayfeld, I., Fuccillo, J., & Greenfield, D. B. (2013). Executive functions in early learning: Extending the relationship between executive functions and school readiness to science. Learning and Individual Differences, 26, 81–88. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2013.04.011
  26. Bustamante, A. S., Greenfield, D., & Nayfeld, I. (2018). Early childhood science and engineering: Engaging platforms for fostering domain-general learning skills. Education Sciences, 8(3), 144. doi: 10.3390/educsci8030144
  27. Bustamante, A. S., White, L. J., & Greenfield, D. B. (2018). Approaches to learning and science education in Head Start: Examining bidirectionality. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 44, 34–42. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.02.013
  28. Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York, NY: Basic Books.
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Welcome to our new storybook coversation series!3565545061?profile=RESIZE_400x

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By Christine Harradine, PhD

PD Specialist at the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

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By Chih-Ing Lim, PhD.

Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

Are you spending more time at home reading with your young children? 

Are you interested in helping them gain language skills and learn about STEM? 

Do you need some ideas for adapting the reading process for your child with disabilities?

We will like to introduce you to something called dialogic reading 1, a systematic approach to storybook reading, which has been shown to help children with and without disabilities develop comprehension and language skills.

With some careful planning of what questions to ask children throughout the book, reading time can becomes a rich opportunity for building concepts through conversation! Plus your child can become a full participant and help you tell part of the story instead of passively listening to the story! You can use digital books on a screen or regular paper or board books. It’s easy and we will show you how! With this blog, we have provided:

For example, here’s a video of a mom using dialogic reading with her preschooler who uses an augmentative communication device:

1 What Works Clearinghouse Intervention: DialogicReading https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/InterventionReports/WWC_Dialogic_Reading_020807.pdf

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Welcome back to our Mythbuster series

This week we invite Dr. Clements and Dr. Sarama to talk about the fourth myth: Children don’t need adult guidance in play (or learning). Let's keep reading and find out why this is a myth and why combining guided free play with intentional, guided-discovery teaching is important. 

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About the Authors
3533786640?profile=RESIZE_180x180 Douglas H. Clements, Ph.D.
Dr. Clements received his PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Previously a preschool and kindergarten teacher, he has conducted funded research and published over 500 articles and books in the areas of the learning and teaching of early mathematics and computer applications in mathematics education.

3533793197?profile=RESIZE_180x180Julie Sarama, Ph.D.
Dr. Sarama received her PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Dr. Sarama has taught secondary mathematics and computer science, gifted math at the middle school level, preschool and kindergarten mathematics enrichment classes, and mathematics methods and content courses for elementary to secondary teachers. She designed and programmed over 50 published computer programs, including her version of Logo and Logo-based software activities (Turtle Math™, which was awarded Technology & Learning Software of the Year award, 1995, in the category "Math"). 

Myth #4: Children don’t need adult guidance in play (or learning)

“I believe that children learn through play.”

“My philosophy is to let children play. If adults interfere it destroys children’s learning through play.”

Fact: Claiming that “children don’t need adult, including early childhood and early childhood special education practitioners, guidance in play” is a myth is not to say we don’t believe in play. We love play. And we believe children learn through play. However, we also believe it is a false dichotomy that there are but two choices: Unguided free play versus “adult interference” (or “direct instruction”).  Such a false dichotomy makes nuanced use of a variety of developmentally appropriate teaching strategies, such as NAEYC promotes, almost impossible.

Let’s start with free play…and let’s start with something on which we hope everyone can agree: Child-directed play is a rich context for learning and adults can interfere with its benefits if they enter it without observing and without carefully considering what the children are doing.

But should adults always stay away? No. Research is clear that guided play is better for children. For example, teaching strategies that optimize make-believe play have been proven successful in improving young children’s self-regulation competencies and academic achievement1,2,3. This approach imbues dramatic, make-believe play with supports that strengthen the development of self-regulation. Adults guide children on the development of imagination, the ability to sustain and create pretend scenarios, a set of roles and the use of language to plan and organize play ahead of time.

This is why we have educated, expert practitioners–not just to set up and get out of the way—but to observe, interpret, interact, and then change the environment and interactions when that would benefit children.

How about STEM?  Do children “do” STEM in their play–and what should adults do about STEM and play?

Perhaps surprisingly, in their free play, Children engage in substantial amounts of foundational STEM skills as they explore patterns, shapes, and spatial relations; compare magnitudes; engineer with various materials; and explore scientific phenomena and concepts.4,5,6  Let’s use mathematical play as an example. Observations of preschoolers show that when they play, they engage in mathematical thinking at least once in almost half of each minute of play. Almost 9/10 of children engage in at one or more math activities during free play episodes.6

This mathematical play reveals intuitive knowledge of many concepts that most people think young children cannot understand, from arithmetic to parallelism and right angles. Unfortunately, these same children may not understand these concepts when they arrive in middle school. If they are not helped to mathematize (reflect on, give language to—more later) their early “theorems in action”,7 the ideas do not become theorems in thought. Adults need to help children learn the language of mathematics. Similarly, while children innately explore the world around them, and take pleasure in building with different materials, and making patterns, adults also need to help them learn engineering habits of mind, the language of coding, and scientific practices.

Many adults believe that such scaffolding will harm children’s play. These concerns are misplaced. Content-rich teaching increases the quality of young children's play. For example, children in classrooms with stronger emphasis on literacy or math are more likely to engage at a higher quality of social-dramatic play.8 The new ideas energize high-level play activity. Thus, high-quality instruction in STEM and high-quality free play do not have to “compete” for time in the classroom. Doing both makes each richer. Unfortunately, many adults believe that "open-ended free play" is good and "lessons" in STEM are not.9,10 They do not believe that preschoolers need specific teaching.11 They do not realize that they are depriving their children both of the joy and fascination of STEM, but higher-quality free play as well.12

Combining guided free play with intentional, guided-discovery teaching13 and promoting play with STEM objects and STEM ideas is pedagogically powerful play.12,14,15

References

  1. Barnett, W. S., Yarosz, D. J., Thomas, J., & Hornbeck, A. (2006). Educational effectiveness of a Vygotskian approach to preschool education: A randomized trial: National Institute of Early Education Research.
  2. Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2005). Self-Regulation as a key to school readiness: How can early childhood teachers promote this critical competency? In M. Zaslow & I. Martinez-Beck (Eds.), Critical issues in early childhood professional development (pp. 203–224). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
  3. Bodrova, E., Leong, D. J., Norford, J., & Paynter, D. (2003). It only looks like child’s play. Journal of Staff Development, 24(2), 47–51.
  4. Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2016). Math, science, and technology in the early grades. The Future of Children, 26(2), 75–94.
  5. Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2018). Promoting positive transitions through coherent instruction, assessment, and professional development: The TRIAD scale-up model. In A. J. Mashburn, J. LoCasale-Crouch & K. Pears (Eds.), Kindergarten readiness (pp. 327-348). New York, NY: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-90200-5_15
  6. Seo, K.-H., & Ginsburg, H. P. (2004). What is developmentally appropriate in early childhood mathematics education? In D. H. Clements, J. Sarama & A.-M. DiBiase (Eds.), Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education (pp. 91–104). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  7. Vergnaud, G. (1978). The acquisition of arithmetical concepts. In E. Cohors-Fresenborg & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2nd Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (pp. 344–355). Osnabruck, Germany.
  8. Aydogan, C., Plummer, C., Kang, S. J., Bilbrey, C., Farran, D. C., & Lipsey, M. W. (2005, June 5-8). An investigation of prekindergarten curricula: Influences on classroom characteristics and child engagement. Paper presented at the NAEYC, Washington, DC.
  9. Sarama, J. (2002). Listening to teachers: Planning for professional development. Teaching Children Mathematics, 9(1), 36–39.
  10. Sarama, J., & DiBiase, A.-M. (2004). The professional development challenge in preschool mathematics. In D. H. Clements, J. Sarama & A.-M. DiBiase (Eds.), Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education (pp. 415–446). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  11. Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2009). Learning and teaching early math: The learning trajectories approach. New York, NY: Routledge.
  12. Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2009). Building blocks and cognitive building blocks: Playing to know the world mathematically. American Journal of Play, 1(3), 313–337.
  13. Baroody, A. J., Purpura, D. J., Eiland, M. D., & Reid, E. E. (2015). The impact of highly and minimally guided discovery instruction on promoting the learning of reasoning strategies for basic add-1 and doubles combinations. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 30, Part A(0), 93–105. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.09.003
  14. Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2005a). Math play. Parent & Child, 12(4), 36–45.
  15. Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2005b). Math play: How young children approach math. Early Childhood Today, 19(4), 50–57.
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Welcome to the third blog post of our MythBuster series.

Last week, we talked about how children’s learning and development in literacy and STEM can be intertwined. This week, we are going to bust a myth that sometimes deters practitioners or families from carrying out STEM activities with young children. 

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By Hsiu-Wen Yang,  PhD. 

Postdoctoral Research Associate at STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

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By Chih-Ing Lim,  PhD.

Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

Myth 3: STEM learning is too expensive

Fact: You do not need to purchase expensive toys or materials to engage young children in STEM learning. STEM learning opportunities are everywhere, including during daily routines1,2,3,4. For example, cooking or mealtime is a perfect opportunity to engage children in STEM concepts4,5. While preparing snacks, children can count a small number of dry ingredients that you are going to use and bring it to you. Children may also experiment with measuring cups of different sizes, and guess which one holds more, or observe how butter changes from solid to liquid when it melts.

Adults, not toys, are key in children’s development and learning. Adult-child interactions are critical in supporting children’s development across all domains of learning6,7,8. Additionally, adults who are intentional in providing learning experiences and opportunities that balanced self-directed play and adult-facilitated instruction can contribute to children’s development in math9. Young children are active learners and are naturally curious about the world around them. With adults’ support, they can have rich learning opportunities within everyday experiences and without expensive materials or toys.

References

  1. Tudge, J. R. H. & Doucet, F. (2004). Early mathematical experiences: Observing young Black and White children’s everyday activities. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 21-39.
  2. Andrews, K. J. & Wang, X. C. (2019). Young Children’s emergent science competencies in everyday family contexts: A case study. Early Child Development and Care, 189, 1351-1368.
  3. Lee, J. & Junoh, J. (2019). Implementing unplugged coding activities in early childhood classrooms. Early Childhood Education Journal, 47, 709-716.
  4. Sikder, S., Fleer, M. (2015). Small Science: Infants and Toddlers Experiencing Science in Everyday Family Life. Research in Science Education, 45,445–464.
  5. Susperreguy, M. I. & Davis-Kean, P. E. (2016). Maternal Math Talk in the Home and Math Skills in Preschool Children,Early Education and Development, 27, 841-857.
  6. Hamre, B.K.; Pianta, R.C. (2001). Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children's school outcomes through eighth grade.Child Development, 72, 625–638.
  7. Howes, C.; Fuligni, A.S.; Hong, S.S.; Huang, Y.D.; Lara-Cinisomo, S. (2013). The preschool instructional context and child–teacher relationships.Early Education and Development, 24, 273–291.
  8. Rodriguez, E. T. & Tamis-LeMonda, C. S. (2011). Trajectories of the home learning environment across the first 5years: Associations with children’s vocabulary and literacy Skills at Prekindergarten. Child Development, 82, 1058-1075.
  9. Fuligni, A.S., Howes, C., Huang, Y.D., Hong, S.S., Lara-Cinisomo, S. (2012). Activity settings and daily routines in preschool classrooms: Diverse experiences in early learning settings for low-income children. Early Child. Research Quarterly,27, 198–209.
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Welcome to our week 2 of MythBuster series.

Last week we debunked the myth that STEM is only for older students or gifted children, and it is too difficult for young children or children with disabilities to understand, this week we will tackle the myth that language and literacy skills are more important than STEM knowledge and skills.

 

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By Hsiu-Wen Yang,  PhD. 

Postdoctoral Research Associate at STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

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By Chih-Ing Lim,  PhD.

Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

Myth#2:  Language and Literacy skills are more important than STEM knowledge and skills

Fact: All aspects of children’s development are equally important and intertwined. In fact, STEM and language and literacy can go hand in hand. For example, during shared book reading, children not only develop their language and literacy skills1, but can also learn about math2 or science concepts3. While reading storybooks, adults can ask open-ended questions, pose problems, and discuss STEM concepts with children.4,5 While answering the questions, children will also have opportunities to build their vocabulary and make sense of the plot. Additionally, evidence shows how intricately twined literacy is to STEM, in that children improve their math, early literacy, and reading when they start learning science concepts early.6 Furthermore, early exposure to math content and activities could be a strong predictor of later academic achievement.7

Given these evidence, we know that literacy and STEM are false dichotomies. At STEMIE, we are developing a series of examples on how families can use dialogic reading and make adaptations to the books to have conversations on various STEM topics using some readily available books. Stay tuned for our new series!

References:

  1. Saracho, O. N. (2017). Parents’ shared storybook reading – learning to read. Early Child Development and Care, 187,554-567.
  2. Green, K. B., Gallagher, P. A., & Hart, L. (2018). Integrating Mathematics and Children’s Literature for Young Children With Disabilities. Journal of Early Intervention, 40, 3–19.
  3. Gonzalez, J. E., Pollard-Durodola,S., Simmons, D. C., Taylor, A. B., Davis, M, J., Kim, M., & Simmons, L.(2010). Developing Low-Income Preschoolers’ Social Studies and Science Vocabulary Knowledge Through Content-Focused Shared Book Reading. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 4, 25-52, 
  4. Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M. & Elia, I. (2012): Developing a framework for the evaluation of picturebooks that support kindergartners’ learning of mathematics, Research in Mathematics Education, 14, 17–
  5. Pantoya, M. & Aguirre-Munoz, Z. (2017). Inquiry, Talk, and Text: Promising Tools that Bridge STEM Learning for Young English Language Learners. American Society of Engineering Education, 1, 7679-7695. 
  6. Paprzycki, P., Tuttle, N., Czerniak, C. M., Molitor, S., Kadervaek, J., & Mendenhall, R. (2017). The impact of a Framework-aligned science professional development program on literacy and mathematics achievement of K-3 students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54, 1174-1196.
  7. Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., ... Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428–1446.

 

 

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Children start developing STEM concepts and skills when they are babies and they know more about STEM than you think. 

 

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By Hsiu-Wen Yang,  PhD 

Postdoctoral Research Associate at STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

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Chih-Ing Lim,  PhD.
Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

 

Myth #1: STEM is only for older students or gifted children, and it is too difficult for young children or children with disabilities to understand. 

Fact: ALL children, regardless of disability, culture, race/ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status, have the capacity to engage in STEM learning.1,2 In fact, children start developing STEM concepts and skills when they are babies and they know more about STEM than you think.3,4 For example, babies begin by exploring the world using different sense.5 Then, they start making sense of cause and effect through play, observation, or trial and error, which lays the foundation of later STEM thinking skills and problem-solving skills. Also, several researchers have highlighted that toddlers may understand the fundamental aspect of counting, and spatial understanding years earlier than we thought.4,6

High-quality STEM learning experiences and opportunities pave the way for later success in school and in the workplace.7,8 Recognizing that children can start learning the fundamentals of STEM concepts at such a young age, it is important to ensure that young children with a wide range of abilities and from a variety of social backgrounds have access to and can fully participate in high-quality STEM learning opportunities. Children with disabilities often demonstrate a lower level of achievement in STEM not because they cannot learn STEM but because they have fewer STEM opportunities in their home or school.9 By the time children are in high school, participation of children with disabilities in STEM courses is very low.10

Taken together, these sources of evidence tell us that young children with or without disabilities can learn STEM and should not be denied opportunities to high quality early STEM learning experiences.

 

References

  1. Clements, D. H., Guernsey, L., McClure, E., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., &  KendallTaylor, N. (2016, May  31). Fostering STEM trajectories: Background & tools for action. Paper presented at the Eponymous Meeting of New America, Washington, D.C.  https://www.newamerica.org/educationpolicy/events/fostering-stemtrajectories/https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/events/fosteringstem-trajectories/
  2. Sarama, J., Clements, D. H., Nielsen, , Blanton,  M., Romance, N., Hoover, M., . . . McCulloch, C. (2018). Considerations for STEM education from PreK through grade  3. Retrieved from Education Development Center, Inc. website: http://cadrek12.org/resources/considerations-stem-education-prek-throughgrade-3
  3. Center for Childhood Creativity at the Bay Area Discovery Museum (2016). The Root for STEM success: Changing early learning experiences to build lifelong thinking skills. Retrieved from: http://centerforchildhoodcreativity.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/CCC_The_Roots_of_STEM_Early_Learning.pdf
  4. Wang, J. & Feigenson, L. (2019). Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant. Developmental Science, 22: e12805. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12805,
  5. Gopnik, A., Meltzoff, A. N., & Kuhl, P. (2000). The scientist in the crib: What early learning tells us about the mind. New York, NY:  Harper Collins.
  6. Uhlenberg, J.M., Geiken, R. (2020). Supporting Young Children’s Spatial Understanding: Examining Toddlers’ Experiences with Contents and Containers. Early Childhood Education Journal. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-020-01050-8
  7. Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A.,  Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., . . . Japel, C. (2007).  School readiness and later achievement.  Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428–1446. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1428
  8. Duncan, G. J. & Magnuson, K. (2011). The Nature and Impact of Early Achievement Skills, Attention Skills, and Behavior Problems. In G. J. Duncan and R. J. Murnane (eds.), Whither Opportunity: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances. (PP. 47-69). New York, NY: Russell Sage.
  9. Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC). (2015). Transforming the workforce for children birth through age 8: A unifying foundation. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  10. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CDRC). (2018). STEM course taking. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/stem-course-taking.pdf

 

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What do you think about when someone asks you about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) learning for young children?  

 

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By Hsiu-Wen Yang,  PhD 

Postdoctoral Research Associate at STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

What do you think about when someone asks you about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) learning for young children?  You may think: 

STEM? Probably not for babies.

“I think we should just focus on talking and reading.”

“Children need to play. STEM is too academic.” 

“It is too difficult for children with disabilities to learn STEM. It is also challenging for me to teach them STEM.”  

Last fall, we asked 29 early childhood STEM experts what were some misconceptions about early STEM learning they have come across in their work. We then analyzed and organized their responses, and searched the literature to debunk the myths and misconceptions with facts.

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At the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) center, one of the first tasks we did was to take a look at what kind of research evidence exists in STEM learning and young children with disabilities. We conducted a scoping review and found that a majority of the references were related to children of preschool age (3-4 years old). Very few discussed infants/toddlers and children with disabilities.

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By Christine Harradine, PhD

PD Specialist at the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

One of the first tasks we did when we started our work a year ago was to take a look at what kind of research evidence exists in STEM learning and young children with disabilities. We conducted an extensive review of the research – called a scoping review – to see what we could find.  We searched 102 different sources such as databases, direct searches of journals, reports, conference proceedings, master’s theses, presentation transcripts, films, and dissertations) with 20 search terms.  This yielded 1,407 unique references, which two-person teams independently reviewed for exclusion based on age and topic. We ended up with 486 unique references, which we categorized in several ways.

The scoping review found that the vast majority (92.6%) of these 486 references were related to children of preschool age (3-4 years old). Very few discussed infants (1.9%) or toddlers (1%). 

We also wanted to know if these 486 references covered young children with disabilities. We allowed the search to cover STEM learning in all early care arrangements (e.g., home, child care, preschool, Head Start, etc.) for all children with and without disabilities, ages birth to five years. Only 6% (n=29) of the references we found referred to children with disabilities. 
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Perspectives: Inclusion Right from the Start

Meet Alex, a fifth-grader, who found math challenging when he was younger. But now is acing Math classes with a little help from a calculator and lots of encouragement and support from people who believe in what he CAN do.

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Chih-Ing Lim,  PhD.
Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

In my blog post on September 19, 2019, I discussed the disparity in STEM learning opportunities for children with disabilities. We know from research that teaching and learning early science and math is associated with later achievement. We also have research that tells us that preschool mathematics knowledge predicts adults' earning potential (Geary et al., 2013). Given all these, why do we continue to deny children, especially those with disabilities the opportunity to develop their STEM knowledge and skills?

Meet Alex, a fifth-grader, who found math challenging when he was younger. But now he is acing Math classes with a little help from a calculator and support from people who believe in what he CAN do. In Alex’s own words, he shared, “I'm so lucky to be surrounded by people who believe in me and support me. I just wish every kid with a disability can have the same opportunities and experiences as me.”

Watch Alex in action. 

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At the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) center, we are developing and validating learning trajectories for science, technology, and, engineering. At the same time, we are improving existing trajectories for math. Why are learning trajectories critical to early childhood educators? Learning trajectories help educators understand how children think and learn about STEM topics and at the same time, how to support progressions in child thinking and learning.

About the Authors
3533786640?profile=RESIZE_180x180 Douglas H. Clements, Ph.D.
Dr. Clements received his PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Previously a preschool and kindergarten teacher, he has conducted funded research and published over 500 articles and books in the areas of the learning and teaching of early mathematics and computer applications in mathematics education.

3533793197?profile=RESIZE_180x180Julie Sarama, Ph.D.
Dr. Sarama received her PhD from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Dr. Sarama has taught secondary mathematics and computer science, gifted math at the middle school level, preschool and kindergarten mathematics enrichment classes, and mathematics methods and content courses for elementary to secondary teachers. She designed and programmed over 50 published computer programs, including her version of Logo and Logo-based software activities (Turtle Math™, which was awarded Technology & Learning Software of the Year award, 1995, in the category "Math").

WHAT ARE LEARNING TRAJECTORIES?

Research-based learning trajectories include three parts:

  1. a goal,
  2. a developmental progression, and
  3. teaching.

The goal is grounded in content knowledge of the topic (for example science, technology, engineering, or math). To reach the goal, children learn each successive level of thinking in the developmental progression. Children move through the progression via teaching designed to build understanding and skill that enables thinking at each higher level. Teaching includes the environment, interactions, and activities. At the core of learning trajectories is children’s thinking and learning. So, their educational experiences are sure to be developmentally appropriate.

EXAMPLE

For example, we know that most young children learn to keep one-to-one correspondence up to about 5 objects in a line before they learn that the last counting word tells how many in the set the counting, and only later how to keep one-to-one correspondence in unordered sets of objects. This is just a small section of the developmental progression for counting illustrating how it can help sharpen our observation skills and help us plan informal and more intentional activities.
As this example suggests, learning trajectories are well developed in mathematics (and some non-STEM fields such as literacy). But we are also learning how children develop and understanding of science and engineering concepts. So learning trajectories can guide teaching in all STEM domains.

PRACTICE POTENTIAL FOR YOUNG CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

For early childhood educators, assessing, understanding, and teaching with learning trajectories based on the developmental sequences described here is especially important for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities might be operating at levels different from their peers. They may be at quite different levels in one topic (say, counting) than others (such as geometry). Because learning trajectories offer several “ways into” important topics like arithmetic (e.g., counting, subitizing, partitioning), children can build on their strengths. At the same time, they can make developmental progress in other topics. Also, learning trajectories’ levels are broader ways of thinking (e.g., to get to the next level), rather than narrower skills. So, children can both learn and show competencies in each level using a variety of modalities and representations. Most importantly, learning trajectories can be aligned with formative assessment and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) or the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) process.

Most early childhood professionals agree in general with the notion of “meeting each child where they are.” But, in STEM fields especially, few have been supported in understanding a developmental (formative) path that:

  1. describes and explains where children’s level of thinking is,
  2. what the next challenging, but achievable, level is, and
  3. how to support, children, including making accommodations and modifications for
    those with disabilities, to accomplish their goals.

 

Formative Assessment
(Strategy) 

Learning Trajectories
(Technique)

Where are you trying to go?

Goal

Where are you now?

Developmental Progression

How do you get there?

Teaching (activities)

 

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Children can develop the foundations for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning right from infancy. Yet children with developmental delays and disabilities are especially denied opportunities to learn STEM.  By the time children get to high school, the disparity in STEM learning is very obvious (see chart below).  Data from the Department of Education show a large disparity in enrollment in STEM courses between high school students with (IDEA) and without a disability.

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Chih-Ing Lim,  PhD.
Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

For us as a field, this presents opportunity for improvement in early childhood STEM learning. We know preschoolers’ free play involves STEM skills as they explore patterns and shapes; engineer with various materials; and explore scientific concepts. Even infants and toddlers’ exploration of the world around them is STEM-related — as they experiment with concepts of cause and effect, shapes, and experience with their senses. We also know families are children's first and longest lasting teachers. Families are more likely to implement and use intervention practices when they understand the benefits. Yet, how do we move the dial more toward including young children with disabilities in STEM learning? One way is to center instruction around learning trajectories or developmental progression. We’ll talk about the process more in future posts. Doing so focuses practitioners’ attention on children’s thinking and learning rather than their memberships in diverse groups (e.g., racially, ability). Using learning trajectories also helps avoid perceptions that can negatively affect early childhood STEM teaching and learning.


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