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