Children start developing STEM concepts and skills when they are babies and they know more about STEM than you think.
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.
- 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/
- 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
- 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
- Wang, J. & Feigenson, L. (2019). Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant. Developmental Science, 22: e12805. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12805,
- 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.
- 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
- 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:10.1037/0012-16126.96.36.1998
- 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.
- 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.
- 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