It is Engineers Week this week. The purpose is to celebrate engineering in Ireland. This starts with us, the educators who are passionate about play, the educators who realise that the very young children we work with everyday are the builders, scientists, architects and engineers of the future!
The concept of STEM subjects is a buzz word in education these days. We know how important it is to support children to engage and be passionate about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. As technology develops at an ever increasing pace, we must make sure that children develop dispositions such as curiosity and persistence, so they can be part of, contribute to and lead the way of enquiry and discovery in the future. Of course we know this is not confined to secondary schools or even primary. NAEYC, in a Young Children article says: From their earliest years, children engage with the world in ways that can promote learning related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). They balance blocks to build a wall; bat at a mobile to make it spin; and push and pull magnets together and apart. Research shows that the earlier we guide and support children’s wonder about the world–and thereby identify opportunities for children to acquire foundational STEM skills–the more successful they are in all areas of learning later on.
We see examples every day in our early years’ settings. I’m sure you have seen examples like these in your settings too.
I was in a preschool last week where a little girl was using the Jenga pieces very carefully. She was absorbed but noticed me observing her. She looked up and said I’m building a bouncy castle… engineering in action!
In the same setting there was another little girl making patterns with shapes. She was very purposeful in how she created the pattern, seeing how the shapes and colours fitted together. More engineering in action!
The following day, in another setting, I saw another little girl who was intent on building with Lego. The educator explained to me that this little girls’ family are building a new house. Every day, for long stretches of time, this child recreates what is happening in her new house. The educators know what stage the new house is at through observing her block play. She methodically works on the blocks, the walls, the roof, the windows and doors and everyday builds on her interest in the shape, size and space in her new house. She is given time to do this, 10 or 20 minutes is not enough. A future Dermot Bannon for sure!
And very young children explore these concepts too. Look at this 13-month old focus intently on playing with the wooden rod and getting it into the hole in the wheel. He has already developed skills of spatial awareness and is honing these skills further in his exploration.
To support children to explore these ideas we must make lots of open-ended materials freely available. We need to provide extended time for children to play with and explore the materials, enabling them to become involved, absorbed and engaged. Aldo Fortunati referred to Trust, Opportunity and Time as being fundamental to giving children opportunities to really explore and think about their worlds. This means trusting children to be confident and confident learners, giving lots of unscheduled, uninterrupted time to engage and opportunities to think, reflect and be challenged.
For more ideas, look back on our Scéalta post from November 15th 2016, which explores how we support young children to engage with science and our Scéalta post from October 18th 2016 looking at how children playfully become the mathematicians of the future.
We’d love to hear from you about how you support the STEM areas in your setting!