Aside from the obvious global competitive advantage we’d have with a highly-skilled and highly-qualified STEM workforce – not to mention, the personal benefits of higher earnings! – what are the benefits of STEM education? Why STEM? And why with early learners?
STEM is more than just science, technology, engineering and math as isolated disciplines. It’s a mindset, a way of looking at the world that allows for connection, responsibility and innovation.
At the core of STEM education are 21st century skills, often referred to as the 4 Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. These 21st century skills take learning above and beyond and allow even the youngest children to fully participate in life.
Engaging in exploration of the world and the way it works, designing solutions to everyday problems and learning perseverance through experimentation lead to improved ways of collaborating and communicating that produce true compassion for each other and the natural world.
Young children feel responsibility for their world when they participate in exploring real world problems, and their solutions and insights often provide a creative perspective, adding to the existing conversation and leading to innovation.
So why STEM? If we take STEM piece-by-piece we find that science is like the collective history of the world; technology is the tools we use in pursuit of understanding this history; engineering is the way we solve problems and design solutions to improve our collective human experience; and math is the way we chronicle, quantify and analyze the natural patterns of our world.
But why with preschoolers? Young children innately possess an insatiable curiosity and drive to figure out their world. They also have an incredible ability to learn language at a rapid rate. This makes STEM education the perfect way to capitalize on both of these strengths. Children love to tinker and experiment and when they encounter problems they naturally try to solve them. When young children are engaged in play it is much like a scientist or engineer for all these reasons. A young child rolling a car down a ramp making it stop or go faster or adjust the ramp to go further is playing with concepts of physics. And when a teacher is trained in this they can ask the appropriate questions and provide the appropriate vocabulary for deep STEM learning.
This innate disposition of trying to figure out the world and the insatiable curiosity is to be fiercely protected and compassionately nurtured if we are to improve the way children are educated. STEM gives young children a framework and a common language in their exploration of and participation in life and gives them the tools they need to transform their world.