Early STEM Skills
From the moment a child is born they are busy exploring the world and learning
how things work; this is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)
learning. Families and caregivers can support a child’s success in STEM learning in
the early years, even if they don’t feel especially confident in science and math
The most important things we can do for our children to support STEM learning is
to focus on the language we use in talking with our children, and provide and allow
opportunities for children to investigate and explore (especially outside).
Below are activities that you can do with your child to support STEM learning:
Exploring STEM at Home
It is important that we allow children the time to explore and investigate the way
the world works. We can support this at home by providing opportunity and
materials for exploration, and supporting children’s curiosity when we see it.
Try these tips to help your child build lifelong success and a love of STEM learning:
Did you know that water play helps your child learn important STEM skills? It also
is great for helping develop fine-motor skills, social skills, and for engaging your
- Allow your child the opportunity to play with water in many different settings. Fun opportunities include: bath time, using water in pretend kitchen play, etc.
- Provide different containers (e.g. cups, buckets, sieves/cups with holes, funnels, etc.) for your child to explore the water with.
- Add ice to allow children to explore the different temperatures and states of water (solid and liquid).
- Add common household or natural objects (e.g. rocks, nuts, leaves, corks, beads, etc.) for your child to explore buoyancy, what objects sink or float?
- Play outside. Not only does it help with the mess, but playing in the rain and in puddles is a science and sensory experience not to be missed.
Sand play is great for helping your child build fine and gross motor skills, improve
social skills, support cognitive development. It helps build STEM skills, too!
- Provide a variety of materials to play with in the sand (e.g. buckets, scoops, trucks, molds, etc.).
- Add water to allow your child to explore how the texture and properties of sand change when wet (plus it’s more fun to build with!).
- Try other materials such as rice or beans. These can be great options to bring play indoors when needed.
Playing with shadows is a great way to allow children to explore with objects that
they can’t touch, which builds cognitive skills such as the ability to question and
- Go outside and explore the shadows your bodies make. Notice how the shadows move as you move. Discuss how they are made by something (you) standing in the way of the sun’s light.
- Play with shadow hand puppets by making fun shapes with your hands and a flashlight.
- Cut out shapes from paper to make shadow puppets to retell your favorite stories with or make up your own.
Block play is a great way to support many skills in science (e.g. how gravity works,
balance, interaction of forces, etc.), technology (e.g. use of items in different
ways), engineering (e.g. use of items to solve problems, planning a construction,
following a plan), and math (e.g. patterning, measurement, geometry, etc.). It
also builds social, cognitive, and language skills.
- Provide a variety of sizes and shapes of blocks for exploration.
- Add tubes and ramps with balls, marbles, or toy cars to support exploration of force and motion.
- Add common household or natural objects (e.g. corks, paper towel tubes, cereal/food/shoe boxes, rocks, sticks and uneven blocks of wood, beads, etc.) to support problem solving and creativity.
- Encourage your child to draw their constructions after they build them.
- Have your child plan a construction before building it. Encourage them to make changes to their plan/blueprint along the way if things don’t work out like they had planned.
Being outside is important for children’s physical and emotional health. It also
supports the development of cognitive skills, social skills, and an understanding of
basic STEM concepts.
- Keep a weather journal. Go outside every day and have your child draw the weather for that day in a journal. Have your child tell you what words to add to their pictures.
- Keep an observation journal (this can be added to the weather journal). Have your child draw pictures of what they see outside each day (e.g. plants, animals, objects in the sky, etc.). This can be a great way to look at change over time if your child observes some of the same items each day (e.g. leaves changing color, birds collecting material for nests, flowers budding, etc).
- Grow a plant. This can be in a big garden or a small flower pot. Have your child choose the seed they want to grow and draw pictures of the plant’s growth daily. It can also be fun to sprout seeds against the sides of clear plastic cups to watch what is happening below the soil.
- Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Make a list of things that you hope you will see outside and keep track of them in a journal as you take a walk.
- Build a fort or other secret area for pretend play and storytelling.
- If you (or a neighbor, friend, or family member) have a pet, talk to your child about what your pet needs to live (e.g. food, shelter, etc.). Involve your child in taking care of the pet, letting them help you feed, groom, etc.