STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. (You may also see STEAM, which adds art into the mix.) STEM activities encourage preschoolers to think about problems or ideas and work on ways to solve them. STEM activities use hands-on learning and creativity in problem-solving. Many activities in the preschool room promote this type of thinking and problem-solving. But you can encourage this learning by providing materials and encouraging children to explore and investigate. We did this recently in our classroom.
STEM Exploration with Cardboard Tubes
Many times, STEM exploration has a specific goal in mind. (Example: “How can you build a bridge that will hold these blocks?”) In our exploration, we investigated the materials to see what we could do with them.
- Cardboard tubes
- Chenille craft stems
- Plastic straws
- Scissors, hole punch
Before class time, we cut the cardboard tubes into about 2-inch lengths. (Any length will work.) We punched several holes around each cardboard tube piece. You can include tools for children to do this but we wanted to focus on exploring what to do with them so we prepped ahead of time.
Exploring the Materials
The only directions we gave the children was to see what they could make or do with the materials. So they went to work.
They discovered that the craft stems would fit through the straws. They could also wrap around the straws. The stems fit into the holes on the cardboard tubes but the straws were a little too large. I enjoyed seeing the different ways the children would try to make the materials work for them.
Some put things together and took the apart and put them together in a new way until things were just right. Some worked for a while and then left, leaving the materials on the table. Others created elaborate “devices” and sculptures.
One boy repeatedly made “snakes,” wrapping stems around straws until he had a collection of about 7 or 8. He made them as gifts for his family.
Sometimes simple and easy ideas are the most effective. Try this idea or assemble your own collection of materials for kids to explore and experiment. Your budding scientists, engineers, and mathematicians will enjoy the exploration!
Check out our list of STEM picture books!
BIO: Scott Wiley, an early childhood educator for 30 years, is managing editor for Pre-K Pages. His blog Brick by Brick exploring the connection between play and learning. Connect with Scott on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
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