Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are concepts that are trickling down from secondary education to preschool and earlier. Did you know that babies are primed for learning STEM as early as a few weeks old? With infants’ natural-born curiosity and sense of wonder, they are already wired to cultivate these skills.
All children deserve the opportunity to start kindergarten on an even playing field with the abilities they need to build a solid foundation for future learning. Let’s look at five ways to break these skills down and expose babies and toddlers to early STEM concepts and future academic success.
1. Ask the right questions
Science is observing, experimenting, and asking questions. Before babies are even mobile, they are nothing if not little scientists, observing and taking in their world all day long. Babies are constantly watching and learning from what they see. Parents, you can cultivate this by asking lots of questions to make your child think, then test his hypothesis with questions like, “What color do you think this avocado will be on the inside when I cut it?”, or “How many pieces of apple will this apple slicer make? Let’s count them together.”
2. Provide the right toys
Technology is a way of being inventive, identifying problems, coming up with solutions and making things work. If you have ever watched a toddler at play, they are using technology the whole time, making shapes fit into holes, cars drive on a track, and blocks stack high. Provide construction toys such as Legos and blocks, and cause-and-effect toys such as shape sorters and puzzles to allow your child to practice these skills.
3. Help your child build things
Take technology a step further and little ones can become engineers, designing and creating and building things that work. Help your child build forts, roads and bridges for matchbox cars, insect houses and leprechaun traps. Encourage her to use ingenuity, creativity and a boundless imagination.
4. Find subtle ways to count
Math is integral component of so many early skills. Anything that involves counting, sequencing, patterning, or exploring shapes, size, or volume is an early math skill. Without even knowing it, babies and toddlers use these skills constantly during play and exploration. Provide measuring cups during bath time, wooden beads to lace during playtime, and find patterns and shapes in nature while you are playing outside.
5. Test, repeat, then test again
Part of what makes babies and young children such great scientists is their natural curiosity and willingness to repeat actions that interest them. Babies have a truly innate need to explore the world and attempt to make sense of it all. Allow your baby lots of repetition as they formulate a hypothesis then test it over and over again to prove that it is true.
All babies will grow up competing in the global workforce of the 21st century, and a firm foundation in early STEM will help them be better prepared to thrive. Unfortunately, the same opportunities for early enrichment do not exist across every socio-economic platform and some children are left ill-equipped. A new digital engagement program for parents seeks to equalize this divide by providing parents with the education and resources to start this critical learning at home. After all, parents are babies’ first teachers and when parents know better, we do better.
Pediatric Occupational Therapist Aimee Ketchum, an expert consultant for BestReviews, has created a digital parenting program called "STEM Starts Now". She is part of a Social Enterprise Challenge and she is crowd funding to provide the program to low income families to help parents give their babies the best start possible. Consider sponsoring a family via the Indiegogo campaign.