Is My Child Too Young for STEAM
Clement Chau, PhD is the Director of the Learning Team at LeapFrog and VTech USA. As a children and media expert, Clement oversees the curriculum development and learning design of products ranging from infant electronic learning toys, digital games and apps, and interactive reading platforms. He has contributed to over 100 toys and game products across both brands. Prior to LeapFrog, Clement was the Director of Early Learning at Kidaptive, Inc., a media literacy researcher at the MIT Comparative Media Studies department and a researcher at the Tufts University Developmental Technologies Research Group. Clement earned his PhD in Applied Child Development from Tufts University.
STEAM for young children is less about science facts and math equations, but more about facilitating experiences to spark authentic and meaningful inquiries by encouraging:
- Opportunities for children to learn about the world by asking questions
- Observations through exploration
- A curious mind to develop new ways of thinking
Establishing these at an early age, when young minds are most malleable, can help pave the way for lifelong accomplishments.
You might have heard other parents and teachers talk about STEM and STEAM as the latest educational trend. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics – these words sound technical and sophisticated. They invoke images of tech workers in the Silicon Valley and large research institutions like NASA, MIT, and so forth. The growing emphasis around these topics seem timely and somewhat overwhelming given the continually rising demand in high-tech and scientific careers. While we can agree that today’s world has become high-tech and fast-paced, many parents may wonder: Is my child too young to start thinking about STEAM?
STEAM education aims to teach students to bring together skills and ideas from these highly technical subject areas to build a foundation to be able to solve complex problems in the future. To that end, STEAM concepts go beyond teaching rote science and math skills and encourage students to think critically, ask open-ended questions and experiment with creative ideas. Instead of memorizing facts and equations, students explore how these subjects are applied in the real world through hands-on, authentic learning experiences.
“We’re a nation of tinkerers, and dreamers, and believers in a better tomorrow.” - President Obama, White House Science Fair, 2012
There is not a “right” age to start learning STEAM. In fact, the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) promotes that even young infants are capable of experimenting with real-life scientific concepts in a playful manner. In an article published in the journal Science in 2015, researchers from the John Hopkins University Laboratory for Child Development found that even infants as young as 11 months can be observed experimenting with the concept of gravity by repeatedly dropping toy cars off the side of the table.1
For preschoolers, their curious minds might take them to all sorts of inquiries about the world around them at home, at the park and beyond. For example, children are fascinated by clouds. What are they? Why are they up in the sky? Instead of just answering their questions with straight facts, a STEAM mindset would encourage children to plan out their own investigations in a safe, playful way with Cloud in a Jar!
Let’s see how they are formed!
- A mason jar with lid
- 1/2 cup of hot water
- 6-8 ice cubes
- Pour the hot water into the jar to about 1/3 of the way. Swirl the water around to warm up the jar.
- Place the lid upside down on top of the jar. Place several ice cubes on the lid. Allow the ice to rest for about 20-30 seconds.
- Remove the lid and immediately spray a bit of hairspray into the jar. Now place the lid with ice cubes on top of the jar and watch the cloud form.
What’s Going On?
The hot water in the jar turns into vapor that rises to the top of the jar. When the warm vapor comes into contact with the colder air near the lid, the water vapor cools down and condenses. However, a cloud can only form if the vapor has something to condense onto. This is where the hairspray comes in. The hairspray droplets serve as tiny particles for the vapor to condense onto and form a cloud in the jar. In nature, as the sun warms the lakes and oceans all around the world, water vapor rises toward the sky. When water vapor cools down in the sky, it condenses onto dust particles, pollen, and other tiny particles to form clouds.
To reinforce deeper STEM thinking, consider extending this activity with some follow-up inquiries. For example, using a stopwatch on a smartphone, observe how long it takes for a cloud to form and become visible at the top of the jar. Does this change with more or fewer cubes of ice? Would adding food coloring to the water produce colorful vapor and colorful clouds? Why or why not?
1Stahl, A.E., & L. Feigenson. 2015. “Observing the Unexpected Enhances Infants’ Learning and Exploration.” Science 348 (6230): 91–94