What is STEM and the Surprising Benefits of Early STEM

What is STEM? The Surprising Benefits of Early STEM Education for Kids
  • STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, while STEAM adds the Arts into the mix.
  • Young kids are natural scientists and STEM learners. Adults can teach STEM in daily life. You don’t need a formal education to teach your kid about the sciences.
  • In the US, preschool and kindergarten kids spend an average of 58 seconds a day on math.

What is STEM and What Does STEM Stand For?

STEM is an acronym for Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

They’re the subjects we learned at school that deals with any of the sciences. Any science and math related classes are considered part of STEM learning.

STEM Education and Why is it so important?

STEM is important because technology is how we are staying ahead in the world we live in. Kids and adults who understand, want to learn, and feel confident around STEM are at an advantage, at home, at school, and in the workplace.

For example, college grads who major in Science and Math will earn on average $15,500 more a year than those who majored in others.

No parent in their right mind is going to tell a kid to stop chasing their STEM dreams especially when it’s likely that there’s a big fat pay cheque at the end of that tunnel.

Sad to admit it, but these days, there’s a lot of street cred given to startup founders and engineers who can boast working in the valley. Wealth will always be immensely sexy, and the idea of working close to people like the Zuckerbergs and Bezos of the world has its own brag-worthy rights.

Aside from that, STEM is also important because you come across it in your daily life. There’s no question that our kids will live with and grow up in a world of science and technology, already the likes of which we have trouble imagining. Confidence around these subjects and an understanding of them is a must.

Why is there a focus on STEM?

We shine a spotlight on STEM because we want to give our kids a boost in this area. It’s not just that we live in a tech world, but it’s become obvious that our lives will inevitably revolve around technology in many ways and that being educated in STEM is hugely beneficial.

In most communities, the number of art classes and resources greatly outnumber STEM programs that are available for kids in preschool or elementary school. If we want our kids to get an equal opportunity to learn about their world, we should be covering all our bases. Which brings us to a problem:

Most people don’t think that STEM is suitable for younger kids, and they’re wrong.

Traditionally, we’ve focused on teaching young kids the importance of the arts, like painting, crafts, reading and writing. But we don’t put that kind of emphasis on the sciences. Not to the same extent. Getting kids started on reading when they’re young is very important, but having kids who know basic math skills are also as necessary when they are young.

Young kids are already natural scientists, they are always observing and testing things to see how things work. We can easily take advantage of their natural curiosity and use it as a springboard for teaching them basic scientific ideas.

Early exposure to science and math gives kids the best chance at being confident in STEM later on when those concepts and ideas become more complex. This can raise their self-esteem and open up new avenues of interest that prompt them to pursue studies and careers in these fields.

Bottom line is, preschools and kindergartens don’t typically focus on STEM learning. At least not in the way reading and attention skills are taught.

STEM for Toddlers

STEM for Toddlers & Preschoolers

  • Many elementary school teachers don’t feel confident teaching STEM. They also have to teach a wide variety of subjects that it’s difficult for them to find the time to implement STEM lessons.

Some schools recognize this. Some elementary schools have hired special K-5 STEM teachers who implement this part of learning.

However, most preschools and kindergartens still spend very little time on STEM subjects. For example, in the US, kids spend on average 58 seconds a day on math.

That’s right, that’s less than a minute.

And those 58 seconds are likely spent on rote memorization, like teaching your kids to count.

Not a good way to learn math.

The lack of math emphasis in early childhood education suggests that it’s left up to the parents. How parents go about teaching math skills at home varies, from after-school programs to reading math storybooks and through various play.

The reality is, the lack of early exposure to STEM can make these subjects seem daunting to kids. This makes kids less likely to take these type of classes in high school and college.

Those higher paying STEM degrees? No possibility. Without confidence in these subjects in K-12, kids won’t be interested in pursuing those degrees.

Family Engagement

Family engagement is crucial. Since early exposure is vital, this means that STEM learning has to come from family engagement early on because kids spend most of their time at home, even more, while they’re young.

According to researchers, preschool math skills are better at predicting later academic success than early reading and attention skills.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to put your child in an after-school program to start teaching them STEM. Life is ripe with STEM teaching opportunities.

Since STEM is as much about technology, engineering, and math as it is about the natural world, some examples of STEM teaching at home is when you explain to your kids about how things work, why things are certain colors, and why things fall down and not up.

The most important thing you should keep in mind is that it’s about encouraging and promoting reasoning and exploration, not the rote memorization that we traditionally link to STEM subjects at school.

The importance of family engagement can’t be overstated. School can only do so much. So says many studies, including this one.

Many famous faces have been able to bank on their love of STEM because of family encouragement and engagement. Plus, it’s easier now than ever with all the resources at the touch of our fingers.

STEM Activities and Projects

There are so many resources for STEM online. You can find kits for kids online and DIY STEM activities which make it easy for anyone to teach it. You don’t need formal education to teach STEM. In fact, most parents already know more than they think they do.

Another interactive way to introduce STEM is with STEM toys. Specifically, choose toys that have high educational value and teach basic scientific concepts that kids will need later. For example, children’s chemistry sets can be an exciting way to get kids comfortable with chemical reactions and lab safety while also being hands-on.

While we don’t usually put the words creativity and science together, any kind of activity where we have to learn, think critically, and come up with a new approach, put our creative problem-solving skills to use.

There are many companies out there developing ways to meaningfully engage kids while teaching them scientific principles. These range from the natural sciences to circuitry and basic coding. Many of these toys also promote parent and child bonding time because they are activities that work best with supervision. It’s worth seeking out high-quality toys like this and treat them like a learning investment. Not everything labeled STEM on the market is worth it though, so be sure to do your research or you can also see our buying guide for the best STEM kits for kids by subject.

STEM Programs and Schools

A STEM education is emphasized in high school curriculums, but STEM education starts earlier in many cities.

It’s not unusual to see classes and resources that focus on STEM for kids and preschoolers. Some subjects like Robotics and Coding are even offered in elementary and middle school.

Most of these programs are unique, either they’re schools geared towards the STEM subjects, or they are specialized after-school programs. They’re not everywhere.


STEM vs. STEAM: What about the Arts?

The A is an add-on to STEM, incorporating the Arts to STEM.

Is one better than the other?

Not necessarily. Learning is about acquiring, processing and creatively combining all types of knowledge to solve problems and come up with new ideas.

Put STEM and Arts together and stir the pot. Win-win.

Is STEM appropriate for younger children?

For learning a second language, most people would agree that the earlier, the better. The same thing can be said for STEM as well.

You can teach your child basic scientific concepts however young they are. An early confidence and comfort in these subjects only help them become more capable in these subjects later. Be sure that you do your research and see what is developmentally appropriate.

You can take a look at our picks for some of the best STEM toys for toddlers.

What are some ways to encourage STEM learning in younger children?

There are many tools, activities, projects, books and toys that can help young kids with STEM.

STEM learning can be done anywhere. It’s done at school, in science and math classes, as well as in after-school programs that specialize in unique courses such as coding. It also happens at home. In fact, that’s where it usually begins.


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