STEM is much more than an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. It is about teaching children inquiry-based learning, so they know how to ask the right questions and how to answer them authentically. We often focus in on one academic area of STEM when teaching, but science, technology, engineering, and math are meant to come together as a whole to encourage higher-level thinking. By providing hands-on experiences with open-ended materials that incorporate STEM components, children become prepared for the world in which they live. They develop the valuable 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity by engaging in exploration and learning how things work. By combining STEM experiences with outdoor learning, children are able to discover, play and explore in a natural environment.

Here are three outdoor activities to encourage STEM learning through play.

  1. Take block play and construction outdoors. Learning does not stop at the classroom door. Providing children with the opportunity to work collaboratively outdoors fosters the freedom and space to respectfully share ideas, generate thoughtful decisions, and utilize a team approach to problem solving. In addition to using blocks and other types of building materials, children can take advantage of natural materials in their outdoor designs. Whether you provide children with building sets or have them use natural materials they find in the outdoor environment, taking building and construction outdoors and asking children to build miniature replicas of buildings and structures is an excellent way to introduce engineering concepts and overall building processes. Include the following six steps of the scientific method for preschoolers when building and constructing:

What would you like to build? (Pay special attention to see if children are curious of how to build a structure using the materials provided.)

What can you use to build this creation? (Support children in their imagination and creativity as they explore their curiosities.)

What steps should you take to build the structure? (Encourage children to work together as they determine how to build the structure.)

What happens when you follow those steps? (Assure children that it is okay if their designs do not work at first.)

How can you change the process to create a different outcome? (Trial and error helps children discover what works and leads to strong critical thinking skills.)

What have you learned? (Ask children to share their thoughts.)

  1. Start a school and classroom garden. This multisensory learning experience gives children a strong foundation in basic STEM concepts during every phase of gardening.

Phase 1: Planting a Garden
Building and planting a vegetable garden is great for engineering and design practice. Have children decide where the garden will best be located and use garden tools to start planting the seeds.

Phase 2: Growth & Maintenance
As the plants start to grow, have children feel the textures of different plant leaves, help water plants using the Giant Water Pump, and learn a variety of basic science concepts. They can also count how many plants are starting to grow along with measure how tall the plants are growing.

Phase 3: Harvest
Once the vegetables are ready to harvest, have children count how many vegetables there are in total. Take note of each size and shape along with measuring the total height and length of each plant.

  1. Go on a nature walk. Cultivate outdoor learning and authentic play opportunities by creating a nature bracelet from materials collected while on a nature walk. Inspired by Rethinking the Classroom Landscape, DIY nature bracelets are designed to allow children to collect and press natural objects on the bracelet while enjoying the outdoors. Little learners will be fascinated with observing the various features, identifying any distinct smells, and feeling the different textures of natural objects. Early educators can use this activity to support child-directed discovery while reinforcing science investigations, mathematical thinking, language development, and art exploration.

Incorporate these three outdoor activities to encourage STEM learning through play.

Be sure to browse all STEM resources on the Kaplan Early Learning Company website and click here to request a free copy of the STEM catalog and the Outdoor Leaning catalog.


Tags: STEM , education , outdoor learning , science , technology , engineering , math , Kaplan , Kaplan Early Learning Company

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