According to the "STEM Starts Early" study performed by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America, “early STEM experiences predict later academic outcomes better than early reading skills". A Carnegie Foundation commission concluded that our capacity to innovate and thrive as adults depends on a foundation of math and science learning.
The benefits of early STEM education are numerous, but many parents and teachers wonder how to implement these concepts at an early age. It is never too early to begin, and the best place to start is where children's curiosity naturally lies: out in nature.
Exposure to animals and their environments—whether in nature or in a book—is often at the root of a child’s interest in science. Young Jane Goodall loved to observe the wildlife near her home, a passion that inspired her groundbreaking chimpanzee research. Charles Turner, pioneering entomologist, spent hours reading about ants and other insects in the pages of his father’s books. Rachel Carson began writing stories about squirrels when she was eight. Spark curiosity in a child and watch them develop a lifelong enthusiasm for learning.
By simply allowing them to to tap into their natural and innate curiosity about the living world and encouraging them to ask questions, you are engaging children in STEM.
Children's Experiential Learning in Nature
Nature provides young children with opportunities to develop their own understanding of STEM concepts by observing and interacting with the physical world.
For example, children can grasp a complex concept like the water cycle by observing puddles growing larger during a rainstorm and subsequently shrinking on a sunny day. Going for walks and keeping a nature journal fosters observation and critical thinking skills.
Moments of STEM learning aren't reserved for special activities; they happen all the time, everywhere. Our job as parents and educators is to draw out our children's inner scientists and give them the tools they need to make observations and connections.
While out in nature with your child, ask "what" questions rather than "why" questions. "What"questions focus on what your child is noticing and doing, and open the door for you to explore the natural world together. "Why" questions imply there is one correct answer to a question, which can discourage a child's natural curiosity. Asking a child, "Why does a rock sink in water?" is very different than asking "What happens when we put a rock in water?"
Early STEM Education and Literature
The same way children naturally love to interact with nature, their innate love of books and illustrations provides early STEM education opportunities.
But the benefits don't stop there! More than a simple scientific introduction, animal stories are an instance and an analogy of caring love. Showing children attachment in the natural world fosters empathy, kindness, and compassion in both their interpersonal and interspecies interactions.
The "Beginnings" Collection
This is where Science Naturally can help! Our Beginnings collection of STEM books for the early years has something to spark or sustain budding curiosity in any child.
These stunningly illustrated, information-packed titles introduce youngsters to the wonderful world of animals, and, by extension, to themselves. They encourage children to make real-world connections that sharpen their analytical skills and give them a head start in STEM.
Reading these titles together inspires children to think about how each species matures, what they need to survive, and what their communities look like—whether pride, flock, or family.