STEM is one of those words which has been floating about for a long time. It's catchy, sometimes we add Art in to spell STEAM, but usually it's just Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. It's been a buzz word in schools for a bit now and it's slowly filtering into the Early Years. Which is ironic really because that's where it all starts, certainly at Barn Cottage and Seasons you can't move for it!
It's what children do when they are let loose in an enabling environment full of open ended resources and possibility. They create, they innovate, they question, wonder, experiment, try and fail.
Big word, but an important one. By fail, I mean experience an outcome which was not as hoped or expected. And by the very fact we have an expected outcome, must mean a prediction was made. By the child sometimes, often by the adult. And a prediction, followed by a result, is only one step away from a science experiment. Add in the final stage of 'changing a variable and trying again' and we have scientific process in action. And this is where it gets exciting, interested, hugely enjoyable, but sadly, where so many adults (and therefore children) fall down. Here's how.
The first problem with adults...
The well-meaning adult stops the experiment mid-flow 'Woah! Stop, don't to that, it will tip (fall, make a mess, break, cause extra work)'. With their wealth of hands-on life experience, an adult who sees an experiment mid action, makes a prediction. This is the point at which it's so crucial not to remove this learning opportunity. Let it tip (fall, make a mess, break, cause extra work). Only then will the child truly learn the intricacies of the physics and maths in action, hands-on, and embed their learning.
The second problem with adults...
The adult watches, let's it tip, but assigns a negative reaction implying failure. 'Oh no! Nevermind pick it up, what a mess, we won't do that again will we'. Much better to state the situation with some sense of interest. 'It tipped, I wonder why? What could we do differently next time?' Or better still, say nothing, step back and let the child get on with the next stage of their experiment...the bit where they adjust their variables and have another go.
When children are restricted by these sorts of situations, they are less inclined to have-a-go and begin to subconsciously fear failure. And a fear of failure squashes innovation. So why is so much emphasis being put on STEM? Well, research shows that these skills of innovation, prediction, inference, flexibility in thinking and decision-making are rich, higher thinking skills. These are the skills required for future workplaces. Nurturing these skills in the early years, sets children up to access richer learning opportunities in Reception, Year 1 and right through to secondary and beyond.
Call it what you want... thinking outside of the box, innovation, blue-sky thinking. I call it 'play' and I believe it's our capacity as humans to hold onto our innate ability to play which drives innovation, experimentation and a love of life long learning.
Here at Seasons we celebrate failure as part of a learning process, keeping our narrative positive and full of wonder. We encourage experimentation, many of our experiments are outdoors where 'mess' is less of an issue. We step back and allow children space to learn and experiment, stepping in when necessary or invited.
Sometimes it's hard to describe STEM and Growth Mindset to visitors. It looks messy and chaotic sometimes, but please, see beyond this. See those magical little experiments happening in the moment as your child flows through their day, sparked by our array of open ended resources, to discover and innovate and wonder and most importantly, to play.