The early introduction of STEM learning can be a crucial factor for the future accomplishments of new generations. Young children are ripe for the absorption of interesting and exciting information. However, STEM programs are not always present or inclusive within early childhood education. STEM Starts Early is a report, supported by the National Science Foundation, about the relevance and hurdles to including STEM in early childhood education programs. The report included five key ideas to strengthen early STEM learning.
1. Engage Parents
Enabling parents to have meaningful STEM related interactions with their children, from birth through elementary school years, is an important first step. Children spend most of their time at home and the types of play and learning they engage in with their parents can support or hinder classroom learning. In 2015, panelists at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference discussed ways to encourage parents to learn with their children. The panelists focused on making STEM learning interactive and accessible to parents.
2. Improve Teacher Training
Broadening teacher access to and encouraging participation in STEM related programs is another step in the right direction. Extended learning courses, like those offered at the Center for Educational Improvement, can have an immediate impact on educator performance. Teachers need continued STEM learning and instruction on how to incorporate it into the early childhood curriculum. Schools need to subsidize this training to standardize participation across grade levels.
3. Evolve Early Childhood Education
Educators for early childhood education need to be held to the same standards as other teachers. This means requiring appropriate degrees and experience for classroom teachers of young students. The recommendation from STEM Starts Early calls for national, state, and community leaders to advance the charge in expanding STEM education. The report notes disparities in the compensation and qualifications of early learning educators as a hindrance to improvement.
4. Expand STEM programs available to Children
The experts suggest a revamp of the way libraries, museums, and community organizations prioritize STEM learning. Informal education opportunities provide an excellent resource for children and should be expanded to provide interactive learning to kids, from birth to eight years. The STEM Education Coalition suggests involving children in out-of-school learning as part of a strategy to improve STEM learning. If communities work together to provide STEM opportunities, younger generations will reap the benefits.
5. Standardize Early Childhood STEM programs
Developing a standard aligned system to support STEM learning, from birth through elementary school, is essential in the coming years. School districts and states need to work together to standardize the expectation of STEM in early childhood programs. The National Association for the Education of Young Children already makes resources available for teachers to incorporate STEM into classrooms. However, the programs need to be more widely used and implemented across the United States.
These five steps, if undertaken by school districts, parents, and communities will strengthen the relationship our children have with STEM education. In our current economy, the expansion of STEM jobs continues at an unprecedented level. American children need to be prepared to compete in the job market when their time comes.
How have you engaged in STEM learning with your child? Do you think early STEM programs need to be expanded on a national level? Let us know what you think!
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