“S is for science, science, science. T is for technology. S.T.E.M. makes learning fun!”
Sung to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” this little ditty kicks off the S.T.E.M. Program at Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool, which has locations throughout Michigan – including Commerce Township, Troy, New Hudson and Howell.
It’s a unique offering at this preschool, which introduces children as young as age 4 to science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.) concepts through age-appropriate, hands-on activities. It takes things that children naturally enjoy exploring and breaks them down into general, simple concepts.
“Young children are exploring the natural world around them all of the time,” says Shelly Odell, the director of operations at AppleTree & Gilden Woods. “We looked at those things that they are already naturally curious about and enjoy doing, and we broke those concepts down through hands-on lessons.”
And this instruction takes place in equipped S.T.E.M. labs that are designed with young students in mind. “The lab is set up so great that everything is very intentional, and things are very low and in their reach,” she says.
Having a space designated to the instruction has made it more focused and allowed them to meet the objectives of their S.T.E.M. lesson plans, which happen twice per week for 30 to 40 minutes.
The instructors start with introducing children to the scientific method using terms that are developmentally appropriate to them. They talk through what it means to investigate something, learn that a hypothesis is simply a guess – and even get opportunities to provide their own hypotheses and do experiments with magnets and measurements, colors and light, water and plants, and more.
“We have painstakingly ensured these lessons plans are developmentally appropriate and that while we are teaching fundamental basics of science, technology, engineering and math, we are doing it in a very exciting way that is fun, and the kids actually really like it and enjoy it,” she says.
How do you teach engineering to such little ones? It’s a common, yet surprising question that Odell says she often receives from parents. The answer is simple: “Children are exploring the concepts of engineering all the time with simple things like blocks, ramps, cars and materials like that,” Odell says.
The instructor is able to augment those everyday activities with math concepts, engineering and more. Science learning is particularly fun, thanks to Michigan’s four seasons, Odell notes.
“The changing season is always so fun to teach the scientific concepts of growing things. In the spring, we are always planting things outside. We have planters or we have designated space for growing things. They’ll grow flowers, they’ll grow vegetables,” she says. “We get to measure them and see how tall they are getting and through this we are incorporating the math side of S.T.E.M. Obviously the environment comes into play. Did it rain? Do we need to water our plants or did nature take care of it for us?”
When it comes to technology, parents might worry about their preschooler engaging with it at such a young age. But Odell says they are doing technology for the 21st century learner and setting kids up for their educational journey and future.
“We talk about things in the technology portion of this program like digital citizenship. What is it to be responsible when I’m using a piece of technology and how to use it in the right way.”
And because the interest in S.T.E.M. and S.T.E.M.-related careers continues to boom, it’s important for young kids to get early exposure.
“It’s investing in the child in a way that allows them to see the natural world around them coming to life and setting them up for future success,” she says.
For more information on AppleTree & Gilden Woods Early Care and Preschool, visit appletreekids.cc.