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The importance of STEAM in outdoor play

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths and is a forward-thinking, integrated approach to learning that uses all of these subjects to guide children’s questioning, critical thinking and dialogue. The outdoor classroom is open to all areas of learning and is a perfect starting point for even the youngest children to get involved.

Posted on Thursday 14th March 2019

What does STEAM look like in the early years?

Providing the right resources with STEAM in mind is important for outdoor play. Ignite a sense of discovery as children experience scientific, engineering and mathematical skills in their play. Early years doesn’t necessarily come to mind for many practitioners and teachers when considering STEAM, yet it is not only possible in the early years but central to children’s learning and development, particularly in this era. Be prepared for a flurry of questions as children’s curiosities are sparked!

The importance of STEAM in outdoor play

STEAM supports an array of valuable lifelong learning skills. We want to allow children to be engineers, architects, scientists, artists and mathematicians.

Through incorporating aspects of STEAM into play, children can be encouraged to:

  • Problem solve
  • Show curiosity and a ‘can do’ attitude
  • Seek challenge and enjoy meeting challenges
  • Think of ideas and find new ways of doing things
  • Solve problems
  • Make links, predictions, estimates and hypothesise
  • Notice patterns
  • Test their ideas
  • Plan and make decisions of how to approach a task
  • Be able to change strategy and review their approach
  • Communicate, collaborate and make compromises

You may have noticed that all of the above are in fact aspects of the Early Years Foundation Stage Characteristics of Effective Learning, STEAM, therefore, goes hand in hand with the values of the early years. STEAM is about merging these important subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) into one. It is therefore a holistic approach, and this is exactly what early years is about: intertwining areas of learning.

We would like to give you the tools to provide an enabling STEAM environment for children to experiment, investigate, explore, wonder and make their own discoveries.

How to provide STEAM opportunities in the early years:

Children need to be given opportunities to investigate, hypothesize and test their ideas through hands-on play and learning. Allow children to be engineers, scientists and architects of their own learning by creating an environment that will encourage and extend STEAM. Foster children’s development of STEAM by providing children with opportunities to explore and discover. Create an environment that will encourage and extend STEAM by providing an assortment of resources.

Allow children to use an array of resources for connecting, pouring, building and transforming. Provide them with guttering, tubing and pegs to connect, build and test out their ideas.

Quick tips:

  • Use different kinds of tubes with a variety of jugs and funnels.
  • Use Messy Maths Measuring Bottles for children to explore measurements and amounts giving great opportunities for children to explore mathematical literacy, enriching the children’s language.
  • Mix the activities with a range of catalysts from the adult. It will also allow the children to select their own materials and tools.
  • Create a laboratory where mini scientists blend, mix, whisk and stir their concoctions.
  • Set up a perfume station with herbs, petals and aromas – use potion bottles and pestle and mortars.
  • Include ICT resources such as talking pegs, buttons and clipboards to record findings. Add metal detectors and microscopes for investigations and material explorations. Have a digital camera handy for children to record each other’s findings and discoveries.
  • Have items that can be used to measure, such as rulers and tapes.
  • Enable children to use ramps and guttering for a variety of different activities. They could be used for rolling things down such as vehicles, cogs etc. You could place different surfaces on the ramps to see if this affects the speed.
  • Accessorise the unit with different tools. Think about the various skills involved. Can they blend, stir, pour, empty, mix, mash?

Extend the provision by adding accessories that support and enhance play. A double-sided unit allows for collaborative play. Add bowls for mixing and creating concoctions and hooks for hanging utensils.

Children could pour liquids or roll balls down a ramp, place a variety of utensils, magnifiers or tweezers on the hooks or in the holes, or wind tubing through the holes into funnels.

Incorporate ICT for children to use technology to help them make discoveries. They could use the Outdoor ICT Metal Detectors to learn about materials, the Recordable Magnifying Glass to observe closely, the Talking Clipboards can be used for designing and recording ideas.

Whether you use a microscope for exploring materials, or a camera for recording findings, children are able to develop a wide range of key STEAM skills.

A versatile activity bench is the perfect resource to encourage children to explore, create, hypothesise, predict and experiment.

Light a spark of curiosity as children begin to wonder about the world around them…

Encourage children to be researchers, ask questions and be curious! Support children through this journey by:

  • Encouraging children to experiment through cause and effect by providing containers, whisks, mashers and jugs to use for transforming materials from a solid to a liquid.
  • Give children a choice of different textured materials for placing on the ramp for manipulating the speed of released objects, they can investigate forces in a developmentally appropriate way.

Providing children with an array of resources to explore and create will encourage them to wonder about the world around. They can connect, measure, problem-solve, pour, mix, transform, test, design and record.

Ensure that children are only limited by their imagination!

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