How Preschool Teachers Leverage Student Curiosity into Early STEM Exploration

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Students at Educare New Orleans learn beginning STEM concepts every day through play. (Courtesy Edutopia)

Preschool kids are full of curiosity so it's the perfect time to introduce them to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts. At Educare New Orleans preschool teachers have been trained to teach STEM ideas through play. They set up play centers that explore concepts like building and states of matter. At first many of the adults thought the material would go over kids' heads, but they've been excited that when done in a play-based, age appropriate way that includes lots of hands-on discovery, the kids love it.

"It can be engaging by allowing the kids to just play, stepping back, observing and encouraging them to see how the tool was helpful to them, just based on what they were doing, as opposed to me telling them what to do," said Giselle Scott, a preschool master teacher in an Edutopia video about the program.

Janay Parham, a preschool assistant teacher, likes exposing students to different subjects, materials and tools that they can use in their future school careers.

"When I was growing up they didn't give us a lot of opportunities to do hands on activities when it came to science," said Parham. "I think if I would have had those opportunities that I'm giving my students, that I would have been able to understand it more and be more interested in it. It's really fun to be able to explore those things with my students now."


"Our classrooms, if you're just walking by, it looks like a ball of fun," said Angie Belisle, the school director. "It looks like kids running around playing. It's not stressful to the kids. The teachers make sure activities are tailored so that it's engaging."

But they also collect data to make sure their program is high quality and that kids are leaving kindergarten-ready. Teachers collect observation data daily by interacting with kids in their play and talking with them. They take notes on both their cognitive and social development.

Master teachers also use data to support professional development through "reflective supervision." The emphasis is on growing as a teacher. Master teachers help their less-experienced colleagues by discussing both what went well and where the teacher can continue growing.