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10 things you need to know about STEM in early years

date July 15, 2020Maureen Hunt


Have you ever thought about introducing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) into your early years practice, but aren’t sure how to? Or maybe you haven’t even considered it! Wherever you are in your thinking or planning, there has never been a better time to consider developing STEM in your early years setting.

Why do we need to develop STEM learning?

Every aspect of how our world works and functions relies on STEM. Building our cities, communications, health services, transport, food production are just a few examples. It’s hard to conceive of any change or development in the world that has not been driven forward by STEM. This is the future our children will grow up in and the form that many of their jobs will take. By developing STEM learning we are creating the inquisitive and enthusiastic scientists of the future who will create the new and changing world.

Why introduce STEM now?

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many teachers and practitioners to feel anxious about how they are going to help children ‘catch up’ on all the learning they have missed. But they are equally anxious about how they will reassure children and help them feel safe and secure in the setting. This is where focusing on STEM can really help as it is a child-centred approach that taps into young children’s natural curiosity and supports them to learn. If a child is curious and allowed to explore their environment with adults that support and encourage them to find out about the things that interest them, then they are much more likely to settle into the setting and look forward to being there.

boy playing with science tools

STEM can:
  • help children develop language, communication, and problem-solving skills
  • promote independent and collaborative learning
  • put children on the pathway to future academic success.

This is needed now more than ever to help children successfully connect and engage in your setting. When children are engaged in STEM activities, they become more confident and successful learners, are much better able to see the connections in real life contexts and make rapid progress.

STEM in the early years

Traditionally there has been a greater focus on literacy than other subjects in the early years – and of course, children need to learn to speak, read and write. But key to developing vocabulary is having something to talk about. And exploring and making sense of the world with a supportive and engaged adult helps to build vocabulary and supports children to make sense of their world. Everything is new to the young child and everything needs observing and exploring.

Many people believe STEM to be something that children learn at secondary school, but the fact is that unless children develop an interest early on in life they are unlikely to go down the route of choosing STEM subjects to study later on. The early years are the perfect time to start developing this interest.

baby playing with an abacus

10 things you need to know about STEM in the early years

  1. It is never too early to start learning about STEM, even babies can learn from STEM.
  2. STEM isn’t a new subject – it’s a way of working and interacting with children.
  3. STEM fosters children’s love of learning. They feel in control and eager to find out more.
  4. STEM fits in perfectly with best early years practice and pedagogy: it is based on exploration, solving problems and trying out new ideas through hands-on activities.
  5. Young children are brilliant at it! They are natural scientists and ask lots of questions. Taking the time to help them find out the answers is what STEM is all about.
  6. Staff do not need to be trained to do STEM, just shown how to support children using a STEM-based philosophy.
  7. You don’t need to buy expensive resources – you will have all you need and will find STEM resources everywhere in your setting.
  8. STEM helps children learn and develop and promotes future academic success.
  9. STEM can happen in all areas of the setting at all times of day.
  10. It’s easier to do and a lot more fun than you think!


About Maureen Hunt

Maureen Hunt photo

Maureen Hunt is an independent education consultant specialising in early years. She taught for over 20 years in nursery and infant schools and spent 15 years in leadership roles. Maureen is currently the Early Years Lead for Achievement for All where she is responsible for the design and the delivery of their award-winning early years programme “Achieving Early”. Maureen holds a BEd, a master’s degree in Education Management, the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination and the National Professional Qualification for Headship.