What You Need To Know About STEM and The Early Years

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I’m sure you have heard of STEM and possibly even know that it stands for; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. But what exactly is STEM? Why is STEM learning important for children? When should children start learning about STEM? Should you be doing STEM activities at home with your child? Thinking about it can get daunting pretty quick, especially if you don’t feel confident in any of these subjects. But I’m here to tell you that STEM during the early years is easier thank you think and can even be fun. This coming from someone who used to dislike science but now gets so excited about it.

What Is STEM Learning

STEM learning, also referred to as STEM education, is more than science, technology, engineering, and math as individual subjects. It is how these subjects integrate together and can support each other just as the five areas of child development are interconnected to support the development of the whole child.

You cannot have technology and engineering without science and math. Science and math are at the core of so much learning during the early years.

STEM learning abacus

When thinking of STEM during the early years we need to go back to the basics. Often children are already engaging in STEM exploration during play but we just don’t realize it. When they observe and explore, when they discover their own voice and start testing different volumes, playing with building blocks, discovering gravity by throwing food onto the floor; these are all examples of children exploring STEM.

What Age Should STEM Learning Be Introduced

Children are born scientists. They are naturally curious learners that want to explore the world around them to learn about it. During play children explore to gather new information that they use to understand their surroundings and develop new skills.

Children learn essential skills during the early years that set the foundation for further learning and more complex understanding of STEM. These skills can include exploring cause-and-effect, problem-solving, questioning, observing, and reasoning.

STEM toy

STEM learning starts during infancy. It is important to realize they don’t need a formal setting for this to happen. Informal STEM exposure at home during play and day-to-day activities is all you need at this age. They are building the foundational skills required to engage in deeper STEM learning later on.

Supporting STEM Learning At Home

Providing opportunities for STEM exposure and noticing everyday learning moments are all you need to support STEM learning at home. Foster your child’s natural curiosity about the world. Children like to explore and discover new things, toddlers love asking “What’s that?” or “Why?”. Encourage this curiosity.

Observe your child and ask questions to understand what they are doing. Instead of getting upset that they are dropping food onto the floor try to understand why they are doing it. They want to see what happens. “hmm that fell all the way onto the floor, do you think it will happen again?” Offer them something less messy to try it again, such as a soft ball.

sandbox sensory play

Infants and toddlers don’t need formal STEM teaching or toys to develop STEM skills. Day-to-day activities and real-world experiences are perfect for STEM exposure during the early years. Keep in mind STEM learning can happen anytime, anywhere. Notice these opportunities to engage your child and expose them to real-world STEM experiences. It can take time to learn how to notice these moments but once you start observing them you will begin to see them everywhere.


Is about understanding the natural world. Letting children explore and ask questions to find answers. Give them extra time while out on a walk to stop and look. Let them dump out toy baskets and put the items in different containers. In the bath play a game to see which toys float and which toys sink. When they are busy playing try not to interrupt their concentration, give them time to process and think.

STEM learning


When we think of technology we often think of electronics or the latest and greatest innovations but it can be so much more than that. Technology is using knowledge to change or manipulate the environment often resulting in the development of a product. Technology can also be used to describe the resulting products or tools.

So again with children go back to basics. For example using scissors to cut paper. We no longer see scissors as a piece of technology as they have been around for so long but for children just learning, this is a brand new tool that can help them learn a new skill. Technology isn’t just about teaching children how to use tools but also about teaching them that these tools can help expand our knowledge and our skills.


Engineering is all about design and building, especially if it helps to solve a problem. Children love taking things apart to figure out how they work, let them explore. Playing with blocks or building forts are both ways to use and learn skills needed for engineering.

STEM toy


Early math is more than just counting and learning numbers. Its logical thinking, reasoning, and discovery. Play with puzzles, measure furniture, sort items by size, or exploring shapes are all activities to support the development of early math skills. Feel free to expose your child to numbers and counting through songs, finger-plays, or real-world examples such as counting the number of snacks on their plate or the number of stairs they climb.

puzzle toys

Repetition is important to understanding and learning new skills. Children will often want to do something over and over again because they still have something to learn from it. So read the book one more time, drop the ball onto the floor again and again, build a tower for the tenth time. It may feel tedious to you but for your child it can be fascinating.

6 STEM Activities for Infants and Toddlers

Still feeling unsure or overwhelmed about trying STEM at home? Here are a few activities and materials that will help get you started.


Infants explore cause and effect when playing with rattles. They shake the rattle and it makes a noise then when they stop shaking the rattle the noise stops. Holding onto a rattle will also support a child’s fine motor grasp.

Building Blocks:

A must have toy for young children. Use the blocks to stack and engineer structures. Count how many blocks you use to build a tower. Let your child knock it down to see what happens.

block play

Sensory Bins:

Great opportunity for exploring. Sensory bins offer a wide variety of play and learning options. There many different skills children can engage during sensory play, including cause-and-effect, trial and error, and critical thinking.

science experiment

Science Experiment:

Mixing baking soda and vinegar is a great first science experiment. Babies will love watching the chemical reaction. As your child gets older let them start to mix the ingredients together themselves.

Bake Together:

Let your child help with measuring by scooping and pouring ingredients (math) or mixing the batter (science). Did you use a mixer (technology). Children love to watch at the oven door as the batter slowly bakes and turns from raw to cooked.


This is a great opportunity for STEM learning outside. Use gardening tools to dig in the soil for some worms. Plant seeds and watch as they grow, talk about how this happens to introduce plant biology.


Keep in mind there is no need to purchase STEM kits, flashcards, or “educational toys”. Much of STEM learning during the early years will happen naturally during play as they explore, discover and begin to develop skills. Formal teaching of STEM will come later on, for now support your child while they develop the skills they will need.

Remember STEM during the early years is all about nurturing their curiosity allowing them to build the foundational skills they will need for more complex STEM learning.

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