What is STEM…
Some may think, STEM?! for toddlers?! for babies?! Of course, we think of teaching and using STEM for kids in high school and even in first grade. But, is it ever too early to start STEM? I always knew STEM as “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” but two librarians from the Brooklyn Public Library, a librarian from the Everett Public Library, and Early Childhood Literacy Consultant and Expert Saroj Ghoting gave a more detailed definition. The science portion is really a way of thinking, technology is a way of doing, engineering is a way of creating, and math is a way of measuring.
Within this new context, it was easy to see that toddlers and babies naturally engage in STEM every day. When they throw their full cereal bowl on the floor, they are practicing cause and effect and learning about gravity. When playing with blocks, a child is engaging in engineering, learning about cause and effect, and drawing conclusions.
Language, Vocabulary, and Communication
On a personal note, I had read many of Saroj Ghoting’s articles, so I was excited to hear her speak in person. (For more information on Ms. Ghoting, visit http://www.earlylit.net/). I don’t know anything about her personally, but, after hearing her talk, I would assume that if she had children, they are little geniuses. Her advice was wonderful for librarians but also for parents in general. For example, she explained that parents are now too quick to solve their children’s problems to the extent that children are not developing problem-solving skills. Also, when asking a child a question, one should wait at LEAST five to twelve seconds for the response. If we keep asking questions or ask a different question right away, we are not giving the child enough time to aurally process the question and respond. When playing with a per-verbal baby, we can discover their interest and follow their eyes to take their lead.
Shortly after I gave birth, I called my mom and told her that I had no idea what to do? She told me to talk to the baby…to just talk and narrate my day. So I did this. I was pleased to hear Ms. Ghoting explain that she tells parents and caregivers to constantly narrate. And, rather than using the “five cent word, use both the fifty cent word and the five cent word!” Use more than one word, too. Librarians can use a thesaurus and type up a list of words for parents to use with their children.
It is also important to ask “What” questions. As attendees, we got to experiment with this when we played with “baby paper” which is like a gel that a lighting designer would use in the theatre. It crinkles, is translucent, and, non-toxic! With partners, we each played with our piece of baby paper (encouraged by the facilitators to rub it on our faces and even put it in our mouths!)
After doing research, the Everett Public Library determined that most parents/caregivers are looking for a way to get out of the house. So, they started 90 minute STEM drop-in sessions. They have activity stations set up with suggested activities. They also provide suggested STEM vocabulary for the parents, and staff roams around. At the session, the library provides a postcard with “homework” and STEM tips for babies and toddlers.
The Brooklyn Public Library has a set of STEM Play recipes that provide the materials needed, what to do, what to say, the STEM connection, and a safety tip.
It was interesting to hear that the Everett Public Library initially received some negative feedback when they asked patrons what they thought of STEM activities for babies and toddlers. Rather than directly teaching babies and toddlers about STEM, the libraries provide space, resources, and direction for parents to understand how and direct their children who are already engaging in STEM.
I loved this presentation as it inspired a lot of ideas for incorporating STEM for babies and toddlers rather than just for older children.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.