You see the term “STEAM” in the titles and descriptions of all sorts of kids crafts and activities on Pinterest. But what makes something a STEAM activity? And what is the difference between a STEAM project and a craft? With guided questioning and mindful teaching, you can maximize your child’s learning with each STEAM project your kids do!
I love kids crafts. Crafting is fun, social, educational and (usually) has a pretty cool end result. A STEAM project can be all these things, but it has an additional layer of critical thinking and/or discovery. Our most recent STEAM project was experimenting with ice chalk and oil (which was fun and very, very messy!). Click here for the ice chalk recipe I used from Learn Play Imagine.
(The STEAM acronym was developed by the Rhode Island School of Design to encourage corporations, research institutions, and education systems to include Art & Design in STEM programs in order to drive forward innovation and grow our economy.)
5 Ways to Maximize Learning Through STEAM Projects
- Make observations: A key step in the scientific method is making observations. Kids can use their five senses to observe what is happening during the project. Ask them questions to help guide these observations. “What do you smell/hear/feel as you are drawing with the ice chalk? How did the appearance of the ice change when it was mixed with the oil?”
- Make a hypothesis: An essential part of scientific thinking is to make an educated guess about what will happen during an experiment or activity. We can guide kids to use their prior knowledge to make their hypothesis. “Remember what happened when we mixed the colored ice cubes the other day?…What do you think will happen this time when the yellow and blue chalk ice mix?” Or even let them make a wild guess and test it out! “What do you think will happen if you try to draw on the grass/tree trunk/mailbox?” And have them state a reason… “Oh yeah? Why do you think that?” If kids learn at an early age to approach new experiences in a scientific manner, they will be primed to succeed in elementary school (and even later on with standardized testing)!
- Analyze the results: While observations are a statement of what happened and what they observed, analysis allows kids to use critical thinking skills to ask WHY something happened. “Why do you think the ice colors formed droplets when they melted on the oil?” They may not come up with the ‘right’ answer, but the process of thinking it through helps kids’ brains to practice working through tough questions (and helps them learn not to give up when they encounter a difficult problem!).
- Build vocabulary: Little kids may not fully understand all the Big Words associated with science concepts, but there is nothing wrong with introducing them to these words at an early age! When kids hear vocabulary words repeated often, they will begin to work them into their everyday speech. Key vocabulary for the ice chalk activity: LIQUID and SOLID, PRIMARY COLORS and SECONDARY COLORS. (Bonus vocabulary for ice chalk: COLLOID! Much like slime, when the ice chalk melts it becomes a COLLOID, meaning it acts like both a liquid and a solid.)
- Practice counting: At around 3 to 4 years, kids are starting to learn numbers and counting skills. Take advantage of any activity you can to practice counting and simple math so that it becomes second nature to your preschooler. “How many chalk cubes are there? How many cubes are blue/green/yellow? Can you make 3 lines with the pink chalk?”