STEM in the early years

In 2016, a group of educators from Catholic Education Western Australia explored Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education with young children. Sarah Denholm, the recently appointed director of Ruyton Early Learning at Ruyton Girls’ School, documented and shared their journey through the publication of the iBook STEM in the Early Years: A Journey.

Young children are capable and competent learners who have their own theories and thinking about the world around them. Educators should acknowledge children’s prior knowledge and foster their natural curiosity for STEM. Early experience with STEM helps build skills for problem solving, research, investigation, creativity, design and construction.

What research tells us about children’s brains and their capacity to learn
Children learn by building on their prior knowledge and experiences. Through home and school experiences, children gather information about the world around them — how things work and why. Opportunities for children to engage in scientific thinking processes through play-based learning allow them to engage in deep thinking. When children engage in deep learning they develop skills and competencies needed for life-long learning and thrive in today’s world.

STEM in everyday life and classroom
There are many opportunities for STEM in everyday life. The trick is to recognise these moments of learning and discovery. Walking down the street brings opportunities to notice, wonder and explore. A carefully planned classroom environment provides an invitation for exploration and wonder about the world around us. When educators design learning environments that invite children to problem solve, enquire, research and experiment it helps the development of skills and understanding for lifelong learning. The interdisciplinary nature of STEM learning and teaching supports educators to do this effectively.

Activities you can do with children
There are many examples of water-related STEM provocations and experiences you can create for the children throughout the iBook. You can use everyday items from the classroom and home to set up provocations. Loose parts and open-ended materials create opportunities for investigation and creation. The iBook includes a teacher’s toolkit with specific resources and ideas. Having a focus on water, our teachers found that a wet area with access to liquids and resources was a great place to start. A place where children had permission to pour, tip, squeeze, drip, float and sink at their leisure led to increased engagement and curiosity about water. Items such as buckets, spoons, straws, paintbrushes, ice and connecting pipes were made available for children to use in their experience and play. There are many opportunities for STEM in everyday life. The trick is to recognise these moments of learning and discovery.

What children learn
To meet the outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), there must be provision and planning for children to develop the capabilities for learning in our changing world. Educators should focus on developing children’s curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and cooperative skills.

Why I published the iBook
I was fortunate to work with the early childhood educators from Catholic Education WA as they began a journey into STEM education. We wanted to explore what STEM could look like with children in pre-compulsory schooling. The iBook shares stories of educators working in various contexts, who had different levels of teaching experiences. Together, our aim was to increase STEM learning and teaching experiences and improved education outcomes for children. The iBook celebrates the journey of the educators to improve pedagogy practice and explore STEM in the early years. The iBook also showcases the capabilities and strengths of young children.

STEM in the Early Years: A Journey is available to download for free from the iTunes store:

Sarah Denholm is a passionate early childhood educator from Perth, Western Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood from Curtin University and a Professional Certificate of Instructional Leadership from The University of Melbourne. Her personal educational philosophy is play based and inquiry led, and takes inspiration from the work and research from Reggio Emilia and nature pedagogy practices. Sarah is passionate about learning environments, pedagogical documentation, and working with families and communities to make learning visible. At the time of the iBook’s publication, Sarah was working as an early childhood consultant for Catholic Education in WA.

Reproduced courtesy of Early Horizons 6.1 with the permission of ASG.


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