STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM education is becoming increasingly important in our society as technology continues to advance and pervade all aspects of our lives. But getting educated in STEM does not have to just take place in the traditional classroom. STEM can also be incorporated in a big way into the concept and design of outdoor learning environments to give kids early exposure in STEM in a fun and approachable way.
Science is everywhere on the playground! From the botanical planting gardens to the weather arbors. The basic rules of science can be explored through block play. Children can experiment with weight and balance, gravity and cause and effect.
Technology may not be thriving on todays playgrounds but there are components here that will advance a child’s motor skills needed to use and manipulate technological devices. Components such as block and sand play, construction and art will develop a child’s skills and enhance coordination. These types of activities also enhance and encourage a child’s imagination which is the very start of developing new technologies that can affect our lives in profound ways.
Outdoor learning environments will drive the imagination of future engineers, architects and builders. Sand play is a major inspiration for children. Sand areas should be deep enough to dig and dredge with tools. When water is incorporated into sand play, children can learn and incorporate simple engineering concepts and enhance their problem solving skills. With building blocks, children are able to build their own structures and create unique designs. They can learn what works and what doesn’t and why.
Abacus rails may be incorporated into arbors and play panels to help children with counting and sorting. Once again, building blocks also assist in a child’s understanding of quantities and measurements and help children understand basic math concepts like numbers, shapes and counting. There are also many musical components available on outdoor learning environments. Music and math go hand in hand. From geometry and patterns to numbers, playing music can actually strengthen a child’s math skills in a significant way.
Art is often incorporated into the STEM curriculum which is sometimes referred to as STEAM. Developing ones artistic side is critical to foster imagination which, in turn, has a positive effect on STEM education.
Art isles, painting stations and sand areas allow children to explore their imaginations. Painting and sand sculpting are excellent ways in which children are able to express themselves artistically.
So as can be seen by the examples above, STEM education and playing on a playground or on an outdoor learning environment are not mutually exclusive. Children’s ability to absorb and understand STEM concepts can be fostered and greatly enhanced by them spending time on well designed playgrounds and outdoor learning environments. STEM incorporation on the playground helps to develop critical thinking, reasoning, teamwork, investigative and creative skills that children can use everyday.