STEM Processes In Early Childhood Education


History of STEM

STEM is something we so often hear about in education, yet some of us may not truly have an understanding about what it includes. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. This curriculum was created to encourage teachers to teach all four disciplines as an intertwined approach where they all work together, rather than teaching them in separate capacities. Edweek shares that there are four C’s that STEM education works towards building within our students:

  1. Critical Thinking

  2. Creativity

  3. Communication

  4. Collaboration

All of these work together with the 21st century skills to help students learn the importance of learning in the world around them. To better understand STEM we first have to take a look at the history of STEM.


“In the 1990s, many education councils, such as the National Science Education Standards and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, helped guide U.S. educators’ classrooms with standards and guidelines that shaped their curriculum to better prepare K-12 students in STEM. And the 1990s was also one of the first times an acronym was used to define the topic of STEM” (10). Fast forward to 2017 and STEM is a major part in any early childhood classroom. “Stem is a movement to develop the deep mathematical and scientific underpinnings students need to be competitive in the 21st-century workforce” (1). What separates STEM from your typical early childhood math and science curriculum is showing students how, and why, you can use the scientific method in your everyday life. “Stem develops a set of thinking,  reasoning, teamwork, investigative, and creative skills that students can use in all areas of their lives” (1).


 Enhancing Student Learning

So why is STEM so important to students in an early childhood setting? “Research shows that the earlier we guide and support children’s wonder about the world -- and thereby identify opportunities for children to acquire foundational STEM skills -- the more successful they are in all areas of learning later on” (3). STEM improves children’s education in many ways. “STEM education helps to bridge the ethnic and gender gaps sometimes found in math and science fields,” (2). While STEM works to combine all subjects, we see a major influence in the fields of math and science. “Researchers have found that effective early mathematics education can enhance later learning and narrow achievement gaps,” (4).  “In your STEM lessons, you should purposefully connect and integrate content from math and science courses. Students can then begin to see that science and math are not isolated subjects, but work together to solve problems. This adds relevance to their math and science,” (1). STEM can have a huge impact on your students learning. It is a growing field that is becoming more relevant throughout the education field. To learn more about how STEM enhances student learning you can watch this short video.


Implementing STEM



Implementing STEM

Implementing STEM isn’t something that happens overnight. There are many key aspects and things to think about when bringing STEM into the classroom. Education Week shares six characteristics of a great STEM lesson:

  1. STEM lessons focus on real-world issues and problems.

  2. STEM lessons are guided by the engineering process.

  3. STEM lessons immerse students in hands-on inquiry and open-ended exploration.

  4. STEM lessons involve students in productive teamwork.

  5. STEM lessons apply rigorous math and science content your students are learning.

  6. STEM lessons allow for multiple right answers and reframe failure as a necessary part of learning.

When implementing STEM into our classrooms we must take all six of these characteristics into account. We have to make sure that our lessons address “real social, economic, and environmental problems,” (1).  Our lessons must be “open-ended, hands-on and collaborative, as well as have student generated decisions about solutions,” (1). STEM allows us to bring creativity into our classrooms through the materials we use, the tasks we want our students to complete, and how they come up with the solution. “What separates STEM from the traditional science and math education is the blended learning environment and showing students how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life.” (6).


Getting Students Involved

So how can we get the students involved? “STEM Bins are plastic boxes filled with an engineering manipulative of your choice, such as LEGO bricks, pattern blocks, Dixie cups, toothpicks and playdough, or popsicle sticks with Velcro. The boxes also contain sets of task cards that picture a variety of basic real world structures to inspire students to build” (5). The best part about STEM Bins is that they allow students to be working on tasks that are engaging and promote critical and creative thinking and they can be used in so many different ways. Brown gives us multiple ways that we can use STEM Bins in our classroom. The first is simply for early finishers, this allows teachers to give them meaningful work instead of just simply giving them more work to keep them busy. The second way we can utilize these are for morning work. This allows students to come in and wake up their brains without a lot of prep work for teachers. The third way we can use these bins are for literacy centers. By using them for literacy we allow students who cannot think of what to write about to first create something and then write about their creation. Brown tells us that “Bins provide an outlet for early finishers, they also serve as a potential reward for students to finish their work in the first place” (5), this may help motivate students who don’t want to work too!

STEM Bins are a simple tool that you can utilize so many ways. “Research shows strong links between creative play and language, physical, cognitive, and social development” (8). Using STEM Bins in your classroom is an easy way to promote creative play that will allow your students to practice skills that will allow them to be successful in the 21st century workforce.


Key STEM Items for an ECE Classroom

- Bristle Blocks

- iTrax Critical Thinking

- Gears

- Boggle

- Jenga

- Dominos

- Magnetic Blocks

- Rory’s Story Cubes

- Pattern Blocks

- Geoboards

- Popsicle Sticks with Velcro Dots

- Legos

- Memory Games

- White Boards

- Block Buddies

For more STEM supplies see Fun In First and A Dab of Glue Will Do.

For STEM task cards, challenges, and materials see Teachers Pay Teachers.


Educator Feedback

“The students in the classroom start their morning with Morning Tubs. They know as soon as they walk in that they are to start their tub and complete whatever task they have at hand. I feel as though the students are more eager to come in each day because they know they get to start their day out “playing”. The tubs have tasks that require students to build, create and solve math problems, and allow for their own creativity to emerge.”

- First Grade Teacher


Referring to Stem bins: “I love that these are open ended and that they utilize everyday items that are already found in my classroom."

- Kindergarten Teacher


“My friends have starting thinking outside the box with the materials. Students walk in the door excited to get started. Morning tubs have minimized our morning routine. Students don’t want to waste any time making lunch choices, putting away their folders, or stowing their backpacks because they know their time is already limited. After playing and talking and laughing, my friends come to the carpet and are ready to learn.”

- The Brown Bag Teacher (7)


We are on our 5th round of morning tubs, and my students still absolutely love this time in our day.  It gives them a chance to socialize with other students in the morning, while being creative and using their imaginations.”

- Fun In First



  1. Jolly, A. (2016, April 29). Six Characteristics of a Great STEM Lesson. Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

  2. Why Is STEM Education So Important. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

  3. . (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

  4. Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

  5. Brooke Brown on June 8, 2017. 5 Ways to Use STEM Bins to Encourage Creative Thinking. Retrieved October 01, 2017, from

  6. Hom, E. J. (2014, February 11). What is STEM Education? Retrieved October 01, 2017, from

  7. Reed, C. (2017). A 1st Grade Morning Work Alternative - The Brown Bag Teacher. The Brown Bag Teacher. Retrieved October 02, 2017, from

  8. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. (n.d.). Education and Early Childhood Development. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from

  9. PBS. (n.d.). STEM in Early Childhood Education. Retrieved October 30, 2017, from

  10. A Look At The History of STEM. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2017, from