What’s the big deal about STEAM learning? Why are schools talking about it and teachers trying to incorporate it? To put it simply... It gives children a process to build a growth mindset...with actual steps. It also aims to integrate learning in real life situations by combining different subjects like science, technology, engineering, art, and math so learning is connected and children can learn organically without having to make giant leaps from one subject to another.
If you would like to encourage a growth mindset in your child using STEAM learning but are not ready to launch an entire STEAM project, fear not. There are many smaller concepts that make STEAM so effective that you can practice right at home that will not only help your student build these muscles when they do use them at school, but will take their open-ended play to the next level and pave the road for new challenges and excitement in learning.
The good news...you are probably already incorporating some of these tools into your open-ended play! As you read through these concepts that are essential to STEAM learning, make a note of one or two things you can be more purposeful with as you encourage your child in their play. Though the changes you help your child make now to the way they approach problem-solving may seem small, just like changing the direction of your car by a few degrees, over the course of a long trip or years in a child’s life, those few degrees can make a big difference in the long run and greatly impact the depth of their critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills. Once your child starts to practice this approach to problem-solving, they will naturally start to incorporate these concepts on their own in every area of life.
Key elements in STEAM learning you can practice at home
NOTE: Below are concepts used in STEAM learning and though they do not represent an entire steam project without including all the STEAM subjects, they are key areas to work on that will help in enriching open-ended play, building a growth mindset, and communicating with others.
STEP ONE: Identify the Problem
Your child is playing in the other room and you hear frustrated sounds, a scream, and a toy being thrown on the ground. As parents, one of our first impulses is to help, which often looks like us giving the solution to whatever problem they are facing so they continue to play and we can continue doing what we were doing. The first step to STEAM thinking... DON’T take away or solve the problem FOR them. Come alongside them and encourage them to come up with creative solutions TOGETHER with whomever they are playing with.
To begin, Identify and talk through what the specific problem is they are trying to solve. The great news is that open-ended play (by its very nature) is full of roadblocks waiting to be removed and detours waiting to be paved. In order to understand the problem they also need to be able to identify where it is they want to go and why they can’t get there. In essence, they need to begin with the end in mind.
STEP TWO: Collect details about the problem
In order to come up with a creative solution, encourage your child to look closer at the problem and gather as much information as they can about why the problem exists and what is contributing to it. Most children skip this part and go immediately to trying solutions without gathering information, and when a poorly thought out solution doesn’t work, they get frustrated and abandon the play or project altogether because they feel defeated. Going into detail with whatever problem they are facing (and collecting clues like a mystery to be solved) will not only help them to succeed, but also teach them to appreciate the problem itself by becoming curious instead of giving up. This is also the step where you can teach them something they need to know in order to solve the problem (how much "teaching" is needed will depend on age and skill level).
STEP THREE - Collaborate to come up with solutions
Collaborating means communicating with each other as a team to build on each other’s ideas. This means having meaningful dialogue back and forth, bouncing ideas off each other, and taking a piece of someone else’s idea and adding a bit of yours to make a new combination or idea. If your child is used to playing or building alone, encourage them to work as a team with siblings, friends, or with you to create a solution together by taking turns in decision making. This is easier said than done because it’s most common for one person to make all the decisions instead of taking the time to listen and learn from different ideas until everyone is on the same page. As you probably have experienced (in any group project ever), communicating and collaborating takes much more time than working alone, but in order to build STEAM skills, learning to work together as a team is key. You can demonstrate what it looks like to be a patient listener, to stay positive, and to make sure that everyone participating feels heard and gets to contribute.
STEP FOUR - Test different solutions
This is the fun part (and may happen multiple times if one solution doesn’t work and they go back to the collaborating step). If approached with thoughtful curiosity, a sense of fun, and no set expectation of solving the problem right away, trying (and even failing) at finding a solution can be an adventure in itself and even give your child new ideas to solve the problem! Many brilliant inventions and ideas were made when something didn’t go to plan, and having to work hard to succeed makes the victory that much sweeter when a successful solution is found!
STEP FIVE - Present the solution (and get feedback)
This is when they get to show someone not already on the team what they came up with and demonstrate their solution along with an explanation about their thought process. This not only gives them practice articulating their thoughts and presenting their ideas, but allows for feedback from others and practice taking constructive criticism and using it for growth.
STEP SIX - Use Feedback
This step is when the feedback given is taken and used to refine the solution even further and make any necessary changes. Sometimes this means starting the process over, and sometimes it just means adjusting something a bit to make it even better.
It's amazing how the tools for successful play and problem-solving are so applicable to us as adults as well as children and as is always the case with parenting, we see our own attitudes reflected in our kids and can sometimes identify the areas where work is needed because that is where we struggle ourselves in the problem-solving process. If we take the time to listen to our own frustration and work through it using these steps, we will be better able to help our children do the same and even share with them times where we needed to persist in order to find the road ahead.
Enjoy the Journey,