Preschoolers get ready for school with STEM kits

By Mary Ellen Braks

Keep your preschoolers busy this summer with hands-on activities that encourage playful learning while exploring STEM concepts and reading. Preschoolers will find lots to discover with their parents and caregivers, using our new Ready for School with STEM kits.

Spokane County Library District in partnership with the Inland Northwest Early Learning Alliance (INWELA) received a grant from Thrive Washington to develop STEM kits for preschoolers. The grant started October 4, 2014, and ended March 31, 2018. 

Over the course of the grant, we developed a total of 786 kits, called “Ready for School with STEM”. We also provided 24 training sessions for childcare providers and librarians, created a STEM bookmark for, offered 199 STEM-related Play and Learn events, and created two commercials with KSPS Public Television advertising the STEM Kits (on YouTube here and here).

How do children learn STEM concepts?

STEM is part of what children are already doing: playing. As they explore their world, children love to ask questions, observe things around them, and experiment. All of these are part of STEM. Young children learn by playing.

Adults can help young children with STEM concepts by encouraging children with open-ended questions. These questions can help children with making predictions, providing evidence, problem solving, and estimating. Some examples include: “What do you think will happen next?”, “What can you do to change what happened?” and “How do you know?”

What is STEM for preschoolers?

For preschoolers, science includes topics such as nature, animals, dirt, water, dinosaurs, bugs, weights, magnets, and weather.

Technology covers the tools of science: magnifying glasses, measuring cups, rulers, magnets, and scales. Simple machines like gears, pulleys, and wheels are technology as well. Beginning coding is also fun to explore for this age group. The use of computers and digital devices is a small part of technology for preschoolers.

Engineering is building with blocks, LEGO bricks, boxes, and other materials. Children are planning, designing, and problem solving while they play and build.

Math for preschoolers includes shapes, counting, knowing their numbers, patterns, sorting, and one-to-one correspondence. 

Ready for School with STEM Kits

The kits are designed for children ages 3 to 5. They're a perfect way for early learning professionals and families to introduce science, technology, engineering and math to little ones. There are 16 different kits that focus on math, dinosaurs, weather, construction, water, dirt, and robotics (which features a Fisher Price Code-a-pillar™). Each kit contains books, lesson plans, and manipulatives.  

Our newest kits explore math concepts with rubber ducks, dominoes, bug counters, rekenreks (like small abacuses), buttons, and linking chains. Preschoolers can learn beginning coding skills using the Code-a-pillar by putting the pieces together to get the electronic caterpillar moving. The lesson plans include open-ended questions to ask, vocabulary to introduce, a list of books, and activities to do with children.

These kits are available to check out at Spokane County Library District, Spokane Public Libraries, Whitman County Libraries, Ritzville Public Library, and the Libraries of Stevens County. If you can’t make it in to a library to borrow a STEM kit, the lesson plans are available on the Spokane County Library District website at www.scld.org/ready-for-school-with-stem/

Not only will you have fun learning with your preschooler, but you will be helping your child develop early math, science, and literacy skills needed for kindergarten readiness.