Play to STEAM

May 3, 2017

Play-based learning as the building blocks to mastering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics

Equipping our children with the knowledge and tools that enable them to achieve self-efficacy with joy

What is it that we want our children to achieve through education? How do we expect education to prepare them to succeed in the 21st century? How will today’s education prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, many of which do not yet exist?

As educators, it is our responsibility to understand the expansive economic landscape that our children will contribute to in the future. It is incumbent upon us to give our students the educational experiences that will enable them to navigate the increased complexities and uncertainties of a rapidly evolving world.

Through education, children become shapers of society, contributors to world community and be able to take on the challenges of life with confidence. Education should continually inspire a curiosity and a desire for deep learning that is the basis for all innovation.

Educational curricula must meet the children where they are, in their own developmentally appropriate stage. Enabling children to collaboratively build knowledge through play empowers children to experiment and to discover, hypothesize and explore. Teachers create inspiring learning environments where students can be bold and inquisitive and try new things not hindered by fear.

Children work hard at play. They are fully committed to the task at hand. With full focus and determination, they invent scenes and stories, solve problems, and negotiate their way through unexpected situations. The students know what they want to achieve, and they approach it with enthusiasm. While at play, they work diligently and they attend to the task at hand, often completing it with great joy. At play, the students’ motivation comes from within, which allows students to learn the powerful lessons of trusting their own instincts, tackling problems, and drawing successful conclusions.

Through guided play with blocks, sand, balls, water, paint, and clay, children begin to understand logical scientific thinking, such as the concept of cause and effect. They also practice mathematical skills such as measurement, quantification, classification, counting, ordering, and part-whole relations. Guided play provides our children with a rich opportunity to experiment with mathematical concepts, which in turn lays the foundation for higher-order thinking in early years and later learning of formal STEAM concepts.

When we create opportunities for our children to learn through play – there is no longer a separation between the definitions of play and work. They beautifully blend together to create the optimal learning environment. As children discover information about the world and find their own place within it, we observe them creating and expressing themselves by making new objects or art. Teachers promote, observe and record enhanced creative problem solving, all of which is actively shared with others in the class. This builds the foundation upon which formal math and science skills can be further developed. Play also builds children’s social, emotional, and regulatory skills as they learn to cooperate with one another and adjust their own reactions and behaviors in order to collectively plan their activities.

As teachers, our role is to recognize the power of play and to use techniques such as scaffolding to guide the learning process. Scaffolding in education is used to move students progressively towards a stronger understanding and ultimately towards greater independence in learning. How does a teacher put this theory into practice? Very much in the same way that scaffolding is used in its traditional sense: a teacher will lend support to a child in a specific situation where it is required to guide the learning experience and remove the scaffolding, or reduce the amount as and when the child reaches higher levers of skill acquisition.

Teachers in today’s society understand that success in learning requires the learner to be at the center of the experience, making connections across disciplines and also across contextual settings. Children need to be presented opportunities to learn the same material in different settings and through different lenses, very much in line with the philosophies of STEAM education that encourage interdisciplinary learning. With this understanding, a teacher will then be able to create environments and guide experiences which foster learning through play. Through play, we can build the foundations for motivated, happy and productive children. These children will become contributors to society in the future building on a solid foundation of knowledge.

In conclusion, Guided-play in early childhood education serves two different growth needs, the first being learning about the world by experiencing it through play and the second being the ability to find an outlet for complex and conflicting emotions. As educators we need to have a great amount of flexibility, an ability to observe and guide children’s individual needs and a deep respect for the power of learning through play, which allows children to freely express themselves and creatively master reality. No human being can achieve his full potential if his creativity is stunted in childhood.

About Clarion:

Clarion is the leading progressive American school in the region, located near Downtown Dubai. Staffed by class teachers who all have a Master’s degree in Education from the top US universities, the curriculum is rich, meaningful and challenging allowing for children to deeply engage with their learning. The designed environment is to support children’s understanding that learning happens within themselves and not within a classroom.

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