What Are the Best STEM Activities for Young Children? Why a Creation Station Is the Answer

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is the biggest thing going in education today. There are STEM classes, STEM books, STEM teachers, STEM toys, and STEM camps. Parents – worried about their kids' futures and their ability to get good-paying jobs – think STEM is the answer to all their concerns. Businesses are capitalizing on this by slapping STEM labels on their products, jacking up the prices, and peddling them to anxiety-ridden moms and dads. Even preschool and kindergarten teachers are under tremendous pressure to include STEM activities in their routines.

Children in this kindergarten class made Creation Station items (a sea turtle, fish, and lobster) based on the theme, Under the Sea.

But, those of us with a background in early childhood education know the last thing little kids need are boring teacher-directed lectures and lessons about science, technology, engineering, and math. To 4 and 5-year-olds, these are largely meaningless, terribly boring, and not at all developmentally appropriate. Young learners need hands-on activities that get them thinking and problem-solving. That's why every preschool and kindergarten needs its own Creation Station.

A Creation Station is easy to implement in any classroom. The teacher (or a parent-helper) simply needs to collect recyclable materials – bottle caps, egg cartons, packing peanuts, ribbon, string, TV dinner containers, bubble wrap, Popsicle sticks, toilet paper rolls, toothpicks – and place them in a corner of the room. During the children's Open-Play Period, they may choose to make something at the Creation Station with the recycled materials and glue. They can make whatever they desire: a piece of art, a car, a rocket ship, a hat, a monster, a playground, a puppet theater, a catapult, a house. Putting their materials together in a meaningful way – to look pleasing or to be functional – is a great feat of design and engineering. It beats any packaged STEM kit that companies are now hawking.

Here are some suggestions for establishing a successful Creation Station in your child's classroom:

  • Have a collection basket in the school's entryway where parents can donate recycled materials for the Creation Station. That way you'll have plenty of unique materials and the burden for gathering them will not fall on the teacher.
  • Have a parent-helper assigned to the Creation Station. It's a great idea to have a mom or dad there to use a hot glue gun. Kids get frustrated waiting for regular glue to dry, but a glue gun works instantly. Parents love doing this or it makes them feel needed!
  • Keep Creation Station as an optional activity. Like art projects, children should not be forced to participate. That's counter-productive. You want children to do Creation Station when they're feeling creative and focused. Some kids will want to do it every day, some kids never. That's fine.
  • Let kids shows their creations during Circle Time or Snack Time. Let them explain what it is, how they made it, and what they'll do with it.
  • Educate parents about the value of Creation Station. When I first started doing it in my preschool classroom, some parents would roll their eyes in disgust when they saw their child's creation. Some would not even want to take it home! Before starting Creation Station, remind parents that these creations represent great feats of imagination, engineering, design, and architecture and should not be demeaned. With such an explanation, most parents will get it...but, sadly, not all.

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