A friend of mine told me about STEM preschools the other day. At first I thought she was kidding. But I didn’t have to look hard. They’re everywhere! It seems that if parents are intent about making sure their children understand Science, Technology, Engineering and Math all they have to do is sign up for a Tiny Tot STEM Academy.
Some of these schools have hands-on activities that don’t look too bad overall. Really. Many of us like to introduce children to lovely STEM-like projects and that includes visiting science museums. Most parents and educators find it an enjoyable perk to help little kids understand the world around them.
But often the curriculum for these preschools is overly structured. There is too much of a focus on memorization, counting, and reciting. Children are pushed too soon to predict, reason, hypothesize and problem solve.
And the heavy emphasis on preschool STEM instruction, and STEM in general, is too contrived. There is a “Chicken Little” message attached to it that is reminiscent of the old science fears generated after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. Those fears have long been debunked.
It is also important to note that the acronym STEM is highly political. Repetitively we have been told about a STEM shortage in this country. But there are those who question this claim. Even Forbes raises questions. See here!
Others believe that STEM means something different. That it is referring to vocational-technical jobs in corporations and/or industry.
No matter what it means, you have to wonder about the heavy STEM emphasis with small children.
Parents hear repetitive messages that their children will fail if they don’t keep up. So they allow them to be pushed harder and faster, thinking it’s good for them and that it will help them to get ahead. Children, we are all told, must compete in the 21st century global economy.
Along with this, of course, there are nonprofit programs aplenty, like Discovery Education that promote Common Core State Standards (CCSS), even though the standards are thus far primarily in reading and math.
Then there is Destination Imagination. They describe a sense of urgency when it comes to STEM and “real-world issues.” The sponsors are 3M, Motorola Solutions Foundation, IBM, and PEARSON. They have workbooks and materials. No surprise there.
The real science Common Core will be called Next Generation Science. Watch for it. It is on its way to a school near you if it hasn’t already arrived. And like CCSS, it is anyone’s guess who devised these standards and what they will mean to teaching STEM subjects to children in the long run.
The sponsors of Common Core Science are some of the usual groups: The Carnegie Corporation of New York, The GE Foundation, The Noyce Foundation, The Cisco Foundation and Du Pont. I wouldn’t have a problem with these groups supporting science for young children, if I knew they really supported public education in general. But there is too much of an anti-public school agenda.
Much is tightly organized—staged. And is it really advantageous to steer young children into STEM-only activities in preschool? It may seem harmless, even helpful, to show children how to like these subjects, but with too many structured activities, do adults run the risk of turning children off to STEM altogether?
Young children especially need a healthy balance of activities which includes a lot of play and opportunities to work things out on their own. Too much structure in one area is detrimental.
In general, should there be any specialized schools for children when they are so young?
Shouldn’t the idea of a career focus be found more at the high school level, preferably during a student’s senior year? Many students don’t know what they want to do even when they enter college, and that is really alright!
I’m not saying you can’t help develop a young child’s interest in any of these subjects. On the contrary. It just shouldn’t be to the exclusion of other subjects or to pressure and shape students to fit into the global economy…especially a world that is many years down the road.
For very young children it seems like programs dedicated to STEM are more trendy than productive.
The concerns about real STEM problems in the future are a reality. Serious world problems will need to be solved.
But it will take minds that are curious and filled with wonder…not standardized robots with homogenized thinking. The solutions certainly won’t come from prefabricated workbooks and everyone working on the exact same page all the time.
It does children no good to be exposed to tightly designed activities that allow for no breathing room or differences.
My advice: find well-rounded preschools that value the child, their interests and their developmental needs, and not the hyped programs emphasizing specific subjects and/or the global economy.
Once again, let children be children. They won’t disappoint.