STEM leaders in early childhood education

Heike and children doing a chemical experiment

When I first heard about Little Scientists in 2013, I was intrigued by the program’s inquiry-based approach to education. I had resigned from my position as secondary school teacher only a few months earlier and was looking for a new perspective, preferably in an organisation with a child-led, play-based approach.

In retrospect, I should have cheered and cried happy tears when I found out about the Little Scientists program because it offered exactly what I had dreamed of. Instead, my immediate thought was, “I’m not the right fit for this role. I don’t know anything about STEM teaching.” I was convinced that I didn’t possess the knowledge, skills and abilities required to teach educators how to engage children in these subjects. My experiences in school were of teachers presenting existing knowledge to children, plan outcomes and monitor children’s progress. Based on what I learned from my teachers, it seemed that STEM was hard and not everyone could facilitate it.

I was so surprised when I participated in a Little Scientists workshop for the first time! I experienced first-hand what STEM in an early childhood context could be like and I was hooked. This was the learning environment I had dreamed of as a child and so similar to how I made discoveries for myself outside of school. Realising that this was considered STEM learning was an eye-opener for me.

More than seven years later, I can share the most important insights from my own STEM journey:

  • You don’t need to love STEM exploration when you set out (although you will probably find yourself enjoying it once you give it a try). What matters is that you know how to facilitate a collaborative learning environment that encourages the children’s contributions.
  • Everyone can be a STEM learning facilitator in their setting, and you don’t need any more knowledge than you already have.
  • STEM inquiry is a vehicle for fostering your children’s lifelong curiosity, and gaining an understanding of STEM-related concepts is only one of many benefits of these child-led, hands-on practices.

Our STEM leader profiles introduce you to some wonderful early childhood educators who share their personal STEM journeys and examples from their daily practice. To recognise the importance of STEM leadership in early education, we have integrated our STEM leader program into this year’s awards for the first time. And you can be a part of it! Find all the details on our Early STEM Award page.

Avatar: Woman with brown eyes and brown hair up in bun
Article author: Heike Hendershot
National Training Manager

Heike manages the development of our workshop content and supports our training facilitators. A critical thinker with the ability to wonder, she believes in honouring each child’s individual skills and abilities.

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