Joint Position Statement on
Early Childhood STEM Education
This Position Statement has been co-developed by Charles Sturt University’s STEM Education Research Group, and Little Scientists Australia, an initiative of FROEBEL Australia. Together, we have taken actions to foster effective early childhood STEM education through our research, advocacy, and professional engagement.
Through this Position Statement, we give recognition to the importance of inquiry-based STEM exploration in early childhood education and highlight the critical foundations it provides for children’s STEM learning journeys, lifelong curiosity, and appreciation for STEM.
This Position Statement recommends meaningful actions for early childhood educators, service managers, and policy makers to support the provision of high-quality, evidence-based STEM education opportunities in early childhood.
In essence, STEM is about awe and wonder, and using the knowledge and processes of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to help children and educators pose, ponder, and solve problems that are meaningful to their worlds and contexts.
Research suggests that the early childhood years (birth to 8 years of age) lay the foundation for future learning in STEM. Early, meaningful experiences of science have been found to enhance children’s belief in their ability to learn, and such experiences trigger an appreciation for science and its value to everyday life. Similarly, the mathematical skills developed at an early age are strong predictors of later academic success. Early STEM education supports children on a journey towards STEM opportunities in their futures.
Studies have also shown that early childhood environments are rich in opportunities for discovery and research, and that science, mathematics, engineering or technologies can be naturally integrated through the activity of the child. However, some early childhood educators experience uncertainty in relation to STEM content, and this can impact their confidence in STEM education. Educator participation in high-quality, sustained STEM professional learning has been found to promote positive attitudes and increase confidence in STEM education.
STEM education begins in early childhood
If you want to know how to “do STEM”, look at our youngest children. Every day, young children are curious, creative, and do not hesitate to try things out. They notice things, wonder about them, and explore. They ask questions, investigate, and seek to understand. They use their own capacities in resourceful ways, and they are not afraid to call upon the resourcefulness of others when they need help, or when they want to share curiosities and discoveries with others. We believe that to discover the wonders of STEM, children need to be given the opportunity to explore the world in a nurturing and playful environment that scaffolds their eagerness to learn.
STEM education should take its lead from early childhood education
STEM education should not be seen as an add-on to early childhood education. It is our position that effective STEM education is, at its core, about integrating curriculum areas in meaningful ways – something early childhood educators have always done well, through their emphasis on child-led play, inquiry and investigation. We believe that early childhood educators are our original leaders of integrated curriculum approaches such as STEM.
Our advice to early childhood educators
- Take guidance from children’s cues and questions. Support children to be “problem posers” as well as “problem solvers”.
- It’s not only ok—but great!—to “not know”. “Not knowing” opens up possibilities for exploring and learning collaboratively with children.
- Many children delight in “big words” and technical terms. Feel confident to use these terms to help children understand and label what they are noticing and experiencing.
- Proudly make use of your everyday resources for STEM education. Recycle, repurpose, adapt, and create your own resources.
- If you have access to formal tools and equipment for STEM, have confidence in children’s ability to use these, both in “technically correct” ways and for their own purposes.
Our advice to early childhood service managers
Provide your educators with access to regular, high-quality STEM professional learning.
- Some educators need a bit of guidance to see how STEM is part of their everyday practice, and most thrive when given the opportunity to share their STEM practices with others.
- Involve families in everyday STEM explorations. Invite parents and caregivers to continue
investigations at home, to listen to children’s ideas, and to go through the recycling bin
to look for materials to use for STEM learning. The bigger the group of researchers, the
Our advice to early childhood policy makers
- Provide sustained funding for high-quality early childhood STEM initiatives. Research
shows that early positive outcomes in STEM enhance children’s STEM achievement at
school and later in life.
- Dedicate funding for research that promotes high-quality STEM education in early
childhood. Continuous improvement requires meaningful evidence and responsiveness
to current educational contexts.