When we think of STEM projects, we often think of busy boys in Reception designing, constructing and problem-solving using hands-on malleable materials, but what about STEM projects within our Early Years? Do these types of activities and projects have a place with our younger children? Are these skills beneficial to children’s learning and development within a smaller setting and environment?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
We recently embarked upon our own STEM project as a result of the children’s interests and following their lead in terms of developing their own learning; we didn’t plan for a STEM project to occur, but we were able to facilitate and support the children’s learning and development needs and interests, whilst encouraging our girls to explore and develop skills they may have not used before with the STEM materials and opportunities we provided as a result.
Our project began spontaneously as one of the children expressed an interest in dresses and patterns as well as the clothes/outfits of other children. After some quick research we also found out our local museum currently had a fashion exhibit running; with this in mind we set about transforming our playroom in to a fashion design studio.
We enhanced our areas with glossy fashion magazines, artists pencils and crayons, dress and mannequin design templates and a box of fabrics with scissors, glue and stapler nearby. Upon sharing with our parents the children’s current interest, one kindly offered the lend of her fully working sewing machine for the children to learn to operate as part of their project.
And so, we spent our morning flicking through the magazines, talking about our favourite styles, patterns and colours and then the children began using the design templates to not only draw and create their own dress designs, but also designing entire outfits; talking about the types of fabrics they could use too.
We then explored the local museum; first marvelling at and photographing fashion pieces and items from the 1950s and beyond, before spending significant amounts of time in the modern day fashion exhibition talking about how style has evolved, the prints and fabrics used in this particular exhibit, photographing the mannequins and their outfits from different angles and each choosing our favourite outfit/design.
We then delved into the history books and began trying on outfits from the medieval times and discussing how style has evolved – and how impractical the long flowy materials would be in modern times!
Back at the setting, the children explored the basket of fabrics and each chose their offcut.We then all gathered around the sewing machine and we discussed the different features and functions and hypothesised about how it would work; we then provided the children with a demonstration of the sewing machine and each child then took their own turn to operate the sewing machine completely independently (even our two year old!) to create their first stitch onto fabric; bringing their learning during this topic, full circle.
The children continued designing, creating and using the sewing machines for the duration of their session, gaining inspiration and ideas from the range of topical media and materials on offer in each area of the setting. We then printed off the photos we had taken at the museum and the children chatted about what they had seen and annotated the pictures with key information and facts they had learned during their research.
As a setting, we fully understand that each child learns and develops in different ways; some prefer to be hands on in their learning whilst others prefer to gain their information and learning from books, adults or their peers; by providing area enhancements as we did enabled all of the children to access independently resources and materials that best supported their own learning and development.
Similarly, STEM projects in the Early Years are few and far between. It is much more common for STEM projects to feature as part of the Reception or Year 1 curriculum and these sorts of projects are predominantly accessed by and planned for the boys in the setting or class and so the fact that this project captured the interest of our girls and allowed them to focus on and develop skills they hadn’t had the opportunity to before and really immerse themselves in their learning as they followed a shared interest.
The children that participated were aged from 2-7 years and they learned alongside each other, supported each other and utilised their individual skills and experiences and the project remained relevant and accessible for all, throughout.
As a home-based childcare setting, we are constantly following the children’s needs and interests and as with this project, it arose spontaneously and we used the resources, contacts and facilities we had to hand to enable this project to really grow and develop with the children’s interests and passion and as a result, the children were able to explore each element of fashion design for themselves whilst learning practical skills simultaneously.
We didn’t initially plan for this to be a ‘STEM project for girls’ but essentially that is what it quickly became and as a result we have now secured our own sewing machine to keep at the setting so the next project will allow the children to develop their project over a longer period and hopefully enable them to practice and hone the skills needed to combine and join fabrics to fashion their own items of clothing.
STEM projects are a wonderful way of engaging children in learning and allowing them to be hands on, creative and think critically, if this is something you would like to try in your setting or school, there are countless ideas and opportunities online (see below) or you could follow your children’s interests and provide opportunities for children to explore and use a wider range of media, materials and tools that allow them to explore a topic/interest holistically.
For more information on STEM projects: