18 January, 2022 | Posted by Marguerita Magennis

Collaborative Partnerships: Supporting Parents to Enhance the Language of STEAM

Collaborative Partnerships: Supporting Parents to Enhance the Language of STEAM

As a parent of three not-so-small boys anymore, it has always been my mission to instil confidence, resilience, and self-confidence in my children.

Looking back I have to say I think I managed this successfully, but not without some hurdles and some help along the way.

These three are young men now, and successful young men, but during those early years there was a need to make sure they developed the concepts needed to ensure their capabilities of today.

As parents, we should nurture the innate curiosity of our children, drawing on their naturally inquisitive minds, and enabling their observant nature, and keenness to explore new things.

We won’t always get it right, and often we will even find out new things ourselves along the way, but that is what being a parent is about, working with your child, nurturing your child and, engaging and supporting your child as we learn together what fits best for their development.

As practitioners supporting parents, it is vital to work in a collaborative way to ensure that the learning taking place in the setting is reinforced at home, and in order to achieve this, we need to listen to parents, take on board their comments and concerns, but ultimately to make sure that parents have the resources and awareness of what we are trying to achieve.

This being said, it is vital that we act on the knowledge that young children are born with the tools they need to engage with STEAM, they are naturally curious, they will ask questions, investigate new things, and make independent attempts to engage with and solve problems if they are left to do so; but with parent and practitioner support these STEAM concepts can be significantly boosted.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths, and it provides children with the underpinning concepts that are needed to become creative, innovative thinkers, and solving, problems independently in today’s world.

Working collaboratively with parents to promote and enhance the language of STEAM is an important part of our daily routine, and below we see some of the ways – these initial STEAM concepts can be expanded on at home as well as in the setting.

  • Children love to ask questions! Children are born with inquisitive minds, they just love to know about everything going on around them, resulting in those ever-persistent questions, “why” “how” “when” “what is that for”… As practitioners and parents, we need to take their lead from this incessant questioning, welcome their interactions, and explain and talk to our children. Never worry that you might not know the answer, think of the fun you can have finding it out together using the internet or other resources to explore new and interesting topics. This idea of extending the learning or the concept that has been introduced is something that we should continue between home and school, encouraging children to retrieve the initial concept, re-engage with it, and move their learning to the next level (Vygotsky). Remember by answering the child’s questions, we are expanding on concepts children have already explored and investigated independently.
  • Use the Language of STEAM in everyday activities! STEAM isn’t something we should engage with for a one-off activity – it isn’t just about taking out the blocks to engage with Engineering, or making a volcano to demonstrate a science activity, it is much more, particularly when we are working with younger children. The language of STEAM is everywhere in all our daily activities. We continually engage with STEAM in real-life situations, therefore, using language like friction and movement or motion when telling a child about slippery surfaces, or on a windy day; discussing boiling points, when you make a cup of tea, freezing when you remove food from the freezer, throwing or kicking a ball and introducing force and gravity into the language. Everyday occurrences that children see and understand, allowing them to relate the concept to other situations to further the emerging concept.
  • Modern technology supporting STEAM concepts! Today’s children are the digital natives of the future, they were born into a society where technology is everywhere. TV’s, smartphones, digital cameras, iPad, and access to the internet at our fingertips; children can obtain knowledge and information about almost anything (age-appropriate and with supervision). Children can engage with educational games and programmes that will help introduce emerging concepts of STEAM both at home and in school settings. But technology is about more than iPads and laptops or internet access, technology includes things like digital tape measures, allowing children to engage with an interactive whiteboard, interactive books and toys, robots and remote control cars – turn right, turn left, go in a circle or move forward and backwards; light tables where children can begin to examine in greater detail items they have collected on a nature walk, (these can be easily made at home with lots of examples on YouTube). The important thing at home and at school is to continually engage with the language of STEAM so that the concepts are being reinforced and the learning continues to emerge.
  • Thinking like an engineer with your child! Encouraging young children to solve their own problems is an important element of STEAM. Helping your child to become a critical thinker and realise that a problem can have numerous solutions, is one of the best ways of starting the process of becoming an innovative thinker and expanding their creative mind. Playing with your child while they use LEGO, blocks, different shapes, sizes, weights help to promote a positive learning environment for the language and concept of STEAM. Working with your child as they learn to cut out shapes, discuss textures, and come up with their own creations (combining Engineering and Art). Discussing textures, investigating which materials work best and exploring numerous possibilities, encouraging children to tweak their design, make improvements and consider the advantages and disadvantages of what they have created, will enhance emerging concepts and reinforce the language of STEAM in a safe, friendly space.
  • Make your Home into a STEAM friendly Space! Try to introduce the language of STEAM into your home, particularly throughout Christmas, with fairy lights a glow – what makes them shine and twinkle to help Santa find us! Chat about electricity, where does it come from, why is it colder during winter, what is snow, why does it go dark at night, where does the moon come from? All these questions introduce the language of STEAM. Spend some time playing family games, jigsaw puzzles, and building Lego and Meccano. Let your children help you put up decorations and be involved in DIY projects so they can discuss and explore the everyday emerging concepts of STEAM which are around us.

Working in Partnership to Enhance STEAM Language

A positive working relationship between home and school makes the learning experience much more positive and successful (O’Toole, 2019).

It is through interaction with children, improving the nature and quality of talk with children, and using open-ended questions that we can help to support emerging concepts.

Giving children time to answer and opportunities to ask as many questions as they need to all help to enhance the learning taking place within the setting.

Using STEAM language in our everyday discussions and involving our children in as many experiences as we can within the home, even when cooking the evening meal, chatting about the heat, any changes in the texture of food, boiling an egg, why is it soft to begin with and then hard/solid when it has been cooked.

The parent can encourage the child’s oral language and particularly the language of STEAM by creating opportunities and spaces for them to talk, keeping the conversation moving, and pausing often to allow the children time to think, process, and respond.

Remember small children need time to process a question or query – so don’t overcrowd them by continuing to talk or by asking something else; give them time to process with a pause.

By engaging in this way Parents are supporting and introducing concepts of STEAM to complement and support the learning taking place in the setting, and this collaborative process ensures that children are continually moving forward in their understanding of new and emerging concepts.

WATCH: National STEAM Day at Portobello Montessori School


Further Reading

O’Toole et al (2019) Parental Involvement Engagement and Partnership in their children’s education during the Primary School Years, Dublin: National Parents Council.

Thomas et al (2020) Parent Involvement and its influence on children’s STEM learning: A Review of Research. The University of Nebraska.

Zucker et al(2021) Expectancy – value theory and preschool parental involvement in informal STEM learning, in Journal of Applied Development Psychology (Vol 76).

About the Author

Marguerita Magennis Ph.D. MA. BA Hons, Course Coordinator Masters in Early Childhood Studies & Lead Lecturer BA Hons degree Early Childhood Studies at Portobello Institute. Read more on Dr M's Thought's blog here.

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