Artistic activities regularly take place in early childhood classrooms and within the homes of young children. That’s because the arts are a natural part of early childhood.
Kids love to finger-paint, sculpt with clay, and experiment with colors and textures. Young children also love the exploration that comes with artistic activities, and (if we’re honest) the ability to get a little bit messy!
But a young child’s passion and enthusiasm for art isn’t just good for her emerging creativity (which is certainly is), but it’s also an amazing way to lay a foundation for her developing STEM education.
All that’s required is adding an A to STEM to form STEAM!
Adding the A (for art) to the STEM acronym allows the parents and teachers of young children to use the arts to better teach essential concepts of science, technology, engineering, and math.
It just takes a little bit of forward-thinking and planning on the part of adults to turn art activities into opportunities for STEAM learning.
1. Use Art as An Opportunity to MakePredictions and Observations
A significant aspect of STEM learning lies in children making predictions and observations.
When kids can predict and observe the scientific processes happening around them, they are not only developing critical communications skills, but they are also beginning to think and act like scientists!
Art activities are a great way to promote active learning in which children gain new information through making predictions and observations.
One of the simplest activities to reinforce this idea is having children mix colors of paint (like the activity below from learning4kids.net):
- Ask children what they think will happen when the colors combine (prediction).
- Then ask them what actually happens when they complete the activity (observation).
- Discuss with children why the predictions did or did match the observations
By asking these types of questions, adults aren’t just providing information, but are helping young children actually investigate answers to questions themselves, just like a real scientist!
2. Create Art Using Natural Materials
Great art doesn’t just come from paper and paint. It can come from scientific materials found in nature!
Flowers, grasses, leaves, and even sand or dirt can lead to some amazing art, even if these items are simply pressed onto contact paper or glued onto construction paper to form a collage. Click the link below to see a detailed activity from notimeforflashcards.com.
Or you can find some larger items, like sticks or pinecones, and encourage children to use those natural materials as their paintbrushes like ParentingChaos did in their Painting with Pinecones activity linked below.
By collecting and using natural and scientific art materials, you can begin conversations with young children about life science, plant growth, and the cycle of the seasons.
3. Think of Artistic Tools as Technology
Within early childhood education, caregivers and teachers can think of technology as tools to develop a child’s fine and gross motor skills.
This includes the tools children use in their artistic endeavors as well!
Scissors, crayons, pencils, markers, paintbrushes, hole-punches, eye-droppers, and instruments to shape clay are all tools (or forms of technology) that help children create original works of art.
Explaining to children that they are using technology to create their masterpieces can open up discussions about how these tools were designed, how they assist in problem-solving, and other ways that the technology can be utilized. You can even start looking for alternative tools to create art.
4. Get Hands-On to Reinforce Math Concepts
It’s no secret that kids like to learn by using their hands. Whether they’re drawing, molding, or exploring various materials, young children greatly benefit from hands-on learning.
This is especially true when it comes to exploring math concepts, specifically patterns.
Young children who can recognize patterns are much more likely to have success in mathematical learning down the road.
There are many ways to get hands-on to explain and explore patterns, from making patterned shoestring necklaces from colored pasta, to practicing making patterns with finger paint, to making clay “kebobs”. As children master simple patterns (like red-blue-red-blue), encourage them to repeat these hands-on art activities by using more complicated patterns with multiple colors.
5. Have Engineering and Design Challenges in Mind
As you notice children exploring artistic materials throughout the day, have some design and engineering challenges in mind that you can suggest to guide their play.
For example, if children are using clay, challenge them to use the clay to design and construct a maze for a marble or figure to move through. Or if they’re exploring construction paper, challenge then to design and create a 3D object.When adults have some suggestions ready to go, they can give children ample opportunities to learn about design and engineering through artistic and open-ended activities.
By incorporating these fun and creative activities into your home or classroom, you will not only satisfy young children’s natural desire for artistic learning, but you will also be teaching them more about science, technology, engineering, and math.
And, as Einstein once said, adding the study of art to the study of science is incredibly valuable because, “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”