STEM vs. STEAM Learning in Early Childhood Education

Education | September 1, 2018

Education is a process that is consistently evolving as our world changes and new theories and practices are introduced based on the latest research. For example, the idea of STEM-based programs have been a popular topic of conversation. But lately, the conversations among educational experts have evolved to a new acronym: STEAM learning.

What’s the Difference?

“STEM” stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “STEAM” represents STEM, plus the arts. However, it’s not just about adding an art class into the mix.

Here are a three specific ways STEAM programs differ from the STEM-based learning:

  • The approach to problem-solving. The biggest difference between STEM vs. STEAM learning is found in problem-solving. STEM programs tend to explicitly focus on solving problems through scientific concepts. STEAM investigates the same concepts but does so through inquiry and problem-based learning methods used in the creative process.
  • The ways in which the brain is engaged. Most STEM programs are centered on concepts that specifically engage the left side of the brain. Adding art and design to teaching enables students to use both sides of their brain—analytical and creative.
  • The value of empathy and connection. Many psychologists have pointed to the fact that art can help cultivate empathy and rewire our brains. This is an important concept in STEAM learning that points students in the direction of 22nd-century skills—connection, care, community, and culture.

Why Are the Arts an Important Addition to STEAM Learning in Preschool?

As if names like Leonardo Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, and Albert Einstein (all of which displayed strong characteristics of using both sides of the brain) weren’t enough, including the arts in preschool STEM-based learning programs is important for a variety of reasons.

  • Adding the arts gives preschoolers the opportunity to demonstrate concepts in creative ways. They can create graphs, build models, illustrate STEM ideas with crayons or markers, or express their learning through descriptive language, stories, music, and dance.
  • Adding the arts leads to better performance with standardized testing. The University of Florida recently conducted research that shows how “on average, students who study the arts for 4 years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less.” This is just one of the numerous studies that highlight the value the arts can have on standardized test performance. Imagine how effective it can be when applied at the preschool level.
  • Adding the arts helps preschoolers develop an appreciation for creative problem-solving. Training in the arts has been shown to improve creativity and innovation. Preschoolers learn to approach issues with a critical mind and a positive attitude towards problem-solving.

How STEAM Learning is Making a Difference at the Gardner School

At the Gardner School, we could provide hundreds of examples of why STEAM education programs are important, especially for early childhood education. If you’re curious about STEAM learning, here are a few different ways we’re incorporating it to teach our students concepts around technologyengineeringmathematics, and the arts.

To learn more about our early childhood education curriculum or to discuss how we continue to embrace and apply STEAM education in the preschool classroom, schedule a tour at The Gardner School nearest you.