If you’ve ever watched children at play, you know they are doing real work. Whether it’s building with blocks, making up the rules of a game or inventing an intricate story, children are engaging in real cognitive, social and emotional work through play.
This is particularly true of STEM or STEAM activities. STEM (short for science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (which adds art into the mix) play enable children to explore how the world works and express their inner creativity. This type of play reflects a child’s natural scientific and creative approach to the world. When engaging in play-based STEAM, children gain foundational early skills such as patterning, an early math skill, or sequencing which is essential for learning to read.
“Perspective-changing, inspiring and engaging opportunities happen when children are exposed to hands-on learning in environments that are exciting and fun,” says Nichole Myles, executive director of the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. "These experiences can help learners discover their passion and uncover their gifts.”
At the Children’s Museum, a non-profit in downtown Charleston, children can find all sorts of STEM and STEAM activities that build and retain skills in problem solving, collaboration and communication. These play-based experiences also help sharpen youngsters’ fine motor and sensory perception skills. The methods are based on research such as that conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) which demonstrates that using play-based STEM/STEAM learning not only helps children obtain these skills, it also helps them retain them throughout childhood.
But the Children’s Museum isn’t just waiting for students to come to the museum. Increasingly, they’re working to bring the Children’s Museum to families throughout the Lowcountry.
For example, this November the museum began a five-month STEM enrichment residency with the 4-year-old classes at Fort Johnson Christian School on James Island. Children’s Museum educators also have an ongoing collaboration with the Charleston County School District Head Start program to enhance their STEM programming with a 5-month residency in their 56 classrooms for the second year in a row.
And the Children’s Museum isn’t stopping there. To reach even more of the Lowcountry community, especially students in rural Tri-County schools whose families may find the Children’s Museum difficult to reach, a “museum on wheels” called the Pop Up Tinker Shop is being developed.
Based on a large, customized trailer that can be easily towed, parked and set up as a mobile museum next to a school, neighborhood or other location, the mobile museum will be able to travel to locations within 80 miles of Charleston.
Once complete, the Pop Up Tinker Shop will provide increased learning opportunities to children in communities with high rates of poverty and Title I schools.
Some of the activities in the mobile museum will include:
A portable wind tunnel that will allow visitors to explore the concept of laminar flow airflow
Tiny robots called Spheros that can be controlled to navigate a visitor-engineered obstacle course or covered in paint and driven across paper, creating a unique abstract painting and a one-of-a-kind experience in technology
Special Lego® kits designed to allow younger visitors to create simple machines
Snap Circuits® that will give older learners the opportunity to build circuits that make music or react to light