The classroom of 4-year-olds is filled with chattering as busy little hands wave “magic” magnetic wands over simple, sealed bottles filled with colored rice and a bevy of magnetic and non-magnetic materials.
“Look, I found one,” shout the children as they grasp the concept of magnetism during a learning-through-play lesson taught by the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry.
The Children’s Museum provides outreach education programs to thousands of children in early childhood and elementary classrooms throughout the tri-county area. In 2017 alone, the museum served 56 of Charleston County School District’s Head Start classrooms with high-quality, learning-through-play STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (with a focus on the arts) lessons. The Children’s Museum also has an active residency with Fort Johnson Christian School and, this year, a partnership with Berkeley County First Steps, in which the museum mentors a cohort of early childhood educators on how to bring play-based projects and STEAM-integration to their classrooms.
“In its first year, the Berkeley County First Steps partnership will help five early education teachers understand STEAM in a new way: improving their quality of teaching and helping them use more math and science talk with their students,” explains Adrienne Troy-Frazier, Berkeley County First Steps’ executive director.
Research continues to support the benefits of STEM and STEAM education from an early age. That’s why the Children’s Museum is helping support early childhood educators in creating hands-on, interactive classroom activities that encourage young children to develop and use scientific inquiry processes to explore and better understand their environments. Those valuable skills will follow them through their educational careers and into the workplace.
Educators know that children who are exposed to opportunities early in life have the best chance at being successful in school and in life. In fact, a recent study on STEM aptitude revealed that exposure to engaging STEM activities before age 9 was a better predictor of STEM-career interest than aptitude scores at the eighth-grade level.
“If we want to prepare our children for success in the workplace – and we do – then we must provide them with opportunities to explore concepts much earlier than we previously thought,” says Nichole Myles, executive director of the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry.
When coming to the Children’s Museum isn’t an option because of time or resources, outreach education is the best option for learning-through-play opportunities. Museum education specialists bring their expertise in play-based learning as well as unique resources, such as coding robots, imagination playground blocks and portable wind tunnels, that help bring STEAM concepts to life for the entire class.
Additionally, the Children’s Museum brings low-cost and replicable items into the classroom, providing unique applications and modeling of everyday items that classroom teachers can make themselves with very little financial investment. “This two-pronged approach to the materials of STEM and STEAM education provide further services to the programs the museum supports,” Myles says.
“These experiences build self-confidence and support critical social and emotional benchmarks that Lowcountry children desperately need to be ready-learners in the early years of formal education,” she adds.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is a non-profit organization whose mission is to engage young children’s potential by inviting families of all backgrounds to explore environments and experiences that spark imagination and stimulate curiosity through the power of play. The Children’s Museum is located at 25 Ann St. in Charleston and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12-5 p.m. on Sundays. The Children’s Museum is closed on Mondays. For more information, visit them online at exploreCML.org or call (843) 853-8962.