Exploring STEM using Art

When I walk into early childhood classrooms, I often see wonderful art explorations. The teachers offer a wide variety of materials and open-ended opportunities to explore and create with the materials. When I ask about what types of STEM explorations the children experience, the responses are less enthusiastic. When I facilitate professional development sessions for KODO Kids, I ask the participants, “who has a background in STEM subjects?” and “do you feel comfortable offering STEM experiences to young children?” The responses are often “No” to both questions, with a few exceptions. The teachers report that they are more comfortable offering art, literacy and dramatic play opportunities. Those teachers are sometimes frustrated because they don’t know how to present STEM explorations in early childhood classrooms. 


By employing a few key strategies, such as integrating materials in a different and unexpected way, using “I wonder” statements, and  asking questions that focus on STEM ideas, STEM concepts can be seamlessly integrated into classroom explorations using art.  


Kodo Kids has wonderful materials to encourage STEM explorations, and I encourage educators to use the materials in all facets of the classroom. My son and I attend a toddler art class and the teacher is great at using materials in creative and open ended ways. During one class, she used the Kodo Kids arches with paint and cars. The materials were set up for the children to explore and use as they wished.


To integrate STEM concepts and learning into this art activity, educators can facilitate learning through questions that explore physics, math, and engineering concepts. Here are just a few examples of concepts to explore in this situation:


  • Compare and contrast 
    • Speed of cars, which car goes faster
    • Length of tracks
    • Does the color of paint affect the speed of car
    • What, if any, variables affect car’s speed
    • Using the arches convexly and concavely  
  • Counting/measuring
    • How long it takes for the cars to cross arch
    • Length of track
    • How many cars can fit on track
    • Velocity of car

Asking questions that start with “I wonder…” will facilitate exploration of STEM concepts. In order to build an affinity to and level of comfort with STEM, adults and children need to learn how to ask questions in addition to feeling comfortable discovering the answers. It is also important to use real terminology with children. The earlier children are exposed to STEM vocabulary, the more comfortable they will be with it. A few words that are useful in the arch and car scenario:

  • Velocity
  • Speed
  • Incline
  • Hypothesis
  • Theory
  • Estimate
  • Momentum
  • Convex/Concave

I encourage educators to take on new challenges one goal at a time. For example: use one material in a different way than originally intended per week,  ask one question that integrates STEM concepts or introduce one new STEM vocabulary word per week. Practicing and integrating one goal at a time will make the goal approachable and achievable. Integrating experiences and concepts that you might not feel as comfortable with, such as STEM, with experiences you feel more comfortable with, such as art, will also make it more approachable and increase the chance of success.