Inspiring Innovation and Creativity at Home Through STEAM: Author Q&A
Inspiring Innovation and Creativity at Home Through STEAM: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, May 12, 2020 by Andilynn Feddeler

When we imagine young children becoming the innovators of the future, we envision them conducting science experiments to cure diseases, writing the next great novel, or creating a revolutionary digital tool that brings the world together. Inspiring Innovation and Creativity in Young Learners and Hands-On STEAM Explorations for Young Learners are engaging classroom resources that help our youngest learners (from preschool to third grade) bridge the gap from play-based learning to innovation. Parents can learn more about using strategies from these resources in order to encourage STEAM education at home in this interview with the author, Allison Bemiss.

Q: What kinds of resources or activities might families use to encourage learning in STEAM?

A: I don’t know about you, but as a mom of two, I am constantly hearing the phrase, “I’m bored!” Guess what? That phrase means it’s the perfect time to get your kids engaged in something creative that challenges them to think outside of the box. That’s really what children mean when they say they are bored. Being bored means they are tired of being in their current mental or physical environment and need a change. There are tons of hands-on/minds-on activities online. A simple Google or Pinterest search will yield many examples. When looking for an activity, try to find something that uses simple materials you have around the house so that you don’t need to buy some expensive science or art kit. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about: If children are interested in music, give them a takeout box (cleaned, of course) and some rubber bands, and let them see how vibration creates sound. If children are interested in water play, give them aluminum foil and challenge them to create a boat that holds the most rocks! (These activities are the Old King Cole and Five Speckled Frogs activities in Hands-On STEAM.) Basically, whatever you decide to do, make sure the children are problem solving, creating, and having fun. What’s most important is that you are involved in these activities together. They learn so much from watching you. You are their first and most important teacher. 

Q: How can parents encourage curiosity and wonder in their kids at home?

A: Encouraging kids to be curious and wonder is actually pretty simple because our youngest learners are naturally curious! The most important thing we can do as their parents is to help guide them toward the language they need to discuss these wonderings. One of the easiest things you can do is to model your own wonderings and teach children the phrase, “I wonder.” Make this conversation a natural part of your day. Another good phrase to encourage curiosity and wonder is the phrase, “I notice.” Again, both you and your child will want to use this as much as possible. When you notice something that captures your attention, it is likely you also wonder about it. Here’s an example of how this may work: Take a walk outside and say, “I notice the sky is very blue today. I wonder why the sky is blue?” Now you have something special to research together. Kids will always be more interested and invested in a topic that you thought of together. 

Materials to inspire curiosity? Again, don’t go buy something that’s supposed to inspire STEAM! Those items are already around you, and it just takes a little creativity to see them. Take a walk outside, take apart an old toy together, turn a stick or a box into something new. As a matter of fact, I have a Family STEAM Storytime that asks children to do just this task!

Q: Do you have any tips for parents teaching at home?

A: Teaching from home is not always easy. My husband and I are both teachers, and I can tell you firsthand it has not been easy for us teaching and working from home. Here are a few tips.

  1. Give yourself, your child, and everyone else around you a little grace. Both you and your children have been pulled from your normal environments for work and learning. This in and of itself is a challenge. You will make mistakes, your children will make mistakes, your boss will make mistakes, your child’s teacher will make mistakes. We will all learn from these mistakes. Give yourself and those around you the grace needed to learn from these mistakes.

  2. First we . . . , then we . . . At times your child may be defiant and refuse to work. This is all normal, but how do you handle it? One of my favorite behavior management strategies for this is to use the phrase “first we . . . , then we. . . .” An example we have used in our house is, “First we do our computer reading program for school, then we will build a blanket fort!” If you let the child help choose the order of their lessons or choose the rewards they are often more compliant. When kids become defiant it is sometimes because they feel like things are out of their control. Behavior is just a form of communication. Kids don’t always have the words to express big feelings, so it is natural for it to come out as behavior. When you see a behavioral problem, take a breath and think to yourself, “What is my child trying to tell me?” Something to know about this first/then strategy is that you have to say it and stick to it! If you give in and give them the reward before they finish the task, the strategy will likely not work again.

  3. We ALL need breaks. Let me say that again . . . WE ALL NEED BREAKS! Plan for brain breaks during the day for yourself and for your kids. The brain breaks I’ve shared in this post are what I use with my younger son. At the beginning of our day, we review these options, and periodically through the day I ask him if he needs one. Actually, I don’t even have to ask him anymore; he will just tell me that he needs one. One of the breaks on this graphic asks kids to Breathe Like a Bear. Breathe Like a Bear comes from one of my favorite pictures books with the same title by Kira Willey. Here’s a link to that resource and a video of me sharing this strategy with you and how to use it most effectively.

Allison Bemiss has worked to encourage innovative thinking in early childhood and elementary-age children for nearly 15 years, while serving as a teacher, interventionist, and education consultant. She currently works for The Center for Gifted Studies at Western Kentucky University as project coordinator for Little Learners, Big Ideas and for the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative developing workshops for early childhood and elementary educators.