Putting the “A” Back in “STEM”

Many have heard of the term STEM when referring to educational projects or programs that focus on the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math. After all, STEM careers are in high demand and the more children are exposed to and learn about these subjects, the better off they will be to face the world in which they will live and work.

But what about art? In fact, many places are changing STEM to STEAM, to include the arts in this initiative. Including the artistic component is a way to make STEM more approachable to kids and to inject fun and creativity into learning. How many times have we seen games that add the element of fun to teach kids an important skill, like math or technology? Many coding programs for kids first introduce the idea of coding in the form of a game. 

The St. Louis Public Library uses this idea in our Tech for Tots programs, where coding is introduced in the form of toys: the Code-a-piller and Dash and Dot, two robots that are programed using gaming applications. By introducing code through toys, children can further develop problem solving and critical thinking skills.

The idea of using play to teach important skills, like coding, is why art can be an important vehicle for teaching other elements of STEM. An easy way to use art to introduce other STEM ideas is through books. For example, using the picture book, “The Night World,” by Mordicai Gerstein, The book tells the story of a young boy and his cat as they experience nighttime and shadows. Through darkness, they come to appreciate the night and when morning comes, they see everything in a new and different light. From the book, you can introduce conversations with your young one about the science of light, dark, and the nature of shadows. What is a shadow? What makes a shadow? What is light? Where does it come from? Using art can put these ideas into concrete terms. 

Creating shadow art lets kids explore shadows using chalk. Using art in an outdoor setting is a great way to bring other STEAM elements into the mix. Outside, kids can use their bodies or other objects to create shadows, which they can then turn into shadow art. Try doing this activity at different times of day to further explore the nature of shadows and how they are effected by the sun’s position. Click the link here to check out this fun STEAM craft. 

And, of course, check out the book list below for other book ideas that you can use to create fun STEAM projects for your kids.

Sandy's Circus

A look at the childhood of Alexander “Sandy” Calder, as he fiddles with odds and ends and creates objects and sculptures for his friends. A great book to introduce a sculpture craft and let kids explore different building materials to see what they can create.

Ada Twist, Scientist

Ada Twist’s curiosity leads her to ask questions and perform experiments that will help her better understand the world. This book can engage kids in the scientific method and encourage them to pose questions and try to come up with ways to find the answers to those questions.

Me-- Jane

This picture book shows the life of young Jane Goodall as she observes nature, reads books about Tarzan, and dreams of helping animals. It includes biographical information about Goodall. This book is a great way to introduce life science and invites kids to recognize that dreams can become reality.

What Do You Do With An Idea?

This book explores what it is to have an idea and the path that that idea can take – it can be exciting, but also uncomfortable. The book’s main character struggles with discouragement from others, but shows great perseverance in making his idea become a reality. A great book for showing kids that having an idea can lead them to creativity, and to not be discouraged by others or if things don’t work out the way they wanted them to.

The Most Magnificent Thing

A girl comes up with an idea and sets out to make it happen. Full of different creative ideas, the book highlights ambition and confidence through creativity. The book shows the different steps through the creative process, the necessity of taking a step back, and the decision to make, rather than buy. This book can easily be used in tandem with a craft using recycled items and encouraging kids to use these items to make their own most magnificent thing.

On A Beam of Light

This book traverses the life of Albert Einstein, introducing his ideas and accomplishments. The ideas of discovery and curiosity are fully furnished within the story. The book encourages readers to foster their own spirit of discovery. This book is a great example of how creativity manifests itself in many forms, including math and science.

Maybe Something Beautiful

Focusing on a girl who lives in a gray, hopeless urban community. The story, and colors, are enlivened by the arrival of a muralist who, along with his paints and brushes, brings unity, color, and joy to the neighborhood. The book is inspired by the illustrator, Rafael López and his wife, who helped bring the same joy and unity to their San Diego neighborhood using art.

Summer Birds

It was the belief, in the Middle Ages, that insects were born from mud. This story is about Maria Merian, who, as a child, disagreed with this common notion. Through the story’s progression, we see how Maria uses observation and documentation to discover the true life cycle of caterpillars. Illustrations of Maria using art to document her findings connects young readers with how art and science live side-by-side. This book is a great stepping stone for using art to describe a natural phenomenon, such as the life cycle of an insect.

Beautiful Oops!

Not every idea or project ends in success. This book highlights how mistakes don’t have to be failures, but can be the springboard into new ideas and opportunities. This is a great inclusion for teaching kids how to take a “failed’ project and turn it into something different.

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