Ask the Expert: STEM Activities for Toddlers

Posted on Monday, January 30th, 2017

by Rachel Lee, Paths To QUALITY Coach with Infant and Toddler Emphasis

Let’s face it –  the struggle is real. We as adults in general are scared when it comes to thinking of science/math activities to do with toddlers. The word “science” is scary. We aren’t scientists. And, math…well, I can only speak for myself, but, math was definitely not my strong suit growing up.

Over the years as my many roles in early childhood education have evolved and changed, I have strengthened my knowledge in this area and developed a much better understanding and appreciation in this connection between science and math to brain development in toddlers.

As I read my newsfeed before bed at night, I see moms and dads reaching out for advice on how to incorporate science and math into their young toddlers’ lives. I see teachers making comments about the struggle of incorporating science and math into their environments in child care and creating science/math activities.

Here’s where I hope sharing my experience can help.  Below are some activities that are fairly easy and incorporate science and math into the daily routine for toddlers.

 

Science

Sensory bottles or “Ocean in a Bottle”

What you need:

  • Water
  • Cooking oil
  • Blue food coloring (or any color)
  • Large bottle. (2-liter pop bottles, mouthwash bottles with child-safe lids, or recycled water bottles work well)
  • Funnel

Instructions:

  1. Have the children assist you with placing the food coloring into the bottle.
  2. Fill the bottle one-third of the way full with water.
  3. Top it off with the oil
  4. Swoosh away
Water absorption and color blending

What you need:

  • Cotton make-up removal pads or coffee filters
  • Liquid watercolor paints(you could use food coloring and water)
  • Droppers/pipettes,
  • Small bowls
  • Vinyl tablecloth (to protect your work surface)
  • Baking rack

Instructions:

  1. Fill small bowls with water, place a few drops of food coloring into the water, you can use multiple bowls with different colors of food coloring.
  2. Then, use the droppers and place them into the bowls with colored water, and then drip the colored water onto the cotton pads and watch the colors absorb, blend and expand.
  3. Place on baking rack to dry.

MATH

Sorting activity

What you need:

  • Cupcake tin
  • Rocks, beans (supervised if beans are small), pom pom balls, or anything that can be collected in abundance and has some color to it
  • Sand or water

Instructions:

  1. Let the child fill the cupcake holes with the materials.
  2. Talk about: How full they are, which is fuller, or which one is less full. How many colors are in each hole and compare/contrast. How many items in one hole as compared to items in the next hole
Filling and pouring with measuring cups and spoons

What you need:

  • Sand table or small aluminum foil bins
  • Sand or substitute such as water, rice, cornmeal, or oatmeal
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Scoops
  • Shovels

Discuss:

This activity gives you the opportunity to talk with children about numbers, weight (which is heavier, lighter), fill (empty/full), equal, greater. All of those words are easy to introduce during sand play.

You may choose to use individual bins rather than a common sand table to allow two or more children to explore at one time.  We all know that when one child is interested, they all tend to want to come over as well to see what’s happening.

 

Remember – there are so many things that are math and science related on daily walks through the neighborhood or park. Point out simple things like looking on the ground as you walk with your toddlers. Seeing worms or ants on the concrete might produce a long discussion about texture, size, how it feels, smooth, soft, shapes, or shadows from the sunlight.

Daily trips to and from work or home in the car can provide other great discussion topics. Firetruck sirens, airplane sounds, water fountains, stoplight colors and shapes, the wind from a cracked window, small and large school buses….there are so many simple yet dismissed conversations that we have. As parents, we often don’t realize those missed opportunities where we can extend learning by asking just a few more open-ended questions. We can always engage toddlers and young children more. Be creative to dig deeper and build that core knowledge from the beginning.