Preschool STEM Activities
Preschoolers were made for STEM. They want to know how everything around them works and they want hands-on activities. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you need to do big complicated experiments. We can still keep it simple.
As your toddler grows into a preschooler they are able to understand bigger concepts. They are also able to think deeper into what is going on in their world and tell you what interests them most.
This is an amazingly fun time to do STEM activities with your kids.
Here is what STEM activities and science experiments should look like with preschoolers, plus a big list of activities your little scientist will love.
What's In This Post?
- Preschool STEM Activities
- Goals for Preschool STEM Activities
- Easy Preschool STEM Activities
- Preschool STEM Activities
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- Science Experiments for Preschool
Preschool STEM Activities
I know, the thought of sitting down and doing a real science experiment with a preschooler can seem, well, like a bad idea. Can they sit still? Is it safe? What are they even learning?
Don’t worry, this is going to be fun. STEM with preschoolers is hands-on, exciting, and it does not require a lot of work or a big mess.
What Ages Do We Mean?
First up, what ages are we talking about here? For these preschool ages, we mean 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. They aren’t young toddlers anymore, but they aren’t kindergarten-ready either.
You will see that many of the activities here can also be found in the toddler STEM activities section. That’s by design. Kids don’t flip switches as they get older that suddenly make certain activities bad for them. They are still good, you can just dive deeper.
These activities are also designed to be flexible in terms of age range. This is perfect if you have more than one child. I give suggestions on ways to simplify projects for younger kids and ways to kick up the challenges for older children.
These particular activities work well for 3-4-year-olds, so they are highly recommended for your preschooler.
What is STEM/STEAM?
What does STEM mean again? And how is it different than STEAM?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM is just STEM with Art added. Yes, art is important! Not only for the creative growth of children, but art is also valuable for boosting problem-solving and communication skills. These are key for STEM.
Let’s breakdown what sort of activities would fit into these categories.
This is the more traditional fields when we think of science. Chemistry, biology, physics, etc.
For preschoolers, science is still really getting to know the basics of their world. They are still learning about things like sink or float and color mixing. But they are also learning about the weather around them, the different parts of plants, and what is in our solar system.
You are still building their science foundations, so we don’t need to make things complicated. Preschoolers easily tell us what they are interested in though, so this is a great time to dive deep into dinosaurs, stars, baking soda reactions, or whatever excites them.
This is a good time to explain concepts so children start to become familiar with the vocabulary, but we aren’t expecting mastery yet. Exposure, repetition, and fun are what count.
Depending on your comfort level, screen time can start to play a part in technology learning. It isn’t the whole thing though.
Technology for preschoolers builds early coding skills, which focuses on pattern recognition and understanding cause and effect. (For example, coding in ‘move forward one step’ results in a robot moving forward one step.)
You can practice all of these skills with screen-free activities, and you can start to bring in some games and activities that use screens. The choice of how to do this is yours, but keep those no-screen options to help build fine motor skills too!
Just like technology, you don’t have to think too high level for engineering at the preschool age.
A goal of engineering at this age is to work on problem-solving. How can they create something to solve a situation or even just what can they make to match what is in their imagination. This means that the adults step back and let the child explore.
Creative freedom and the freedom to make mistakes are learning tools here. Your child is going to try something and fail. That’s good, there is a ton of learning in that experience! You as the adult can help model positive reactions to failure and model resiliency.
Math isn’t everyone’s favorite, but it can be pretty fun at the preschool age. There is still a big focus on knowing numbers and building number sense. (Number sense is the understanding that numbers have unique values and those values can interact with each other. Learn more here: What Is Number Sense?)
This means we are still focusing on counting, number matching, and value matching. This is all easy to do just through normal play, or you can do more directed activities. As your child gets older you can move on to bigger numbers too!
There is also still a focus on comparing values and sizes. So talk about more vs less, bigger vs smaller, that sort of thing. This age is also a great time to start basic addition and subtraction concepts. We aren’t talking about anything huge, you can ease these ideas into play. For example, just start combing groups of toys and counting them out to show addition. Then talk through subtraction by taking them back away again.
Goals for Preschool STEM Activities
How do we get the most out of our time doing these STEM activities with preschoolers? What should caregivers be focused on?
Fun and Hands On Experiences
As with all activities you do with kids, the number one goal is fun. If they aren’t having fun (and if you aren’t having any fun), what’s the point? No one is learning and it is only going to end with negative associations towards STEM.
So the first thing to focus on is having fun.
The next most important thing is to let your kids get in there and have hands-on experiences. (Obviously, do this as safety allows.) Demonstrations can be a great tool, but try to let the kids take the lead in STEM activities for preschoolers.
Let them touch, smell, see, do, and just experience as much as you can.
Speaking of experiences, we are still heavily focused on observations during those experiences.
A big part of science and STEM activities is observing what is happening. This means helping your child pay attention to what is happening. Ask guiding questions such as What do you see? What do you smell? etc. If it is safe, have them smell and taste what they can too.
Observations are key to data gathering and understanding how our world works, and helping your child to focus on these things will be helpful for future learning and communication skills. (This is also why sensory play is so important. Learn more here: Sensory Play Learning.)
This is an easy one for a lot of kids to do naturally, but encourage the asking of questions! What do they see? How do they think the activity works? Why do they think the results turned out that way?
The key here for the adult is to listen. Listen to what your child observes and thinks. No, they aren’t always going to be right. But it is important that they feel they can ask anything AND offer up their own explanations without ridicule.
There are no stupid questions. There are not stupid explanations. This is how we build the confidence to explore the unknown. (And yes, after you listen you can guide them to more accurate answers as needed.)
Introducing the Scientific Method
The scientific method is an organized way of running science experiments. This is important even for preschool children. We don’t always follow it exactly when we do casual at-home science experiments, but it is a good idea to help kids learn to use a logical approach to their experimenting.
The scientific method is about so much more than just logical STEM projects, it teaches real-world life lessons and skills. You can read more here about how the scientific method sets kids up for powerful problem solving: Life Lessons from the Scientific Method.
Get ready to do activities with preschoolers more than once. Repetition is an important part of learning for kids.
It is very valuable to do the same experiment multiple times. The good news is that if you remember the first goal, fun, then even more learning will take place. Kids learn best through play.
The more we do these activities as adults, the easier they are to do. You’ll experience less stress about doing them and build your own scientific confidence.
Easy Preschool STEM Activities
Now that we know what our goals and expectations are, let’s dive into the activities. Which preschool STEM activity are you going to try first?
Science Experiments for Preschool
Which preschool STEM activity are you going to try first?
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