4 Tips for an Engaging Toddler Learning Environment

by Ron Mohl | Lakeshore Lead Educational Presenter

Toddlers make new discoveries everywhere—especially in their own learning environments! When you create a nurturing space filled with excitement and wonder, you can help toddlers develop social-emotional, language, motor and cognitive skills. Follow these four tips to create an engaging learning environment that sets toddlers up for success through play.

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Tip 1: Encourage choices to foster independence.

Furniture can be especially helpful to toddlers’ physical development. Toddlers might try standing and walking at any moment. Support their curiosity and independence by filling your environment with super-sturdy units with rails, like our First Steps® Double-Duty Storage Center. Toddlers can use the furniture to pull themselves up and maintain balance during their first steps.

Keep your space stocked with safe materials toddlers can easily grab and use. For example, our Soft Seats make it easy for little ones to choose where they want to sit in a play area.

Tip 2: Help toddlers soothe themselves.

The ability to self-soothe is important to the social-emotional development of toddlers. Make sure your environment includes areas where toddlers can get some privacy while remaining in view, like our Toddler Treehouse Hideaway. Areas like this help toddlers soothe themselves until they’re ready to play with others.

Tip 3: Facilitate sensory learning.

Sensory exploration helps toddlers engage with their environment and connect to learning. Look for sensory materials that make sounds, look stimulating and feel interesting and inviting. Here are some examples:

Tip 4: Be a play partner!

Increase the value of play by getting involved! Join children on the floor and describe actions and objects to help build vocabulary. You can even make the experience more comfortable with our Backpatter’s Seat.

As toddlers play, ask open-ended questions. If they’re using our Community Play Carpet, you might ask:

  • Where in town can we park our cars?
  • Where in town do you want to work?

Allow for conversations that have back-and-forth exchanges. Even if you get a simple coo or goo in response to a question, show respect by following up with a reply.

Perfect your learning environment! Check out our new catalog to find developmentally appropriate materials for infants and toddlers.

9 Tips for Encouraging Kindness in the Digital Age

by Marianne Kelley | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist 

All babies are born with the capacity for empathy. However, spending too much time using devices such as smartphones, tablets and TVs can weaken this skill. That’s why it’s important to help children practice kindness and caring from an early age, especially in our constantly connected world.

Now this doesn’t mean we should block kids completely from using technology! To encourage kindness in our digital world, we adults simply need to set rules for media usage, monitor kids’ online interactions, use parental controls and, most importantly, set a good example.

We hope these tips will help you find new ways to nurture empathy.

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Tip 1: Build a vocabulary of words that describe feelings.  

  • Use simple words to describe the emotions of others. (Look at that lady’s beautiful smile; she must be very happy!)
  • Label your feelings and ask children to do the same.
  • Act out different scenarios and discuss how the people involved might be feeling.

Tip 2: Decode nonverbal cues by reading facial expressions and body language.

  • Help children learn to read nonverbal cues by pointing out specific examples. Ask kids how someone who is crying might be feeling, and encourage them to think of ways they might help.

Tip 3: Work emotional words into everyday life.

  • Work more emotional words into your discussions with children. (I’m so happy to see your smiling faces today!)
  • Encourage children to use more emotional words each day. They can even practice identifying emotions in themselves using our Moods & Emotions Mirrors.

Tip 4: Watch movies without sound.

  • As you watch, ask kids to guess the characters’ feelings based on their facial expressions, movements and more.

Tip 5: Read!

Tip 6: Model empathetic behavior. 

  • Start volunteering, and be sure to discuss your experiences with children.
  • When you’re upset, happy, sad, mad, etc., label and explain your feelings. If you’re uncomfortable sharing your own feelings, model emotions with our Feelings & Emotions Washable Dolls. Use them to act out scenarios that will help children understand different emotions.

Tip 7: Incorporate empathy into your discipline style.

  • When children require discipline, prompt them to consider how their actions affect others. For example, if the negative behavior involved pushing, ask the child how it feels to be pushed.

Tip 8: Give back.  

  • As a group or team, collect toys and clothing to give to shelters or charities.
  • Ask kids to share their ideas for helping the community.

Tip 9: Follow the golden rule.

  • Treat others (and animals) as you want to be treated—all day, every day.
  • Give kids specific examples of the golden rule in action with our Learning to Get Along Book Set. These books walk kids through sharing, listening, resolving conflicts and more.

And never forget the best way to inspire kindness in children—getting involved and showing them you care!

Classroom Decorating Ideas for the New Year

by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

Are you ready for a classroom refresh to help you take on the new year? You don’t have to undergo a total overhaul to keep students smiling—simply making a few small changes to your bulletin board or reading corner might help energize your classroom!

Keep reading for some decorating inspiration—then visit our stores to browse over 40 different collections and find the perfect look for your 2017 classroom.


Dr. Seuss Collection

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Decorating Tips:

  • Repurpose accents to make teaching aids. We wrote “silent reading” and “quiet time” on two Dr. Seuss hats, then attached each to a wooden dowel.
  • Pair solid and print borders to create a pop of color and add a stylish “framed” look to your board. We paired the Dr. Seuss ABC Deco Border  with solid red trimmer. And don’t let extra borders go to waste—use them to tie the whole look together by framing posters around the classroom.

  • Take inspiration from posters to design new learning activities. Consider placing the Dr. Seuss Try Something New Poster  above a storage box filled with a variety of “new” activities. Each week, have one student pull out an activity for the class to try.


Painted Palette Collection

Decorating Tips:

  • Play with color! We love how this rainbow border looks with light blue fadeless paper.
  • Encourage positive behavior! We put students’ names on clothespins and clipped them to bulletin board aids (BBAs) with encouraging behavioral messages.
  • Display an example of your craft of the week (or month) to get students excited about upcoming creative projects.

  • Choose organizational elements in neutral colors so they’ll complement your décor. These baskets are a lightweight, dishwasher-safe alternative to the traditional woven kind.
  • Mix in items from other collections to highlight parts of your board. Our board includes Chevron Frame Accents with sketches of winter clothing to draw kids’ attention to a weekly discussion question about cold-weather dressing.


Black & White Collection

Decorating Tips:

  • Feature your favorite color. We added violet fadeless paper to black-and-white accents for just a touch of color.
  • Display outstanding work! For example, a star theme will encourage students to reach for the stars.
  • Mix up your patterns. Combining dots and doodles creates a unique look. Break all the rules to find your own style.
  • Display your calendar at eye level to make it easy to review with students. You can even add borders left over from your bulletin board to fill in the empty spaces.

Visit your local Lakeshore Learning Store for these collections—and more!

6 Tips for Teaching Kids About Giving Back

Guest Blog by Clarissa | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Munchkins and Moms

Like most kids, my boys love to receive gifts. All year long they look forward to special days during the year when they’ll receive presents from friends and family. My kids have already started talking about items on their wish lists (like this aircraft carrier and these kid-safe appliances), but we’ve also been talking about ways we can give to others to make the season special for everyone!

Here are six ways we’ve decided to encourage the spirit of giving in our kids:

1. Donate to a cause that interests your kids.

My kids recently started asking for a pet, so we took a trip to our local shelter to find one just right for our family. While at the shelter, we asked how we could help care for pets still waiting to be adopted. One request we knew we could help fulfill was gathering blankets and towels to keep the animals warm and clean. My kids were excited to go through our linens and find extra towels to donate!

donate to a cause

What special interests do your kids have? Try visiting local zoos, aquariums or museums to see how your family can support the community.

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2. Serve those who serve us.

My kids always notice when public servants (like police officers and firefighters) race by to help a person in need. When we hear sirens whiz by, we talk about how these community helpers are headed to places where others may be hurt and need assistance. Since my kids look up to the people who serve and protect our community, we love to find ways to show these people our support and appreciation all year long.

serve those who serve us

Talk to your kids about different public servants and ask which of them they’d like to create a card for. Letting kids hand-deliver the cards makes it a special experience for both the giver and receiver!

thank you cards

3. Help out a neighbor.

The idea of serving and giving can be abstract for young kids because they don’t actually see the difference the gifts make in a person’s life. For example, giving money to a charity is great philanthropic work, but kids never get to see the impact of the donation.

One way to help kids see the benefits of giving is by encouraging them to give through acts of service.

Some acts of service that our neighbors appreciate include delivering groceries, mowing a neighbor’s lawn or making a meal for new parents down the street. These gifts of time and energy give everyone in the community something to smile about.

Try brainstorming a few ways to serve your neighbors, and then have your kids help in those acts of service and watch their love for giving grow!

4. Bake for a cause.

Kids love to help out in the kitchen! Baking special treats for people they appreciate is a great way for them to give back and show thanks.

bake for a cause

Kids can personally deliver the treats to people they would like to show appreciation for, or your family can hold a bake sale and donate the proceeds to a charitable organization. Tip: If your kids are old enough, let them help you research and choose a charity so you’re sure to find one that resonates with them.

5. Create gift baskets.

There are many people who make our lives better because they do their jobs exceptionally well—teachers who give up lunch hours for tutoring, babysitters who kids ask to see over and over again, or the little league coaches who always have an encouraging word for the team. These people deserve extra thanks for always going the extra mile for our families. Putting together gift baskets as a family is a fun way for everyone to show gratitude to these generous do-gooders!

create gift baskets

We created a gift basket for our favorite day care teacher using fingerpaint and other useful supplies. What would you include in a gift basket for your kids’ teachers? Let your kids brainstorm some ideas—they’re sure to come up with creative items that they’d be excited to give!

6. Donate while you shop.

During holiday shopping trips, look for more ways to give as a family. Kids can collect change to drop in Salvation Army buckets, help pick out non-perishable food to donate to a pantry or choose toys to donate to kids in need. Older kids can even research charitable organizations their favorite stores give to and look for more ways to support those causes.

As a former teacher, I was thrilled to see Lakeshore Learning joining forces with DonorsChoose—an organization that supports teachers all over the United States. For every order from the new Gifts for Growing Minds catalog, Lakeshore Learning will donate $1 to DonorsChoose.org.

donors choose

Implementing a few of these ideas during the holidays (and throughout the entire year) will help instill a lifelong spirit of giving in our children.

Cheers to a season of giving!

Classroom Decorating Ideas: Real Teachers, Real Style

by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

As back-to-school approaches, it’s the perfect time to sit back, relax…and start daydreaming about decorating your classroom for the next school year. It needs to be stylish and functional, and, of course, your students have to love it. Where do you even start? Right here! We talked to three amazing teachers to get their ideas for classroom styles that reflect their own personalities while inspiring young minds.

Find out which Lakeshore collections they love, and get decorating tips that will help you make your own classroom pop.

Our collections are available in our stores only—so you can experience the colors and designs firsthand…and coordinate on the spot with Lakeshore’s friendly staff. Click here to find a store near you and plan your visit.


Richard, Preschool Teacher – Superhero Collection

You don’t need any powers of your own to pull together this superhero classroom! Lakeshore Learning has done it for you. Motivate students with this bright and functional design.

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Decorating Tips:

  • Mix and match Lakeshore’s Superhero Collection with other classroom decor to make it your own. I used fadeless paper with a brick design to make normal classroom walls look like city streets.
  • Tie your theme into learning in creative ways. I encourage super behavior by displaying “How to Be a Superhero” and “Superhero Sayings” posters.
  • Add touches of color to bring the whole look together. I added red and black bordette, created a colorful gallery of student art and rolled out a carpet that brings even more color—as well as seating—to the room.

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Jodi, Fun in First – Chalk Art Collection

This bright and colorful Chalk Art Collection is the perfect way to welcome students…and I love its modern take on a classic classroom design. This eye-catching display combines chalkboard black with bold colors that will brighten any classroom.

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Decorating Tips:

  • Cut border strips and staple them together to create headbands for students. They’re perfect for birthdays and other special recognition.
  • When choosing your color theme, think about the colors of items in your classroom that you can’t change—like bookshelves, window coverings and cabinets. Choose a color palette that includes those colors.

little-girl


Mel, Seusstastic Classroom Inspirations – Chevron & Dots Collection

The Chevron & Dots Collection is colorful, cheery and incredibly versatile! I love using this collection to create bulletin boards that really grab kids’ attention.

Restroom Review Bulletin Board:
This restroom review bulletin board is a wonderful way to have students review weekly skills in the hallway. As teachers, we must utilize every teaching moment throughout the day—even when kids are on their way to the restroom! Of course, this can be done in your classroom as well. I always include our comprehension skills and strategies, grammar, and sight- and spelling words for the week. I also include math vocabulary for the unit we are working on.

Decorating Tip:

  • I love using Lakeshore’s Reusable Write & Wipe Pockets to change out this board weekly. Easy peasy! I also love triple layering bulletin board trim for an extra pop! I used bright neon notebook paper and traced circles. Then I layered the circle bulletin board letters on top. And who doesn’t love colorful tissue pom-poms?

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Back-To-School First-Grade Pencil Bulletin Board: 
This bulletin board is the most welcoming board in our first-grade hallway! Since our school is so large, we need our visitors and students to know which hallway they are in.

Decorating Tip:

  • I decided to layer Chalkboard Brights trim and Polka Dots trim—both from Teacher Created Resources. I handmade the burlap pencil letters using burlap, paint and twine.

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headshots-2

Visit your local Lakeshore Learning Store for these collections—and more!

5 Fun & Effective Test Prep Tips

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

It’s that time of year again—when state testing begins in classrooms across the country. Standardized testing has become a reality in today’s classrooms, and it’s important to help students perform to the best of their ability—but that doesn’t have to mean “teaching to the test,” pounding students with endless drills or trying to squeeze one more thing into an ever-busy school day. Here are some tips for making test prep quick, effective, meaningful—and even fun for kids!

1. Charge Kids Up with a Daily “Brainiac” Question

Test Prep

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Make a “Daily Brainiac” area on a bulletin board or whiteboard. Display a daily math question for students to solve and explain—either in a math journal or on a piece of paper.  Give students a few minutes to work out the problem, and then discuss the answer and students’ strategies for solving the problem.  After the class discussion, recognize a student who was able to explain their reasoning as the “Super Brainiac” of the day. This is a great activity to do in the weeks before testing begins, but you can start as early as the first week of school—giving students the quick, daily practice they need to ace these problems on test day.

2. Race to the Finish—with Weekly Comprehension Sprints

To show reading comprehension, most standardized tests now ask students to back up their answers with examples from a text. Learning to find text evidence is a great comprehension strategy—even when students are answering basic multiple-choice questions. To help kids practice, set up a weekly “comprehension sprint.” Divide students into teams. Have students read a text passage and then place copies of the passage—along with several comprehension questions—on a wall or bulletin board. (You’ll need one copy of the passage and questions for each team.) Give each team member a different color highlighter. On the count of three, one student from each team races to their team’s copy of the passage. The team member answers one question—highlighting the text evidence in the passage—and then races back so the next team member can run to answer a question. Continue play until all questions are answered. Then come together as a class to discuss the answers and the evidence that was selected.

3. Get Kids Excited with a Math Quiz Game Show

This is a fun way to get the whole class involved in problem solving—and discuss different math strategies. Give each student a write & wipe answer board or lapboard and a write & wipe marker. Write a “test prep” problem on the board and ask students to solve it on their individual boards. When they’ve solved it, ask students to hold up their boards.  Discuss the answer and compare students’ methods of reasoning in solving the problem. For extra motivation, award points for correct answers and ask students to add up their own scores. Award extra points to students who can explain their answers.

Test Prep

4. Use Anchor Charts to Give Strategies for Answering Test Questions

Anchor charts that you display in class can help reinforce test-taking strategies students will use on test day. Teach students specific strategies for solving each type of question they may see on a test. Then make an anchor chart for each one, such as Strategies for Multiple-Choice Questions, Strategies for Extended Response Questions, Strategies for Word Problems, and so on. Display the anchor charts around the room and refer back to them often as students engage in classwork. You may have to take the charts down during actual testing, but if you use them throughout the year, your students will know them inside and out.

Test Prep

For additional reinforcement, use math & language test prep activities that provide extra practice with test-taking skills. Remind students to reference the anchor charts as they work through the questions. Then use the answer keys to help students analyze their responses.

5. Regularly Use Computers or Tablets for Classwork

Many of today’s standardized tests are being given online. Students will need to answer language arts questions by typing out extended responses, and they will need to type explanations of their reasoning when solving math problems. Be sure to give students plenty of digital/keyboard experience by having them type responses to classroom questions on their tablets, computers or Chromebooks. Also, it is important that they practice responding directly to questions, rather than writing their answers on paper first and then typing them. This way, they will be fully prepared for an all-digital test-taking experience.

Boosting the Four Areas of Development Through Block Play

by Alison Glaser | Lakeshore Early Childhood Product Developer

While individual programs may differ in their approaches to early childhood education, they all follow standards and frameworks that boost development in four key areas:

  1. Social-Emotional
  2. Physical
  3. Language/Literacy
  4. Cognitive

Block Play A very powerful way to help children meet their goals in all of these areas is through purposeful play in classroom interest areas. Below you will find tips and suggestions to help children meet their educational milestones while exploring your block play area.

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Social-Emotional Development

In preschool, children are expected to build social-emotional skills by learning to cooperate with others, persevere, practice self-regulation and develop feelings of empathy toward others. During block play, children can be encouraged to work with partners or teams to build the constructions of their choice. To accomplish this, they will need to collaborate and compromise as they share ideas, decide what to build and agree upon the best strategy to accomplish their goal. Outfit your block play station with basic hardwood unit blocks that encourage open-ended building and invite children to come up with their own ideas for structures. Whether children are building alone or with their peers, they should be encouraged to persevere in completing their structures. For example, if a child’s bridge falls down, teachers can help troubleshoot what went wrong and discuss ideas with the child for making the structure more stable. Children will learn that they won’t always be successful on the first try, but they can accomplish their goals if they test out different approaches and keep trying. By adding block play people or animal figures to your block play area, you can also provide opportunities for children to role-play, using their block play structures as backdrops for the action. As children act out different roles and situations, they practice seeing the world from different perspectives and develop feelings of empathy for others.

Physical Development

During early childhood, children’s physical skills are growing by leaps and bounds. Activities should be provided that boost gross motor skills—including coordination and balance—as well as fine motor skills, such as eye/hand coordination and the pincer grasp needed for writing.  In the block play area, children will naturally build eye/hand coordination as they learn to stack and balance blocks with a steady hand. Adding block play vehicles and play figures will provide additional opportunities for children to refine their fine motor control as they grasp objects and manipulate the action. Additionally, it’s a good idea to include smaller, unusually shaped blocks that encourage children to stack in different ways, such as Nature Blocks or ZigZag Blocks. Teachers can also encourage gross motor development by providing extra-large blocks that invite children to reach and stretch to build tall, towering constructions.

Language/Literacy Development

As preschoolers develop language and literacy, some of their primary goals are increasing their vocabulary, communicating and speaking effectively, building phonological awareness and developing alphabet and print awareness. As children play with peers in the block play area, they will refine oral language skills as they talk about their constructions and act out make-believe situations. Teachers can encourage effective communication and boost children’s vocabulary by helping children describe what they’re doing or making. For example, you can say I see that you’ve stacked several blocks there. How many blocks did you stack? Or, I like how you used the arch piece to make your bridge. Have you ever seen a real bridge like that? Where did you see it? Whenever possible, it’s also a great idea to incorporate block play props with print elements, such as road signs, vehicles and community buildings. This will help boost alphabet and print awareness as children play and interact with the props.

Block Play

Cognitive Development

As little ones prepare to enter kindergarten, they are expected to learn early math skills related to numbers, quantities, measurement, classification and patterns. They also begin to explore scientific reasoning skills, such as making observations, recording and communicating their observations, and analyzing the results. As children play with unit blocks, they naturally explore math skills and exercise spatial reasoning—learning how shapes fit together, choosing shapes in different sizes, naming shapes and exploring patterns by arranging the shapes in a certain order. Children also boost early STEM skills as they plan what to build, refine their design and make observations about what worked—and what didn’t. Teachers can encourage children to dig deeper into math, science and STEM skills by providing specific challenges for kids to try out. Include block play sets that have blueprints or illustrated construction ideas that children can attempt to replicate. You can also make verbal suggestions to encourage cognitive reasoning and problem solving. For example, ask,  Can you make a building that is three stories high? Can you build a sturdy ramp for your vehicles to drive down? Before children start building, you might have them draw a picture of what their finished structure will look like. Then have children compare their original plan to the final design. What changed and why?

Through activities such as these, children can make the most of your block play area—reaching essential early childhood milestones as they engage in purposeful play.

Raise a Young Reader—Starting at Home

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

Reading with your child for just 20 minutes a day can have long-lasting benefits. Not only does reading together boost language and literacy skills that will prepare your child for success in school, but studies show that children who enjoy daily, shared reading experiences develop social skills and self-confidence—and are more likely to be successful in their future jobs and careers.

literacy skills

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  1. Make reading fun and interactive.

    Reading with your child isn’t just about saying words on a page. It’s also about sharing a pleasant and enjoyable time together—which helps your child associate reading with positive feelings and keeps your child coming back for more.

    • One way to make reading an interactive experience is to let your child help select the books you read. Take a trip to the library and explore the bookshelves together. You might also try surprising your child occasionally with books left by the “book fairy.” The key is making it fun!
    • Next, set aside a specific time to read each day. Your child will look forward to your time together and know it is a regular part of the day. Perhaps you’ll read every night before bedtime, snuggling up together. Or, you could try creating a special reading spot—like a tent or fort in your child’s room.
    • As you read, talk about the story and ask questions, such as, What do you see on this page? What do you think will happen next? If different characters are speaking, try talking in silly voices to get your child super-engaged. If there are bold words in the text, point to them as you read to focus your child’s attention. After reading, encourage your child to draw pictures about the story and ask questions like, What was your favorite part? What would you have done differently if you were the king? Activities like these will help your child develop their vocabulary, comprehension skills and knowledge of letters and words.
  2. Enjoy a good rhyme from time to time.

    Nursery rhymes and other rhyming texts—like classic Dr. Seuss stories—have been loved by generations because they’re just plain fun to read! Stories with rhyming words grab kids’ attention and boost their enthusiasm for reading—while also building phonological awareness and memorization skills. Read rhyming texts together and build on the skills they introduce. Tell your child, Let’s think of other words that rhyme with “Peep” and “sheep.” Encourage your child to draw pictures of things that rhyme, such as rocks and socks, and store them in a shoebox. Once you have enough pictures, use them to play a rhyming memory game—laying the pictures facedown on the floor and taking turns trying to find a match.

  3. Find reading opportunities in everyday life.

    Even when you’re not sitting down and sharing a book together, you’ll discover that reading opportunities are all around you!

    • In the grocery store, encourage your child to read produce signs, or point out words on food packages and magazines. You can even give your child a stack of coupons to play a treasure-hunt game—encouraging your child to find items in the store that match the words on the coupons.
    • While driving in the car, draw your child’s attention to words on road signs and billboards. For longer trips, encourage your child to help you make a stack of alphabet cards using construction paper and crayons. During your trip, invite your child to find letters on road signs or storefronts that match the letters on the cards. You might even reward your child with a special treat if they can find 10 or more of the letters! Once you arrive at your destination, use the cards to spell your child’s name or to sound out simple words.
  4.  Incorporate arts and crafts.

    Pictures in books make it easier for children to understand the meanings of printed words. You can go one step further by allowing children to make their own pictures to illustrate words! Invite your child to draw a picture of something he or she sees, such as a dog on a rug. Write the words “dog” and “rug” on the picture and practice reading them together. You can also invite your child to tear pictures out of old magazines and paste them onto paper. Write the corresponding words for each picture and bind the pages together in a book for your child to practice reading. Or, post the pictures on a wall or fridge where your child can see them every day—helping your child build print awareness.

What’s All the Fuss About STEM?

by Kirk Iwasaki | Lakeshore Senior Product Designer

Earlier this year, I saw an ad for a local STEM summer camp—and I knew STEM had finally gone mainstream. On the radio, in newspaper articles and now even in summer camp, more and more people are talking about STEM, and many people may be wondering, “What’s all the fuss about?”

STEM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Those subjects have been taught in schools for a very long time, so what’s so new about STEM? The difference with STEM education is that it doesn’t see subjects like Science and Math as separate fields. Instead, the fields are seen as interrelated, part of a bigger picture that helps people understand how the world works—and solve real-life problems.

STEM

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STEM is becoming more prominent today because there is a growing demand for people with “21st century” skills in the modern workforce. In addition to jobs we might typically label “scientist” or “engineer,” there are more diverse jobs popping up that require similar skill sets—from software coder to filmmaker. The number of jobs that require STEM-related skills is expected to increase faster than any other type of job in the next decade—yet fewer students are acquiring the skills needed to succeed in those jobs. In order for the U.S. to remain competitive in a global economy—and in order for children to adequately prepare for college and a future career—it is important for them to be immersed in STEM education from an early age.

So, how do you go about introducing seemingly complex concepts to children as early as preschool? It turns out that it’s actually not that difficult. Children are naturally curious about their world, and STEM is all about exercising that curiosity—asking questions about the world and then planning and testing ideas to answer those questions.

Below are some ideas that parents and teachers might consider when introducing STEM concepts to young children in the classroom and at home.

  • Make STEM simple and exciting.
    STEM projects and activities should pique children’s interest, inspire them to take an active interest in what they are learning and motivate them to want to learn more. When children enjoy completing STEM projects, they are more likely to pursue inquiry-based learning in the future. Children benefit from hands-on, thought-provoking projects that provide opportunities to learn through play, as well as projects that are relevant to their own life experiences. For example, STEM concepts can be related to a favorite storybook or to something children see and experience in their everyday lives. Think: Can you use your wooden blocks to build a bridge like the one in the story? Or, how might you make a tower out of marshmallows? What tools and supplies would you need?
  • Build children’s understanding of the design process.
    Children benefit from completing STEM projects that incorporate the design process used by real engineers. While the design process can take slightly different forms, it has four basic steps. First, children plan a solution to a given problem or challenge. Next, children create a model of their solutions using the materials available to them. Then, children test their model to see if it works. Finally, children ask questions—analyzing the results and identifying any improvements they could make. Typically, children will not be successful on the first try. It is important that children understand that “failure” is perfectly OK—and is a natural part of learning. Then, children should be encouraged to refine their ideas and try again until they find a successful solution.
  • Solve real-world problems.
    STEM education is designed to give children the confidence they need to tackle the challenging problems of the future. So, children will benefit from projects that are grounded in the real world—such as designing an earthquake-proof building or creating a working aircraft. As children look for solutions to problems and challenges, they should be encouraged to think critically, troubleshoot, collaborate with others and persevere—in the same way that scientists and engineers do in real-life settings.