As your child gets to be pre-school and kindergarten age, you might hear a lot of talk about the importance of STEAM or its earlier version STEM. It’s not the steam of a locomotive or the stem of a plant that’s being talked about, though STEAM and STEM are related to all of that!

STEAM is an acronym for :

  • Science
  • Technology
  • Engineering
  • Art
  • Math.

STEAM is an update of the acronym STEM (coined in 2007) with “A for Art” added.


But What Exactly is STEAM?

STEAM (and STEM) is a way for educators and parents to help children combine different areas of knowledge and learning:

  • Science: a way of observing the world around you. Science includes making guesses, asking questions and drawing conclusions about how things work .
  • Technology: using computers, but also using, understanding and getting tools to work, like gears.
  • Engineering: designing, creating and constructing objects to make them work. When your child is using building blocks, they are doing engineering work!
  • Art: creating (visual) designs, but also acting (pretend play), singing, music, dancing and movement.
  • Math: includes counting, sorting things into patterns of size and shape — bigger/smaller, higher/shorter, holding more/less (volume).

Connecting these subjects together, rather than trying to teach them separately, is more how children naturally learn and experience the world.


Making STEAM Connections

Let’s say you decided to take a walk in the woods with your child. With a STEAM approach you might ask your child to:

  • Count all the leaves they see and sort them into different shapes, sizes, or colors (math).
  • Come up with a hypothesis (a possible idea or guess) of why some leaves look the same and some are different (they come from different trees, they are different stages of growth, etc.). Test the hypothesis by observing different trees and their leaves (science).
  • Take leaves home and make a collage with them (art).
  • Look up information about the trees or leaves on the Internet (technology and science).
  • Use the leaves with other materials to create 3-D designs, such as a diorama  (engineering).
Bouquet of autumn red and orange maple leaves in child hand on a sunny autumn day

Bouquet of autumn red and orange maple leaves in child hand on a sunny autumn day

STEAM Asks “What” Instead of “Why”

It’s not only your child who asks “Why.“ You too might ask “why” questions (though probably not as much as your child does!)

Why questions tend to imply that there is “an” answer. “Why doesn’t the light turn on?” could be easily answered with “it’s not turned on” or “I don’t know.”

A STEAM approach tries to move away from “why questions” to focus on “what questions.” If the light isn’t working, you might ask:

  • What things can we do to make the room lighter (turn on the light switch, open more curtains, bring in a lamp, use candles)
  • What do light bulbs need for them to work?
  • What makes a light bulb burn out?

“What” questions help children notice what is around them, problem solve, learn good communication skills and sparks imagination. Your child can build confidence when you encourage them to figure out how to answer questions and solve problems on their own by using a variety of interconnected (STEAM) skills.

STEAM at Home

There are lots of opportunities to take a STEAM approach at home. Being in the Northwest, there are innumerable great STEAM opportunities using rain or water. Here are but a few to start with:

  • Put a cup or bowl outside and measure how much it rains each day, week, month, and season.
  • Draw a chart comparing different amounts of rainfall at different times.
  • Pour the rainwater (or other water) into different size containers and see how they appear to be more or less depending on the container.
  • Read stories about traditional rain dances from Native American tribes such as Hopi, Zuni, and Apache. Listen to the music or watch videos of the dances. Try the dances out.
  • Pretend to be a big rainstorm (this can be great for dealing with anger too).
  • See how much water it takes to brush teeth or wash a dish and compare it with the amount of rainwater collected. Talk about environmental concerns and water.
  • Stare at the clouds and talk about what they look like. Talk about how clouds hold water and how different rain clouds look from other clouds. Use some cotton, glue and construction paper to make your own cloud scenes.
  • And, since we are talking about STEAM – see how long it takes ice cubes first to melt and then to be heated to turn into steam.


The list of possibilities just for rain and water is as endless as the rains can seem in a Northwest winter. And opportunities for STEAM activities in everyday life are even more numerous – from comparing sizes, shapes and colors of fruits and veggies in the grocery store (math and science) to making tunnels out of tables and blankets (engineering and math) to creating potato print art (art and science).

Search the Internet and you’ll find lots of STEAM activities. The US Department of Education has lots of tip sheets at and there are many links on Edutopia A simple google search will help find much more.

Get STEAM-ed Every Day.

Science, technology, engineering, art and math are a part of our everyday lives. By focusing on how these subjects interact and asking “what” questions, you can help your child with creativity and critical thinking. They’ll then be ready to go full STEAM ahead not only in academics, but also in all they do.


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors, Tova Stabin, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at


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