Research studies on STEM education in the early years. 

Interest in STEM has continued to rise in recent years as governments strive to reverse the previous decline in interest in STEM-based careers.  Campbell and Speldewinde (2022) argued that STEM learning in early education contexts can include all the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or some. Campbell, Speldewinde, Howitt, & MacDonald (2018) reported that STEM experience enabled children to affirm belief in their capacity to learn STEM. The authors argued, therefore, that the STEM foundation built in these early years has the potential to encourage children to appreciate and prioritise STEM in daily living. From their observations, Campbell et al. (2018) discussed that children’s interests influence the science and mathematics games and themes they interact with.

STEM learning is important for children for different reasons. Campbell and Speldewinde (2022) revealed that STEM learning at the early childhood level broadens the way children perceive the natural world. In turn, they more effectively perform their role in sustaining social and viable environments in their future lives. In other words, the knowledge helps them to satisfy their needs without interfering with the capability of future generations to also fulfill their needs (Campbell & Speldewinde, 2022). Engagement with STEM education is believed to have a direct influence on the future prosperity of several nations. They argued that if approached accordingly, STEM learning in early childhood could lay the foundation needed to teach these subjects at later stages.

The experiences, knowledge, and interests in STEM during early childhood can improve the children’s interest later on. STEM education is vital in sustainability because it promotes science and technological strategies for solving sustainability problems. A study by Wan, Jiang, and Zhan (2020) found that early childhood settings already implemented STEM learning procedures in various disciplinary areas and that children and parents positively responded to STEM learning. Parents understood both the educational and economic relevance of STEM learning. That is, parents believed that STEM learning had the potential to aid their young ones achieve prosperous lives in the future.

Despite the advantages of STEM, teachers have trouble implementing the strategy in educational contexts. Major hindrances to STEM practices according to Demircan (2022) include storage and material problems, variations in children’s individual learning needs, and routine practices. In the study by Wan et al. (2020), the identified constraints were the shortage of resources, support, time, inadequacy of subject knowledge and capacity of teachers, and differences in developmental capabilities. Based on these challenges, Wan et al. (2020) revealed the educators’ reluctance to adopt the STEM lessons when dealing with the young learners. On the other hand, Demircan (2022) reported that even with practices that are capable of supporting active learning and effectiveness of time, teachers will still face difficulties integrating STEM into education on their own. For effectiveness, teachers need backing from parents, colleagues, and administration.

It is also evident from Wan et al. (2020)’s study that teachers need exposure to a holistic view of how the STEM curriculum works in early childhood settings. Key areas include the improvement of discipline-based and innovation-oriented integrations. When designing the STEM-based training programs for these professionals, the focus should be on sharing professional understanding, acquisition, and application of knowledge. Other than teachers, parents also need the training to work effectively with children on both STEM activities and the associated scaffolding. STEM also required the advancement of inquiry and thinking capabilities, so that children utilise what they understand from experiences to address issues arising under new situations. Campbell and Speldewinde (2022) noted that children get exposure to and gain STEM skills as they begin to explore the world, after birth. These authors even projected that in the coming 10 to 15 years, the career choices of four-year-olds will necessitate STEM knowledge and skills.

STEM education Apps for young children

Interactive technology in the form of smart mobile devices, with apps, continue to attract the interest of experts in preschool and early primary education (Dorouka, Papadakis, and Kalogiannaki, 2020). Teachers support the use of technology in the classroom because they improve literacy and numeracy (Miller, 2018). The technology enhances literacy by improving motivation, encouraging small group collaborations, and gaining vocabulary as well as phonological knowledge. Studies on the effect of iPads on numeracy have also reported that they serve as effective learning aids. The use of interactive technology such as iPads in the classroom has the potential to improve children’s outcomes. Miller (2018) examined the effect of interactive technology introduced in kindergarten as mathematical apps. This was a play-based learning context where iPads helped children to access that apps while learning number sense.

Miller found that the teacher carefully introduced the technology but her teaching skills matched those of a beginner in this area. Children tried to collaborate but they abandoned the app when they found it too challenging. Again, the young learners chose apps that combined creativity and entertainment while abandoning the pedagogically accurate ones that lacked creativity. Miller (2018) concluded that the application of interactive technology (apps) in kindergarten classrooms promoted mathematics learning. However, app quality influenced the engagement of children in learning mathematics. Meyer et al. (2021), on the other hand, cited a lack of evidence that educational apps produce educational value and explained that the designs of educational apps should be adjusted by developmental science. Dorouka et al. (2020) also unresolved challenges hinder the successful integration of interactive technologies in the classroom.

Selected Apps

1. Friendly Shapes

With this app, the children learn about colors, shapes, and numbers through the animated adventure that is both fun and interactive. Children who play the story games on this app have higher chances of remembering the colours, shapes, and numbers. The app also exposes children to a rich range of games where they play puzzles, matching, and counting games, among others. The app features scenes where all things are alive. A child simply touches the object or characters to explore what it can do.

The game features perfectly match the learning needs of kindergarten children. The game supports STEM by encouraging the learnin of mathematics through numbers and shapes. Following Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), this app is for lifelong learning by introducing the children to shapes, numbers, and colours. The children develop a solid sense of identity when they learn the various numbers, shapes, and colours. They become better at describing the objects around them and easily recognize the shapes and numbers of objects.

Also, lessons that children pick from this app connect them to their world and show objects that they can interact with (Rosicka, & O’Connor, 2020). Colours are all over and a child can tell the differences in how grass, houses, and clothes look by simply considering their colour variations. Numbers are also used daily and shapes are also available in the children’s surroundings.

The app also enables children to become effective communicators by allowing them to know colours, numbers, and shapes so they can describe objects more clearly. The app also boosts the children’s confidence and helps them to engage in active learning. A child that already knows colours, for example, will be more confident in a class where the teacher talks about colours as he or she can answer a related question.

2. Cool math games

The games are best for both children and young adults. The main goal of playing the games is to exercise logic and reasoning abilities to solve challenges. It contains several skill games that require a child to think and employ accurate reasoning to accomplish tasks. A-Z games, strategy, and running games are also included. Basic games such as A-Z lay a foundation that will assist children through their life-long learning process. Again, this game meets EYLF Outcome 2 by enabling children to connect with and contribute to their world (Rosicka& O’Connor, 2020). In STEM, this relates to science knowledge. The skills games involve real-life events such as playing soccer where a child has to dodge others and score.

A child that plays this game and manages to score gets a clearer understanding of how the soccer game is played. Children that successfully score goals may eventually be tempted to try playing a real game. When such a child joins a team and becomes a top scorer, he or she contributes to the world. It also fulfills Outcome 4 by encouraging confidence and making the children involved learners (Rosicka& O’Connor, 2020). When children learn to solve a real-life situation in the game, they start believing in their ability to address similar challenges in their world. If a child enters a classroom where the teacher offers a detailed explanation of how to solve a challenge he or she learned in a game and is ready to try, the child becomes more involved in the learning process.

3. Toca kitchen monsters

 It is a food game app, where children cook and play with food. They pick different ingredients and use the preferred preparation method. For example, a child may slice, fry, mix or boil the ingredients. Once the food is done, they wait for the two hungry monsters to respond. A child who plays with this app learns the events that occur when certain ingredients are prepared in various ways. This game accomplishes the EYLF Outcome 2, which involves connecting children with their world and helping them to contribute (Rosicka, & O’Connor, 2020). The game engages children in a kitchen environment where they test different ingredients.

The tools used in the game are similar to real-life kitchen utensils and equipment, and the ingredients are also real. The app, thus, connects the children with their world by enabling them to try out some items that they see in their kitchens but have never worked with. The children can then contribute to their world by telling people some cool ingredients to test or alternative cooking methods that can still be used to prepare a popular dish.  It supports STEM by exploring science and the technologies used during food preparation. Children that play this game, thus, develop a strong sense of identity (Rosicka, & O’Connor, 2020). They can tell the kitchen equipment and ingredients to use when preparing a meal in a certain way. Based on the feedback from the monsters, the children also learn to identify the ingredient combinations that taste great and others that taste bad.

4. Fish school

The app guides children through underwater adventures. It includes fun activities that encourage children to learn shapes, letters, numbers, and colours. It features a playful underwater encounter that is completed using 8 activities. The child watches colourful fish as they create, letters, identify numbers, and engage in the counting of numbers 1 to 20. The child also observes the fish create shapes. There is also a section that lets the children pick and drag pieces of puzzles to design colourful sea life. The children also listen to ABC songs under classical variations. This game builds a foundation for further learning and completes Outcome 1 by helping children to learn about colours, numbers, and shapes (Rosicka, & O’Connor, 2020).

Under STEM, the game promotes mathematics skills. Children also become confident and engaged in the process of learning, Outcome 4, because they want to see what particular colours look like and how they are described. Confidence comes in when children no longer dread lessons on topics similar to those tackled in a number game or shape, as they feel that they know some points and are ready to learn more. As per Outcome 2, the app connects children with the underwater environment and helps them to identify the creatures that live in such areas. Here, it relates to science.

5. Minecraft

The app is designed to facilitate creative thinking. Children build incredible objects, like homes and castles, using this app. Minecraft is an essential game-based learning app that offers open possibilities and potential. It can be effectively used to teach children mathematics concepts, especially proportions and ratios. The app also encourages collaboration among children and boosts creativity. Mathematics is mostly a dreaded subject hence a child that familiarises with the concepts develops a sense of wellbeing.

As it is, the STEM disciplines that this game supports are mathematics and engineering. Minecraft, thus, achieves Outcome 3 (Rosicka, & O’Connor, 2020) by making children more comfortable in a mathematics class. The ratios and proportions that Minecraft helps children to learn are usually described using mathematics vocabulary. Children that use this game to learn such concepts, thus, gain mathematics literacy and become more capable of communicating the number concepts more effectively.