Support Your Child's Tinkering - It's Full STEAM Ahead!

29 March 2017


Can you think back to when you were a child and remember what was it like to make something? Did you do things like rolling toy cars down ramps and adjusting the ramps to make the cars go faster? Maybe you taped boxes together to create an imaginary city. Did you create a fort with blankets and pillows? All of these actions that involve tinkering and constructing things are essentially basic engineering tasks. You didn’t know it at the time, but your activities were perfectly in line with a STEM curriculum.

A STEM curriculum ---one that emphasizes Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-- is ever present in today’s American school curriculumBut I, and many other developmentalists, believe it’s necessary to add art to the acronym and make it STEAM. This is because art, which is fundamentally making things, is basic to all areas of the curriculum. And this is the basis of what we do here at Skilly-do.

All young children are basically scientists, mathematicians and engineers as they use their senses to explore the physical properties of materials. They figure out how balance works as they stack and knock down blocks. They mess with play dough rolling, flattening, and re-rolling it, discovering how things can change. When they are faced with a problem, young children ask questions, make plans, work, test their ideas, solve problems, improve their ideas to make them better, and then share their ideas and creations with others. All of these are the thinking processes and actions that scientists and engineers use.  

Our Skilly-do activities are perfect for exploring STEAM with our young mathematicians, scientists and engineers. They are designed to involve preschoolers in playing with all different kinds of materials to fashion their own individual, creative things. Using everyday materials in new and different ways is another way our activities challenge preschoolers thinking processes. In these activities we are emphasizing divergent thinking processes, which focus on many ways to think and look at ordinary things. Divergent thinking is basic to creative activities for preschool children.  


Engaging with your child in Skilly-do activities, you can encourage these divergent thinking processes and actions in some specific ways:

  • Support your child’s puttering around with things - it’s thinking with their hands! Provide lots of materials like blocks, play dough, and art materials to explore, manipulate and evaluate.  
  • Be an advocate of “what if” questions as your child plays. What if you placed a long block on top of the smaller ones? This is a way to encourage purposeful play.
  • Always keep in mind that the process is more important than the finished product. While fashioning something often involves a finished product, the path to making that something is where the learning happens.  
  • Encourage exploration of materials. Even if a finished product isn’t created, encourage your preschooler to keep exploring, to keep practicing, in order to gain fluency using a tool, like a paintbrush. For example, try different kinds of glue and discover the way each kind works, how it dries and connects different materials together.  Speaking of glue, our Materials guide is an informative place to start.
  • Let your child know that mistakes are no big deal. Mistakes-- small and large-- are a big, and often essential, part of creating. Encourage your child to persist and use different approaches to solve a problem or make progress on an idea. Celebrate small successes and consider mistakes opportunities to try again and learn something new.  
  • Possibility is fundamental to creating, and the root of invention and innovation.  One of your preschooler’s greatest strengths is the ability to imagine what is possible. To a young child, a box can become a car, or a stick can become a magic wand.   
  • Be comfortable with questions, you don’t need all the answers. The creative process is all about questioning, wondering, experimenting, and learning. Concentrate on divergent, open-ended questions. Wonder together about the possibilities and point out interesting results. The best activities don’t have clear end points. They leave room for different experiences and results.


We're positive you'll enjoy tinkering and making STEAM with your preschooler. Using some of the above suggestions, try out Readymade Styrofoam Sculptures, Tubie Creatures or any of the activities in our Divergent Thinking developmental skill category. Then, let us know-- Did you find any of the above suggestions helpful as you engaged with your child in making things?