STEAM activities for the Early Childhood Classroom

STEAM Activities

Looking for STEAM activities to challenge your children?

I designed 30 STEAM activities presented as stimulus prompt cards. They engage and challenge my children as they explore concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM activities take STEM activities to the next level. The A (Arts) gives children the opportunity to develop their creative thinking skills alongside their critical thinking skills.

STEAM classroom

Why teach STEAM?

STEAM activities are gaining popularity in today’s classrooms.  They give children opportunities to develop the skills that will be essential in their future. Employers will be sourcing workers with STEAM capabilities. It makes sense to be developing these skills early.

The STEAM curriculum is highly engaging. Children love the challenges of solving problems and approach these activities with enthusiasm.  The activities provide opportunities for hands-on learning and integrate seamlessly into the play based classroom.

Another benefit of incorporating STEAM activities into the classroom is the social aspect. Children are encouraged to collaborate to solve a problem and create a new way of expressing their ideas. Both social skills and oral language skills are always a focus in an early childhood classroom and STEAM challenges are an ideal way to foster them.

The process of working together allows children to learn from each and see solutions they may not have independently thought of. Higher order thinking skills are developed through STEAM activities and include both critical and creative thinking skills.

It’s important to remember the process is the focus of any STEAM activity. The end product is not as important as how it was created. The journey is where the learning happens.

The beauty of STEAM activities is that everyone has something to offer. Everyone can succeed. The activities are innately differentiated. As they do in play, children will work in their zone of proximal development.

What it Looks Like in My Classroom

Whole Class STEAM Challenges

Once a week I timetable in a whole class STEAM challenge. I display the specific prompt straight from the .pdf file onto our interactive panel.

Sometimes the children work individually but more often I have them work with a friend. I like them working collaboratively. Sometimes the children choose their partner and sometimes I choose for them. I usually tell the children who their partner will be as I have noticed if a more able student works with a less able, everyone stays engaged and greater learning takes place.

STEAM prompt for whole class lesson

Later in the year, after the children are familiar with the STEAM activities, I might put 3 children together. However, this changes the whole dynamics and sometimes has one child as a spectator so I prefer groups of 2. Collaboration is important as social skills are fostered during STEAM work.

Link STEAM to the Curriculum

I plan a STEAM challenge with the curriculum learning intentions in mind. I decide if I want a Math, English or Science focus. Here are a few examples of some of our challenges:

Math

  • How many ways can you represent this number using these resources?
  • How many ways can you represent this shape?
  • Use these materials to make a ruler.
  • Use the materials to make a tool to measure length.

 

English

  • Use these resources to make this book character.
  • Make the setting from this book with these resources.
  • Design an object that has the /ow/ sound in its name.

 

I set a time limit on their working time. This helps with engagement and creates a sense of urgency. When the timer goes, we all down tools and I nearly always get complaints! I set the timer for 15 to 20 minutes and give 5 minute and 1 minute warnings.  Before I press start on the timer, I remind children to think about how they will be representing their knowledge. I like to give the partners a chance to discuss and plan first.

What resources should you offer?

The resources I provide are planned and already prepared. If I’m organised, they are compiled into clip-lock bags. At other times, I put trays or baskets containing the resources around the room and the children are given time to collect the supplies themselves. This happens before the timer starts. Always check each group has the correct supplies before that timer starts.

I have compiled a comprehensive list of resources that I use for my STEAM challenges. You can download the full list for FREE in my Resource Library. If you would like a couple of pages from the full list, I have a sample here.

I use resources that are readily available in early childhood classrooms and if not, they can be purchased cheaply.

DOWNLOAD a Free sample of My Teaching Cupboard's FREE STEAM Resources List
List of easily accessible classroom resources I use in my STEAM Challenges.
Full List of STEAM Resources

If you liked the sample list of resources, you might like to join My Teaching Cupboard’s Email Group. I don’t send out emails very often though. You will get access to my FREE Resource Library when you sign up. In the FREE Resource LIbrary, you’ll find the full STEAM resource list along with some other resources I know you’ll find useful.

4 Steps in Planning Resources

1. Building Base: When planning the resources to provide in a STEAM activity, I always have 1 or 2 construction materials. These act as a building base. Paper, card or playdough are common. I have many more options in the free download list though. You can easily alter these base materials by changing their attributes. Think about changing the size, shape, colour or texture of paper offered.

2. Joiners: Next, I’ll choose something the children can use to join the base materials. Glue, tape, string or wire perhaps. Again, these can be altered. Glue could be either a glue stick, PVA in a squeeze bottle or maybe a tub of Clag. Tape might be cello-tape, masking tape or washi tape. These are usually included in their clip-lock bag but sometimes I will just tell the children they are free to use glue if they wish. It is interesting to see which glue they use when given that option.

3. Tools: Then I add something that can alter the base building material. Scissors or paper punches might be an option for paper and card. If you are having a focus on measuring in Math, add a ruler as a tool. Pop sticks and toothpicks make great little tools to alter playdough.

4. Creative Oddball: Finally, I add a creative oddball. This inclusion takes the activity from a STEM to a STEAM challenge. I’ll usually look at the collage trolley for some inspiration. I might include a black and a white feather, or 3 pompoms of different sizes, or maybe even all of these. The children are not always required to use every resource I provide unless of course I make that a rule at the start. They are not allowed to use any other materials or tools other than those I provide though.

Each group gets exactly the same resources.

You might like to repeat the challenge the following week but change the materials supplied. This benefits the children by helping them build on prior knowledge. You will notice them incorporate newly learned ideas a second time around.

Sharing time

It is very important to review and reflect on the STEAM challenge with the children. This reflection helps the children process their learning and thinking. When the timer goes, we stop building immediately. After the initial “Ohhh Nooo!”, we clean up our work space. Then the children are free to walk around and observe other teams results. I often hearing them question each other or offer some constructive feedback to one another.

We will then return to the carpet meeting place and have a class discussion reflecting on the task. Some points we might discuss include:

  • How effective were the materials for this task?
  • What’s another material you would have liked included?
  • What problems did you face? How did you tackle that problem?
  • What was successful for you? Why?
  • Was there too much time allowed or not enough?
  • What would you change next time?
  • Did you see a great idea from another team?
STEAM challenge. Can you build a castle?
STEAM challenge. Can you make a tree?
STEAM challenge. Can you make a pyramid?

Investigation Prompts

I have a play-based classroom. The STEAM activity cards I have designed play a vital role as provocations in my investigation areas.

I use them regularly at the play dough table, in the box construction area, at the wooden blocks, with lego and at the collage table. The prompt card I choose to display always relates to a current curriculum learning intention. I plan and design specific provocations around both the learning intention and the resources I have.

3D Shape Provocation:   When we were learning about 3D shapes, I set up this provocation on a small table. Desert sand (purchased at the pet shop) was placed in a tray. Next to the tray, I offered some small wooden blocks, some glass gems and a few pop sticks and matchsticks. These resources were presented in bowls next to the prompt card on display. I try to add something which is not obviously related to the task (like the glass gems). It’s interesting to see whether the children choose to use that material and what they do with it.

STEAM challenge. Pyramid building prompt.
STEAM Challenge. Farm prompt

Farm Provocation:   When we were learning about living things and their habitats,  I added this STEAM prompt to our blocks construction area. I offered some farm animals, blocks, fabric and stones. Sometimes the children will get a resource from another part of the classroom and I encourage that resourceful thinking. These STEAM challenges are not as strict as the whole class activities.

Another strategy I have found useful is to take the STEAM prompt from a whole class challenge and then place it in an investigation area the following week. This is a wonderful way to have children expand their thinking and build on what they learned in the whole class lesson.

Looking for STEAM activities to challenge your children?

You will love these 30 STEAM cards. I designed them as stimulus prompts for children exploring concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. These inviting prompts will help your children develop their higher order thinking skills by challenging them to think both creatively and critically.

You will receive a .pdf file containing 30 STEAM Prompt cards. They are presented in A4 format but can easily be reduced in size by choosing the tiled option on your printer. You might like to print 2 or 4 to a page. I do recommend printing them at a high quality to achieve the stunning quality.

how to teach phonemic awareness and early reading skills

How to Teach Phonemic Awareness

Before you can expect a child to read or write, you need to be teaching phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness can be broken into four main skills. The first of these is the ability to hear and isolate sounds (phonemes) in words.  The next two skills a child needs to master are the blending and segmenting of phonemes. The final skill is phoneme manipulation. I have found this is usually the most difficult of the four phonemic awareness skills.

Isolating Phonemes

This is where children need to be investigating both the producing and hearing of phonemes – sounds. Getting children to listen and watch you produce a sound helps them to isolate phonemes.

Ask them to copy you and make the sound too. They should be noticing the position of their mouth and tongue when they do it. It can be a little easier for some children to have access to a mirror when they are producing different sounds. A mirror helps them see and copy the mouth positions.

Tongue twisters are a fun activity that children always love. Have them repeat or create tongue twisters to reinforce the isolation of phonemes. You can download some tongue twisters here.

Picture and word sorting are fantastic activities for exploring phoneme isolation. I have some picture sorts available in my store. These picture sorts are designed to focus on initial sounds in words. The position of the phoneme in each word has a different level of difficulty. The initial sound in a word is the easiest to hear and isolate.

Blending and Segmenting Phonemes

Before you tackle the blending and segmenting of sounds, it is important that your students have a solid understanding of letter, sound and word concepts. Children need to be able to differentiate between these concepts before you begin any blending and segmenting activities.

Phoneme Bingo is a game to develop phonemic awareness

I designed a phoneme bingo game to build phonemic awareness in beginning readers. I use this phonemic awareness game to teach my students how to blend and segment the sounds/phonemes within words. Some other activities to help teach the blending and segmenting of phonemes are:

  • count the phonemes in words
  • play with a puppet that emphasises initial, medial or final sounds “look at that c-a-a-a-t”
  • use an elastic band to demonstrate segmenting by stretching the band and saying the word slowly at the same time

Manipulating Phonemes

One of the most difficult of the phonemic awareness skills requires children to substitute, delete and add phonemes to words. I have had success with this skill once children have started formal reading and writing. We make words in numerous ways. We use magnetic letters, rock letters (letters written on flat pebbles) and scrabble tiles. I always begin with CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. When the children can make CVC words quite competently, we start swapping letters out to make new words. If you can make cat, you can make mat, fat, sat, pat, bat etc.

Research indicates that phonemic awareness in young students is one part of an effective reading program. The teaching of phonemic awareness is most successful when there is an explicit focus on recognising and manipulating sound units— phonemes.

This Phoneme Bingo game has helped the students in my class recognise and manipulate phonemes. They love playing this game. It has been great to see them gain confidence and experience success with their phonemic awareness skills.

This .pdf file contains a call sheet and 18 bingo cards. Each card has 6 pictures. I have used stock photos for the pictures as I like the authenticity of real life images. Your students will instantly recognise the pictures on each card. Instructions for playing are included along with some information on phonemic awareness.

 

This game is easily differentiated to suit the developmental level of your students. Some ideas for differentiation are included.

Check out my blog post on Phonological Awareness if you would like to read more about phonemic awareness and other pre-reading skills.
CVC Sentences to develop Decoding Fluency from My Teaching Cupboard

CVC Sentences to Develop Decoding Fluency

Looking for decodable texts that are authentic?

Simple decodable texts from My Teaching Cupboard

Give your beginning reader success and a joy of reading with decodable texts.

Teaching a child to read must be explicit and follow a developmental sequence. In the first stage of reading, a child is learning the relationship between letters and sounds and between print and spoken words.

The texts given to a beginning reader must be simple with a combination of a few sight words and some easy to sound-out words. Decodable texts are just that!

CVC words, consonant – vowel – consonant words, are the easiest to decode or sound-out.

Successful Readers Draw Upon Six Skills When They Are Reading

  1. Phonemic awareness: the ability to hear and identify the separate words in a sentence and the separate syllables and sounds within words.
  2. Letter-sound relationship: knowing the sound that goes with each letter.
  3. Sounding out or decoding words: using their letter-sound relationship knowledge to sound out words.  This is called decoding.
    These two kinds of knowledge (letter-sound correspondence and decoding) are called the alphabetic principle.
  4. Fluency: the ability to read accurately and quickly without the need to stop and decode. It is important that the reader is still comprehending and understanding the text they are reading.
  5. Vocabulary: knowledge of what words mean.
  6. Comprehension: understanding and gaining meaning from the text.

First a child must develop their phonemic awareness.

It is the vital pre-requisite to formal phonics instruction. When children know all their single letter sounds they are ready to start decoding words phonetically.

The ability to decode words phonetically is an important skill for the beginning reader. It lays the foundation to becoming a competent, fluent reader. If a child cannot decode words, their reading will not be fluent. Their reading comprehension skills will be poor too.

Sounding out words – decoding is an important part of becoming a fluent reader. Children competent in phonemic awareness, concepts of print and letter/sound relationships (phonics) quickly master decodable texts. In no time they are ready to read other books with richer and varied vocabulary.

CVC sentences to develop decoding fluency from My Teaching Cupboard

Decodable readers are the stepping stones to becoming a fluent, confident reader.

CVC flip sentences to develop fluency in decoding. Help build reading success in the beginning reader. From My Teaching Cupboard.

In my classroom, I often found my students were quite competent at sounding out words in isolation. However, they were having difficulty transferring this skill to their guided reading texts. The answer to this transference problem lies in practice. Practice in reading decodable texts is a necessity.

I found that most of the decodable reading books available to the beginning reader were not very authentic in their sentence structure or story line. To solve this problem, I designed these Flip Sentences.

The sentences in this resource are simple in structure with authentic content. They are helping my beginner readers develop automatic decoding skills and building their fluency. More importantly though, my children are enjoying success as readers and their confidence and enthusiasm is growing daily.

The 56 sentences contain common sight words

along with decodable CVC words.

I usually use these Flip Sentences in my small group Literacy Rotations. Children work with a partner. One child reads the first sentence and their partner follows along. If the sentence is read fluently, the listening partner says, “flip it”.

The reader flips the sentence over to reveal the matching illustration. This gives the children an opportunity to self-check their reading accuracy. The children then swap roles with the listening partner becoming the reader and decoder.

They really love this activity. I get requests for the Flip Sentences often.

The sight words in my Flip Sentences are:

I, am, a, we, to, and, here, my, little, go, come, see, like, she, look, he, the, me

Teaching Phonological Awareness, Syllables and Phonemic Awareness from My Teaching Cupboard.

Teaching Phonological Awareness, Syllables and Phonemic Awareness

As the year goes on, I am becoming more aware of the importance of Phonological Awareness and Concepts of Print to the Prep child. Phonemic awareness was my focus for term one and as I look at my reading data – I’m glad it was! There are still children having difficulties with these skills so I decided to research the topic. I found a wealth of information and thought I’d share the most relevant to Prep here.

What is Phonological Awareness?
What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonological awareness is an awareness of the ways in which words and syllables can be divided into smaller units. There are three levels of phonological awareness: syllable awareness, intra-syllable awareness, and phonemic awareness.

Syllable awareness consists of the segmenting of syllables in words and the blending of syllables together to form words.
Intra-syllables are the units we often refer to as onset and rime. This level includes the blending of sounds to form words, segmenting the sounds in words and adding, deleting, or changing the sounds in words or in a sound cluster.

What is phonological awareness

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are composed of phonemes or sounds and that those sounds have distinct features. Phonemic awareness consists of four major skills which involve hearing, focusing on, and manipulating the phonemes in spoken syllables and words. Phonemic awareness may sometimes be confused with the teaching of phonics.

Phonics refers to teaching the letter-sound relationships. Children can be taught to manipulate sounds in speech without any phonics or letter knowledge and therefore phonemic awareness instruction is not phonics instruction.

These terms can be illustrated in the word: fishing. The syllables are fish and ing. The intra-syllables are f(onset) and -ishing (rime). The phonemes are /f/i/sh/i/ng/. Note that phonemes in fishing are different from letters and the spelling of the word. Phonemes represent sounds and although a letter (or grapheme) represents a sound, there is not always a one-to-one correspondence. In the word fishing, there are 7 letters but only 5 phonemes.

What is phonemic awareness

How does Phonological Awareness develop?
Is there a suggested order to teach the skills?

Phonological awareness skills develop along a flexible continuum. Children rely on their auditory skills for the development of the phonological awareness skills of syllable segmentation, blending, and rhyme. Then they rely on their speaking articulation skills for the next stages of phonological awareness where they demonstrate sound blending and sound segmentation. In the final stage of phonological awareness, children are relying on their orthographic knowledge for the higher level skills of sound manipulation and cluster segmentation.

Researchers conclude that there is a relationship between phonological awareness skills and literacy development. Phonological awareness is necessary for decoding text but the critical aspect of phonological awareness is that the child becomes aware words are made up of sounds. Graphemes or alphabet letters and the teaching of phonics makes no sense to a child who does not understand that words are made up of sounds. Once phonological awareness is established however, children begin to understand the relationship between speech sounds and print.

Key findings from the report of the National Reading Panel, “Teaching Children to Read” (NICHD, 2000) state that phonemic awareness can be taught and can be learned. Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to decode, read and spell. Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it focuses on only one or two types of phonemic manipulation at a time. Segmenting and blending are the most critical phonemic awareness skills. Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are eventually taught to manipulate phonemes by using alphabet letters.

The report also supports the teaching of phonological awareness in the Prep classroom. Children need to be engaged in systematic, developmentally appropriate activities that are aimed at facilitating shallow levels of phonological awareness like rhyme and alliteration. By the end of the Prep year, activities that are aimed at deeper levels of awareness like segmenting and blending are appropriate. Therefore, those children who are not demonstrating phonological awareness by the middle of the year can be identified and targeted for explicit intervention.

Benchmarks for Phonological Awareness Achievement

Note. I do = teacher demonstrates skill; We do = students repeat with teacher; You do = student completes example independently

I designed these Initial Sound Picture Sorts to help build phonemic awareness with my Prep children. These fun, hands-on sorting activities help children develop an awareness of sounds that is essential to reading success. They help develop students’ understanding of alphabet letter sounds along with the beginning phonemes in words. Picture sorts ensure your students develop their phonemic awareness skills and lays the foundation for any Early Literacy Program.

The PDF file contains 31 pages. It includes up to 12 quality sorting pictures for each letter of the alphabet, matching alphabet letter labels, clear and detailed instructions for using the cards and learning activities in your classroom. I have been using these for some time now. I love them, my children love them and I don’t know how I did without them.

Something valuable from the research that spoke to me is the fact that Teachers need to teach not test. Often our teaching looks more like testing where we ask a child a question rather than modelling, giving feedback and scaffolding. Teaching is helping a child do something that he or she was not able to do before. I was happy to find that the most effective instruction of Phonological Awareness involved The Gradual Release Model.

Teachers need to teach - not test.

The Gradual Release Model

Steps for teaching phonological awareness skills:

Implementing the Daily 5 in my Prep Classroom

When I read The Daily 5 text by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser last year, I was instantly a fan. I knew I wanted to implement this structure into my Literacy Program. I was overwhelmed with the success of the program with my Preps last year and I look forward to another year of the Daily 5 in my Prep classroom again this year. I adapted the Daily 5 to suit my children, my timetable and my teaching philosophy. I think it will be best explained as a step-by-step process.
We spend the first 6 weeks of the year getting to know one another and setting classroom routines and expectations. During these first 6 weeks, I model correct reading behaviours every day. We read Big Books, predictive emergent readers and as many literary texts as I can squeeze into the day. We constantly talk about the 3 ways to read a book. I made a little Anchor Chart to reinforce the 3 ways to read a book.

You can download it here.

Then I introduce Read to Self. I follow the steps outlined in the Daily 5 text. Each child is given a book box. I use Magazine Holders as they are light and easy for the children to manage. They are quite strong and usually last us the year. Each child chooses 4 readers for their book boxes.

We talk about good-fit books but I have found this concept to be a bit “above” them and for ease of management, I provide a large selection of readers at their appropriate reading level and they can only choose books from their specific level.
At the beginning of the year, most of the children are Emergent readers and are reading simple predictive texts. I put out the PM Starters we have already read in class during Guided Reading, I put out little copies of the Big Books we have shared along with the class books we have made together. I also put out all my home made readers. You can purchase some of these in my shop here. Supplying the children with enough readers was my biggest challenge last year and I spent many weekends and late nights making readers.
At the beginning, we spend more time watching and discussing the modelling of a good Read to Self than actually reading – but this is so important for setting the ground rules and getting the children ready to read independently. Our first day this year we made it to 20 seconds! I write the time up on a sticky note next to the 3 Ways to Read a Book Chart and we refer to it each day just before they set off. At the end of Read to Self, they put their book boxes away and return to the carpet eager to find out if they have “broken their record”. Usually they do and the room erupts with cheers. Some days we go backwards and you should see the honest disappointment on their faces.
We do Read to Self every day, straight after first break. Slowly, slowly, they build their stamina. It took us nearly 3 weeks to reach 5 minutes (our first goal) and they nearly lifted the roof that day. Honestly, their enthusiasm is contagious – I love teaching Prep. Once they reach 5 min, I can finally start my conferencing. At this early stage, I simply sit with one child and listen to them read a story. We might discuss finger pointing or picture clues but it is pretty informal and I must say it is a dream sitting in a quiet Prep classroom where everyone is on task and I have the pleasure of sitting one-on-one with a little beginning reader. Did I mention I love teaching Prep?
Our stamina grows and just before the holidays, we reached 10 minutes (our next goal). They were dancing that day! Actually, so was I. Last year we rarely sustained a Read to Self for longer than 15 minutes with about 12 minutes our average. The children soon got into the routine and never really took much notice of how long we were reading for. As the year progresses, they change their goals to “how many sight words they know” or “what level book they are reading”. One thing that never changes though is the look of pure joy on their faces when I say, “Today in Read to Self, I would like to read with you”. If nothing else, I love the Daily 5 because it gives me 10 minutes to just sit quietly (uninterrupted) with one of my children and enjoy the process of learning to read. That brings me to my conferencing and record keeping. I will cover that in another post as I have quite a lot to share on that topic too.