STEAM for Preschoolers

Kids are never the problem. They are born scientists. The problem is always the adults. They beat the curiosity out of kids. They outnumber kids. They vote. They wield resources. That’s why my public focus is primarily adults.
– Neill deGrasse Tyson

Maryann “Mar.” Harman has a BA in Music and Masters in Education with emphasis in Early Childhood and writes songs that are easy to use for teachers / parents. She is a music educator, composer and international consultant with ver 35 years of classroom experience from early childhood through to college. Her work combines brain research findings with music and movement fun to teach children readiness skills they need for a successful, happy life. Maryann is dedicated to bringing quality, research-based music to children, families and teachers and an advocate for keeping the “A” in STEAM.

Neill is right. Adults need to be educated. They need to know that our job isn’t to teach children to be scientists, mathematicians and engineers. Our job is to awaken that little scientist, mathematician or engineer because he/she is already there. And, that music is an important tool to help do that.

The upcoming generation has had technology in their lives from the very beginning. A big part of that technology is accessing and making music.

Music creates a positive state for learning because it helps to reduce stress levels, heighten attention, enhance concentration, reinforce memory and stimulate motivation.
-Campbell, 1997; Jensen, 2000

At first when there became a push for STEM, it was recognized that the Arts were missing and S-T-E-M became S-T-E-A-M. Of course, this made me very happy. Yet, there are still those who do not include the A and I became an advocate for emphasizing the new addition of “A”.

According to The Midland Chemist (2005) , nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in math, science, and technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments.

Being right-brained is now becoming more important. According to Daniel Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind”, the MFA is now the new MBA. It is now harder to get into UCLA’s Department of Arts than to get into Harvard’s MBA Program. This shows a shift and (in my opinion) a clear reason why music (and all the arts) should be incorporated as an integral part of our lives and our children’s education.

Child Craft Education hired me to compose a series of songs to use in an early childhood science curriculum. I began researching and my head began to spin with ideas. I was to write five songs for each of the five strands of science : Physical Science, Life Science, Earth Science, Inquiry Science and Personal / Social Science.

At about the same time, I was also working on songs for Math and tying them into movement. Knowing music and movement gets both hemispheres of the brain involved with the learning process, enhancing retention, I began to put together activities including music (songs, rhythm activities) / movement (dance, drama, games). I also began finding the research to back it up.

The arts make better math and science students, enhance spatial intelligence in newborns, and are a compelling solution to teen violence.
-Michael Greene, Recording Academy Pres/CEO 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, Feb 2000
With all the recent researched-backed findings and with so many great minds recognizing the role music plays in helping create a STEM mind, it makes a lot of sense to prioritize STEAM. Let’s explore some ways to do that.

Children often look at science and math as ‘difficult’ subjects. Change that perspective. Helping children to look at them as ‘interesting’ shifts their relationship with the subject matter. When I was younger, I was told magic was fun and science was hard. But, wait. . . Magic is science. When I connected the dots, I LOVED science.

An abstract concept is a little bit more difficult to understand than a tangible one. Adding movement and getting the children engaged in ‘being’ the concept coupled with a song that involves both sides of the brain, will make the concept more relatable, easier to grasp and help the brain retain the information. When a learning experience is pleasurable, the brain produces dopamine and remembers the learning as something they enjoyed.

An example would be a song about magnets. What does a magnet do? It attracts or repels, much like swing dancing. Teaching children to do what magnets do by swing dancing is a great way to understand magnets by having the whole body engaged in the activity of attracting and repelling.

When children act out stories, they are reviewing the organization of the story and putting things in sequence, a science process skill
-Epstein & Trimis 02

Songs like “Peanut Butter & Jelly” teach scientific process. “First you get the peanuts and you squash ‘em. Then you get the grapes etc.” Children learn all the things they need to do as a scientist through play – gather their tools, discuss what will happen, follow through and see the results. We think we’re just being silly, but the brain is learning scientific process. Imagine that!

When I taught Middle School music, the students always seemed more open to learning when there was a practical connection to the subject matter. They reacted to reasons that were important to their lives. For math, point out that understanding numbers is necessary to keep score in a game or measure ingredients when baking cookies.

A student who sees engineering from all the possibilities in the engineering field becomes more interested. Pointing out that an engineer mixes music, sets up sound and helps to produce what we listen to and enjoy so much. Invite a sound person into a classroom or take the children to a local studio. Immerse children in ‘ideas’ and get them excited to learn. This can lead into a career they value and enjoy.

It is by keeping all five components (Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS and Mathematics) together, that we create a more holistic education for our children. And, it all starts as early as preschool!

For more information on Maryann’s work, you can visit Music With Mar.