Did you know children can understand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts when they are less than a year old? In a study titled, “The Roots of STEM Success,” the authors found that kids are capable of developing complex thinking skills before they are even verbal.

In another study, one researcher explained that young children “can make observations and predictions, carry out simple experiments and investigations, collect data, and begin to make sense of what they found.”

Based on these insights, students don’t have to wait until they’re a certain age to engage in “real” STEM. Having early exposure to STEM concepts can lay the foundation for the serious STEM learning that will take place later. And fortunately, it doesn’t take much to teach STEM to young learners. Below are just a few simple, age-appropriate activity ideas to help you get started.

1. Electrical Circuits

Exploring circuits is a fun and easy way to show students how electricity works! A circuit is a path that electricity flows along. How does it work? It starts at a power source, such as a battery. Then it flows through a wire to an object, like a lightbulb, and back to the power source.

You can get started by building a circuit flower. This activity from STEAM Powered Family combines circuits and chromatography to bring paper flowers to life. You can also check out these Start-Up Circuits that allow young students to experiment with circuits in a safe way. They will simply connect the pieces for an exciting result: a spinning fan, a glowing light or a whistling siren. With either activity, your students will better understand how electrical circuits work.

Check out Creative Investigations in Early Science to help young scientists learn key science concepts

2. Simple Machines

Engineering may seem like a complex concept to teach young STEM learners. But they can discover the wonders of engineering through simple machines! Simple machines are devices with few or no moving parts that make work easier.

The six types of simple machines include the:

  • Wheel and axle
  • Wedge
  • Lever
  • Inclined plane
  • Screw
  • Pulley

Engineers have used simple machines throughout the centuries to construct important and everyday structures like highway ramps, tractors and even pyramids. You can introduce younger students to engineering with this Simple Machines STEM Activity Set. The set includes colorful, engaging tools and an activity guide for students to make their own discoveries. They will have a chance to tinker with all six simple machines while designing solutions for real-world problems.

See Creative Investigations in Early Engineering and Technology to help students think, make, tinker and innovate

3. Tech-Free Coding

Coding is an important element in STEM learning. But did you know that you can teach coding without a computer? With tech-free coding activities, you can give younger students an opportunity to learn coding in a way that’s less intimidating and more interactive. Similar to online coding activities, students will learn basic coding skills while developing other essential skills like sequential thinking, persistence and critical thinking.

There are a number of ways to teach coding without a computer. To help you get started, we’ve shared some of our favorite activities below:

While learning to code with a computer is important for today’s students, tech-free coding is a great way to introduce this important STEM concept to early learners.

For more tips and strategies on introducing young students to STEM, check out STEM Play: Integrating Inquiry into Learning Centers by Deirdre Sheridan Englehart, EdD, Debby Mitchell, et al.