The six recommendations for action, while embedding the guiding principles, target key steps for policy, practice, and research that will promote dramatic improvement in early STEM education. They are intended for school leaders and district decision-makers, policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels, researchers, and funders. Our aim is to help guide discussion and change at a critical point in public discourse about the need for high-quality early childhood education.
Raise the profile and understanding of early childhood STEM education via advocacy and messaging.
Generating broad support for young children’s access to high-quality STEM experiences begins with sparking awareness and discourse about it. This in turn will create demand for high-quality STEM in preschools from key stakeholders, including parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers.
Revamp pre-service and in-service STEM-related training and supports for early childhood teachers.
For all children to have access to high-quality STEM experiences in preschool, their teachers need to be well prepared in content and pedagogy to lead high-quality STEM experiences in their classrooms. We must revamp early childhood program and teacher accreditation requirements to include preparation and continuing support in the STEM disciplines.
Parents and Families
Establish initiatives, resources, and supports that promote parents’ and families’ involvement and engagement in their young children’s STEM education.
Parents play a key role in shaping children’s early experiences in STEM at home, and in creating demand for high-quality STEM education in their children’s early childhood settings. Too often, parents lack the knowledge or confidence to support children’s early STEM education. We need robust supports that build adult and child self-efficacy around STEM, inspire family involvement in STEM at home, convey the importance of STEM experiences in early childhood, and empower families to expect and advocate for high-quality STEM education in their children’s schools.
Make high-quality early STEM resources and implementation guidance available to practitioners.
Early childhood educators too frequently lack access to high-quality STEM education resources, lack guidance about what makes STEM resources high quality, and lack support for using available resources effectively. Educators need clear and concise information about what constitutes a high-quality STEM resource, and they need access to and support for implementing existing and newly-developed, high-quality resources.
Ensure that early learning and development standards explicitly address the STEM disciplines and align with K-12 standards.
State-level early learning standards and guidelines currently vary in their recognition of STEM disciplines as areas of focus for young children’s learning, and in their alignment to K–12 standards in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Standards and guidelines influence teachers’ and principals’ priorities for their youngest students. If STEM is recognized and highlighted in early learning standards, it will bring increased attention and time to those areas in preschool. If the standards are well aligned with K–12 standards, it increases the likelihood that children’s preschool experiences will prepare them for what they will be asked to do in kindergarten and beyond.
Develop and support a research agenda that informs developmental trajectories, effective resources, and best practices in early childhood STEM education.
A firm research foundation is needed to guide policies and investments related to early childhood STEM education. Funding agencies should prioritize research that will fill current gaps in knowledge about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teaching and learning in early childhood. This includes support for researcher-practitioner partnerships, to help ensure that high-quality research addresses the realities of early childhood classrooms, and that the findings reach those who need it, namely teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, professional development providers, and pre-service teacher educators. Research findings can be made accessible to these audiences in forms such as curricula, professional development materials, and products that practitioners can use to enhance their work.