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Guiding Principles

The guiding principles are overarching conceptual commitments about young children and STEM education, and at the same time are specifically intended to correct larger misconceptions about STEM disciplines that currently abound in early childhood. These principles generally reflect best practices for early childhood education that are often overlooked or forgotten in STEM education.


Children need adults to develop their “natural” STEM inclinations.

Although young children often show great natural curiosity about the world and remarkable capacity to learn on their own, they need adult assistance to foster, guide, and build on their interests to ensure adequate early STEM experiences.


Representation and communications are central to STEM learning.

STEM education must feature discussion, visualization, and other forms of representation (e.g., drawing, writing, graphing) to promote learning that leads to generalization of important concepts and practices.


Adults’ beliefs and attitudes about STEM affect children’s beliefs and attitudes about STEM.

Many people in the United States believe they are not competent or skilled in STEM-related fields, and may avoid these areas and even profess this claimed incompetence in social situations. It is important to work to change these attitudes and beliefs by building adults’ and children’s self-efficacy around their ability to learn and do STEM, especially in groups who are traditionally under-represented in STEM careers, such as women and minorities. Doing so will lead to higher-quality STEM education now and in the future.


STEM education is not culturally neutral.

Although mathematics is sometimes claimed to be a “universal” language and science is sometimes seen as “objective,” STEM education is not culturally neutral. It is subject to the same types of cultural influences, and cultural, racial, and class biases and stereotypes as other topics in education. Adults’ explicit acknowledgment of and willingness to address these issues will mean more recognition of culturally different approaches to STEM education and will reduce biases and stereotypes that limit children’s success as STEM learners.