When a 3-year-old floats a toy boat in the bathtub, we don’t usually think of her as comprehending the concept of buoyancy. When a 4-year-old plays hand shadow puppets on the wall before drifting off to sleep, we don’t think of him as possessing the ability to hypothesize.
But that’s exactly what these little tykes are doing, in their own way. They’re using simple science and math principles, and their parents and some of their teachers don’t even know it.
Now, thanks to a new program the Academy is rolling out this fall at 20 early childhood centers in West Philadelphia, teachers of 3- to 5-year-olds will receive the training and teaching tools they need to encourage and expand on the natural curiosity and abilities of young children in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly known as STEM, and all while learning the important foundations of literacy and math.
The program, called Science and Literacy for Success, is funded by a three-year, $685,600 grant from the William Penn Foundation.
“This program will establish a cutting-edge community-based research-practice partnership that creates and pilots a STEM-based literacy program for early childhood education,” said Academy Vice President for Education Jacquie Genovesi, PhD. “Combining STEM and literacy is a new focus, especially for Philadelphia, and has the opportunity to really make a difference in school readiness.”
Nationally, and in Philadelphia, studies show that children from low-income minority families tend to have fewer supports during the critical early learning years. Lack of these supports causes them to perform at lower levels in language and STEM subjects, and these early deficits often lead to a lifetime of lower academic achievement.
In recent years, early childhood literacy skills have become a focus of student achievement. ”We know if we can get kids reading on grade level by third grade, they tend to stay in school through 12th grade and go on to college,” Genovesi said.
But new studies show that early science and math skills might be even more important in predicting academic success overall. “Improving science and math skills not only increases literacy, but can also provide executive function skills needed for success in kindergarten and beyond,” Genovesi said.
The Academy has been working for several months to modify a research-based, cutting-edge curriculum that will be implemented beginning in September in preschool centers in the West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood, designated and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. About 40 teachers and 350 children will benefit in the first year of the program.
For Mariah Romaninsky, the Academy’s senior manager of STEM programs, it’s never too early to explore how a boat floats or how light plays tricks on the eyes.
“Children are natural scientists. Their curiosity about how the world works leads them to explore, experiment, and problem-solve on their own and at every turn,” Romaninsky said.
“Activities like counting and sorting, color mixing, playing with lights and shadows or learning what sinks and what floats, are activities that help build vocabulary and create a sense of accomplishment while gaining skills that are the foundation for future successes in the classroom and beyond,” Romaninsky said.
The Academy brings a decade of experience in providing professional development programs for preschool staff. A Head Start on Science, funded by PNC Bank and the Barra Foundation, has since 2008 provided 76 professional development workshops for 302 pre-K staff in more than 70 early childhood care centers throughout Philadelphia. These workshops proved successful in increasing classroom time spent on science, math, and literacy instruction, leading to increased STAR ratings in these centers.
The Academy draws on more than 30 years of experience providing low-income families with science and literacy programs through its charter membership in the Philadelphia/Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative, which has received multiple grant awards from the National Science Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Academy’s expansive record of implementing high-quality STEM-based programs ranges from the highly successful Women In Natural Sciences, which increases the public high school graduation and college admission rates of Philadelphia girls, to Tiny Tots, which introduces preschoolers to science and the natural world around them.
Post by Carolyn Belardo