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Make a Mess and Explore STEAM

color drawing of the word "STEAM"

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning activities provide opportunities for young children to develop skills across developmental domains. This tool kit provides ideas and resources to help you plan engaging and developmentally appropriate STEAM activities for young children. Begin with the “Getting Started” tab to find out how children learn about their world through STEAM experiences. Then, click on the tab for each individual component of STEAM learning for more ideas.

Getting Started

STEAM learning provides children hands-on opportunities to discover their world. For example, play is a pathway for STEAM exploration. This play can be messy yet full of rich possibilities for learning.

child with blocks

Resource List: Explore STEAM with Young Child

Podcast: Process Play and STEAM: Getting Started

Web Resource: Learning – Play Scotland


Science exploration offers young children a chance to explore and discover the world around them. This includes discovering the living world and the physical world. Young children have many opportunities to make predictions and see whether their theories about the world are correct. This learning can take place at home, in the classroom, and even on the playground. Conversations about science concepts are a great way to fit science learning into your day. These conversations can be part of activities such as cooking, building with blocks, and exploring the outdoors.

drawing of child standing on book


Young children encounter technology throughout their everyday routines. Technology tools can provide hands-on learning opportunities when educators and caregivers purposefully include technology in activities. Browse Everyday Early Intervention: Technology is Everywhere and discover helpful tips for using technology with young children to search for music for dancing and for videos or photos online that answer children’s questions. You also can use technology tools such as photography and audio or video recordings to document children’s learning. Consider teaching older children how to take photos and videos of their creations as they learn to use phones or tablets.

drawing of child with notepad

Resource List: The Project Approach: Display and Documentation Techniques

Q&A: Age-Appropriate Play for Young Children


Young children are creators. They are often observed dreaming up inventions using blocks, boxes, and other items. Through play, budding engineers show us their growing understanding of the world. Young children may wonder how simple objects and structures are built. These questions are the beginning of their exploration as budding engineers. Educators and caregivers can provide young children with opportunities to explore engineering through purposeful play.

boy with science project

Blog: Busy with Blocks

Project Example: Up Up and Away: The Airplane Project


The arts provide important opportunities for young children to show what they know about the world around them. Young children express their ideas and feelings through visual art, music, drama, and movement. The arts can be a pathway to other STEAM learning areas. For example, the visual arts allow children to use the principles of mathematics to observe and create patterns. Young children employ engineering principles when they are building structures with blocks to represent a castle or house in a pretend story. Digital technologies, such as videos or audio recordings, can be used when children are recording the stories they develop during dramatic play.

child singing


Children discover mathematics concepts through everyday routines and play. Playing games is one of the best ways young children learn these concepts. Young children encounter numbers during everyday routines and play. You may have seen young children count blocks to compare the height of towers, count crackers on their plate, or count the number of people playing on a playground. As they talk and count with peers and caregivers about the things they are exploring and playing with, they continue to develop more understanding of how numbers and their operations work. In addition, conversations about patterns, shapes, and measurement are a wonderful way to explore math concepts. These conversations can be inspired by everyday objects such as glass window panes, bricks on a building, or the shapes and colors of fruits or vegetables in a salad.

boy with clock

Web Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program
  • Kindergarten

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers
  • Faculty / Trainer

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2020