Full STEAM Ahead: Early Toddler Development

  • Feb 1, 2023
  • 327
Full STEAM Ahead: Early Toddler Development

STEAM Tips & Activities for Fun, Imaginative Play


The early days of parenthood might feel like an uphill battle. You’re the little-engine-that-could trying to answer questions with many possible answers.


How do I set my child up for success? What things should I be teaching my child and when? How can I best help them reach their developmental milestones?


Add to it the complication of a toddler’s short attention span (that is shorter than a goldfish), and you have a winning combo for frustration.


Luckily, toddlers and babies by their very nature are curious creatures, who learn by doing with a lot of trial and error. That’s where “STEAM” activities can make all the difference.  


What is STEAM?


STEAM, formerly known as STEM, is an acronym for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.”


If you have a vision of your toddler in safety goggles and a little lab coat, we can all agree that’s an adorable image, but not necessary to create a stimulating learning environment.


Your child’s play opportunities should always include time to:


• Explore

• Develop their senses

• Expand their knowledge of how the world works


So, let’s break down each part of the acronym along with tips and suggestions on how you incorporate STEAM into your child’s play.


Science is More Than Lab Coats


Science, in the most general terms, is all about gathering data, exploring, recognizing patterns, and the discovery of new concepts or ideas. Any play that involves observation or making predictions could be considered a “science” activity.


TIP: Ask your child questions as you play or when you’re doing daily activities, like “What color is this?” (while you’re reading a book), “What kind of animal is this?” (if you’re at the zoo or a park), “What fruit is this?” (when you’re at the grocery store). The list of possible questions is endless, but asking is the key to nurturing their curiosity.

Tech for Toddlers 


Technology doesn’t necessarily mean that we should be giving babies smartphones or toddlers tablets (although TBH those tablets can come in super handy while traveling), but the “T” in “STEAM” refers to the use of tools while toddlers engage in exploratory play.


For example, scales that balance two weights or even a seesaw; cups that scoop and measure quantities; a magnifying glass that makes objects larger. For technology play, think play centers with multiple activities such as water tables, basic machines, or even sand boxes.


TIP: Water play is extremely interactive because it stimulates multiple senses at once. And some water tables include multiple parts of the STEAM acronym (a little bit of science, math, and technology all rolled into one). Plus, while your child plays you can practice making predictions – will this object sink or float? How many scoops of water does it take to fill this bucket? And so on.


Everyone Can be an Engineer


As impressive as it would be to watch an 18-month-old build a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge out of pasta or the Leaning Tower of Pisa out of pizza, early engineering can also be problem solving at its simplest. Toys where a child has to figure out which shape fits into the right hole are great examples.


TIP: Large interlocking building blocks (not the tiny kind that are excruciating to step on and your child could possibly swallow), stacking cups, and wooden blocks to build towers with are great basic engineering toys.


Arts in the Eyes of Toddlers


Coming up with activities for the arts is arguably the easiest part of the “STEAM” acronym. You’re probably thinking of primary colors and finger painting or coloring basic shapes. Maybe playing music and singing along to practice building your child’s vocabulary? Those are perfect options to get artistic with your child and you can increase the difficulty of the projects as they age.


Studies also show that at around 18 months, your child should start to distinguish the difference between colors and shapes, so incorporating basic colors and shapes into your projects is a win-win.


TIP: Want to take your finger painting up a notch? Throw some other tools like sponges, brushes, or straws into the mix and you’ll have a multi-STEAM activity where your toddler can practice their dexterity as they paint.


Math is More Than Numbers


As Start Early, an organization defined as “champions for early learning” explains, math is more than numbers on a page. Math can be as simple as counting your child’s toys out loud, creating patterns with shapes, matching baby animals to their mothers, or cutting a whole sandwich in half to show how basic quantities work.


TIP: Practice comparison with your child by using words like “bigger” or “smaller” when setting objects or toys side by side. Likewise, use words such as “heavier” or “lighter” to compare items of different weights and let your child hold them as you explain.

Just remember, your child’s little brain is as absorbent as the sponges they use for painting or for water play. They’re ready to soak up whatever knowledge or experience they encounter or are exposed to.


And the research suggests incorporating STEAM activities into your child’s routine will prime your child’s brain to learn more complex concepts down the road.


As parents, you’re helping plant seeds of curiosity that will blossom into innovative spirits and minds later. As they get older this will develop into critical thinking, taking calculated risks and applying learned skills!



Other STEAM Activities to Try as your Child Grows:

Little Bins for Little Hands - Freezing Water Experiment

Little Bins for Little Handshttps - Floating Paperclip Experiment

Family - 10 sensational STEM activities for toddlers




Talk,Read and Sing about STEAM

Resources for Early Learning

5 Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return

Infant and Toddler STEAM: Supporting Interdisciplinary Experiences with Our Youngest Learners

Engaging Preschoolers in STEM: It’s Easier Than You Think!




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