Children have a keen, natural wonder about concepts and processes surrounding them. For children ages four and under, structured early education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics sparks the kind of intellectual creativity, critical thinking, and development of habits of mind that lays the groundwork for their entire academic well-being. Through their own understanding and application of “play,” a child latches on to concepts that define math and scientific principles if placed in a classroom environment, which can encompass everything from a museum to a school to a playground.
It is therefore essential that early education models place a greater emphasis on STEM learning to set these children on a path to inquisitive — and ultimately professional — greatness. A child’s individual social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development, will reach its fullest potential if STEM concepts are introduced and explored from the very earliest point.
Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich is seeing firsthand how STEM education, particularly at the preschool level, allows children to break out of the constraints of the classroom, while also creating strong foundations in literacy, math, arts and sciences to assure future success in school and beyond.
Utilizing the eyes, minds, and exploratory senses of children who visit and partake of their attractions, Heritage will open the doors in September to The Hundred Acre School in Sandwich, a first-of-its-kind year-round preschool designed to engage children ages four and five in active STEM learning through extensive use of the organization’s collections, facilities, and spacious grounds.
This school was created to cultivate young minds and its core group of STEM-influenced and well-versed educators will use STEM as a springboard to multidisciplinary learning. Novel concepts like “curiosity and wonder time” and “brainstorming walls” will become vital components of the Hundred Acre School’s STEM education model as Heritage wants to teach children to love to learn, and to wonder, think, play, question and connect with the world around them.
Through the Hundred Acre School, Heritage is also partnering with the Sandwich Public School system and the Sandwich Public Library to ultimately establish a STEM curriculum designed to be a bolstering template for such other sites across Massachusetts, including the future Sandwich STEM Academy for 7th and 8th graders.
This level of dedication and commitment to STEM education will undoubtedly contribute greatly to a child’s academic success and success as a citizen in the 21st century. To nurture the kinds of innovators and thought-provokers already shaping the Commonwealth as a haven for science and technology, it is not acceptable that STEM learning continues to be introduced at the middle or end of a child’s academic advancement. It should instead be a priority to introduce it right at the beginning, when their minds are ripe and hungry for knowledge.
Louis Ricciardi is vice chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and vice chairman of Heritage Museums & Gardens.