How to STEM/STEAM For Toddlers

Practical & effective tips on how to implement STEM/STEAM activities for toddlers.


Using the STEM/STEAM approach can be daunting for parents, especially if their background is not in science. It also may seem a bit ‘extra’ to introduce such complex subjects at such a young age. However, the purpose of STEM/STEAM for the early years is to install an inquiry based approach. In other words, to help understand the world around us. The reality is that kids naturally engage in STEM/STEAM activities daily. With just a little extra help from us, we can enhance their learning and help develop their critical thinking skills.

The best part is that it is a cost-effective way to truly help raise a critical thinker. We’ve all been amazed at how our child can be much more occupied putting pom pom balls into a water bottle than the complex toy you spent a lot of money on. STEM/STEAM encourages just this: using simple everyday materials instead of planning lots of activities that requires specific materials and processes.

Practically, what does this look like with a toddler?


Science is about getting the child’s curiosity stimulated and encouraging them to learn about why things happen the way they do. We do this with toddlers by asking ‘Why do you think?’ questions and the 5 W’s(Who, what, where, where, why?) such as:

- What makes shadows?

- How do plants grow?

- What happens when ice melts?

- Why do we see worms outside after it rains?

- Why do the leaves fall off trees in the fall?

Or if they are deeply engaged in a certain activity we can ask:

- How does it taste?

- What is it made of?

- What does it feel like?

This is to encourage children to come up with ideas for why things happen(hypothesis). Even if they are not able to answer the question, it's ok! They won’t be able to at this age, but we want to encourage them to take in their environment in an active rather than passive way.

Pro Tip: Read up on some of these questions before you ask them so you can help walk the child through getting to the correct answer

Some activity ideas include:

  • Going for a nature walk - ask questions about different birds, animals and trees you will see there. Take a bag with you and collect stones, leaves, flowers and sticks. When you get home you can talk about the texture of these different things, their shape, sizes, smell etc.
  • Water play - this can be done outside to help prevent a lot of mess. Take a bucket outside with some measuring cups, paint brushes and empty bottles etc. and see what your child does!
  • Baking - find a recipe that has ingredients of different textures and bake together. Your child will love feeling the different ingredients and can help you measure and pour
  • Saving some snow in a plastic sandwich bag and watching what happens to it


This does not mean computers, tablets, phones or other electronic gadgets. For young kids, this is just a more sophisticated word for the term ‘tools’. This means:

  • Crayons, pencils etc.
  • Safety scissors
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Dump trucks
  • Rulers etc.
  • Tongs

When we think of technology in these terms, it's clear that these are just everyday materials that the child uses. Children are constantly experimenting and trying different tools, trying to problem solve and figure things out.

Pro tip: Have certain things that are age appropriate and of interest to your child out and ready use. For beginners, this can be arranged into an ‘activity’ on a shelf, and once your child begins to learn to think ‘out of the box’ they’ll be able to come up with these ideas themselves.

Some activity ideas include:

  • Transferring water from one container to another with an eye dropper
  • Hiding small objects in a container of sand and providing a strainer for the child to use to find them
  • Comparing how different objects look under a magnifying glass


Engineering for toddlers means identifying a problem and then thinking about different solutions to solve it and trying them out. This builds critical thinking and creative thinking skills. For example, how to make a stronger foundation so they can build their building taller. Some engineering materials include:

- Paper cups

- Wooden blocks

- Magnetic tiles

- Kinetic sand

- Amazon boxes

Pro Tip: As difficult as it is, try your best not to solve the problem for your child! Working with the child to come up with a solution helps them feel like they have some control over the situation. Use a ‘How can we come up with a solution?’ approach and try to solve the problem together.

Some activity ideas include:

  • Building a ramp to see whether a marble, car  or spoon will go the fastest
  • See how high you can build a tower of paper cups, and explore different building structures
  • Magnetic tiles are AWESOME and can be used well after the child is a toddler. It is more for children ages 2+. Provide a few different shapes on a tray and try to recreate different things your child has seen and shown interest in ie escalator, elevator, house etc.


Personally, I like the STEAM method as opposed to the STEM method as it includes the artistic component which is soooo important for children! It does wonders in terms of building creative thinking skills and is something they are naturally inclined towards. Art in STEAM is done in an open-ended way, allowing the child to be as creative as possible. Art materials include:

  • Chalk
  • Pencils, crayons, markers
  • Paint
  • Modelling clay
  • Modelling wax
  • Pottery

Pro-tip: Read a story or discuss an experience you just had with your child prior to them starting the activity. That will help their mind start working in creative ways and give them ideas of what to do with the materials.

Some activity ideas include:

  • Sponge painting
  • Painting a box
  • Moulding playdough to recreate everyday object around your home
  • poking a hole in a paper cup and letting your child pour paint in it to create a design (done over top of paper of course)


Math includes counting, sorting, comparing and working with different shapes and patterns. Using words such as ‘bigger, smaller, wider, taller etc’ can help the child build higher-level math thinking when they realise that one object can be bigger than one yet smaller than another at the same time. Math is incorporated into other parts of STEAM. However some ‘math-specific’ materials include:

  • Measuring cups
  • Rulers
  • Measuring tape
  • Magnifying glass

Pro tip: Incorporate math into any time of the day through counting, talking about how far or close something is for you when you are outside or counting the number of items you are getting from the grocery store.

 Some math activities include:

  • Counting and sorting objects you found on a nature walk
  • Measuring the height of different towers you build
  • Baking together and allowing the child to measure different ingredients
  • Talk about similarities and differences between certain shapes and trying to find pick out objects that are certain shapes around your home

I hope this article has shown how easy and natural incorporating STEM/STEAM into our lives can be! It is built from everyday moments and often stems(no pun intended lol) from the child’s natural interests. Critical thinking is such an important skill to develop, especially in today’s day and age. While our child is going through the foundational years of their life, we can help them build these essential skills that can help them so much in the future :)


1. DeJarnette, N. (2018). Implementing STEAM in the Early Childhood Classroom. European Journal Of STEM Education, 3(3). doi: 10.20897/ejsteme/3878

2. Sharapan, H. (2012). From STEM to STEAM How Early Childhood Educators Can Apply Fred Rogers' Approach. Young Children, 36-41.