Did you know that U.S. students finished 25th in math and 17th in science in the ranking of 31 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development?

“These numbers are a disgrace, honestly. We wouldn’t tolerate it if it was one of our sports teams competing internationally. The whole country would be up in arms,” says Mary Ann Rankin, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative.

There are many federal and local efforts underway designed to get more students into the STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – pipeline. Most of these efforts begin around junior high. But I think we need to start even earlier – and we are.

First 5 Contra Costa participates in the Regional Gateways East Bay STEM Network facilitated by CSU East Bay’s Institute for STEM Education and the Gateways “Cradle to Career” partnership. Action teams are leading the efforts to implement early STEM learning in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. One of its action groups is focusing on steps that can be taken in preschool through third grade to address the math and science achievement gap visible by grade 3.

Young children are naturally inquisitive, eager learners, and budding scientists – and math and science is all around us.  Parents can turn everyday life into mini pre-math and science lessons, all while having fun with your child.  Here are some ways to experiment with math and science, and turn your preschooler into a problem solver:

Discover what happens when foods combine – Cook together:  Cooking helps children learn how to measure, combine ingredients, and see how liquids turn to solids. Begin by reading the recipe and then counting the ingredients needed. Have your child measure; it helps teach concepts of more and less. Let your child experiment by using different utensils to stir. Ask your child to guess which utensil will work best.

Predict and experiment with speed – Race cars or roll balls:  Select toy cars or balls of varying sizes and weights. Ask your child to predict which one will roll the fastest or the farthest and then to explain what happened. If using balls, experiment to see which ball bounces the highest. You can also experiment with the objects using a ramp.

Talk about all the ways you can compare and contrast everyday objects – Create a collection jar:  Find a container to hold different objects like a shoe box or large jar. Go around the house or outside to fill it up with different objects:

    • Group the objects into categories (e.g, keys and rocks).  Compare two categories – how many rocks? How many keys? How many more rocks than keys?
    • Have your child replicate patterns you create with the objects such as “key key rock key key rock”.
    • Have your child organize toys by color, shape, weight, or size. Older children can categorize by two attributes, such as color AND shape.
    • Compare objects by heaviest or lightest, longest to shortest, or smallest to largest. Now measure and weigh.

Experiment with air – Try blowing at bath time: During bath time, give children floating objects (toy boat, empty sealed plastic container, etc.) and a straw. Use the straw to blow the objects across the water. Add bubbles to the water. Now try blowing those objects across the bubbly water? What happened? Now use the straw to blow the bubbles—what happens to the bubbles?

Explore solids and liquids — Try ice painting: Cut a paper bag and lay it flat. Place some ice cubes in a bowl. Have your child paint on the paper with the ice cubes. Talk about how the ice turns from a solid to a liquid and about how the ice changes the color of the paper.

Read books with math or science concepts:  The next time you visit the library, look for books that introduce math and science:

    • How Many Snails? by Paul Giganti
    • Opposites by Monique Felix
    • Beep Beep, Vroom Vroom! by Stuart J. Murphy
    • Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker
    • How Do You Lift a Lion? by Robert E. Wells
    • Machines We Use by Sally Hewitt
    • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton

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