Posted in Professional Development

4 Workshop Series: “Stem Learning in the Early Years”

Bowdoin College Children’s Center is offering a 4 workshop series for Early Childhood Educators. All workshops will be held virtually through Zoom (this information will be sent along when you have registered).

Registration for the workshops is FREE so you want to get in early. The registration deadline for all workshops is March 22, 2021. (Registration directions can be found following the workshop descriptions.)


Children are natural scientists and engineers. They are curious about the world around them and eagerly explore, test, and manipulate their surroundings. They do this through play, and while play has been long recognized as a cornerstone of learning more recent scholarship has shed light on the importance of high-quality play and the thinking that fosters such experiences in early childhood education.

The release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has generated renewed focus on fostering STEM in early childhood learning environments and has given educators the language with which to articulate how STEM emerges during play. The NGSS shifts conversation around what it means to support children’s inquiry in STEM by identifying specific scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and core disciplinary ideas that children should engage with. Our focus in this workshop series will be on the scientific and engineering practices that emerge as part of an indoor and outdoor, play based curriculum for preschool children – five-years-old. (We plan to offer STEM for infants and toddlers following this series).

Workshop 1:  April 5, 7:00 – 8:30

What is STEM and why it is important to identify it in our children’s play

Audience: Early Childhood Administrators and Educators

Goal and Objectives:

The role of play as a fundamental component of child development is recognized internationally yet science in early childhood education is, in practice, often an indoor pursuit directed by an adult and structured around a particular table or “station” in a classroom. This conception of early childhood science learning fails to account for the rich experiences afforded when children interact freely with the outdoors. Recent studies suggest that children’s scientific process skills are better developed through exploratory and self-directed play than through direct instruction. We will explore how scientific and engineering practices could be identified during children’s uninterrupted indoor and outdoor play.

Workshop 2: April 12, 7:00 – 8:30

Setting the stage for children’s engagement with practices

Audience: Early Childhood Administrators and Educators

Goal and Objectives: 

The preschool program can be designed to nurture early academic skills through play, exploration, and individual interests where children are offered abundant experiences outside in one to two-hour blocks of time two to three times a day. These opportunities for outdoor play can continue through all seasons with teachers adapting to seasonal conditions (including shorter periods outside several times a day during winter months).  In the play yard, children can be offered the security and safety of the caregiver’s presence while exploring the freedom the outdoors offers them with the gift of space, and the invitation to move materials and objects anywhere. 

Inside, children can find materials and opportunities to explore while they play during the later afternoon blocks of time or in individual/small group gatherings that can occur during the day.  The management of the size of the group and their access to non-directive materials influences this discovery and exploration activity.  The less-restricted environment engages children as they find themselves experimenting, and problem solving. Then we see a rich palate for them to use in their inquiry, investigations, and problem solving.  

Workshop 3: April 26, 7:00 – 8:30

Observing and Identifying Scientific and Engineering Practices in Play

Audience: Early Childhood Administrators and Educators

Goal and Objectives:

Many early childhood educators are intimidated by the idea of teaching science as they do not have the depth of content knowledge or the experience to teach it confidently.  This workshop will provide a description for each of the core scientific and engineering practices along with examples of what teacher’s observation practices might look like in a play-based environment.  Moving from observation to extending learning, we will offer opportunities to organizing curriculum plans. 

Workshop 4: May 3, 7:00 -8:30

Risk-Taking and Loose Parts: opportunities to explore and deepen learning

Audience: Early Childhood Administrators and Educators

Goal and Objectives:

In the first part of this workshop we will consider, what could happen to children’s learning when they use sticks, rocks, and large planks of wood as well as blocks, stools, and inside materials (like hammers, saws, and other wood working tools) to creating structures. When children are given opportunities to play in earnest and with great results, they are engaged and focused on the task at hand. Risk-taking behaviors are identified when the outcome is uncertain. Adults observing children taking risks in their play and with materials work to minimize the perceived danger by reducing the children’s access to the experience When adults eliminate the hazards from play and allow risk to emerge, their actions invite children to enjoy their goals for discovery. 

Nicholson (1971) coined the term “loose parts” to articulate the idea that children benefit from using open-ended materials.  These materials may be used alone or with other materials, have multiple uses, with not one specific use defined. This means that children may use them in a variety of ways. Loose parts do not have specific instructions of how the product needs to be used. Through exploration and manipulation of the materials, children figure out how they can be combined, redesigned, taken apart and put together in multiple ways. 

Then we will examine how to assess children’s play and learning in order to document their cognitive growth, skills, and abilities.  We will share conference report templates as well as information on how to build assessments for individual children over time as they play, take risks, and deepen their interactions with materials and each other.

Registration Directions

  • Please email registration form to Martha Eshoo with subject “STEM Workshop Registration”. If more than 4 staff members will plan to attend, please reach out to Martha by separate email to organize this.
  • Registration form can be attached to email or feel free to enter information directly into body of email


NAME: __________________________________ DATE: _______________________________

ADDRESS: _____________________________________________________________________

EMAIL: ________________________________________________________________________

PHONE: _______________________________________________________________________

WORK SETTING NAME & TYPE: ____________________________________________________



AGES ONE WORKS WITH: Infants Toddlers Preschool K-3

DID YOU ATTEND THE Outdoor Workshop Series in FALL 2020 YES NO


Workshop 1: What is STEM and why it is important to identify it in our children’s play

Workshop 2: Setting the stage for children’s engagement with practices

Workshop 3: Observing and Identifying Scientific and Engineering Practices in Play

Workshop 4: Risk-Taking and Loose Parts, and Assessment


FCCAM works to unify, promote and strengthen quality professional family child care in Maine. We understand the critical role of child care providers in the lives of children and families. Through collaboration with other organizations we work to increase awareness of our profession and the value of a strong child care system to Maine's diverse communities.