Preschool-aged children are natural scientists and problem solvers. They live in a hands-on world, constantly experimenting as they discover new things. Leveraging this curiosity provides an opportunity for essential skill building and establishing a solid foundation for learning. In 2009, Orlando Science Center founded our community’s first STEM preschool to help our youngest learners, and their caregivers, better prepare for school and the challenges of an ever-competitive future.
It was a novel concept: an active preschool within a science center. Instilling the preschool curriculum with STEM learning, the teachers would use the exhibits and resources onsite within lessons, essentially turning every day into a field trip. It had only been done a handful of times at museums around the country, but the growing need for quality preschool education in the area inspired Orlando Science Center to move forward.
Over the past decade, Orlando Science Center’s preschool has graduated hundreds of confident, inquisitive learners. What started out as one classroom with only four children has grown to reach full capacity with four classrooms made up of over 70 students. Our team has created a learning environment unmatched by any other preschool in the region. Teachers ignite the curiosity of their students and present challenge-based activities created to nurture skills in problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.
Children benefit not only from an open and supportive environment, but also a developmentally appropriate learning space that includes hands-on activities and skill building centers. This atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the content-rich STEM experiences found within the Science Center. The staff, all qualified preschool educators, guide students through scientific inquiry and the engineering design process with effective questioning techniques that facilitate thoughtful dialogue.
Every facet is explored as a learning opportunity. Storytime can use the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” as a basis to explore bridge building or arts and crafts to encourage students to invent a solution for a problem in their lives. It is not unusual to see three and four year-olds correcting their caregivers’ vocabulary regarding science terms. This evidence of success is proof that you can’t start early enough to build tomorrow’s STEM workforce.
Introducing STEM concepts within the preschool learning environment reduces the barriers of entry found later in the life. Students are excited, rather than intimidated, by these subjects and their confidence with STEM concepts stays with them as they progress to kindergarten and beyond. Orlando Science Center has also created professional development for preschool educators so they can bring hands-on STEM learning into their own classrooms.
The Science Center's preschool has seen 10 years of smiles, laughter and learning. Many families have graduated multiple siblings from the program. Students have gone on to find success in grade school, winning spots on the honor roll and science fair honors. It has become one of Orlando Science Center’s cornerstone programs and a living embodiment of its motto: “STEM starts here.”