From STEM To STTRREAMM : Real PLAY Is The Answer

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Mission creep, “the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization,1 is alive and well in the early learning bureaucracy. You have to give them a hand, the educrats in the FDELAIA (Federal Department of Early Learning Acronyms, Initialisms, and Abbreviations) have been working overtime burning the midnight oil to grow the mission and objectives of STEM. Let’s take a look:


Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

For a handful of years, the effort to prepare and guide future employees into professions involving science, technology, engineering, and math has been pushed down into early learning settings. Nothing wrong with that–who doesn’t want kids to be interested in science, technology, engineering, and math? So, early learning classrooms focused on working more STEM learning into the day.


Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math

Things were chugging along ok, until one day Samantha spoke up during the weekly ARM (Acronym Review Meeting), “I like ART. ART is important. Kids should know about ART. Let’s add Art! We can call it STEAM!” The change was approved, worked it’s way through the bureaucracy, and classrooms tried chipping a bit more time out of the day for art.


Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math

A few weeks later, Jim, Director of Language and Literacy Abbreviations, came back from a conference where he heard that third graders where not reading at grade level–so READING was added and STEAM became STREAM. That meant more attention and time for pre-reading activities in early learning classrooms.


Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, Math, and Music

Time passed. Becky, a marketer for a kid’s musical instrument importer, had an idea. She called a friend working for the FDELAIA, offered to sponsor the agency softball team, and at the next ARM meeting MUSIC was added to the acronym. STREAM became STREAMM, the preschools ordered instruments, and sales jumped 17% at Becky’s company.


Science, Technology, Reading, ‘Riting, Engineering, Art, Math, and Music

Todd, an up-and-coming go-getter at the FDELAIA, wanted to make a name for himself by adding WRITING to the acronym, but that W–it just didn’t fit. During an all-night brainstorming session, he had an idea–drop the W and go with ‘riting as in the 3 Rs “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.” The idea squeaked past the ARM board by one vote. Many on the board thought it was cheating. Todd’s boss loved it and he got a promotion. Time for more pre-writing activities was sliced out of classroom schedules.


Science, Technology, Tools, Reading, ‘Riting, Engineering, Art, Math, and Music

Claudia, Empress In Chief of the FDELAIA, was a weekend woodworker and decided TOOLS should be added to the acronym. Her staff argued that tools kinda fit under both Technology and Engineering and shouldn’t be added. She prevailed. Program’s found time for tools.

And on it goes.

Educrats have ideas that flow into classrooms and suck time, attention, energy, and resources. The mission creeps. The day is segmented. The time available for play decreases. Kids lose power and control. So do teachers.

As a group, educrats are not evil. Their intentions are usually well-meaning–it’d be great if children had more exposure to Science and everything else embodied in the acronym. And, their well-meaning actions often lead to unintended and unforeseen consequences when it comes to implementation. For example, many early learning professionals feel the most efficient way to bring more Art or Music or whatever into the children’s day is to squeeze time from the daily schedule for more formal, teacher-led, play-like activities. This makes it easy to show the educrats that they are compliant–they can point to the schedule and prove they are doing STEM or STREAM or STTRREAMM. The problem is that squeezing the schedule like this often chokes off children’s access to real play–“Pay attention, Jenna, this isn’t play time, we’re learning. We’re doing ramps now! It’s science! You’re learning science!” But, of course, young kids learn Science, and all the rest, during real play (a much different beast than the adult-planned, outcome-focused, play-like activities often forced on children). From STEM to STTRREAMM, the most proven, effective, and efficient, way for young kids to learn new concepts is real PLAY.

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Jeff is an early learning speaker, toymaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ who is really bad at getting his picture taken.