“Babies are naturally curious,” knows April Esquer, the infant lead teacher at Kiddie Academy in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, who incorporates the basics of STEM education for the youngest children at the Rancho location. “Even though they are young, we begin introducing them to the basics of science, technology, engineering and math by helping them learn concepts like geometric shapes, numbers, and measurement. It’s fun, and it fosters a love of learning.”
April, 26, teaches the basics by having her students, who range from infants to 18 months, play with basic concepts such as the difference between ovals, squares and circles.
“They have fun pouring water and sand into a bucket, dumping it out, and repeating the activity to give them a hands-on idea of what is a cup, pint, and gallon,” explains April, who is joining the Rancho Cucamonga Academy this month.
She also has her students explore what’s in the dirt during outdoor playtime and gives them the opportunity to learn new vocabulary words as they play the on-and-off game with light switches, add oil to water to see what it means when things sink and float, among other educationally playful activities.
“This is where it starts,” insists April, who has completed more than 40 units in child development education, including infant and toddler development, and an additional 40 units studying general education at Chaffey College. “Math was my weakest subject in school, which is why I’m determined to introduce the youngest students at Kiddie Academy to the principles of STEM so they don’t have to struggle. I believe it will also make them more imaginative as they grow and develop.”
What is STEM?
According to the US National Research Council and the National Science Foundation, STEM fields are collectively considered to be the core technological underpinnings of an advanced society. The term STEM is increasingly used in the context of a nation’s economic competitiveness that addresses the demand for more scientists and engineers and is a key component of global citizenship.
“To be competitive in the global economy, to pursue an aggressive yet sustainable development, STEM classes prepare our younger generation to embrace creativity, invention and innovation,” explains Lavanya Jawaharlal, president and co-founder of STEM Center USA, headquartered in Claremont, CA.
“STEM education begins in early childhood when children are curious and creative and continues through college,” says Lavanya, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in mechanical engineering, who with her sister Melissa opened the doors to their company in Claremont in 2015 and Rancho Cucamonga in 2019.
“All children, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or learning style, can excel in STEM disciplines and can aspire to STEM careers,” adds Lavanya, 25, who with Melissa successfully pitched and received funding for their company ABC’s Shark Tank (season 7, episode 6). “Effective teaching at all levels utilizes hands-on, minds-on inquiry into the natural world. STEM Center USA offers comprehensive STEM education for students in K-12 using a Guided Discovery Approach.”
Melissa, 27, agrees that true learning takes place when a student has an opportunity to discover on their own through a hands-on, experiential, learning model.
“By allowing children to be involved in a learning process that excites, energizes, engages and enriches them to a wide variety of skills and concepts, they will discover a path that will enable them to have a more productive education,” says the engineer at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems who studied at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and got her Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California.
While Melissa’s research field is primarily space exploration—she’s served as a design lead for currently orbiting satellites at the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) as well as performed software optimization for the United States Air Force—bringing STEM to students has long been a passion for both sisters.
“Our parents are engineers and educators, and so you could say that STEM is the family business,” explains Lavanya, who offers classes to students K-12. “Like all kids, we were sponges and absorbed everything they taught us. In fact, we used to teach robotics to the neighborhood kids when we were teenagers. It seemed natural to eventually bring that experience to our own company.”
In addition to learning to build, code, and master math, Robotics is increasingly being considered as the fourth “R” of learning to Reading, wRriting and aRithmatic, the Jawaharlal sisters explain.
Indeed, robotics integrates mechanical, electrical, electronics, control engineering, computer science, technology, math and science. Immersing students in this forward-looking discipline has multiple benefits:
- Makes learning fun, engaging, and inspiring
- Provides highly practical hands-on experience
- Gives a head-start in preparing for high school and college
- Develops critical thinking skills and problem-solving strategies
- Enables learner to develop and express creativity
- Develops the ability to work collaboratively in teams
- Helps students develop an intuitive understanding of physical concepts in science and math
- Helps them excel in math and science and choose a career in science and technology
- Enables learners to appreciate and realize technology
- Builds confidence and self-esteem
- Prepares students for the fast-paced competitive world of the 4Rs!