On a recent afternoon at Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center in Solomons, a group of preschoolers were involved in what appeared to be a science class about wind.
First they read about wind. Then they did a series of experiments that included working with small sailboats and going outside to observe the trees moving. Finally, a bit of art was introduced when they decorated a windsock to reinforce what they had learned.
The program follows a new trend in learning that is gaining steam among parents and kids in Maryland. STEAM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, is increasing in popularity as educators take a closer look at the benefits of including arts, hands-on creativity and creative thinking into a science-based STEM curriculum.
“There is a lot of connection in the skills one uses in sciences to the skills used in the arts,” says John Ceschini, arts integration officer for Prince George’s County Schools and a national expert on the STEAM movement. “Students are naturally drawn to the arts at a very young age, so art is a great tool for introducing new concepts and engaging as many students as possible in learning.”
The program at Annmarie is called Full STEAM Ahead and is offered monthly to encourage preschoolers to explore science, technology, engineering, art and math.
“We had already been cross-pollinating our art workshops with science, math and technology with great success,” says Jaimie Jeffrey, curator of public programs at Annmarie. “Then we officially started our Full STEAM Ahead program in February of this year. It has proved immensely popular.”
Experts agree that learning scientific concepts through a creative approach can yield great success. According to a recent University of Florida study, high school students who had previously studied music appreciation scored higher overall on the SAT in both verbal and math sections.
Sharon Brackett, a STEAM advocate and member of the Howard County Technology Council, agrees that STEAM is the future of integrative education.
“STEAM is definitely gaining in popularity as people realize that it’s important to have a balance,” Brackett says. “If you want to have a well-rounded populace, it’s important to have the arts in the curriculum.”
Though many schools already have STEAM programs in place, families can find plenty of additional opportunities outside of the classroom at local libraries, museums and community centers. Here are some places where your child’s education can gain a little STEAM.
Annmarie Sculpture Garden, Solomons
The Full STEAM Ahead program is perfect for preschoolers with curious minds. Each session explores a topic like butterflies, wind or water and challenges kids to think creatively. Children will learn about the chosen topic, make a scientific prediction and then complete a hands-on activity or craft that exercises the imagination.
Upcoming topics, such as Wonderful Water and Monster Math, will engage the smallest creative scientist. The center’s free drop-in Art Lab also features daily projects that focus on science and art and is open to kids of all ages.
13480 Dowell Rd., Dowell
Cost: Free with admission of $5 adults, $3 ages 6-17. Free for children younger than 5.
Calvert Library, Prince Frederick
Since last year, Calvert Library’s Full STEAM Ahead program at the Prince Frederick branch has been engaging kids ages 4-7 through stories, crafts and experiments. Recent topics included Excellent Engineering, The Science of Poetry and Magic Magnets. The Prince Frederick branch also features Lego Mania and Maker Spaces nights where kids are challenged to build creative structures with Legos and a variety of other materials.
Lego Mania and Minecraft nights are also offered at Twin Beaches branch, and MakerSpaces is available at the Southern branch.
850 Costley Way, Prince Frederick
Cost: Free; some events require pre-registration.
North County Recreation Center, Brooklyn Park
A STEAM for Preschoolers class blends scientific concepts with hands-on creativity. Kids may learn engineering basics before attempting to build their own structure out of Popsicle sticks. The twice-weekly class blends science, engineering and math with art projects like painting and sand art. A theme is introduced each week through story time, experiments and art projects.
196 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park
Cost: Twice weekly class, $90-110 for 6 or 8 weeks.
Robinson Nature Center, Columbia
This Howard County Nature Center is teeming with STEAM programs for families. A Nano exhibit is on loan from Port Discovery through August where kids can learn about static electricity and gravity and build a Carbon Nanotube. On the second and fourth Wednesday this month, a staff member from Port Discovery will visit Robinson to answer question and to do Nano activities, including, making diffusion butterflies, bracelets with UV beads and iridescent bookmarks.
The Animals, Animals, Animals! program on Sundays this fall encourages kids to explore nature through poetry, games and music. The center also is partnering with the Maryland Science Center for its annual Scope Out the Night Sky event where families can build their own telescope and enjoy a planetarium viewing.
6692 Cedar Lane, Columbia
Cost: All programs and workshops are free with admission of $5 adults, $3 ages 3-17 and free for ages younger than 3.
Prince George’s County Library System
Libraries in Prince George’s County are chock-full of STEAM related activities for kids. The Animation Zone class held at the Spauldings branch combines technology with art and invites kids to create characters and storylines and learn the basics of online animation.
Several branches host weekly Lego Mania and Minecraft Madness events.
Main office: 9601 Capital Lane, Largo
Port Discovery, Baltimore
Every exhibit at Port Discovery promotes STEAM concepts through hands-on creative discoveries. In the Adventure Expedition, kids can decipher hieroglyphics and find clues that lead to a pharaoh’s tomb. In the Nano exhibit (currently on display at Robinson Nature Center through August), kids can play I Spy, learn about static electricity and gravity, and build a Carbon Nanotube.
A new STEAM exhibit, “Here We Grow,” will arrive in October and teach kids about the agricultural process through a series of activities like churning homemade butter, spinning wool or making a chicken noisemaker. Port Discovery also takes their STEAM Museum on the road to schools and groups throughout the year, with rotating activities like Animal Adaptations and Textiles around the World.
35 Market Place, Baltimore
Admission: $14.95 for ages 2 and up. Includes all exhibits.
Maryland Science Center, Baltimore
The Maryland Science Center has always been a destination for curious kids, but it is also a great source of STEAM activities for all ages. The Shed — part workshop, part laboratory — features daily DIY activities like how to build a wind tube, work with basic power tools, and create a marble maze using gravity and recycled materials. The Science Center has also hosted workshops on bookbinding, indigo dyeing and sewing. All activities encourage parent/child participation and most, like The Shed, are included in the price of admission.
601 Light St., Baltimore
Admission: $20.95 adults, $16.95 ages 3-12, free for members and ages younger than 3.
Howard Community College: Kids on Campus, Columbia
Howard Community College’s Kids on Campus program has been offering STEAM enrichment classes for 29 years. During the summer, kids can choose from 250 classes that range from Lego Video Games to Digital Storytelling. The Amusement Park Science course allows kids to design their own roller coaster while learning about physics, force and friction. The Furniture Fundamentals teaches kids the basics of woodworking and how to produce a scale drawing and accurately measure, shape and produce a complete table or chair. Classes are available for ages 10-16.
10650 Hickory Ridge, Columbia
Cost: Courses range from $99-$200.
By Katie Riley