St. Mark Enrichment Program focuses on critical, creative thinking

 
Submitted by St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center
Updated 12/17/2018 12:40 PM
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  • Riley Podgorny, a kindergarten-enrichment student at St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center, learns about motors and design as he tests out his self-propelled drawing machine.

    Riley Podgorny, a kindergarten-enrichment student at St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center, learns about motors and design as he tests out his self-propelled drawing machine. Courtesy of St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center

It may be impossible to predict what the future and its careers will be like for those students just entering elementary school, but, for certain, it will be a world driven by technology and innovation. How best to prepare young learners for that future?

A kindergarten-enrichment program at St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center in Mount Prospect has been employing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curriculum to ready its students. Current research supports that focus and indicates that it is critical to introduce scientific thinking in early childhood if we want children to succeed in STEM areas later in life.

In a 2018 review of more than 150 studies, the Center for Childhood Creativity found that "by focusing on children's STEM learning during the preschool and earlier elementary years, we can prepare them with the underlying dispositions for STEM thinking, equip them to meet school-based outcomes, and ready them for success in a STEM-rich economy and world."

And, according to the Center for Childhood Creativity, our young learners are often missing out: "STEM learning remains a missing link in most children's early educational experiences."

In 2014, in step with local and national education initiatives, St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center launched its kindergarten-enrichment program to teach STEM concepts through engaging, hands-on projects that prompt critical thinking and creative problem-solving.

For example, designing and constructing self-propelled drawing machines out of markers, mini motors and batteries introduces students to electrical engineering and allows them to "do" the learning themselves, building on their understanding of concepts as they interact with project materials.

Fall 2018 saw the school incorporating art and creative thinking into its focus. Moving its emphasis from STEM to STEAM projects offers yet a deeper level of engagement and learning by tapping into students' creativity and imagination. Groups such as the National Science Teachers Association and The Art of Science Learning see the arts as not only an effective teaching tool, but also as a vital component of developing creativity and innovation.

"One learns through the hand as well as through the mind, and that hands-on experience is an essential element in developing the creative imagination," said the The Art of Science Learning.

When St. Mark students consider the design process in constructing their drawing machines, they are learning more than scientific principles; they are imagining applications for their machines and exploring how design serves those applications. They are also practicing experimental thinking, collaboration and perseverance as they shape and refine their projects individually or within a group.

The school's current STEAM units cover everything from sound and magnets to chemistry and coding, and students' achievements are marked by awarding a badge for each completed unit of study.

"Our program allows for students to investigate materials, problem solve, and create their own inventions while investigating STEAM concepts," says Barb Zediker, director of the school. "Whether they become STEM practitioners, artists or something else, St. Mark students will have received the tools for future success right when it mattered most."

Providing early learning education for more than 50 years, St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center offers preschool and kindergarten enrichment, with before- and after-care options, all within a supportive, nurturing and safe Christian environment. Registration for the 2019-20 school year begins Saturday, Feb. 2, with an introductory open house from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

For information about St. Mark Preschool and Enrichment Center programs, visit stmarkpreschoolcares.org or call (847) 873-1110.

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