Introducing young scientists to colourful STEM

Published on Tuesday, 04 February 2020
Last updated on Monday, 03 February 2020

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Children love colour. They are drawn to it; rainbows fire up their imagination and light up their curiosity. By blending their love of colour with the magic of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) you can engage young children in some hands-on fun and learning with enormous benefits. 

Exposure to STEM in early childhood develops knowledge and inquiry-based habits of mind and research indicates that exposure to STEM-rich content during the preschool years is critical to later success in school—not only in the STEM domains, but in others as well (Early Childhood STEM Working Group, McClure et al. 2017).

The STEM Working Group use the analogy of a rope to explain the process, “Think of it this way: as we learn new skills, our brains weave skill strands into ropes we use to solve problems, meet challenges, and, in turn, acquire new skills. 

“When children have opportunities to practice framing questioning, collecting data, and solving scientific problems, they build strong ropes that can be used in many ways, now and throughout life.” 

Young children are naturally curious and through the process of experiential learning – combining hands-on investigations with discussions – they develop their conceptual understanding, discover new facts, and engage in essential skills in language, focused exploration, observation and collaboration.  

STEM learning is about exploring the world and asking questions about how or why something works, these skills are best developed through play and experimentation. STEM learning requires asking open-ended questions and questioning children about the world around them using phrases like “What would happen if... “Or “I wonder...?” Encourage children to observe and learn with them. Observe closely and see what they are looking at, pointing to or seem curious about. 

Earlychildhood News suggests the following questions to foster experimentation and scientific thinking:

  • Attention-focusing: Calls attention to significant details e.g. What is it doing? How does it feel?
  • Measuring and counting: Generate more precise information e.g. How many? How much? How heavy?
  • Comparison: Fosters analysis and classification e.g. How are they alike? How different?
  • Action: Encourages exploration of properties and events, and also encourages predictions e.g. What if…?
  • Problem-posing: Supports planning and trying solutions to problems e.g. How could we…?
  • Reasoning: Encourages reflection on experiences and construction of new ideas e.g. Why do you think? Can you explain that? 

We’ve curated eight colourful STEM activities to engage the children in your service. All the materials are inexpensive, easy to find (most are in the kitchen cupboard) and safe for little hands. 


Fireworks in a jar - Create a colourful explosion with plenty of WOW factor with just a few cupboard items. It’s easy, fun and the reaction between the oil and water demonstrates simply how the concept of density works. 

Rainbow volcano - Prepare to let loose a river of cascading colours in this twist on the classic volcano science experiment. This erupting rainbow activity is all about chemical reactions and states of matter plus and if you don’t have test tubes just use glass jars.

Rainbow walking water - Get ready for amazing fun as primary colours travel along paper towels to create a rainbow display. It’s super fun but the colours can be slow in moving along so best to set it up and come back to it later. This experiment shows how colours mix, and it can help make sense of the colour order of rainbows. There’s also some easy to understand information on colour theory and rainbows. 

Magic milk - From milky white to an explosion of colour bombs this is a wonder to watch. The reaction of soap and milk can be seen thanks to the drops of colour and it’s like an instant POP!

Colour changing flowers - This easy experiment takes a few days but it’s pretty and displays beautifully how plants drink water. Children watch how incrementally the tinted water travels up the stem and into the petals of the flower – like a very slow transparent straw.

Chromatography butterfly craft - Science and craft come together to make beautiful butterflies in this incredible science experiment. It’s an exploration on chromatography – a big word for small children – and they’ll see firsthand how it means separating mixtures. In this experiment coffee filters, or any porous paper like paper towels – are used to separate the various pigments in markers to see how each colour was created.

Skittles rainbow - Super simple and very colourful, this is a bright way to teach about dissolving, absorption, and how colours mix. M&Ms can also be used in this experiment. 

Grow rainbow crystals - This is an observation experiment that will transform incrementally over time as the crystals form. It takes around 24 hours to complete so plan to do it in the morning so little scientists can check out the changes throughout the day and discover the crystal rainbow the next morning. The jars also need to be set up in a place where they won’t be disturbed. 

Thanks to ED for their insights on STEM in early childhood and the hyperlinked activity websites that helped write this article.


Early STEM matters 

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