St. Mark’s Enrichment Program Focuses on Critical and Creative Thinking

It may be impossible to predict what the future and careers will look like for students just entering primary school, but it is sure to be a world driven by technology and innovation. How can young learners best be prepared for this future?

A kindergarten enrichment program at St. Mark’s Preschool and Enrichment Center in Mount Prospect uses a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum to prepare its students. Current research supports this direction and indicates that introducing scientific thinking in early childhood is essential if we want children to succeed in STEM fields 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 early elementary years, we can prepare them with the dispositions underlying STEM thinking, equipping them to meet school-based STEM outcomes, and preparing them for success in a STEM-rich economy and world.”

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

In 2014, in line with local and national educational initiatives, St. Mark’s Preschool and Enrichment Center launched its Kindergarten Enrichment Program to teach STEM concepts through engaging hands-on projects that spark critical thinking. and creative problem solving.

For example, designing and building self-propelled drawing machines from 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 incorporate art and creative thinking into its focus. Shifting the focus from STEM projects to STEAM projects provides an even deeper level of engagement and learning by tapping into student creativity and imagination. Groups such as the National Science Teachers Association and The Art of Science Learning view the arts not only as an effective teaching tool, but also as an essential part of nurturing creativity and innovation.

“You learn by hand as well as by mind, and this hands-on experience is an essential element in the development of creative imagination,” said The Art of Science Learning.

When St. Mark’s students consider the design process in building their drawing machines, they learn more than scientific principles; they imagine applications for their machines and explore how the design serves those applications. They also practice 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 student achievement is marked by the awarding of a badge for each unit of study completed.

“Our program allows students to study materials, solve problems, and create their own inventions while studying STEAM concepts,” says Barb Zediker, school principal. “Whether they become STEM practitioners, artists, or something else, St. Mark’s students will have been provided with the tools to succeed in the future when it matters most.”

Providing preschool education for over 50 years, St. Mark’s Preschool and Enrichment Center offers preschool and kindergarten enrichment, with before and after care options, all in a supportive, nurturing, and safe Christian environment. Registration for the 2019-2020 school year begins on Saturday, February 2, with an introductory open house from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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