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Prekindergarten is a time of mixed feelings for most parents. Our kids are getting big enough to start yearning for (and sloppily achieving) some degree of independence. This is kind of double-edged sword. We can see our lives drifting back toward our pre-infant/toddler fun. But at the same time, we spend many more minutes waiting for them to be willing to accept our help.
It is also the time when homeschoolers start introducing the idea of school. I know how hard intimidating it can be to look at this little person who needs to learn to read, write, calculate, and you are left wondering, “Where do I even start?!”
There are TONS of resources for starting our kids off in writing, reading, and math but what about (my personal favorite) science?
How do you know what your child is capable of understanding? What things should you start introducing now so logic (the most important and overlooked aspect of science) will be easier later? How do we teach our kids to actually think critically instead of just respond?
Also, how much is too much? It would be so easy to try to do all. the. things. and end up doing too much and burning everyone out. So how can we teach our kids to be thinkers from the very start while still giving them an appropriate amount and fun lessons. Seems impossible.
That is why I reviewed the Evan-Moor Educational Publishers PreK Smart Start STEM workbook. Cayden, 4, is definitely deep in the “why?” stage and is begging to do more school work every day so I thought it would be a good time to see how he did with a workbook.
This book is perfect for starting your preschoolers off with simple worksheets that are on their level and that are fun and engaging without adding too much sitdown work. Smart STEM PreK has been designed to teach our kids how to follow the process of logic and reasoning in a way other resources just have not.
Video provided by Evan-Moor via YouTube
The Set Up
This book is set up perfectly for young learners. There are several units, plants, animals, earth science, weather, etc, and in those units are pages that balance reading (or being read to, lol) with activity. Some exercises are only reading, some are a bit of reading then some reasoning and circling or matching, some even have the kids try to draw pictures or trace words. At the end of each unit is a hands-on challenge, complete with a STEM journal for (mom, dad, or teacher) to fill out with results or notes. It encourages everyone to modify their invention until it does what it is supposed to do, an integral part of the engineering process (which is different than the scientific process).
This section also includes a list of guiding questions for you to ask your child to help them reason and logically move from problem to solution. This encourages critical thinking and helps build up our kids' ability to stick with a problem even after they feel they has exhausted their options.
This is the first time I have seen a journal like this in a book for kids that are so young, and I love it. A quick tangent on why I love this so much, y’all. The difference between good science and bad science is the journal of the researcher. Every researcher keeps a notebook where they record their reading/notes, their goals, hypothesis, any changes that need to be made to those things, their planned procedure and notes of modifications made to it, and of course raw data. Good researchers are meticulous record keepers, and I love that Evan-Moor recognizes that.
Back to the book, at the bottom of many pages are little boxes with ideas about how you can take the learning further if your child would like. For example, the rock section encourages you to talk about the texture and colors seen rocks. This could easily be turned into a rock hunt where you gather a handful of diverse rocks, talk about them, and proudly display them in your “collection”. It’s a great way of adding vocabulary to the lesson, getting some exercise in, your kid outside and doing some critical thinking along the way.
Yep, that’s basically it. Of course, there is an answer key and some teacher resources but not comparable to what is in their books for older kids. It’s this way because the material is simple, on PreK level.
First, the topics are definitely things my kids want and need to learn about! Parts of an animal, how weather is related to clothes we wear. This keeps engagement high! Like I said before, he begs to do “just one page” each time we work on it. He climbs up on to our counter to pull out the book several times a day to ask to work in it. I know a lot of parents fear doing too much book work in homeschool but this book is just plain fun. No work involved.
Second, Cayden has already learned several new words from this workbook and can communicate thoughts related to these topics clearer so I know he thinks about these things on his own after we are done. His language and thinking have also improved in terms of deductive reasoning. It’s easier to make him wear his rainboots when its raining because he understands that if its raining, he will get wet, so we wear rainboots to keep dry.
Third, the lessons are short. So short in fact, Cayden insists on doing every page in the unit during ONE sitting. That’s not a big deal, though. It amounts to about 30 minutes worth of work. He doesn’t get tired and want to quit, and often follows me around like sad puppy while I gather the supplies to do the STEM Challenge at the end. Heaven help me if we have to wait to do the challenge at the end, too. He feels so confident and excited about what he knows that he is chomping at the bit to put his knowledge to good work.
Our efforts to make a spider umbrella. We didn't have a toy spider so we used the Pictionary pencils instead. Here AJ, 2, is trying to get the tinfoil umbrella to stand up. We ended up make a pavilion instead, but hey, creativity is the key to problem solving, right? (Excuse my messy house. Sometimes, we don't have time for everything and have to prioritize!)
Fourth, the book is colorful and includes several reading passages in each section. Besides using them for their intended purposes, I have used these passages as part of our alphabet knowledge work, too. The letters are big enough that I can use the old ones for letter hunts (have Cayden circle all the As for example). I also have gone through and underlined the same word several times so that Cayden can see that word is has the same letters in the same order every time. We have even practiced decoding (sounding out) several words during the readings with him. I love having resources that do double duty because that means I get two subjects done at once.
Fifth, comparing and contrasting are a major theme in this book. This is great because preschoolers need to start thinking about how things are the same and different. This is a foundation in science, math, and reading. Personally, I don’t know of another skill that is as important. Other PreK science resources I have seen do not put as much emphasis on this type of reasoning, and it is something our kids need to be doing from the start.
First, I would have liked to see more hands-on activities other than the STEM challenges. I would have been happy if they would have left out the circling, matching, and tracing words, and used cut/paste exercises instead. So many resources have our kids tracing and whatnot. Cutting and pasting are definitely more engaging for kids and work the hands in different ways leading to stronger hands that in turn make better writers.
Second, I would like to see more pictures of actual kids in this book. Cartoons are great, but kids get more excited when it’s a picture of a real kid. Maybe that’s just my own personal preference since Cayden didn’t seem to mind.
On this thought, I would have also liked to see some tidbits about how some of these topics impact our everyday life just to make it more personal for the kids. For example, I would have liked to see the animal unit talk about animals that we use as food or the plant unit talk about plants that we can or can’t eat. The weather unit does a great job of this because it places a great emphasis on how the weather impacts the way we dress.
Third, I found some of the STEM challenges to be less science and more craft, like making a rock mandala. Building the mandala was fun, and we did get to stretch some math muscles (comparing size, shape and color), but I really felt like that particular exercise could have been replaced with another more interesting one like building a structure to balance a ball on instead.
This book is perfect for parents who want to get their preschoolers thinking without adding too much book work.
Evan-Moor Smart STEM PreK encourages our youngest students to think critically from the very beginning of their education. If you do it like it’s designed, one or two pages a day, it will probably only add 10 minutes max (except for the STEM challenges) to school while being deep in value.
If you are serious about teaching your pupils science, overall, this is a great resource.