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Kids need more than just bookwork–they need to engage with science and math in real life. Here’s what our family thought of Smart Start STEM Pre-K.
When you have a high-energy young child, sitting down for school work just doesn’t work well. I’m a big advocate for creative learning and we use a combination of learning games, literature and nature-based education to make early learning fun, engaging, and effective.
For beginning math and science, however, we’ve done a lot of experiments with color, water, water beads, and cooking. When my daughter was 2.5 years old, we got the Primary Science Set with our Timberdoodle Preschool Kit and we still use the tools and materials on a regular basis.
For math, we have used the Farmland Math Mat and Counters, but when my daughter was ready for more advanced concepts and real-life application, we found it difficult to find a Pre-K curriculum to bridge the gap between early preschool and kindergarten.
My 4-year-old loves to build things, work with her hands, and do science experiments, so I was very excited to try out Smart Start STEM as a part of our Pre-K curriculum.
A special thanks to Timberdoodle Co. for graciously sending us a complimentary copy of Smart Start STEM PreK to see what we think.
The Purpose of Smart Start STEM Pre-K
This 128-page workbook is strategically designed to address science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills for prekindergarten students through colorful and engaging stories, activities, and challenges.
Published by Evan-Moor, Smart Start STEM is a secular workbook and states that the concepts taught are correlated to current academic standards.
Skills young children will develop through these lessons include visual discrimination, fine motor skills, letter formation, comparisons, and sequencing.
How the Workbook is Set Up
Smart Start STEM Pre-K covers 3 broad topics: physical science, life science, and earth science, with in-depth concepts under each. Every concept (listed below) is presented with the same 5 part design: science text and story, written activity, STEM story, STEM challenge, and STEM journal.
This design is formulated to help young children think creatively, engage in problem-solving, use their hands to create things, and test and reflect on how and why things work (or don’t work). Young children will need an adult or teenager to help them with reading the stories, understanding the activities and doing/testing/journaling about the challenges.
In the back, a short teacher answer guide is provided, and it includes a picture of what each completed STEM challenge project could end up looking like.
There are 14 individual concepts taught, making this easy to schedule and complete in a once-a-week format over one semester, or to further break it up in 2-3 pages each week for an entire school year. Depending on how long your child’s attention span is, you can fit it into your life.
We chose to not follow a particular schedule, but rather to just do as much as she wanted to do at a time. Sometimes that is just 2-3 pages, and sometimes it’s an entire concept (8 pages, including the challenge activity).
- shapes, colors, sizes
- floating and sinking
- animals’ needs
- peoples’ needs
- plants’ needs
- human body parts
- plant body parts
- animal body parts
Our Family’s Experience
It’s very helpful that each concept taught is taught through words, stories, practical concepts, visual pictures, hands-on coloring/written work, and hands-on experimentation. The book touches on multiple learning styles and sensory input which is so critical for young learners.
In contrast to many workbooks for young children, it was awesome that this book was not “bookwork” alone, and really helps children engage with concepts in the real world.
My daughter is not a bookwork type of child, and prefers to work with her hands: building and creating. We both have greatly enjoyed going through Smart Start STEM and it has been a great addition to our Pre-K curriculum.
I especially liked that while the workbook is intended for one child to work through with an adult (or older helper), some of the activities and challenges can easily be done with multiple children in a family or co-op setting.
I led a few of the challenges in a simple way with our preschool homeschool co-op and the children, who range from 3-5 years old, had fun testing and talking about concepts like ramps, sinking and floating, and magnets.
My daughter did very well with the design of the workbook, and I can’t say enough good things about how they have strategically presented the concepts. For a high-energy, spirited young child, short lessons and engaging activities are key, and this book delivers.
Our Favorites & What We Loved
I like that the activities and challenges encourage creative problem-solving and thinking skills. As the child (and teacher) do a challenge together, you ask questions, think through problems, and try out potential solutions. There isn’t just one “right answer”, so children have the ability to try out new ideas and see how they turn out.
This stimulates out of the box thinking and if something doesn’t work out, they can try something different. I also appreciated that on the science text page, there were boxes with ideas of questions or talking points to further discuss with the child. It’s helpful, especially for new teachers, to have these prompts provided.
Overall, the material progresses from very simple to more complicated as the school year goes on. The challenges in the last half of the book require more small parts, design skills, and reasoning ability to create than the first few.
My daughter loved the challenges the most. The actual building and testing of projects delight her. She loved testing magnets, crafting a pet cat, and sending cars down different leveled ramps.
My Reflections as the Teacher
While I appreciate that the authors set this book up to help teach the scientific method, I was a little surprised that in a workbook labeled for “Pre-K”, each challenge had specific rules written out (many of which seemed more realistic for older children), and the STEM journal page has to be filled out by an adult or older child.
I have no problem introducing advanced concepts to a young child to get them familiar with them, but it does seem that the STEM journal is more age-appropriate for an elementary student, rather than Pre-K. We chose to skip filling them out when doing challenges.
It’s possible some 4-5-year-olds might be naturally interested in reflecting and questioning their designs, in which case the journal may be helpful. But for us, we just aren’t ready for lengthy and analytical school work yet.
I love that the illustrations and stories are racially, culturally, and ability diverse, and the concepts taught are basic, foundational, and do not include any controversial teachings.
Final Thoughts on Smart Start STEM PreK
My 4-year-old and I really enjoyed Smart Start STEM Pre-K. I found this to be a wonderful learning tool that bridges the gap from beginning preschool materials and more complex bookwork for Kindergarten.
While there are aspects of the book that I feel are more advanced, they are easy to adjust or skip based upon your child’s level of interest and understanding. We found Smart Start STEM to be valuable in teaching foundational concepts and promoting creative thinking and engineering.
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