How to Support STEM Through Play

Girl playing with dolls in front of dollhouse

Setting our kids up to love learning starts with play – and the STEM subjects are no exception! Even in the toddler years, play helps lay the foundation for early STEM skills and sparks interest in STEM subjects.

What Is STEM?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM in early education often focuses on laying strong foundations in math and science. That part feels pretty self-explanatory to most of us since science and math are basic elementary school subjects that we took as kids too. But the “technology and engineering” part gets a little more confusing to many of us. Those subjects can feel very advanced and foreign to us, leaving us wondering if our preschool kids need to be working with robot kits or building model bridges to get a full STEM education.

In reality, toddler and preschoolers get the technology/ engineering component of STEM anytime they’re flexing their creativity and problem-solving muscles. So while those advanced building kits are great for older kids, for toddlers and preschoolers technology/ engineering activities look more like building with bricks or constructing toy train tracks.

Toddler STEM Activities and Toys

From messy science experiments to block tower masterpieces, these activities support STEM skills, but to your kiddos, they just feel like play!


Playing with ramps is a great way to introduce early physics concepts and experimentation to your kiddos. This can be as simple as propping a cardboard box up against your couch. Roll different balls and other objects down it and encourage your toddler to experiment. Race objects to see which are the fastest, which go the farthest, and what happens when you adjust the incline of the ramp!

Magic Milk

Magic milk is a classic toddler science activity. They love the swirling colors, and you can introduce some early science concepts as you explain how the soap and fat molecules interact! All you need is need whole milk, dish soap, and some food coloring. Get the details on the science here!

Nature Play

Getting kids in the great outdoors is a great way to spark an interest in science. You can start conversations and get first-hand experience on so many science-related subjects like the weather, ecosystems, animals, plants, seasons, and more! Get outside, observe what your child is interested in, and explore it together! You can enhance their learning with simple activities like these:

  • Leaf rubbings - Help your child notice the vascular system of leafs and explain what leafs do for plants!
  • Bird/ animal watching - Learn about the different species in your areas and observe and explain behaviors like foraging, nest building, defending territory, etc.
  • Nature scavenger hunts - Help them slow down and notice the little things as you search for items around the park like pine cones, an ant hill, clovers, flowers, etc. This is great for introducing a ton of science-related vocabulary!

Fizzy Paint

Fizzy paint combines art, sensory play, and science into one fun, kid-approved activity! It lasts a bit longer than your typical baking-soda-and-vinegar activity since the kids interact with the materials more. And as they paint, they’ll also be learning about chemical reactions!

Counting Frames

Counting frames, also called five frames or ten frames, are a great way to help toddlers understand the concept of numbers rather than just memorizing the order of numbers. Simply make a grid of five to ten squares with painters tape on the floor and gather up a few items to count! Check out the Busy Toddler for ideas to make your counting frames fun!

Building Toys

Building toys like blocks, train sets, and magnetic tiles are great for fine motor skills, problem solving, and creative thinking! They’re the perfect toddler toy for the “engineering” side of stem! If your toddler is getting bored with plain wooden blocks, they might be ready for more interactive or challenges building materials. Our wooden train sets and activity tables can help make building one of your toddler’s favorite ways to play, making it easy for you to incorporate STEM into their daily lives!