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Supporting our youngest innovators: STEM starts early!

The White House is celebrating early STEM learning.

“Why?” “How?” One of the greatest joys of being a parent is the incredible curiosity children have for the world. Children are naturally inquisitive and they observe, investigate, and discover the world around them. The years from birth to third grade are filled with play and active engagement with the environment. They generate an endless number of questions, and their curiosity fuels their motivation to find answers. These are the traits we expect of our best scientists and engineers, yet many children lose the sense of wonder for science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) as they grow older.  

Research indicates that as early as infancy, young children start developing and testing hypotheses for how the world around them works. They understand probability and make predictions. They take in information from trusted sources around them, and use that information to guide their behavior. And that all begins in the first year of life. As they progress through the preschool years, their curiosity continues to grow, and the sophistication of their reasoning and inquiry skills, grow along with it.

Too often, we underestimate the concepts our youngest learners can understand. As the most important influencers in our children’s lives, we -- whether parents or other caregivers, child care providers, preschool or elementary school teachers -- should support this curiosity, guide young children in their exploration, and identify natural learning opportunities to develop and grow these foundational STEM skills.

We know focusing on STEM pays off. Research shows that early exposure to STEM has positive impacts across the entire spectrum of learning.  For example, early math knowledge not only predicts later math success, it also predicts later reading achievement. Despite these powerful findings, our schools and early childhood programs often lack knowledge, resources, and capacity to focus on early STEM learning in developmentally appropriate ways.[i] We must do better. It is critical that we engage our youngest learners and give them the opportunities they deserve to develop their STEM skills in order to prepare them to compete in our global economy


The President recognizes the importance of exposing all of our learners to STEM experiences. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the President challenged all of us to provide every student with authentic STEM experiences to learn subjects like science, math, and computer science.

Building on the President’s early learning  and “Educate to Innovate” agendas, the White House,  working with the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, hope to advance this focus on STEM experiences in the coming months by identifying research gaps, best practices, and education technologies to support our youngest learners, parents and caregivers, educators and community leaders with early STEM education. This spring, the White House, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Invest in US, will hold an event at the White House to focus on this important work and we hope to help highlight your commitments in this area along with a suite of federal resources and materials. 

A central part of our goal is identifying organizations focusing on this work at the local level. We are seeking to highlight commitments from philanthropy, industry, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, and local and state governments to address key areas in early STEM education, including:

  1. Building the research base about what works in early STEM learning, including promising practices, interventions and teaching strategies;
  2. Supporting practitioners, including child care providers, home visitors, preschool teachers, and elementary school teachers, with STEM pedagogy and content knowledge;
  3. Supporting children and families in fostering STEM at home;
  4. Strategies and partnerships that foster STEM learning in informal settings (e.g., museums, libraries, zoos, media, toys); and
  5. Programs and partnerships that support children from low-income families in rural, tribal and urban settings and children who may have less access to STEM experiences and education including girls, children of color, children with disabilities, children who are dual language learners, and homeless children.

We would welcome the opportunity to highlight any new, specific, and measurable steps that your organization is ready to take in these or other areas to support early STEM in your community and on a national level. If applicable, portions of your announcement may be incorporated into White House materials in the coming months and your organization and relevant partners may be invited to participate in upcoming White House events on this topic. Examples of White House fact sheets include the fact sheet announcing Computer Science for All and on Astronomy Night may serve as templates for this event. Please submit your commitments including organization name, organization point of contact, email, city and state, media point of contact and the specific details of your commitment (500 words or less) to by Wednesday, March 23, 2016. 

We look forward to working with you on this important initiative to support our young innovators and foster a lifelong love of STEM learning. 

Roberto J. Rodriguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. Kumar Garg is Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation in the Office of Science and Techonology Policy.

[i] National Research Council. (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.