STEM Seeds equips children and educators with skills for a changing world

Constitution Hill:

Today sees the launch of a new, original curriculum that aims to use play to build science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) skills and climate change awareness in young South African learners. Called STEM Seeds and available now to download for free, the curriculum is aimed predominantly at learners aged 3 to 6 but is still appropriate for up to age 10. It helps South African educators enliven and enrich learning in early childhood development (ECD) and foundation-phase classrooms.

The unveiling of STEM Seeds comes on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This underscores its importance in empowering girls by promoting gender equity in STEM education and careers while also igniting a love of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) from childhood - and unlocking new pathways to STEM careers - for all children.

The exciting new initiative is a project of Play Africa, Southern Africa’s pioneering children’s museum and educational makerspace that is based at the iconic Constitution Hill. It was created with the support of the US Embassy of South Africa.

“If we want to equip South Africa’s children for the future, we need to support the creativity and resourcefulness of our country’s early educators,” says Gretchen Wilson-Prangley, CEO of Play Africa, a leader in developing innovative teacher training programmes that empower educators to enliven and invigorate their teaching.

“The right to education starts from a child’s earliest years, so we’ve created STEM Seeds to help South Africa’s early education sector as a whole by showing teachers how to use play to introduce STEM and climate change education at a young age,” adds Wilson-Prangley. “This curriculum support for early educators can help children develop new capacities for deeper learning, critical thinking, and creative problem solving through playful learning.”

Focusing on the playful classroom and the playful educator, the STEM Seeds toolkit builds the confidence of South African educators to teach and discuss STEM and climate change. It uses play as an active, meaningful, and socially interactive way of learning.

“Our focus is on unlocking the joy of play, and the joy of discovery,” says Wilson-Prangley. “Again and again, research shows us that meaningful play is the best way to become ready for school, and to kick off a future of lifelong learning. So, we focus on play, rather than forcing children into an academic curriculum and memorisation before they are ready.”

The curriculum is packed with ready-to-use techniques and activities, including Daily Techniques to Encourage STEM Skills and Daily Techniques to Increase Playful Learning. No special equipment is required to implement the STEM Seeds curriculum, giving it an important role in aiding greater pluralism and social inclusion in South Africa’s economy by promoting racial equity in STEM education and careers.

“Our objective is to help South Africa’s early educators, from all backgrounds and education levels, build the confidence they need to use playful approaches to introduce STEM and climate change awareness in classrooms across the country,” says Rachel Fowkes, Programme Manager for STEM Seeds at Play Africa. “Now everyone can help encourage the next generation of South African scientists, coders, engineers, mathematicians and inventors.”

Importantly the curriculum was designed to work alongside South Africa’s National Curriculum Framework for Children from Birth to Four Years (NCF) and the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). The ideas and suggestions in STEM Seeds support the development of key skills from both documents.

Attended by educators and practitioners working in Early Childhood Development, the virtual STEM Seeds launch saw South African anti-apartheid activist, actress, storyteller, poet, playwright, director, and author, Gcina Mhlophe read her own story about caring for nature. It also included a message from Heather Merritt, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in South Africa, who provided a grant for the project.

“Play isn't just about having fun, it's how children learn,” concludes Wilson-Prangley. “Yet all too often, young children in South Africa aren't encouraged by the adults in their lives to explore, experiment and innovate through play. Play Africa created this resource as a thank you to ECD practitioners in South Africa and Africa. Research shows that a child's early years are a never-to-be-repeated window of opportunity for learning and brain development. We're grateful to South Africa's ECD practitioners who do their best to nurture, care and educate our children, often with limited resources.”

About Play Africa

Play Africa is a pioneering “children's museum” based at the iconic Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa, a former prison complex that is now the seat of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. Play Africa operates in the courtyards just 15 metres from the cell here former President Nelson Mandela was once incarcerated. As a cultural institution, its exhibits and programmes are designed to stimulate imagination, experimentation, innovation and problem-solving in children, as well as their families and educators. Play Africa Group is a member of the Association of Children’s Museums. It is a registered South African non-profit company (#2014/101533/08), and a registered public benefit organisation (#930048005) with Section 18A tax-exempt status. It is an independent children’s museum supported by Rand Merchant Bank,

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