STEAM Early Childhood Education Program Slowly Moving Forward at Katz JCC

They’re not quite ready to go full STEAM ahead with a new, collaborative study program at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill.

They’re not quite ready to go full STEAM ahead at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill.
The program is too new. The teachers are still getting their feet wet understanding some of the concepts. And with more than 300 children — ages 3 to 6 — involved in the process, they’d rather start slowly, and then pick up steam — so to speak — in the end.
The acronym refers to the course of study they’re teaching these days: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics. Or simply STEAM.
“We’re starting something new, so we want to start it slow,” said Donna Snyder, the Katz director of early childhood and family engagement, who’s been involved in early childhood education on both a local and national level for 32 years. “If you do too much too fast, it doesn’t work.
“There’s a whole base curriculum and our teachers are using it to enhance academics. They were a little shy with it at first. Now they’re all excited seeing how this is taking learning to a new level.”
Katz is working in partnership with Destination Imagination, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Cherry Hill, but operating in 24 countries with more than 30,000 volunteers. The organization was responsible for training some 20 teachers in Katz’s Sari Isdaner Early Childhood Center, each working with 15 to 17 students.
The main focus of STEAM — which, unlike the similarly named popular program STEM, includes the arts — is to have the children collaborate in teams. The theory is that it will better prepare them for whatever lies ahead in our ever-changing world.
“Project-based learning is getting to be the standard in education,” said Eric Wolff, a Destination Imagination liaison. “There’s a lot of effort in teaching kids 21st-century skills to be innovative.
“They need to be able to think on their feet, to be flexible and be able to learn rapidly. Jobs that may exist for them in the workforce 10 to 15 years from now may not exist now. This will give them the capacity to understand those fields and then apply it in teams.”
Experts say teamwork is key. And the earlier children learn they can rely on others and don’t have to figure everything out for themselves, the better.
“In this day and age, they need to learn to work in teams,” explained Snyder, who began implementing the program at the start of the school year. “The projects we give them have multiple solutions. The curriculum is based on learning as they play. Working together, they’re able to create a certain type of structure and also create more social interaction.”
For an experienced professional like Snyder, not only has the system of education changed dramatically, so have the expectations.
“What’s different is there are higher expectations from the parents for the child’s level of achievement,” she said. “It’s not realistic, because children develop at different levels and needs. We try to offer them strategies to grow socially and emotionally.”
Bringing STEAM to Katz, as new as it is, is a fundamental part of that.
“I’ve gone full circle,” Snyder said. “Within early childhood, years ago, something like this wasn’t on the radar.
“We looked at science, math and technology. We never thought about engineering or the arts. But we started to research it last year and decided STEM and STEAM were comprehensive.
“And Destination Imagination’s curriculum will provide the children in our school with the building blocks to pursue their curiosity and creativity.”
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