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Dr. Tisha Shipley has been in education for over 23 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented 3rd-6th Grades, Dr. Shipley was an elementary principal, a cheer coach, and was on...
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Planning, Managing and Incorporating STEM/STEAM Learning Centers Part 2

As the new school year approaches, let's discuss planning and incorporating STEAM into our daily schedule. If you haven’t read Part 1: Using STEAM and STEM in the classroom, you may want to start there. I also challenge you to walk away with ONE idea you may try when school begins. The classroom community is a huge part of what we, as educators, put together and put our mark on. Our community comes with a host of things we can do to incorporate STEAM learning. Centers are ONLY ONE small way to incorporate STEAM, but they are a vital part of our learning community.

When you include STEAM in your centers, you are engaging your students in various developmentally appropriate and hands-on learning lessons. Centers are also where you can differentiate for each child so that they are learning through their preferred learning style. Centers should consist of things children can accomplish independently or with little monitoring and help. This is a time for students to practice what you have taught, build on information and knowledge they already have, and use trial and error to become proficient.

As educators of young children, we must encourage exploration, ask open-ended questions, allow them to conduct hands-on learning, and have them form inferences just like a scientist would. You can accomplish all these things using centers.

Here is a fun idea: “Scientist for the Day”. 

This is a lesson/activity that will need to be modeled and can be added to your schedule as often as you would like. You can incorporate this in any way that works for your teaching. 

Things you may need: a white lab coat, glasses, telescope, lab gear, and equipment, etc. You can set up your science center with experiments so students are asking questions, are able to form ideas and opinions, predict, observe, experiment, compare, measure, infer, and communicate what they think. This can be rotating and something that students research and are excited to be a part of. 

When you are setting up your classroom, begin thinking about the centers you want to incorporate into your learning day. Click here to learn more about different centers you may enjoy having in your classroom. These centers will allow children to not only engage in the lessons you are teaching but to interact with learning materials that will help you guide students. To plan and set up centers, you will need 1. a well-defined area 2. materials, 3. An organized space and 4. shelving and or a place to store materials. Click here to learn about how to set up learning centers that will be engaging and useful when teaching young children. All centers can incorporate some sort of STEAM discipline.

Here are some ideas for how to set up different centers this year to help you add STEAM learning.


Cooking is a fun and creative way to incorporate numerous learning opportunities. The cooking center can be anywhere in the classroom where an adult supervises children. A great way to have a cooking center up and running is to have a family volunteer come in and help with it. You can choose to do a whole group cooking activity or a small area where children can follow a recipe and make a snack, such as peanut butter and jelly, on their own. Having the center by a sink for easy cleanup may be a good idea.

What children are learning in a cooking center:

  • science
  • physics
  • chopping
  • stirring
  • mixing
  • spreading
  • pouring
  • measuring

Children are learning to mix liquid and dry ingredients, allowing them to see the change in materials. They are learning about chemistry and physical change by experimenting with hot and cold. They are able to practice reading a recipe and how to use simple machines (tweezers, plastic knives, corn grinder,) which are all technology and engineering concepts and help with fine motor development. 


The block area is a space where children can build, pretend, work, and engage in trial and error. The block area should be away from quiet centers such as the library or listening center. The block center is a louder center that must have boundaries so blocks are not carried around the room. A large carpet for children to build on is one way to distinguish where the block center belongs. 

The block center is a great way to teach children about:

  • inclines
  • pulleys
  • simple machines and how they work
  • symmetry
  • vocabulary words that they may know but have not encountered in daily life.
  • fine and gross motor skills

Sensory Table

The sensory table can house many different things. Whatever your theme or lesson is about is what your sensory table can have in it. The sensory table will need enough space so that children are able to stand around the bin and work. You can even house your sensory table in a large sandbox where children can sit on the floor and work, a large claw foot bathtub, or a simple plastic bin. Some items the sensory table may have: water, beads, foam, sand, beans, rice, habitat ideas, floam, spaghetti, play dough, shaving cream, paint, dirt and worms, cotton, bubbles, and soap.

You can change your sensory table out as often as you would like.

When you set up your sensory table, children will not only have fun, they will learn:

  • math
  • science
  • engineering
  • art
  • technology
  • role Playing
  • creativity
  • imaginative play

Art Center

The art center is a well-defined area with easels, tables, and even wall space where children can make, create, and experiment with different materials. 

During the lessons, children are not only learning to be creative but also:

  • vocabulary terms that go along with the lesson
  • fine motor skills
  • technology
  • math
  • science topics
  • engineering topics

Extra Resources:

How to Set Up Your Preschool Art Learning Center

Music Center

The music center is another area that can be loud and should be put with louder centers. Though sometimes the music may be loud enough to hear throughout the room, some children may opt to listen with headphones. The music center will need cd’s, chords to play music from technology, places for the children to sit, cd players, record players, and whatever you can find that children can learn and benefit from.

The music center is an area where students can:

  • role play
  • act
  • sing
  • dance
  • work on gross motor skills
  • work on oral language

As you begin to set up your STEAM centers this year, here are a few questions to ask yourself: How will you ensure that you are engaging and differentiating for all students? How will you align with your state and local standards? What materials will you use, and how will you purchase them? Do not forget there numerous grants out there to help you; all you need to do is apply. STEAM can seem intimidating, but as you begin incorporating the concepts into your daily schedule, it will become much more manageable. The challenge is to take one idea from the content above and try to implement it in your classroom community.