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Massachusetts Head Start STEM exhibition strengthens curricula for children of low income families

Over 100 early childhood educators, representing all 29 Head Start programs throughout Massachusetts, along with staff from museums, colleges, and nature and science centers gathered at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester last week for  a daylong exhibition focused on promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the state’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs.

The first-time event was organized by the Massachusetts Head Start Training and Technical Assistance Center through the UMass Donahue Institute, with partnering directors and education managers from six Head Start programs from across the state. It featured exhibits, hands-on activities, and discussions with colleges, museums and science programs; all centered on fostering collaboration between Massachusetts’ Head Start educators and strengthening their STEM curricula. Through an accompanying “lesson swap,” teachers brought detailed lesson plans incorporating concepts in engineering, biology, ecology and chemistry and made them available to all attendees, who were then able to collect different ideas and activities to bring back to their Infant/toddler and preschool programs.

"Head Start programs were universally expressing a need for STEM activities that had been used successfully in both classrooms and in home based programs, so we developed a comprehensive lesson plan template for the exhibitors to complete that covered all aspects of curriculum planning in Head Start, including family engagement activities that parents can use to support STEM education in the home,” said Maureen McDonald, Early Childhood (ECE) Specialist for the Massachusetts Head Start Training and Technical Assistance Center at the UMass Donahue Institute. “With the lesson plan swap, we were able to give programs another resource for helping achieve school readiness goals."

There’s evidence that an academic achievement gap is already in place before kindergarten begins, putting children from low-income families at risk of playing catch-up throughout their academic and professional lives. Through an educational initiative to emphasize STEM education and introduce early math and science concepts to toddlers and preschoolers, Head Start programs are laying the foundation for the ongoing development of academic and behavioral traits such as perseverance, problem-solving, and patience; important qualities which can be applied both in and out of the classroom.

More than 13,000 children in Massachusetts are enrolled in Head Start programs, which serve children age birth to 5 from low-income families, preparing them for kindergarten and enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional, and physical development

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