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STEAM & The Magic of Mirrors in Early Childhood Education

As educators we are constantly seeking innovative and effective methods to support the development and learning of babies and toddlers. However, many of us struggle to identify ways to provide STEAM opportunities (science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths), to our youngest learners, the babies and toddlers. A fundamental part of STEAM learning is the development of curiosity and creativity. If children are curious about how the world around them works they will want to build, create and innovate through playful learning opportunities. These dispositions are the building blocks of STEAM.


Mirrors provide a wonderful STEAM opportunity for babies and toddlers as they can engage with an unplugged technology (the mirror itself) which will engross and fascinate them as part of playful ECEC learning experiences.



Curiosity, Wonder & Awe

Mirrors provide infants and toddlers with a captivating way to observe and explore their own reflections. As they gaze into the mirror, they begin to develop self-awareness and a sense of identity. This foundational understanding of oneself lays the groundwork for developing a positive self-esteem and self-confidence, both crucial aspects of emotional and social development. Observing themselves in the mirror alongside the reflection of the people and objects in the environment support babies and toddlers to develop a sense of curiosity, wonder and awe in the world around them which is a vital element of STEAM.



The Science of Reflection

Babies are naturally drawn to faces and expressions as part of non-verbal communication and social and emotional cues. Mirrors provide them with captivating visual stimuli. By observing their own movements and expressions in the mirror, infants develop important visual tracking skills and learn cause-and-effect relationships. They discover that their actions influence what they see, which strengthens their understanding of object permanence. Understanding the scientific concepts behind their reflection, that when they move their reflection moves yet the objects around them do not or that they can move in and out of the reflection is a wonderful, playful STEAM learning opportunity.



STEAM Roleplay and Basic Maths

Mirrors have the unique ability to transform children's playtime. As toddlers grow, they begin to engage in symbolic play, where they use objects to represent something else, fostering their imagination and creativity. Mirrors can serve as portals to different worlds or as magical windows that connect their play world with reality. They can pretend to be magicians, scientists, doctors or pilots, using the mirror as a prop to enhance their stories and bring their imaginative adventures to life. Engaging with mirrors can even help children to understand maths concepts such as depth and dimension while also creating opportunities for creativity and imagination.



Risk Takers and Problem Solvers

Mirrors can be powerful tools for developing language and communication skills. By observing their own facial expressions and vocalisations in the mirror, children gain a better understanding of their own emotions, as well as the impact of their actions on others. Additionally, mirrors can be used during interactive activities, such as mirror games and songs, which encourage turn-taking, imitation, and vocabulary development. Children can also engage with and respond to the reflection of their educators and friends in the mirror as part of socio-dramatic play. The mirror can provide an insight into non-verbal communication such as the emotions that are associated with various facial expressions like sad, happy or confused. This can support the development of empathy and respect for others along with a strong sense of self-identity and confidence. Developing these dispositions are important as they help children to become resilient problem solvers who will be confident to take risks and try again when they are mastering new skills, these dispositions are fundamental to STEAM learning.

Conclusion

Mirrors can be both mesmerising and magical. They can captivate and engage infants and toddlers in ways that go beyond simply looking at reflections. By incorporating mirrors into the early childhood education environment for babies and toddlers, we stimulate curiosity, self-awareness, imagination and creativity, all of which are fundamental building blocks of STEAM engagement.



About the Author:

Paula Walshe is a published author, PhD student and Assistant Lecturer in ECE at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Her PhD research focusses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths) in ECEC.


In 2023 Paula published her first book entitled "Síolta in Practice" which is a guide to implementing Síolta quality standards in ECEC. It is published by Boru Press and is available here.


Paula has also co-founded a Twitter community of practice page and podcast @ECEQualityIrl . You can listen to the most recent ECE Quality Ireland podcast here.


You can contact Paula or learn more about her work here. LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @walshe_paula / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator

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