For a long time, the emphasis of education was literacy.

While literacy is still important, experts across the country, lawmakers, educators and business leaders are emphasizing that in order to stay globally competitive, children must be prepared in STEM -- an acronym standing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics , as early as preschool. The term, now heard nationwide, was coined by Judith A. Ramaley, the former director of the National Science Foundation's education and human-resources division.

STEM education attempts to transform the typical teacher-centered classroom by encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery and exploratory learning, and require students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution. Early exposure to STEM supports overall academic growth, critical thinking and reasoning skills and increases later interest in STEM study and careers.

Carolyn Williams, director of Toddlertime Nursery School, 23 Park St., New Canaan, said, "We teach STEM on a daily basis at Toddlertime even with children as young as 2. Whether the children are building, sorting, stacking, experimenting or just studying a topic, they are asked to formulate questions, hypothesize, predict, observe and reflect on the results."

Even Elmo and Curious George are talking about STEM. According to the Sesame Street Season 42 press release, "The curriculum is designed to build upon children's natural sense of curiosity. Our approach to STEM education is to integrate these four domains through the following underlying processes: observing and questioning, investigating, analyzing and reporting -- in order to help children become critical thinkers as they solve every day problems." A Huffington Post article released on Jan. 20 titled "Curious George Helping to Bridge the STEM Education Gap in Preschool Study," discusses how a recent study of Curious George books and television episodes positively impacted young children's knowledge of STEM.

Barbara Davis, co-owner of Toddlertime, added, "While teaching STEM is happening across all Toddlertime programs, two of our after-school programs, Tinker Lab and Build It, take preschool STEM to the next level."

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Inspired by AnnMarie Thomas' TED video Hands-on Science with Squishy Circuits, a group of Tinker Lab students decided to conduct electricity with playdough. Using two different kinds of homemade play dough, children were able to build circuits that made light, sound and movement. The Toddlertime circuit designers were amazed when they were able to generate electricity through ordinary playdough.

Both Tinker Lab and Build It are taught by Nancy Ferullo, a New Canaan High School graduate who is a teacher and summer director at Toddlertime Nursery School.

Toddlertime serves children ages almost 2 through kindergarten. For information, visit or call 203-972-3111.