What is the difference between STEM and STEAM?

What are STEM & STEAM?
In the early 2000’s, science curriculums in schools started to become known as STEM. An acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM was designed as a response to a dwindling interest in the science fields. Though our civilization heavily relies on science-related professions, students were not actively pursuing those careers. STEM sought to change that.

By linking science, technology, engineering and math, students were given more experiential, hands-on activities, like robotics and coding, making classes more engaging. But still, STEM didn’t address an important aspect of learning: creativity. Enter STEAM. Art, the “A” added to the acronym, was to bring that creativity to the table.


Society tends toward the belief that boys are concrete, logical thinkers and girls are more creative and emotionally-driven. As a result, the original idea behind adding art into the STEM equation was an effort to balance the gender playing field. Though women make up nearly 50% of the workforce, only a fraction of these jobs are in the science field. STEAM hoped to show creative students that the sciences wouldn’t be successful without their innovations. Conversely, it gave more technically-minded students an opportunity to think outside of the box.


Including art in the sciences was not a new concept. Looking at the artistically detailed work of Leonardo DaVinci in his studies of the human body and his ideas for machines show that art can provide a chance to more firmly grasp a topic. Though not as beautiful as DaVinci’s, Thomas Edison also sketched his ideas for most of his inventions, such as the telegraph and the electric lamp.

Looking to put some A in your STEM?


Art can be one of the easiest and most fun elements of STEAM, even for the artistically challenged parent. Here are some easy ideas:

  • Draw a picture of a building then create it using LEGO bricks. (Engineering & Art)
  • Send cryptic messages to child using binary code. (Technology & Art)
  • Investigate and paint the symmetry of a butterfly. (Math & Art)
  • Build a balloon and coffee can drum, put salt on top and watch the movement of sound when you hit it. (Science & Art)

STEAM Tips
It is important to remember that a good activity does not have to include every STEAM component. Some of the best activities pair only a couple of subjects.
The “A” in STEAM does not only refer to visual arts. Music, dance, language arts, philosophy, and history could also be used.
Are you a homeschooler? STEAM activities partner seamlessly with unit studies.

STEAM Resources

  • Play Make Be is a wonderful resource of the best toys activities and resources to set up your own supply of STEAM materials
  • Pinterest is a wonderful source of STEAM inspiration.
  • STEAM Kids is a compilation of activities by a group of self-described STEAM nerds. You can read more about this book here.

STEAM activities help children learn through the creative process. By adding a little art to your STEM, you will engage your child’s critical thinking skills and innovation, encourage adaptability and deepen their understanding of science, providing a well-rounded education.