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STEM vs. STEAM – What’s the Difference?

Hillsboro art lessons using STEAM
Image Credit: Una Shimpraga/

At Golden Road Arts in Hillsboro, we have spent years creating and delivering free home and classroom art lessons for preschool, middle school and elementary school kids. And during this time, we’ve found that one of the biggest debates revolves around finding the best approach to an arts curriculum. STEM has long been regarded as foundational to a good education, but today there’s an increasing push to consolidate art into STEM – to create STEAM. If you’re new to the topic, here’s a closer look.

What Are the Differences Between STEM and STEAM?

The difference between STEM and STEAM goes beyond the obvious inclusion of arts into the mix. To understand the differences between these academic approaches, we must first identify its relationship to teaching.

What Is STEM?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM education is a learning and teaching approach that integrates these subjects into a cohesive curriculum. Students learn about collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving and other vital skills that equip them for future careers.

What Is STEAM?

STEAM is essentially an acknowledgment that the arts and sciences are interdisciplinary subjects that require creativity, innovation, communication and problem-solving skills. By integrating art into a STEM education, students benefit from a synergistic approach to learning, one that can be applied to each individual discipline. Advocates of STEAM believe that this type of curriculum enables children to exercise both sides of their brains when faced with challenges.

Much of the opposition to STEAM comes from those who believe that adding an additional subject will water down the relatively new, integrative STEM approach. Further, some in the art world believe STEAM actually limits or reduces the quality and amount of arts learning children receive.

Why Is an Arts Education so Important?

Wherever you find yourself on the STEM vs. STEAM debate scale, art is unquestionably a vital part in the life of a growing, developing child. There are so many benefits to studying and practicing art, including the following.

  • Creativity
  • Decision-making skills
  • CommunicationCollab
  • oration
  • Self-expression
  • Fine motor skills
  • Improved cultural awareness

One study highlighting why kids need art found that a childhood arts education led to wide-ranging personal, social and behavioral benefits that extend into adulthood. Importantly, it was also reported that when they got to study art, children found school more engaging.

Above all else, access to high-quality art lessons is key. And whether the discipline exists as a stand-alone subject or is integrated into STEAM, we should never underestimate the benefits of prioritizing art in the curriculum.

Access Free Art Lessons for the Home and the Classroom

Golden Road Arts is committed to helping parents and teachers provide a comprehensive, well-thought-out arts education for children. We offer a range of art-related content, including at-home and in-person lessons and guides. Browse our free art lessons here to get started. You can also support us by making a donation or buying art from our online art gallery.

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