How STEM Can Support Social-Emotional Development in Kids


Social-emotional development refers to a child’s abilities to express and manage emotions, and to establish positive relationships with others. Core skills include the abilities to:

  • understand and manage one’s own feelings and behaviors

  • read and comprehend the emotional states of others

  • develop empathy for others

  • establish and maintain healthy relationships with peers and adults

The development of these skills critically influences the ways kids will function at home, in school, and in their community - even as adults. This is why many schools prioritize creating classroom and school environments that respect differing viewpoints, encourage and support one another, and are considerate of individual wants and needs.

So it should come as no surprise that project-based learning and STEM done right may support healthy social-emotional development.

Supporting STEM through exploratory project-based learning allows for students to:

  • express and communicate their unique thoughts and ideas with others

  • take calculated risks and be confident in their decisions

  • be open to feedback and iteration

  • manage frustration with “failures” during iteration

  • give feedback to others in a constructive and encouraging way

  • learn how to communicate effectively when working in groups

  • communicate group findings to peers and adults (teachers)

As with all subject areas, STEM (particularly engineering) should be taught as an interdisciplinary subject that supports and bolsters learning across the school curriculum. What’s unique about teaching STEM with hands-on learning is that it inherently encourages social-emotional development under clear guidance, modeling, and supervision.

To truly support students’ social-emotional growth through STEM instruction, repeated, consistent exposure to these opportunities is crucial. Our suggestion to schools and teachers is to create a consistent schedule for teaching engineering (while integrating PBL), instead of holding isolated sprints of “STEM learning” occasionally during the school year. STEM could be taught daily, weekly, or in parallel with an overlapping science unit. The consistency will not only give students the space to practice the above skills, but it will also help shape a classroom or school culture that is more respectful, diverse in thought, and resilient through iterations.

To learn more about Teaching Garage's elementary engineering curriculum, visit