As children’s librarians, we do a great job of promoting early literacy, information literacy, reading for fun… why don’t we do the same for STEM subjects–science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? Children find STEM programs engaging and interesting, especially in a non-school environment like the library. They also love that most STEM activities are hands-on, maybe even a bit messy. Integrating STEM into your programs can be a surefire way to reach a large audience of children, both seasoned program-goers and new attendees.
Since I took over children’s programming at my library last fall, I’ve really focused on offering programs at the science end of the spectrum for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. I’ve hosted a handful of school-age science programs so far, all of which have been huge successes with participants and their caregivers. Below are three examples of the recent science programs enjoyed by school-age children at my library:
Children experience the world through their senses, so why not engage one of their favorites: taste! I opened this program with a little chat about how taste buds work and the four distinct tastes the human tongue recognizes. We then moved to our experimentation station for a taste test. Every child got a map of the tongue with the taste areas left blank as well as a bunch of cotton swabs for dipping into solutions that were sweet (sugar water), sour (lemon juice), bitter (tonic water), and salty (salt water). Using the cotton swabs, we tested which areas of the tongue are most sensitive to each taste. We then compared our findings to the official tongue taste bud map.
After our taste-testing, we talked a little about heat as it pertains to food. To demonstrate how heating food an affect its properties, we plugged in an iron to make some ironed cheese sandwiches. We looked at bread and cheese at room temperature compared to the pair after being heated up; then we ate the melty experiment results. The novelty of using an iron to make a favorite sandwich was a big plus for this program. We closed with an experiment to show how cold can also change the properties of matter. Using milk, vanilla, sugar, plastic bags, lots of ice, and salt, we made ice cream. Children got to watch the entire transition from liquid milk to solid (or at least icy) ice cream as the salted ice brought down the temperature of the mixture in the bags. What a tasty way to learn about how temperature affects foods!
I figured the word “slime” would draw lots of children to the library during spring break, and I was right. I started by mixing a big batch of cornstarch-and-water slime while we talked about the states of matter, and the slime was ready just in time to demonstrate a non-Newtonian fluid. Children came up to dip a finger into the slime (easy) and then try to yank it back out quickly (not as easy). Convinced that this slime was in fact a strange and wonderful substance, children gathered supplies to make their own jars of slime. To get this program to work logistically for 30+ participants, I had prepared baby food jars with cornstarch ahead of time. Children then added their preferred color of food dye and enough water to get the slime mixture going. After stirring for about seven minutes over more science chat, everyone had their very own jar of slime to pour out, try to roll into a ball, and let drip. Slime Science took place on my library’s patio–and a good thing, too, as the slime-making process can be a messy one.
Sink or Float: Titanic Edition
I know lots of libraries put on Titanic history programs for the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking; we put on a Titanic science program. We first talked about how an “unsinkable” ship could actually sink. An ice cube tray in a big container of water makes for a great demonstration of the Titanic’s compartments filling with water, and it helps children visualize the difference between the boat staying afloat and sinking. The bulk of our program was then taken up by construction time: children used combinations of paper, foil, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, straws, and modeling clay to build vessels that could successfully float while supporting a plastic rat. After a frenzied half hour of building, we tested the boats one by one. We all got a little wet, but we figured out what makes a ship seaworthy.
I’ve got several more science programs in the pipeline for summer and fall–think paper airplanes, submarines, and hot air balloons. What science programs do you offer at your library?
Our guest blogger today is Amy Koester. Amy is the Children’s Librarian at the Corporate Parkway Branch of the St. Charles City-County Library District. She blogs about youth librarianship at http://showmelibrarian.blogspot.com.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.