Last month during our students’ Fall Break, I offered a STEM program that was easy to prep, easy to staff, and cost us nothing! We held a drop-in Science Playground where I put out all kinds of science materials and allowed families to explore at their own pace.
** This is the caveat where I tell you that the reason that this program was absolutely free to us is that we have been collecting science tools and kits for several years for our summer Science Explorer table. Worry not, I have some ideas in case you do NOT have science tools at the ready!**
I scheduled the program for an afternoon during Fall Break. It was drop-in and open to all ages, although the materials we had were mostly geared towards the early elementary crowd (and that’s the audience we ended up attracting). I set up tables in our meeting room and placed our science kits and activities out, as well as a large display of science books that families could check out. I put on some background music and opened the doors. As families came in, I let them know that they were welcome to explore all our stations and check out any books they liked. I kept a tally for attendance and the program pretty much ran itself.
I set out the following stations:
- Student microscopes with slides
- Science Discovery Kits on magnets, motion, and magnification
- Magnet wands with pipe cleaner “hair”
- Color paddles and materials to draw
- Bug sorting set
- Science viewers
- Wooden blocks
- Plastic jungle animal toys
- Soft vinyl shape toys
We’ve purchased most of these materials from Lakeshore Learning.
Families explored most of the stations I set out. The microscopes were a little difficult because they really needed more one-on-one instruction on how to use them. If we do this program again, I would probably forgo the microscopes and put out more different materials to look at under magnifying glasses.
Although most of our crowd was in that early elementary age, older kids were eager to show the tricks they knew to younger kids or to the adults in the room. They knew how to make the magnets do cool things or how to mix the colors with the color paddles and showed that to the other kids. Grownups browsed the display books (especially if I mentioned the display to them directly), but not many kids did browsing on their own.
The station materials did NOT stay neatly where I placed them, but that was no big deal. If a station had a quiet moment, I would go over and quietly group things back into their proper kits. I could have probably utilized a teen volunteer or two to help keep things organized and for set-up and clean-up, but it wasn’t a big deal for me to do these things myself.
We were in a fairly small room, so it did get pretty loud in there occasionally with all the great conversations going on, kids making animal sounds, etc. I knew this would probably happen, so I avoided stations that had to do with sound since I knew it would be difficult to hear.
Now, if you don’t happen to have all this great science stuff laying around, you could still totally do this program (and you could keep it pretty cheap, as well). Here are some ideas (which I might use next time!):
- Building with cardboard boxes instead of blocks (ask your coworkers to save boxes of all types: cake mixes, cereal boxes, egg cartons all make great, free building material).
- Challenge kids to construct a boat that will float or a tower that reaches so many inches using whatever materials you have handy (aluminum foil, popsicle sticks, yarn, spaghetti, etc.).
- Sensory bins using dry beans and containers made of different materials to pour them with.
- Put out realia to explore. You could put out leaves and/or rocks and accompanying field guides to try to identify them or just collect sticks, seeds, grasses, flowers, etc. and let kids explore them.
- Sink and float station. Put out a tub of water and various materials. Encourage kids to guess beforehand and then test their hypothesis to see if they were right.
- Any of these shadow activities that Amy Koester posted about on the ALSC Blog.
What other fun science activities would make good stations for a self-directed program like this?
— Abby Johnson, Youth Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN