Blogger Kaitlin Frick

STEAM on a Shoestring: Science

Last month, I posted ideas for engineering programs on a budget. I hope you had a chance to try out the programs – please email me if you did! – and found a great new activity for your young patrons. I had so much fun putting together that post, I decided to turn it into a mini-series. So this month, I’ve asked librarian friends to share ideas for science programs they (and their patrons) love:

Kristin McWilliams, Youth Manager with Houston Public Library

“When it comes to younger kids, my favorite low-cost science activities feature water and ice. There are so many experiments you can do with these materials: You can test different methods to melt ice, explore how water and ice interact with other substances like oil and salt, observe how temperature differences affect water, make predictions about and test whether items will float, observe water displacement, and more. Because water and ice are also low-risk materials, it’s a lot easier to let younger kids interact with them; they can do things like pour, scoop, and squeeze from droppers. Plus, freezing things like leaves or plastic toys or adding food color can add another dimension for exploration and observation.”

Grace Zell, Senior Children’s Librarian with New York Public Library

This program, which I got from Playdough to Plato, was a ton of fun and a great hands-on introduction to an aspect of earth science. I gave a very brief talk on what plate tectonics are and how plates move around on the earth’s mantle, with a slideshow I created that showed different types of boundaries and how they look. Then I distributed plates with icing/frosting and added drops of food coloring to make it appear red – like lava! Each child got a set of crackers per boundary experimentation. I asked the group what it felt like as they pushed crackers together, what was happening to the crackers, etc. The hardest thing was keeping the kids from eating their demonstrations, but if you’re allowed to distribute food then you can always keep some unused crackers as treats for after.”

Emily Small, Senior Children’s Librarian with New York Public Library

“Dongan Hills, where I worked until very recently, has a monthly STEAM Storytime for kids ages 2-5. Our time together includes reading a book or two about the concept and then using our hands to learn more. For one program where we learned about magnets, we had three stations for the kids and their adults to move through as they wished. The stations included playing with Magna-tiles, magnet painting, and testing what is and isn’t magnetic. For magnet painting, we used watered down tempera paint (in primary colors so they can see color mixing in action), a magnet wand, and a paperclip. A little spoonful of paint was put on a paper plate, with the paperclip added on top and the magnet wand underneath. By moving the wand around, the kids could create their own artwork. For testing what is and isn’t magnetic, I made 4 sensory bottles that included one magnetic (for instance paperclips) and one non-magnetic (coffee) item, so the kids could use a wand to separate the two items. For another program, which we made into a two-week series, the kids learned about the 5 senses. Again, this was a station-based program kids and adults could move through at their own pace. For hearing, we played with a variety of instruments and made shakers out of beans and plastic eggs, talking about the different sounds we heard. For touch, we made a texture collage using a large piece of contact paper and a variety of craft materials; we also played with shaving cream sensory bags.”

Kaitlin Frick, Senior Children’s Librarian with New York Public Library

My favorite subject when it comes to science programming is genetics, but obviously that can be a pretty complex topic to tackle with young children. Once while doing research for a month of science programming at the library, I stumbled upon the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center. Here, they’ve posted some fun lesson plans for teaching the basics of genetics to older children (10+). I’ve found that, with a bit of simplified introduction, many of their lessons can be used with younger children (5-8) as well. In an activity I’ve done with children ages 4-8, we talk about the difference between inherited traits and learned behaviors by sorting a variety of laminated cards (eye color, fingerprints, using your manners, etc.) into the two categories. After getting a good grasp on the concept, I provide a bit of a history lesson (Gregor Mendel, anyone?) before letting them dive into Utah’s dog DNA activity, where they can see firsthand how different DNA sequences add up to the different traits that create individuals.

If you need more inspiration, check out these great resources:

Left Brain Craft Brain

Mommy Poppins

The Show Me Librarian

Have a go-to, inexpensive tech program you’d like to share? Email me at to possibly be featured in next month’s post!

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials and III. Programming Skills.

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