An Adventure in Design Thinking: What Do Parents Think About Babies and STEM?


By Everett Public Library

Note: This is the first in a series of blogs about launching STEM activities for early learners at the Everett Public Library. See the following installments here and here.
In our first training session from Thrive after receiving a Discoveries from the Field Fund grant, we learned about design thinking. We decided to put it into practice right away by gathering information from the families we serve. Using a variety of methods, we asked parents about themselves, their children, and their lifestyles.
The information we gathered from parents was entered into a spreadsheet for quick and easy referral. Then, armed with all this parent input, we designed our projects to meet the needs for families in our community.
We solicited parent input in three primary ways. First, we installed two large banners at each of the two library locations with the headings, “What do you think about babies and math?” and “What do you think about babies and science?” Next to the banners, we put out Post-It notes and markers, with a sign encouraging parents and caregivers to respond by sticking notes to the banners. Librarians also encouraged people to add their thoughts, and chatted with families individually.
This activity with the banners took the temperature, so to speak, of the general public visiting our libraries.
Responses ranged from enthusiastic, to baffled, to almost hostile.
“I think science tastes good!” one parent commented, on behalf of their 9-month old. The less than enthusiastic comments included: “Why? They’re soon going to have school,” and “Educate early? Whatever! Grow socially first. Science is for people, not seedlings.” And, “No! Let them live a normal life and don’t push them!”
We were a little dismayed, discovering this lack of child development awareness within some families in the community. We had assumed that the families who visit the library already engage in early childhood learning activities with their kids that include math and science.
The second information-gathering piece was a five-question survey, administered to parents and caregivers who attend our baby and toddler storytimes. We asked them to indicate on a sliding scale, from 1-5, what their comfort levels were with math and science (a rating of 1 meant “low” and 5 meant “high”). Of the 23 parents willing to respond, the average comfort level with math ranked 2.5, and science ranked 2.1 on the scale. Interestingly, several people indicated 4-5 in one area, but 1-2 in the other.
Our intention was to also host four focus groups for parents and caregivers who attend our baby and toddler storytimes with their children. We know them well, they are comfortable with us and trust us, and we could count on them to be open, honest, and direct. We came up with a list of five questions and planned to facilitate group discussions while their children played with toys. Inspired by something we heard in the design thinking orientation – that sometimes the best way to get to know someone is by chatting with them over a cup of coffee – we even provided coffee, tea, mini sandwiches and pastries to encourage them to stay longer after storytime.
However, our dreams of focus group discussions didn’t come to be. The rooms were so noisy with children playing, that the librarians ended up crawling around on the floor, interviewing individual parents and caregivers and taking notes. During these interviews, multiple parents suggested we offer group math and science activities in the library on weekday mornings. Their desire to get out of the house and interact with other families with young children was very strong. One parent noted that National Public Radio has a weekly “Science Friday” radio program; perhaps we could do Science Friday, too!
Thus, our STEM Friday trials began.
Click here for the next installment from the Everett Public Library.