Five Lessons Learned with STEM Storytime at Everett Public Library

 

By Emily Dagg, Manager of Youth Services
Everett Public Library

 
If our STEM playtimes for children under 3 continue to be this successful, we are going to break fire code.
 
Our Monday morning STEM playtimes were extremely well attended this summer. The largest group contained 42 children and 31 adults.
 

 
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1. Parents love STEM playtime at the library

 
What surprised us about holding these STEM activity sessions at the library is that some children arrive with an entourage of adults. Several parents attend these playtimes as a couple, and/or invite grandparents, aunts, or other adults who want to learn more about playing with STEM.
 
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2. Building STEM culture takes more than just activities

 
One of the many ways we model STEM thinking for parents and adults is by changing the way we talk about children. Rather than saying: “Your baby is so cute!” we say, “Your baby is so smart!” This simple comment gives us the opportunity to talk about how much babies can learn in their first year of life.
 
We try to incorporate STEM thinking into as many aspects of the program as possible, such as keeping a visual tally of attendance each week on the whiteboard. However, quantity does not always equal quality when it comes to children’s programs. We would prefer to emphasize quality.
 
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3. Babies and toddlers play with STEM in different ways

 
Whenever the room became crowded during our weekly STEM playtimes, the toddlers and 3-year-olds commanded the space and most of the toys. Playtimes often turned rambunctious. More than one child received scratches from falling cardboard boxes at Building Big playtime. The floor-bound babies would be pushed to the side to avoid being squashed by these more exuberant STEM experiments.
 
Developmentally, that makes perfect sense. Infants play on the floor, toddlers play everywhere. Every week, we create a baby area at STEM playtime featuring tummy-time toys and sit-and-play toys for babies. However, those toys are just as attractive to the toddlers. Toddler vs. baby tug-of-war with toys was not one of our planned experiments, but there is a science lesson in there, nonetheless.Everett7
 
Based on our observations of the toddler vs. baby dynamic, and based on feedback from parents, we plan to offer separate STEM playtimes for infants and toddlers this fall. By dividing the 0-3 group into these two age categories, we also hope to prevent possible fire code violations.
 

4. Failure is part of the scientific process

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Not everything we tried this summer was successful. We discovered parents are sometimes reluctant to let their children play with objects that aren’t specifically designed as child-safe toys. For example, the planks of surplus laminate flooring I brought from home for our Ramp & Roll playtime had 90 degree angles on the corners and thin edges. More than one parent was heard to say to their child, “No, that is NOT a toy!”
 
We also learned the hard way that no matter how careful we are, the laws physics and gravity can yield painful results. On a sunny morning in June, we conducted floating and sinking experiments outside on the library’s back patio. The children loved playing in the water and many of them got their clothes as wet as possible. The parents appreciated the piles of dry towels we provided.
 
Despite multiple “CAUTION WET FLOOR” signs on the patio, two toddlers slipped and required first aid. We plan to conduct water play inside, and on a smaller scale this fall.
 

5. Babies and toddlers want to take STEM home

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The good news is: parents are getting the message that STEM play is important, and they take “lessons” at home very seriously. It is also evident that parents want the other adults in their child’s life to engage in STEM play as well, as seen in the entourage phenomenon.
 
We encourage parents to email us photos of their children playing with STEM at home. Our favorite photo is of this young scientist who was inspired by our Ramp & Roll playtime. To us, this represents the ultimate measure of success.
 
Later this fall, we plan to conduct a test run of a few STEM kits for parents to borrow from the library. Our neighbor, Imagine Children’s Museum, is now also receiving Discoveries from the Field funding from Thrive by Five Washington. After our respective busy summer seasons wrap up, we hope to meet and begin a conversation about ways we can support each other.
 
If we can iron out all the logistics involved with circulating multi-part kits, we hope to increase the number of kits in the New Year. These kits will contain board books, parent information, and STEM toys. And perhaps some Band-Aids.
 
 

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