How to Start with STEM in Early Learning? Try Knocking Things Down!


By Everett Public Library

Note: This is the second in a series of blogs about launching STEM activities for early learners at the Everett Public Library. See the first installment here, and the last one here.
In January, we presented two STEM playtimes for families at our Evergreen Branch in south Everett. Based on what we learned from parents about their kids, we chose our weekly STEM themes to take advantage of the natural curiosity and current interests of their babies and toddlers. Parents reported that knocking things down was a common fascination, so our first playtime was called Construction/Destruction, and it featured empty boxes collected by the entire library staff.

Construction/Destruction in action with early learners

Construction/Destruction in action with early learners

We probably broke fire code at the branch, with over 50 people at a time (adults and children) doing Construction/Destruction activities in the small meeting room. Demand was high, with about 39 babies and toddlers attended with their grownups.
In addition to empty boxes, we provided plastic cups, assorted soft building blocks, and MegaBloks; we encouraged parents to build things for their kids to knock down. Before long, the kids were doing more and more of the building. We provided parents with a postcard-sized handout explaining that building with their kids helps develop engineering, math, and science skills. Included were some vocabulary words the parents could use during play.
The second two STEM playtimes were offered at the Main Library, and continued at that same location through February. We noticed that some parents were willing and able to drive seven miles from south Everett to attend, but others were not. The ones who did make the drive met and connected with families they might never have met before. We witnessed a Korean/English-speaking family exchanging phone numbers with an English/Korean-speaking family.
Families participate in the "ramp and roll" activity

Families participate in the “ramp and roll” activity

The next theme was “ramp and roll,” adding cardboard sheets and toy cars to the same boxes we’d used the week before. Experiments with primary colors followed, then activities involving shapes and sorting. Size and measurement was a big hit, with a rice-measuring activity the most popular. “Wall-to-wall balls” featured a ball pit and balls of many different shapes, sizes, inflation levels and textures. Our most recent activity was “sound and music,” which included hunting for shaker eggs in the ball pit.
Each week, the parent or caregiver collects another “postcard” with STEM information and vocabulary words to bring home. We envision families keeping these in a recipe box full of STEM activities, and continuing to play with STEM at home. Librarians have reported that they hear parents continuing to use these vocabulary words weeks after the activities. During the playtimes, we also take notes on what we observe, and take as many photos as we can.
Click here for the next installment from the Everett Public Library.