I had heard about computer coding being done at libraries for several months before attending the 2016 Wisconsin Library Association session: ”A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Coding Go Down” session lead by Tessa Michaelson Schmidt, Ryan Claringbolde, and Jen Fait. I did not really understand what tools may be out there to offer coding at our library, or how we could begin offering coding in my rural community with a library budget that is already limited. However, this session opened up my imagination to what could be possible in my community. Why not have kids coding computers at their public library? These same children that I talk with during my school visits, see playing games on the library computers, watch play sports at community games, and create music on their instruments or through their voice the school band or choir will be the future adult consumers. Why not teach them to be a producer, and not just a consumer of media? And, could I find a creative way to do it that would also be FREE of offer (no laptop or computer purchasing required)? Could there also be a hidden partnership opportunity with my schools linked in this somewhere? I think so!
Who loves bats? You know, those amazing mammals that fly, eat mosquitoes and harmful insects to farmer’s crops, and represent good luck when seen in China? How do those bats fly and swoop in the air, so much more agile than birds? Better yet, can we make a simulation of a bat that also swoops like the real thing? You bet we can, in Kids’ STEM Workshops!
The skinny: This program totally came from an area science teacher. I asked her if she had ideas for October themed programs, and she came in and gave me the template to make this project. Although there is lots of folklore and fears associated with bats, they are an important part of our natural diversity with important jobs to do. They also are mammals that fly, and their unique wing design allows them to swoop and dive mid-air, something that birds simply cannot do. Our activity made a model of a bat with a challenge: can you make this paper bat swoop and fly like a real bat? Best yet, this program cost us $0 to offer and it filled our library with swooping bats and a lesson about flight!
Things alone do not make us happy, but the right tool at the right time can make all the difference in our sense of satisfaction! In our jobs as librarians we are asked to be organized, informed, energetic and agile. We are asked to make the library the best place it can be for our patrons, but I believe that in taking care of ourselves we do a better job taking care of others. I don’t often say that a “thing” changed my life, but these products and services changed the way I do “Library” in 2016. (And no, I am not being paid anything for promoting these products or services. I just hope they are as helpful for you as they have been for me!
“Who have guessed that a box of straws could be so entertaining?” one of my parents at our Kids’ STEM Workshop: Straw Towers remarked to me after watching her children totally engrossed for 45 minutes with their creations. And, what a great way to get kids to use their fine motor skills working with materials that are not usually used together! The challenge: build the largest tower you can with straws and paper clips. Or, build another structure and go for the most creative, or, the most similar to a famous tower or building. Go!
The skinny: The night when we offered this program it was incredibly cold, rainy, and otherwise not “go out to the library” weather. I honesty thought we would have no one come, but a nice crowd showed up despite the conditions, and our Children’s library was alive!
This was the first Kids’ STEM Workshop we offered. We had a great attendance, and it was a wonderful way to kick off our series and let parents and kids know we would be doing this twice a month by offering an incredibly low cost program. And, what kid does not want to build the tallest tower in the room?
The skinny: This was a wonderful program, and it cost us $0 to offer it. The kids and parents enjoyed working together on something incredibly simple: build a tower out of nothing but newspaper and yarn that can hold the most weight possible.
Our last STEM night was very close to Halloween. What else but wrap ourselves up in toilet paper and practice some math skills at the same time?
The skinny: This was a very successful program, and it was the first program that I saw parents actively pulling their phones out to take pictures of their kids all wrapped up in toilet paper. When parents are taking pictures, you know you are on to something good. Also, this was a program that used the “Math” part of STEM, which is something that can be tricky to have good programs for.
The skinny: This program went amazingly well! We had 60 people attend, and during the activity boat building time parents were taking out their phones to take pictures of their kids and their boat creations. It was also an incredibly cost effective program to offer.
In December, we wanted to offer something different. Enter “Gingerbread Imaginative Play Station”!
I purchased a play dough mixer from Amazon for $25. Then, I went to the dollar store and bought two cookie trays, two spatulas, a bag of googly eyes, and Christmas colored pom-poms. I then went to Walmart and bought two Gingerbread Men cookie cutters. One of my fellow librarians offered to help trace out the cookie cutters on brown paper, and cut them out. We cut out 100 gingerbread men to start with, and I placed a bowl of glue sticks on the table. The kids loved this station, and I even had high school students come in and make one because they said, “It was so cute!”
Kids’ STEM Workshop: Catapults!
This has been my most popular STEM program. We had 120 people attend, including about 60 parents/children who I had never seen in the library before!
To prep, I learned as much as I could about catapults. These websites were especially helpful: