At the end of January, we hosted our fourth annual Family Science Expo here at Skokie Public Library. When we first offered the all-ages family event in winter 2014, we used the same model pioneered by one of our nearby libraries, Des Plaines Public Library: we offered access to a variety of exhibitors from local science-related businesses as well as representatives from STEAM societies and organizations. At that time, we didn’t yet offer a lot of science programming led by library staff on a regular basis. In the years since, however, we’ve really amped up our STEAM programming throughout the year–which made it a no-brainer to also modify the Family Science Expo to reflect more of our own in-house expertise and equipment.
This year’s Family Science Expo took place over two hours on a Sunday afternoon. We had 8 different activity stations spread throughout the youth department and nearby multi-purpose programming room, with each led by library staff, library school interns, or community volunteers. We try to offer activity stations that span disciplines and concepts as well as that will engage children of different ages–that way a family who attends with a preschooler and a grade schooler will be able to find engaging, developmentally appropriate activities for everyone involved. This year’s stations included:
- Shapes, and testing which are strongest in building and architecture
- Chromatography, with an experiment testing the component colors of different black markers
- Circuits and electricity as explored through Snap Circuits and Squishy Circuits
- An exploration of friction through a mini zipline experiment (using yarn, string, and dental floss)
- Solutions with corrosive properties, with an experiment to see what solutions might best clean dirty pennies
- Building and patterns with KEVA Planks
- An interactive science show about the colors that make up light from the sun, led by a community volunteer who is an aspiring science teacher
- Exploration of physics and forces with equipment loaned from the Fermilab
Also new at this year’s Family Science Expo were colorful buttons with the words “I Am A Scientist” on them–all participants, regardless of age, were able to choose a button and wear it proudly as they explored the expo and then went about their weekend plans. Our core goal for the Family Science Expo is to encourage families to explore science and STEAM throughout their lives so that kids will be increasingly interested and confident in STEAM pursuits. The level of pride we saw on kids’ faces as they donned their scientist buttons gave us a good indication that we’re being successful in accomplishing this ultimate goal.
If you’re looking to expand the types of informal science and STEAM opportunities you offer at your library, a Family Science Expo is a great route to go. You can work with community partners, as the original Expo at Des Plaines Public Library outlined. You can highlight the expertise and resources at your own library. Or you can combine both to create the best science event for your particular community. Regardless of how you set up your own science expo, we’re all succeeding when we’re all scientists.