by Stephanie Prato, Director of Play to Learn Services

Fayetteville Free Library

At the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL), we believe that informal, applied learning opportunities are an essential part of our library’s mission. Dynamic, hands-on STEM programs are tied to our commitment to providing free and open access to ideas and information. They support 21st century literacy skills, including digital literacy and STEAM skills, and help foster curiosity, iterative processes, and innovation.

For these reasons and many more, we have worked to create a special Little Makers space, designed for our young patrons. We repurposed a little used corner of our children’s room and furnished it with toys, tools, and supplies that encourage children ages 5-8 to imagine, create, and build. The space includes an “invention box” with craft supplies and community donations that children can take and use for their own creations. It also features a DIY gallery wall where our Little Makers are encouraged to display their inventions and share them with the community.

As librarians and educators we understand the importance of STEM skills and play in childhood development. So, in addition to the free play activities inherent in the space, we have created a series of Little Makers programs. These programs utilize the children’s natural curiosity and the power of their imaginations to explore various STEM concepts. It is the emphasis on exploration and free play that makes these programs so rewarding.

Each program in the series focuses on a different topic of exploration, but they each follow the same general format. First, we do a dialogic reading of story that gets us thinking about the topic of the day. Then we read (or reference) a non-fiction book to help us understand the science behind that concept. Take, for example, our Electricity and Circuits program. We read Oscar and the Bird by Geoff Waring and What is a Circuit? by Ethan Weingarten. We learned that electricity is a kind of energy that we can use to make things move, light up, heat up, or make sounds, and that a circuit is a closed loop that electrons can travel in. ( With kids it helps to emphasize that circuit sounds like circle. It must be closed to work.)  While we were reading What is a Circuit? I emphasized the symbols used to draw pictures of circuits (a line for a wire, a circle with an x through it for a light bulb, etc.) because they also appear on the Snap Circuit pieces.

Since 5-8 year olds tend to have short attention spans, I usually begin with one or two brief experiments before our main activity. In this case, I started off by showing the children a balloon and a flashlight, and asking them what the two objects had in common. (They both have to do with electricity). Then, I passed the balloon around and told them to rub it on their heads and see what happened. (Their hair stood on end.) I let the children try it out on me as well. We then discussed the science behind the balloon experiment, which works because of static electricity.

Finally, we opened the Snap Circuit Jr. Kits and got to work making functional circuits! We followed the first two projects suggested in the instruction booklet (making a light bulb turn on andmaking a fan spin) because they are the two most simple. Then I let the kids flip through the book and choose whatever they wanted. The “flying saucer” where the top part of the fan shoots up into the air, was quite the crowd-pleaser, stimulating lots of excited screams and laughter. This was a really fun and engaging activity, and is only one example of the electrifying STEM concepts we have explored. Other activities included making and observing fake snow, building wooden cars, using the 3D printer, creating homemade marble runs, programming lego robots, and much more. For more ideas, visit http://fflib.org/make/little-makers or email me at sprato@fflib.org.