Add STEAM to Your Next Program

One benefit to working at a library while being in library school is having the practical, on-the-ground experience to complement what is being taught in the classroom.  However, when you work with children like I do, that means that Spring Break isn’t exactly a break!  At my large library, we plan the majority of our children’s programming for school breaks and this Spring Break was no exception.  To capitalize on the popularity of Maker Culture, and makerspaces, these school break programs are often focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) activities. 

For Spring Break 2017, the plan was to host 1-hour long STEAM Workshops on the first four days of Spring Break.   As I planned this program series, I searched the usual places (Pinterest, library and parenting blogs, websites from my Books and Materials for Children class last semester) for projects that would be accessible for kids of a wide age-range and ability.  I have heard a lot of “But I can’t make that!” from kids at programs before and this time I wanted to be sure to choose activities that would empower kids to be able to say instead, “Look what I made!”

The schedule of events was as follows:

Day One: Explore Wind Energy with Straws and Pinwheels

Day Two: Code Your Name

  • Inspired by this activity manual from, using colored beads to teach simple binary code and showing kids how to “code” their initials
  • Supplies: beads, pipe cleaners, and a handout with a binary to alphabet key

Day Three: Origami Time

Day Four: SuperStructures

  • Building anything with assorted craft supplies and Legos
  • Supplies: pipe cleaners, straws, yarn, popsicle sticks, and other assorted craft supplies from our craft closet; Legos

At previous similar programs, attendance had been about 20-25 kids, which was completely manageable for me and a co-worker to run.  When I arrived at the meeting room just before the start time, though there were more than 30 kids and adults waiting for the doors to open and the program to start. Soon, we had 90 kids and adults in the room, all ready to learn about wind energy.  After calling in some staff reinforcements, the kids at the workshop began learning about the very basics of wind energy and everyone made their own pinwheel to take home.

After this busy program with such high attendance, my team had to regroup to make sure we had enough staff and supplies for the upcoming programs.  With some brainstorming and troubleshooting, we were able to make a manageable plan to accommodate these larger-than-anticipated crowds. Day Two’s crowd was even larger with 120 kids and adults; even with the accommodations, it turned out that the coding activity was a little too complex for such a large crowd and a less structured time of simply making beaded bracelets might have been better (a lesson learned for next time!). 

Day Three’s Origami Time was when the 90 kids who came to the program really blossomed with their creativity, using the origami paper and books provided to fold and decorate unique creations.  I heard so many “Look what I made!” comments and observed kids showing their friends how to make their fun new creations.  Day Four had the smallest crowd (and the best weather of the week) but the 30 kids and adults who came enjoyed creating whatever they wanted out of a variety of craft supplies as well as building with Legos.

The best part of Maker Culture and STEAM activities for programming is that libraries at any and all levels and ages can participate. I was able to make some small purchases to supplement the activities I chose and my library had a stock of craft supplies and a collection of Legos. Yet, great STEAM programs for people of all ages do not require a large budget or a complicated program.  Often the best programs are low-tech in nature and encourage kids (and adults) to be creative and experiment with the materials at hand.

How would you add a little STEAM to a program in your future?

Sarah Davis is a Bilingual Children’s Associate at a public library in Oklahoma and an MLIS student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

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