5 Important Ways Libraries Are Getting Kids Excited About Science!

When word got out that libraries across the country were giving away eclipse glasses in advance of the August 21 solar eclipse, our phone started ringing off the hook. Teachers and parents, in particular, were eager to jump on the chance to engage kids in some real-world science and perhaps even inspire a life-long interest in astronomy. The fact that the eclipse promised to be a unique and memorable experience also made it all the more appealing to grab a pair of solar viewers and join the fun.

Breanna Coyle, 10, fills a balloon with the gas created from a chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda during the Spring Break Science Program at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Library. Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Valerie Monroy

The fact is, while the push towards Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering, and Math (STEAM) fields has never been stronger, many schools struggle to find the funding or time to support extracurricular activities in these areas. The solution? Public libraries are stepping-up to meet the demands of their communities through exciting STEAM programs and resources. Events such as the eclipse are especially helpful in this regard since they draw new and infrequent users to our doorstep to learn about the many other ways libraries support STEAM-powered learning.

Here are some of the ways libraries are filling the science education gap:

1. Free (and delicious) STEAM Projects

One of the easiest ways to get a young person excited about science, technology, or any other facet of STEAM is by seeking out hands-on activities that fold the learning into a fun package. Recent examples from my library include DIY marble runs that elicit engineering questions, slime labs that introduce non-Newtonian liquids, and solar oven construction projects that rewards the transfer of light into heat energy with ooey, gooey goodness (read: s’mores with a side of knowledge).

2. Science Supplies We Can’t Wait To Share

As early adopters of the maker space movement, a growing number of libraries across the country have become home to 3-D printers, soldering irons, and robots designed to help teach kids to code. Smaller libraries lacking such big ticket items may still have equipment with high curb appeal like button makers, screen printing tools, and paper circuit kits. Seeking out activities that give your kids a close-up look at these teaching tools is a high-impact way to get them pumped about STEAM.


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3. Easy Access to Experts

Even if your local librarian isn’t a master coder or scientist, they may know someone who is. This translates into specialty workshops or presentations where professionals share firsthand insights from working in a STEAM field. Special attention is often given to providing role models for girls as well as boys, making clear the message that STEAM is for everyone.

4. Books with Experiments/Maker Projects/STEAM-friendly characters

This seems like an obvious one, right? But the market for books that appeal to aspiring coders, engineers, scientists, etc. is booming, which means that the bar has been raised. Along with non-fiction geared towards tween sensibilities (Oh, ick! : 114 science experiments guaranteed to gross you out!) and picture book biographies on lesser-known figures like Margaret Hamilton (Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins) and Grace Hopper (Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark), there are also more fictional books that represent STEAM in a positive light. Two of my recent favorites are: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro, and Secret Coders, a graphic novel series from award-winning artist Gene Luen Yang.

5. Librarians Make Great Research Assistants

Does your child have a burning question about volcanoes? Do they want to who would win in a battle of tarantulas versus scorpions? Why not ask a librarian? Not only will we share their excitement in finding the answer, but we’ll likely introduce them to other books that will lead them on a deeper quest. This is also the perfect practice for when they’ll need to approach a librarian or use the catalog for their school work.

Libraries are places of exploration and a natural setting to support Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering, and Math (STEAM). And now that you’re in the know, I hope you’ll experiment with what your local branch has to offer!


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