KDL’s STEAM Work Lab offers hands-on activities to spark kids’ curiosity


While school backpacks can sit empty for months, summer is the perfect time for kids to visit the Kent District Library (KDL) to experience a unique and hands-on STEAM program called KDL Lab Experience.

Suitable for elementary school-aged children, Courtnei Moyses, Kent District Library branch programming and outreach specialist at Kentwood and Gaines branches, says there are eight new KDL Lab Experience programs for the summer. .

“They all have a theme around something,” she says of the themes, which include pop culture references like Pokemon, superheroes, pirates, magical creatures and even time travel. “

“They are for elementary age children; we market them for children from 6 to 11 years old. We’re not going to turn anyone away, but parents should be aware that some of the activities have small elements and are a little too complicated for our friends under six.

STEAM programs use science, technology, engineering, art, and math as entry points to facilitate learning. Moyses says the hands-on activities offer something for everyone. Some of the popular “fan favorites” include Superhero Boot Camp, featuring Hulk Smash villains, superhero code, costumes, and vehicles.

“Some are based on play, and the things you do in the library, like a challenge,” she says. “Our time travel is a Greek architecture challenge using the same type of technique that Greek architectures used with the poles to create a tower that will hold a very heavy book. From what I’ve heard, the kids were impressed that it worked, as it’s just little paper cups and baking sheets, so it’s really simple, but fun.

Each activity pool has a different theme, with some including magical menageries where students build a fairy house and even a pirate lab where they can create a pirate name and build a boat that stays afloat. “Some bathtub programs are more popular than others. Some hit that niche of what’s really popular and some are more aimed at a specific audience. We try to have programs for everyone in all interests,” says Moyses.

These simple yet fun activities also encourage participants to explore their curiosity and follow their inquisitive “what if” thoughts.

“The mission is to give kids that freedom to explore,” says Moyses. “There is no right or wrong answer. There is a way to do something, but they are always welcome to do it their own way with the materials at hand. It gives them space to be creative and try something new, and to have fun in the library. We love when people come to have fun and learn that the library is more than just books. The books will always be there and we love to read. But the library has so much more to offer them.

KDL has included STEAM activities and STEAM-centric events in its programming for the past seven years, says Moyses. “It started out as a project with some of our library staff and kind of evolved into part of our ongoing ‘bread and butter’ programs. STEAM has become a very big push in schools, so what becomes a big push in schools, also becomes a big push in the library.

Finding relevant, entertaining and accessible programming for the community and underserved populations is part of Moyses’ job. This is an especially important task for this particular age group, she says.

“It’s also a great way for us to keep kids engaged in coming to the library. We have our story hour, which is our proven program for kids under six, and then we have areas for teens 13 and up, but we didn’t have a lot of unique programming for those middle kids” , she says. . “If they don’t keep coming to the library while they’re in primary school, they kind of forget about us. These STEAM programs are a great way to keep these kids coming to the library so they become lifelong users of the library and use us as a resource. It also gives them a chance to explore something they’re interested in that isn’t for a school assignment, something they want to do, and something new to try.

The activities themselves are station-based and offered at various times in all Library branches, as a walk-in event. Participants can walk through different stations at their own pace or complete them all in order.

Moyses says feedback from this lab lineup has been positive — something she’s happy to finally see, since some of the activities were originally created before the pandemic.

“During spring break, we had a tub called Brain Games,” says Moyses. ” There was a Rube Goldberg activity, so we had lots of rooms and rooms, and let the kids explore. The whole point of a Rube Goldberg machine is that in the end you want to ring the bell, so you set up dominoes and race tracks and things like that. The kids who participated just explored that for at least 45 minutes,” she says.

“A lot of parents like it because it’s something they can take their kids to; there’s not really a screen involved.”

Without the pressure of getting a “right or wrong” answer, students can explore in a more relaxed setting, like that of a museum or playground, compared to a rigid classroom and without the pressure of a scoring system. “We sometimes have technology that they can get hands-on experience with and give them super simple coding experiences, or trial and error,” Moyses says. “We have things like circuits to learn what a closed circuit is and the kids just start learning in a safe place where they’re not graded, they’re not judged or anything like that,” says -she. “They can just do what they want to do and explore what interests them. It’s not like school when there’s just one person teaching everyone. It’s more self-guided , but there is a library staff member in the room who can help answer questions or help guide.

STEAM programming is just one of the ways the library encourages patrons to experience all the different activities and ways of learning it offers, in addition to the traditional books on the shelves. Moyses says the library has undergone a big rebrand with its summer reading program, which has become summer wonder in 2020. “It’s still very heavily reading-based, but it also allows people to explore wonder,” she says. “To meet this challenge, instead of just reading, you can listen to a story, you can write a story, you can do a STEAM experience. In our Kaleidoscopeour quarterly magazine, this issue contains our summer wonderland booklet inside. It contains STEAM activities that were created by the Summer Wonder KDL working group, in partnership with other local STEAM entities.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Work Lab, appointment times are typically 1-1.5 hours and are offered system-wide, with different times at each KDL location. You can search all KDL programming using parameters, like your favorite branch nearby, or search for STEAM programming here.

Photos courtesy of Autumn Johnson, Bird + Bird Studio

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to break down barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library.

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. With her coverage of small business, arts and culture, restaurants and all things mitten, she’s committed to convincing everyone – just how great the Great Lakes State is. . Sarah earned her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her at a record store, at a local concert, or eating too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance she is not in any of these places, you can contact her at [email protected]

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