Library Provides STEM Education


Traditionally, kids get a STEM education at school. But there is another place they can learn the principles of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and even Art (expanding STEM to STEAM) with engaging activities for students of all ages – even preschoolers.

That place is the Kendallville Public Library.

That's right. The building traditionally known for being a "quiet book warehouse" isn't any longer, and is now at the forefront – even working with schools – to make sure your kids get a solid education.

In January 2016, LifeHacker.com published an article about how important it is to get your kids interested in STEM (without forcing it on them). That article had some great points.

"It's important not just because STEM fields offer awesome job opportunities and our future depends on these kids," read the article. "STEM is about a spirit of experimenting and evaluating information objectively, of understanding our world a little bit more. These are valuable skills and also mindsets to acquire, wherever the kids go next in life."

At the Kendallville Public Library, we strive to offer everyone unique experiences and opportunities. Things are happening every day at the library, all within our mission to educate and inform. They're happening in a more social setting, rather than a classroom setting, which makes learning easier for kids to digest.

The STEAM education opportunities we offer start early...as early as preschool. In fact, around three-quarters of the activities we provide for families at M.A.P.S. (Movement, Art, Play and STEM) Workshops have at least one STEAM attribute.

"Science is the easiest to incorporate into M.A.P.S, and the children don't always know that it is science," said Children's Librarian Leah Dresser. "My most simple definition of science is learning and discovering new things. We do this by reading non-fiction books and exploring a topic more deeply. For example, snow is great for introducing kids to science. We talk about water and water's different stages. Then we do hands-on activities. We might use Insta-Snow and have the kids compare and contrast real snow and artificial snow. We might freeze ice and hide toys in the ice. The kids then can use salt and water to melt the ice or chip away at the ice to get to the treasure."

Technology is incorporated into preschool events, too. Dresser will often use iPads loaded with Nursery Rhyme apps and other features to help introduce children to technology, while they continue to learn and read.

"Every time we get out building blocks, LEGOs, straw connectors or other building material, we are introducing the children to engineering. Math is very simple to incorporate, because we count numbers, animals... anything we can find. We also work on patterns and sorting."

Doing that makes the subjects of math and science more applicable to everyday life and those subjects become easier – and more fun – for kids to learn.

When they're not focused on grades, children are typically more willing to learn. That's even more important for elementary through high school age students. Each month, the Kendallville Public Library and its branch in Rome City offer multiple events for each age group that keep their brains busy without the pressures of learning inside a classroom.

STEAM Punks is a twice monthly event for teens in grades 6 and up, offered by Teen Services Manager Marie Kaufmann.

"STEAM education is about learning to think outside the box using hands-on items like tools, various materials and software," said Kaufmann. "It's about using scientific concepts and creative problem solving skills to make something. It exposes people to new skills and careers that may not have been on their radar."

"I see STEAM Punks as the starting point. This is where a young patron can develop specific skills and make one particular item. Then, they can use The Cortex to explore the new skills by creating something uniquely theirs."

The Cortex, the Kendallville Public Library's MakerSpace, is named after the creative, thought-processing part of the brain. This area, filled with hands-on resources, gives people the opportunity to discover new things about science, technology, engineering, design and more. It's hard to know if you have a passion for something without actively using or experiencing it. The Cortex gives people the opportunity to develop or explore a new interest, without investing a lot of time or money. It's a place that individuals, schools, small businesses and more can come for free or low-cost tools.

But you don't always have to come to the library to take advantage of its focus on STEAM education. Our staff actually works with the schools to provide unique activities that engage students within their classrooms.

"The teachers will give me a certain topic and then I find a book that goes along with it and we do an activity together," explained Dresser. "One of my favorite units is the sound unit. We build a duplication of an ear using salt dough or flubber. We do experiments using a slinky, balloons, and glass Coke bottles to learn about vibrations."

"I think it is very important to make science fun, and then as kids get older they aren't intimidated by science, and might want to make a career of it."

Intimidation isn't a factor when you disguise STEM in a seemingly simple activity...like a family paint class.

"When you think of painting, really what you do is you layer on top of a canvas," explained Adult Services Librarian Mindy Patterson. "So if you think of engineering and mathematics, you have to incorporate multiple elements of a whole. There are spatial relationships you have to take into consideration with this. So not only are you meeting an artistic need, but you are also meeting STEM requirements. And whether or not the patron realizes that they are actively engaged in a STEM project, they truly are."

The Kendallville Public Library has always known the importance of encouraging kids to enjoy books from a very young age, so that they become lifelong readers. Now, that mission has broadened to encompass education, with a focus on STEAM, so that everyone – regardless of age - can become lifelong learners.

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Preschoolers learn scientific skills during M.A.P.S. Workshops.

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A mother and child paint
together at a Family Painting Class.
Even a simple task like painting
an elephant can reinforce
engineering skills.

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Teen Services Manager
Marie Kaufmann helps a
young man with his
STEAM Punks project.