Letting imaginations run

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by Drew C. Wilson, courtesy of The Wilson Times

Tuesday evening STEAM programs at the Wilson County Public Library (NC) are gaining popularity with area families.

The brain-building activities have been going on since May and are paid for with a 2017 grant from the Library Services and Technology Act. The federal portion was $44,343, plus $11,090 in local funds, for a total of more than $55,000 to create a CrAFT studio emphasizing robotics, coding, crafts, electronics and more.

The goal of the grant was to build a space in the library that focused on activities in science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, according to Debbie Schmitzer, a librarian who works in the children’s room on the library’s second floor.

Schmitzer said a space once occupied by local history materials is being repurposed for STEM and STEAM functions.

On Tuesday nights, large groups of enthusiastic children and parents sprawl across the floor in one corner of the children’s area. The programs begin at 7 p.m. with Schmitzer typically reading a book with some relation to the night’s activities.

“Some nights we have eight people, and last week we had 44,” she said last week. “The biggest program I did, I had 77 people,” Schmitzer said. “I didn’t have enough Legos that night, but we have more now, and it has been much better.”

Today’s topic is marshmallow engineering, where children use marshmallows and toothpicks to build three-dimensional creations.  “Marshmallow engineering is something that kids do a lot in school. It is a way to do hands-on learn about 3D shapes,” Schmitzer said. “They take a marshmallow and a toothpick, put it together to build 3D shapes.”

“When we do this marshmallow engineering, it boils down to 3D engineering, so I have a book on 3D engineering,” Schmitzer said. “It is amazing what kids will do if you just let their imaginations run.”

In September, kids used Keva planks for their creative adventure.  “Keva planks are 1-inch by 5-inch planks that are about a quarter of an inch thick,” Schmitzer said. “They are just a simple plank, and you can build really cool architectural structures with them. Kids look at them and think they are just blocks, but there are so much that you can do with micro increments just moving them about a little bit.”

Kids can make houses, towers bridges or anything they can imagine.  The next event is about catapult construction where kids use Popsicle sticks, rubber bands and spoons to catapult cotton balls to knock down objects that Schmitzer prints out.

November is Lego Club, which is a recurring monthly program held every fourth Tuesday of the month. Schmitzer pours out big boxes of Legos and gives an assignment to the children to build things. Last week it was their favorite animal.

DRAWING FAMILIES TO THE LIBRARY

“I think it is important that your library, being a free institution, offers an opportunity for kids who are disadvantaged to be able to come in and put their hands on some of these things that they would never get an opportunity to put their hands on otherwise,” Schmitzer said of the programs. “It just gives them an opportunity to have a place where they can use their imagination. The library brings that opportunity for kids to get together with different age groups and different levels of intelligence and learn from each other.”

Part of the hope is that the activities draw kids into the library where they can check out a book or two.

“If we can get them in the door, hopefully we can send them home with a book,” Schmitzer said. “If we can’t send them home with a book, at least we got them in the door and gave them an opportunity to learn something.”

Schmitzer wants and needs parents to participate with their kids.

“I want the parents here. I can’t do these programs by myself,” Schmitzer said. “When I have 77 kids, I can’t touch every single child, so I need those parents to be willing and able to connect with their kids. I feel passionately about that.”

Tabitha Futrell of Wilson took her two children to last week’s event.  “I think it’s wonderful. My son is obsessed with Legos,” Futrell said. “This is a great activity.”

Houda Elrhouaoui attended with her three children.  “I think they like it. We just moved into Wilson from Kansas, and I am doing home schooling for all three children,” Elrhouaoui said. “Today we were just here at the library earlier getting books and we heard about this activity they are holding here. My kids love Legos. The staff here is very friendly, too.”

Teresa McNair of Wilson was there with her son last week.  “He loves it. He has been wanting to come every other week,” McNair said. “He’s been bothering me about coming. He looks like he is having fun building something. Kids love Legos.”