Library STEAM kits provide hands-on learning outside the classroom

Nancy Granger, Centerville Library branch manager, holds moon rocks and a a device to view them, one of the more popular STEAM kits at the library, on Dec. 29, 2016.
Nancy Granger, Centerville Library branch manager, holds moon rocks and a a device to view them, one of the more popular STEAM kits at the library, on Dec. 29, 2016.

Students explore science, technology, engineering, art and math subjects in school regularly. Now, that learning can continue easily outside the classroom through STEAM kits at area libraries.

The three branches of the Houston County Public Library System each have between 30 and 50 kits available for two-week for use. The kits were purchased through a Georgia Public Library Services grant, said Houston County Public Library System Director Sara Paulk. They are available in a wide range of difficulty and age levels.

“We have everything from biology to circuits and coding,” Paulk said. “Each kit focuses on one kind of a concept. The idea is these are things that are sometimes difficult or pricey for parents to get. By having a wide variety, they can pick and choose and try them out.”

There are containers with a microscope with slides and a telescope, and other themes include magnets, the human body and art concepts such as yarn-making, looping, drawing, origami, construction and architecture.

“We really just want kids to have fun with them,” Paulk said. “There’s not a project they have to make or a goal at the end of it. It’s more of a discovery and explore type of resource that the kids and parents can enjoy.”

The library has plenty of books to study, but the kits provide a hands-on approach to help children grasp certain concepts. Parents can see if their kids are interested in a subject without having to invest money into materials.

PINES library cardholders, from any county, can check out multiple STEAM kits at a time. For instance, one woman checked out several Snap Circuits kits for a Boy Scout troop to work with.

The library has received good feedback on the kits, and the units have been checked out more than 1,000 times so far, Paulk said. They’ve been especially popular among home schoolers and preschoolers.

“It just encourages kids of all ages and genders to further their science knowledge,” said Nancy Granger, Centerville branch manager. “When I was a little girl, I would have loved to have something like this.”

Branches of the Middle Georgia Regional Library System — which covers Bibb, Jones, Twiggs, Crawford, Macon and Wilkinson counties — share 35 STEAM kits, said Marketing Coordinator Alex Hughes. Some of the themes are K’Nex, Wii and Playstation 4 gaming systems, bugs and worms, trees, stargazing, robotics and button-making, the most popular one.

The kits can’t be taken home right now, but the libraries host group events so kids, teens and adults can work on the projects. For example, all the libraries had programs for International Games Day on Nov. 19, and West Bibb Library is having a family night for the shrink plastic kit at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 19. Many of the branches have monthly events.

If patrons want to see particular STEAM kits, all they have to do is to let their local libraries know and events will be created, Hughes said.

Houston County also hosts STEAM group programs, and there’s one on Snap Circuits and simple robots at 6 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Centerville branch, Granger said.

Other cool things to check out

Community members may know they can check out DVDs, audiobooks, e-books and music from their local library, but a lesser-know fact is that many systems also have state park and museum passes for check-out. All passes are first-come, first-serve, Hughes said.

“We have so much stuff in here that people can use and get into,” she said. “We are here, and we have just a variety of things that can help make their lives better.”

Area libraries have free family admission passes into the Center for Puppetry Arts, Go Fish! Education Center, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, Zoo Atlanta and Michael C. Carlos Museum. Hughes said the Zoo Atlanta pass is a hot commodity, especially in the summer.

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea