Summer of STEM @ the Library

Last Thursday was the official end of summer reading programming at Lawrence Public Library. While I organized a few solo events here and there, including a couple of author talks and an early literacy event for parents and caregivers, the predominate amount of my time was devoted to Kidsapalooza, a weekly summer club for 5-6-year-olds that the library has been hosting for over a decade. Kidsapalooza has always been about games, activities, and crafts- which is groovy and all- but this year I decided to change things up. It was the perfect opportunity to transform the program into a full-blown immersion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) literacy.

This post is an outline of everything covered during Kidsaplaooza’s Summer of STEM. Each session had a different theme which was left a mystery to the kids until the day they showed up. Candy experiments, robotics, squishy circuits, and a glow-in-the-dark party where a few of the themes employed in our summer of fun. We were also fortunate to be entertained by several guest speakers. I reached out to the community and so many different individuals were willing to lend the library a couple hours of their time to advocate for STEM learning. It was awesome.

At the end of each session the kids received a handout titled “Today’s Adventures and Beyond”. This sheet contained information for their parents about what we discussed during each session and also provided them with activities and recommended reads based on what we learned about on that day. This is the introductory note from each flier:

“This summer at Kidsapalooza, we are going beyond games and crafts! Everything we do will be rooted in STEM literacy. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, which are key elements needed for kids to develop successful reading skills. After each session your child will receive a sheet like this briefly explaining what we did during today’s session. It will also include ideas to further today’s fun at home.The Kidzapalooza goals for the summer are: Explore, Observe, Create, and Have Fun!”

It was hard to capture pictures while managing over 50 kids, many of which were divided into several groups, but I did my best to get a few (as well as a few Vines). You ready? Here we goooooooo…..

Session 1: Fun with STEM

The first session was essentially tons of hands-on STEM activities that the kids rotated through every 8 minutes. At the beginning, I introduced myself and told the kids that this summer was going to be all about exploration. We were going to explore different ideas, make observations, create, and ask questions, and have fun! After a that brief intro we broke out into groups and spent the rest of the time learning and playing.

Here’s what we did:

Built structures with gumdrops and toothpicks. (idea from Modern Parents Messy Kids)

Attempted Lego pattern puzzles. I took pictures of different Lego patterns, printed them out, and the kids had to recreate them.

Created chemical reactions using baking soda and vinegar. Using food coloring, I dyed a couple cups of vinegar and the kids spooned the vinegar onto plates of baking soda. Fizzy!!!

Operated iPads. A basic demonstration of using an iPad. They also played a few games I preselected if there was time left in their rotation at this table.

Explored shape creation. I created a bunch of shapes, some more complex than others, and the kids had to trace the shapes with strings of yarn. (idea via Teach Preschool)

Learned about leaves of various local trees with a Leaf Matching Game. I walk to work. I also live in the oldest part of Lawrence, so there are a lot of big trees that have been around for awhile. I made sheets with a picture of a specific native leaf, the name of the tree the leaf belongs to, a picture of the tree and either the fruit or flower of the tree. The kids had to match the leaves I picked on my walk to work with the various trees depicted on the sheets.

Read the picture book Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell to the entire group at the end.  

Session 2: Buzzzing for Bees

(Naturally, I wore my bee antennae to this session.)

My co-worker is the daughter of one of the most famous entomologists in the world, Charles Michener, so I’ve learned quite a bit about bees just from working with her (which has grown into a fondness of the little striped buggers myself’0.  I also chose a theme centered around bees because they are disappearing, and without them there will be no more fruits and vegetables to eat. This was just one way to raise awareness.

Here’s what we did:

Jennifer Thomas from the Division of Entomology at the University of Kansas introduced us to all kinds of fascinating  facts about bees.

Performed a nectar collecting relay. At one end of the room was a bunch of cups filled with water dyed yellow and fake flowers. At the other end of the room were little paint pallets. Using an eye dropper the kids had to collect nectar from the flowers and hurry back to the other end of the room to “fill their hive”. (idea via For The Children)

Tested our sense of smell and found “bee siblings” using our noses. A bee smells, tastes, and feels with its two antennae. Honeybees of the same colony recognize their siblings by scent. When an unrelated bee tries to enter the hive, guard bees detect its foreign scent and sting it to death.Using multiple cotton balls that have been dipped into clear food flavoring such as peppermint and lemon extract. Each child received a cotton ball without revealing the smell The kids had to locate their “sibling” by exchanging smells of each other’s cotton balls. Once they  found their “bee sibling” swap the child’s cotton ball for a different smell. (idea via Scholastic)

Planted a Bee-Friendly Garden. The kids learned about what plants through this simple craft. All they had to do was choose flowers they would like to “plant” and glue them to their paper. Then they decorated the garden with markers. They also glued this caption: “Honey bees require pollen and nectar from flowers in order to survive. “Plant” a bee garden using different kinds of bee-friendly plants that grow well in Lawrence, Kansas.” I encouraged them to show their caregivers so that they could plant a few bee-friendly flowers in their own gardens at home.

Did the waggle dance, a special dance bees perform to communicate to one another. As a large group, we watched this video from PBS Nova, and then attempted to preform our own waggle dance.

Session 3: Candy Chemistry

This entire program was structured around the book Candy Experiments by Loralee Leavitt. As a large group we discussed what chemistry is, how to conduct an experiment, and touched upon the scientific method. Then, we conducted a few experiments of our own using candy. This was a messy one!

Here’s what we did:

Conducted an experiment with Mentos and Diet Coke which resulted in an eruption! (see above) I took all the kids outside and preformed this experiment as they watched. Diet Coke is full of carbon dioxide gas. When you drop a Mentos, bubbles of carbon dioxide form on the surface of the candy. So many bubbles form so fast that they push the soda right out of the bottle.

Tested if there was acid in candy. If candy is sour it usually means it contains acid. The kids dropped Sour Patch Kids or Sour Skittles into a cup of clear water, sprinkled a bit of baking soda, and if the candy fizzed then it meant there was acid in the candy.

Learned about density and why certain candies sink or float. If you drop Laffy Taffy into a cup it sinks, but if you stretch it out into a boat or cup it floats. On the other side of the spectrum, a 3 Musketeers bar floats because of all the air in the nugget, but if you crush it, then it sinks to the bottom of the cup. The kids played around with manipulating the density of these types of candies.

Experimented with dissolving candy coating and what happens to the artificial colors. The kids dropped 2 red M&M’s and 2 yellow M&M’s into a bowl of water. I asked them, “Do you think the colors will mix themselves together to create orange?” The colors did not blend because the dense sugar water sinks, so the M&M’s sit in their own pools of color. But if you swish the water around, the movement causes the colors to mix together.

Investigated the elements found in Pop Rocks. We discussed how Carbon Dioxide gas is the secret ingredient that makes Pop Rocks pop. When you put Pop Rocks in water or in your mouth the candy melts and releasing the tiny bubbles of Carbon Dioxide. This was demonstrated by pouring Pop Rocks in a glass of water.

Session 4: Robotics


KU Robotics visited Kidsapalooza to discuss the technology and components of what makes a robot. Their presentation was AWESOME! We didn’t break-out into activities since the presentation took the whole session. Their closing message? If you engage yourself in math and science, then you can become a superhero and save the world. The kids ate it up.

The Lawrence Journal World wrote up a nice article about their visit here.  

Session 5: Magic Measurements

Will Dunn, a mathematics education UKanTeach student at the University of Kansas (also my husband), came to visit Kidsapalooza to discuss and demonstrate the magic of measurements by noticing different sizes and different ways to measure. There was a short presentation and then we broke out into rotating groups for various measurement activities.

Here’s what we did:

Size comparison between animals. Will gave a presentation about size comparison using various animals, and also talked about measurement and types of measurements.

Shot pom poms balls from a pom pom shooter and measured the distance of the pom poms after they were shot. Before this session we made a handful of pom pom shooters. The kids shot pom poms using their shooters and measured how much distance the pom pom covered using their feet and yard sticks. (Idea via Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational)

Explored volume by pouring rice into various sized containers. Will and I emptied out our kitchen cupboards and brought pitchers, cups, bowls, and whatever else we could find for the kids to use to experiment with measuring volume with rice.

Utilized different tools such as paper clips, pencils, crayons, and yardsticks to measure objects. The kids used different devices to measure the top of a table by lining them up single-file in the middle of the table.

How many Kidsapalooza kids does it take to equal the length of a blue whale? I measured out the length of a blue whale (about 100 feet) with tape and the kids lined up to see how many of their body lengths it would take to equal one whale.

Read the picture book Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell and discussed estimation afterward by holding our own Lucky Beans contest were the kids guessed how many beans were in a clear vase.

Session 6: Energy and Squishy Circuits

I am so glad I came across this TED Talk before starting Kidsapalooza.  Squishy Circuits is a unique way that allows kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough. It’s so easy, my daughter (3) could do it.

Here’s what we did:

Visited with an electric expert. Amanda, an engineering student at the University of Kansas and one of my amazing storytime moms, visited Kidsapalooza to talk about how energy and electricity work. Then she stayed to help assist kids with the squishy circuits.

Played with squishy circuits! I ordered 6 squishy circuit kits, made the play dough (err… my husband made the play dough) the day before, and the kids took turns creating circuits. So that everyone was able to have a turn, each child received 2 minutes of alone time with the circuits before passing it on to a peer. They kids did a wonderful job sharing during this activity.

Afterwards, we came together as a group and I read the book How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer. You can learn more about how to create lessons using squishy circuits here.

Session 7: Wind Power

Piggy-backing off of the session from the week before, this session was about the power of wind turbines. Kansas has a large population of these giants of energy, so I thought it fitting to have a session devoted to them and energy efficiency in generl.

Here’s what we did:

Aaron Weigel from Trade Wind Energy visited Kidsapalooza to talk about wind turbines! The kids learned where wind comes from, how wind turbines work , and how they help create energy.

We crafted pinwheels using things you would find around the house. This is a craft that needs a bit of help from an adult, but the kids had fun putting them together nonetheless. I used the template and direction found on First Palette.

We ran out of time, but the plan was to read the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon.

Session 8: Glow-in-the-Dark Party

Everyone loves things that glow-in-the-dark! For the last session, I threw the kids a glow-in-the-dark party. I started with a short presentation and a few demonstrations and then the kids broke out into groups for activities.

Here’s what we did:

Discussed various animals that glow-in-the-dark. Black Dragonfish, Firefly Squid, Flashlight Fish, New Zealand Glowworms, and (of course) Fireflies. I explained why and how these animals light up in the dark, along with some pictures and a couple short video clips.

Learned about the chemistry of a glowstick. How does a glowstick work? I cracked a glowstick in front of the kids and talked about the chemistry behind how a glowstick works. More on that can be found here.

Admired glowing water that was created using florescent paint and discussed ultraviolet light and how some colors glow brighter under a black light. Next, I talked about ultraviolet light and fluorescence and how fluorescent colors glow under a black light. I demonstrated this concept by mixing a few drops of neon paint in cups of water under a black light, which makes the water glow in vibrant colors. Each cup was devoted to a different color, and I had 7 cups in all. Lots of “oooohs and ahhhhs” were voiced during this demonstration. (Idea via Growing a Jeweled Rose)

Created a glowing eruption. Using the same  baking soda and vinegar procedure the kids tested during the first session, I conducted the same experiment except this time with neon paint under a black light. Using a clear cup, I poured in a generous amount of baking soda, added three different colors of neon paint, and then poured in the vinegar. (Idea via Growing a Jeweled Rose)

Using fluorescent glue, we painted glowing pictures under a black light using glue and black paper. The Vine above is of the fluorescent glue I made for the kids to use. All I did was add a teaspoon or two of neon paint, stirred the glue and shook the bottle up, and voila! Fluorescent glue. Under black light the kids created designs with the glue on black paper. (Idea via Growing a Jeweled Rose)

Played ring toss with glow-in-the-dark materials. Water bottles, glowsticks, and glow necklaces… ring toss! This was a fun game for the kids to play. Using a pack of water bottles, I inserted a glowstick into each water bottle (with the water still in it) and sealed the lid. The bottles were arranged in a cluster on the floor and using assembled glowing necklaces (like these), the kids tried their hand at ring toss. (Idea via Design Dazzle)

Experimented with glowstick photography. I gave a 2-minute talk about long exposure photographs (like the image of fireflies above) and then the kids tried their hand at making their own with glowsticks. The the digital camera we used wouldn’t allow us to set the aperture to make the exposures even longer, but they got the idea. You can see a sample gallery of the kids’ glowstick photography here. This was their favorite activity of the session.

At the end, all the kids received their own glowstick and a glow-in-the-dark bracelet along with their “Today’s Adventures and Beyond” handout.

And that my friends, was our Summer of STEM @ the library!

I almost forgot to mention…. Since our library is under renovation, we were using a temporary space for the program. Our wonderful circulation team at the library set up a Pop-Up Library so kids could check out books after each session. I selected books that reflected the theme of the day ahead of time, and one of my co-workers would check out books to the kids once the program was over. It also served as a book dr0p-off location. Huzzah!

Are you incorporating STEM in your library? I’d love to know if you are! I’ve been collecting lots of ideas on my Pinterest board STEM Literacy Activities for the next opportunity for STEM programing. So many ideas, so little time. Be sure to check it out. Also, if you have a question about any of the activities mentioned, just shoot me an email using the contact form or leave a comment below. I can also send any of the “Today’s Adventures & Beyond” handouts the kids received after each program. I’m always happy to share!!



image source: wind turbines, fireflies


4 Responses to “Summer of STEM @ the Library”

  1. Sue says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this review. So much creativity. Thumbs up to you Becca and all who helped make this a success!

  2. What a wonderful summer STEM program! I am now inspired for the months ahead…


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