Families in smaller communities lack resources and access to services for early learning opportunities.
Create curriculums that target preschoolers and provide resources for learning about STEM themes.
A county program is finding creative ways to teach preschoolers the importance of learning about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The preschool STEM Storytimes curriculum in Carver County, Minn. launched during the 2018 Summer Reading Program and targets children five years old and younger. The curriculum is a part of the programs held at the six different library branches in the county and incorporates four rotating kits for the science, technology, engineering and math themes.
The story times involve a librarian reading two or three age-appropriate, STEM-related books with rhymes, songs, fingerplays and other activities. After the traditional story time, preschoolers can interact with different stations that facilitate STEM activities and are related to the book.
Jodi Edstrom, Carver County Library branch manager at Chaska Library, explained how the library’s youth services team became aware of a small grant that could be used to put together programming relating to STEM and early literacy.
“This group is really passionate about our early literacy work and working with young families in our county to try to get them opportunities as they advance and prepare for kindergarten and beyond,” Edstrom said.
Youth Services Librarian Kristin Schneider came up with the template for the story time curriculums for each of the four kits. The librarians focused on ways to pair STEM concepts with the traditional story times.
The science curriculum focuses on magnets, the technology unit focuses on robots and coding, the engineering curriculum focuses on designing roadways and the math unit involves a countdown shape safari.
Edstrom helped create the engineering kit that features a pretend crawl-through car wash. She also created “Tape Town” for the unit where kids make their own roadways and ramps by putting different colored tape on the floor and use toy cars to drive through the pretend town.
Schneider explained how one of the activities for the technology unit, the code-a-pillar, teaches preschoolers about coding concepts and is paired with “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” book.
“The code-a-pillar was a huge hit and families just loved interacting with it,” Edstrom said.
Carver County Library Director Heidi Hoks said other libraries use STEM programming for school-aged kids, but Carver County’s STEM storytimes focus specifically on preschoolers.
“The reason for targeting preschoolers is because we want to engage those kids who are more interested in factual pieces, who are more interested in nonfiction at an early age so they feel the library is for them,” Hoks said.
During the summer of 2018, 32 STEM story times were facilitated, which surpassed the original goal of 10. Around 800 kids attended the story times.
The curriculums coincided with the Minnesota Early Childhood Indicators of Progress and Every Child Ready to Read practices that are promoted in the library.
“We did do some training prior to this project through our Minnesota Department of Education where we brought some of those ideas and concepts back with us,” Edstrom said.
The STEM story times are offered in all branches of the county library system and allow for a broader audience including families in more rural areas of the county. One of the goals of the program is to be accessible for all demographics and communities throughout the county, Edstrom said.
Hoks added that all of the STEM story times are free to the public, to be accessible to preschoolers from different areas of the county. To help increase the accessibility, county librarians also created curriculum sheets that are available for parents to take home for further early learning ideas.
“We really wanted to reach as many children and families as we could with this program,” Hoks said.
While evaluating the story times, Carver County librarians found that over 80 percent of parents who completed surveys said the quality of the program was “excellent” and 100 percent said they would recommend the storytimes to others.
“People were really impressed with these,” Schneider said. “I think it also showed them that the things that we did they could recreate at home in different forms which is the whole goal of this.”
Hoks said the program is an exciting way to educate kids and get them excited about math, science and technology.
“I’ve seen so many kids’ eyes light up when they’re working on a nonfiction-based or factual-based component of story times,” Hoks said.
STEM Storytimes is the recipient of a 2019 NACo Achievement Award in the Libraries category.