After reading a lot about preschool science, and attending a conference on the subject, I have become more and more convinced that STEM activities can and should be integrated into the normal library experience. Science literacy, after all, is an important component to building a strong platform for life-long learning. To that end, I wanted to create a STEM Exploration Station, a dedicated area for preschoolers to explore various STEM concepts. Like most libraries, I don’t have a lot of extra space just hanging around waiting to be converted into something useful, but I was able to clear an area to dedicate. It’s just a small trapezoid table located in our picture book room, but it’s a start.
Magnets are an object of fascination to pretty much everyone, so I thought that beginning my first STEM Exploration Station with a magnetic theme would guarantee a strong start. I bought a number of the standard stick magnets that most preschools seem to have these days. I anticipated that they would wander around the library if I didn’t take precautions, so I used yarn to tie them to the leg of the table. This meant that most days I’d have to send a volunteer in to untangle the strings at the end of the day, but it was worth it to keep all of my magnets in one place.
I wanted the children to explore not just the magnets themselves, but also how the magnets interact with other materials. But at the same time, I also knew that the materials were going to be left in an area that is not directly in my line of sight. I needed to make sure that the materials were not going to end up as chocking hazards, and that they wouldn’t get lost. The solution to both problems turned out to be petri dishes. I bought a number of small petri dishes with lids, put the materials inside, then superglued the lids shut. This kept the objects from ending up in mouths, and it gave me a large surface to hotglue string to the sides, so I could tie the dishes to the table leg. Because the dishes were sturdy and see-through, the children could use the magnets to interact with the materials through the plastic.
To round out my magnet exploration, I also made a little laminated race course with some small cars. I superglued a magnet to the back of each car, then taped over the magnet for extra protection. A sign explained that children could put a stick magnet under the track and by moving the stick magnet, the car would move too. I had a magnet based color sorter shaped like a turtle, so I put that on the table as well.
The station was well used for the entire month that it was out.