The Little Makers Program at Keene Public Library
With support from a National Leadership grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Keene Public Library is beginning Little Makers: Library STEM and Maker Activities for Very Young Learners, a program occurring every-other Saturday offering STEM, tinkering, and making activities for children ages 2 to 6 and their parents or care providers.
I served as an intern for this program from September 2019-March 2020.
The larger purpose of the IMLS grant is to collect data from our library to provide a template for a successful Makers program for children ages 2-6 with their caregiver(s).
Introducing the Little Makers program
With support from a National Leadership grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Keene Public Library began Little Makers: Library STEM and Maker Activities for Very Young Learners. The program aims to facilitate an engaging hands-on environment where children and their adult care-givers can participate as co-learners, using tools and materials with support from staff. We will use this blog to share resources, musings and lessons-learned as we embark on implementing this innovative program
There is an element of risk involved in introducing sharp tools to a room full of 2-6-year old’s (and often younger or older siblings), but that also keeps the adults engaged. Some of our children’s programming is meant to allow for a little “zone-out” time for the caregivers, but not this one. Staff may need to keep an eye out for missing tools, intercept babies running with screwdrivers, and we have concluded that parents need a pocket or apron to be able to safely carry needed tools with them as they follow their ambitious makers around the room. When it comes to putting a tool back into a bin or on a shelf, there simply isn’t enough time. This same concept applies to instructions or prompts: nothing longer than four words, and it is ideally written in a large enough font size to be seen across the room. Adult caregivers are necessarily attentive to their children in this environment and cannot stop to read program literature. It’s best to put the tool or model in their hands, and briefly demonstrate how it’s used.
A big part of the adult learning happening in Little Makers consists of knowing when to help and when to observe from the sidelines. What are necessary safety procedures versus reasonable risks? Children are getting the feedback they need from their experiments - allowing them to push through frustration to a new idea lays the foundation for real confidence and ownership in their work. Kids seem to lose interest the more their adult partner takes over a project, but what kind of guidance can adults provide? And, What do you say instead of “be careful”? An adult can first check their own impulse to respond and ask themselves if it is necessary. If a child is genuinely stuck, it may be helpful to foster awareness by using phrases like “try using your…”, “notice what happens when…”, “do you see where your fingers are?” or use problem-solving phrases like “what’s your plan for…”, “where will you cut a hole?”, and “what can you use to…”
Even young infants use cups and spoons, and children as young as 2 can learn about tools and safety. When a three-year-old picks up a hand drill, they are drawing upon knowledge of the physical world they already have – “Does this look like anything I’ve seen before?” The child may notice the screw-like part, a handle for turning and attempt to make it work. Adults must resist the urge to intervene at this stage - the purpose of the Little Makers program is to develop a growth mindset, welcoming risk and failure as a part of the process of creating. After several experiments, the drill bit is applied to a surface and synchronized with a turning motion. This action may not produce a finished product at all but using the hand crank and applying the bit to an object provides lessons in spatial awareness, self-regulation, focus, physics, and self-care. When practiced in a room of co-learners of all ages, using a tool promotes awareness of others and concerns for their safety. These are the building blocks for future success.