The public library has been and continues to be a space for a community of people to find a new favorite book, attend programs, and receive services, all for free. All of these services and materials have been beneficial for many community groups, specifically for families and youth looking for external help when it comes to supporting a child’s development. In the study of youth development and education, it is shown that children and teens learn and access information in different ways than adults to stay engaged, recall information, and then utilize what they learned in real life.
Libraries that provide STEM-based educational materials and resources for youth have shown advancement in children’s critical and physical development, all for free at the library. When looking for STEM educational materials and resources for youth, the library allows families and youth to access the materials on their own time, at the academic levels they are at, without the pressure of rushing or consuming information that is not at their level, and with no restrictions on accessing the resources. Because youth engage with information and learning processes differently from adults, libraries provide STEM-based activities and resources through a play-based formula while keeping the youth engaged and developing academic skills.
This article will cover what exactly STEM is, the correlation to library services, the variety of STEM programs that are available in libraries, and the different youth age groups that libraries cater to when providing STEM educational materials and resources for free. Additionally, this article includes resources for those interested in seeking more information about STEM-based education that can be done at home or virtually.
Types of STEM
STEM is an acronym referring to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields of study. The term was created for youth in schools from kindergarten through college to improve skills in these specific learning developments. STEM can be used in schools, in career fields, and in our everyday routines.
- Science is the first subject area in STEM. Science is the study of the structures and behaviors of the physical and natural worlds. Scientists practice through observation, experimentation, and the testing of theories against the evidence they obtain. Early learning of science with library materials and services can be done through program themes of cooking, art, and music activities, building block play, sensory table exploration, and outdoor-based activities. Science within STEM is a way to implement real-life concepts into the learning process.
- Technology is the second subject area in STEM. Technology has been a blooming and growing tool for early learning over the past few decades, and it’s only become more valuable and utilized as the years continue. Technology in library materials and services can be done through digital educational resources and materials, and tech devices like robotics, computers, and databases.
- Engineering is the third subject area in STEM. Engineering is the concept of the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures. It can be implemented in various academic activities for early childhood development. Engineering with library materials and services can be done through play-based activities focused on understanding movement, force, design planning, and more.
- Mathematics is the final subject area in STEM. Mathematics is a skill that begins very early in early childhood development and is continuously developed as a child grows. Mathematics with library materials and services can be done through interactive tools with numbers, shapes, formulaic problem-solving, and basic financial literacy.
STEM Programs in Libraries
STEM-based programs in libraries can differ slightly from programs in schools or other educational institutions and organizations. Most of the STEM-based services provided at the library are free and accessible to a wide range of ages. Services and programs may differ between libraries, but many have STEM-based services that can be made available to families. Below are a few examples of STEM-based services that libraries provide.
- Technology: Digital services
Libraries need to continuously keep up with the information needs and digital advancements in society to accommodate community needs. With the continued evolution of technology, libraries provide digital services for patrons and youth to use for free. Digital services in libraries may consist of computer and internet usage in computer centers, electronic materials like digital downloads of books, music, and videos, as well as tech program services like ‘Google Apps and the Cloud’ or ‘Basics of Web Design’.
- Engineering: Programs (Makerspaces)
Libraries incorporate engineering skills mainly through programs and services. A notable service most public libraries have available for users is a Makerspace area, where users can access collaborative space to make, learn, or explore various tools to make STEM-based creations. Some engineering creations that can be made in a Makerspace are robotics, woodworking, 3D modeling, or creating inventions.
- Science + Math: Materials (kits)
Libraries incorporate science and mathematics in many ways, but a notable service provided that involves science and math is through STEM kits that users check out and take home with them. These kits mainly target K–12 graders, with a focus on developing various science and math skills. Some examples of STEM kits libraries may have would be beginning coding kits, a kit on fossils, or 3D models. There are numerous types of kits available for users who are looking to enhance or develop science and math skills.
STEM for Early Childhood
Early childhood is categorized as youth ages 0–24 months old. This is typically the starting stage and the most important time to begin a child’s development. Within this age group, every experience is new, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming. Because all experiences are new, the structure surrounding the incorporation of basic skills is important. Libraries have a multitude of STEM educational materials and resources for youth in their early childhood that can help begin their development of STEM skills.
Libraries provide services that are designed to help young patrons develop STEM-based skills through play. Some STEM materials that are useful for youth in their early childhood development are materials that may be applied through reading board books, puzzles, building blocks, and hands-on educational activity tables. Pre-programmed educational digital games on computers or Launchpads are available at some libraries and through programs like Storytime that provide guidance for caretakers and the child through gross and fine motor skills while doing STEM-based activities.
- STEMIE is a website that provides additional resources to educators and families that promotes STEM learning in young children
STEM for Pre-K through Elementary School
Pre-K through elementary school is categorized as youth ages 3-11 years old. Libraries provide STEM-based services to this age group through their books, programs, and resources. Around the time of this age group’s cognitive development, they are at the beginning of constructing their social skills, grasping a sense of individuality, learning about their independent needs, and learning through intentional play.
Some examples of STEM materials that libraries provide that are useful for this age group are hands-on explorative activities such as DIY creations that are beginner-friendly biology, chemistry, and physics concepts. Some services provide this age group with circuit kits, coding, animal exploration of fossils, habitats, prints, and digital literacy devices that can help guide the child’s development. Additionally, Libraries may bring in presenters from STEM organizations that can give this age group a personable insight experience from a persona in the STEM career field, as well as provide museum passes to STEM-based children’s museums.
- Funbrain is a website that provides educational STEM Games for youth grades K-8 with children’s book references and literary characters.
- Miss Humblebee Academy is an award-winning, online, and offline curriculum-based program that prepares children ages 3 to 6 for kindergarten milestones. Users will need to check their local library for a free remote access code.
STEM for Middle School
Middle school is categorized as youth ages 12–14 years old. This age group is evolving their understanding of personal interests and gaining agency through their independence and creativity. Engaging in STEM-based activities and services allows this age group to begin applying STEM to real-life problem-solving challenges and everyday materials they may come across. Because the middle school age group is beginning to understand and conduct more expansive STEM concepts, libraries can provide this group with numerous more extensive STEM services that a younger age group may not be equipped to partake in yet.
Some STEM-based services that libraries provide for free include coding programs with real-life implementation using devices like Ozobots or various types of circuiting kits, simple machine concepts using robotics or building equipment, and STEM-based chemistry activities that may utilize food or everyday household ingredients. There are many other STEM-based services and activities that students in middle school can have access to in the library. All of these examples and more are available in libraries for youth to play and explore.
- School Library Journal is a journal that provides educators and caretakers with resources and materials for youth development. The website includes articles on STEM resources using LittleBits devices for coding and other STEM-based activities for young users to explore.
- Literacy Enrichment After-School Program (LEAP) is an out-of-school time program that partners with librarians to provide hands-on tutoring, STEM activities, workshops, and academic resources.
STEM for High School
High school is categorized as youth ages 15–18 years old. For this age group, the teens begin strengthening STEM-based skills and evolve their knowledge into more practical and hands-on play and exploration of STEM concepts. Though it is known that keeping this age group engaged in academic and STEM-based activities can be challenging at times, libraries provide playful and appealing STEM-based services that can keep teens growing in their STEM knowledge, help support their interests, and begin an exploration of careers that focus on STEM.
Some STEM-based services libraries have available for teens would include Makerspace programs that give designated time for teens to gather in a space to be creative with innovative gadgets, music engineering in Makerspaces with the instruments and production equipment that teens can play and experiment with, as well as services for teens preparing for academic testing like free SAT practice. Most of the STEM-based materials and services for teens are centered on creativity but provide enough of a challenge to develop additional skill sets and implement them in real life. This allows this age group to discover strengths and areas for improvement that will prepare them when exploring career options and navigating social challenges.
- TeenLife article provides teens with STEM resources to explore that can be adapted to career fields in STEM.
- FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a Youth-Serving Nonprofit STEM education organization that provides programs for ages 4-18 that are focused on robotics.
- HessunAcademy article showcases additional examples of STEM activities and projects for High School students that can guide their academic development at home and in school.