KDL’s STEAM Work Lab offers hands-on activities to stimulate children’s curiosity | Wender Mind Kids

KDL's STEAM Work Lab offers hands-on activities to stimulate children's curiosity

While school backpacks may stay empty for months, summer is an ideal time for kids to visit Kent District Library (KDL) to experience a unique, hands-on STEAM program called the KDL Lab Experience.

Tailored for primary school-age children, says Courtnei Moyses, field worker at the Kent District Library and programming specialist at the Kentwood and Gaines branches, there are eight new KDL Lab Experience programs for the summer.

“They’re all themed around something,” she says of the themes, which include pop culture references like Pokémon, superheroes, pirates, magical creatures, and even time travel.

“They are for elementary school-age children; we market them to children aged 6 to 11 years. We won’t turn anyone away, but parents need to know that some of the activities have small parts and are a bit too complicated for our friends under six.”

STEAM programs use science, technology, engineering, arts, and math as entry points to facilitate learning. Moyses says the hands-on activities offer something for everyone. Some of the popular “fan favorites” are the Super Hero Training Camp, featuring Hulk Smash villains, Super Hero code, costumes, and vehicles.

“There are some that are game-based and things you do in the library like a challenge,” she says. “Our journey through the time tub has a Greek architecture challenge using the same type of technique that Greek architectures used with the posts to create a tower that can support a really heavy book. From what I’ve heard the kids were impressed that it actually worked because they’re just little paper cups and cookie sheets, so it’s really easy but fun.”

Each activity tub has a different theme, some include magical menageries where students can build a fairy house and even a pirate lab where they can invent a pirate name and build a boat that stays afloat. “Some bathtub programs are more popular than others. Some hit that niche that’s really popular, and others are more for a specific audience. We try to offer programs for everyone in all interests,” says Moyses.

These simple yet fun activities also encourage participants to explore their curiosity and follow their inquisitive thoughts about what ifs.

“The mission is to give children the freedom to discover new things,” says Moyses. “There is no right or wrong answer. There is a way to do something, but you are always welcome to do it your way with the materials available. It gives them a space to be creative and try something new and have fun in the library. We love it when people come and have fun and learn that the library is about more than just books. The books will always be there and we love to read. But the library has so much more for them to experience.”

KDL has included STEAM activities and STEAM-centric events in its schedule for seven years, says Moyses. “It started as a project with some of our library staff and has grown into part of our ongoing ‘bread and butter’ programs. STEAM has become a really big push in schools, so what’s going to be a big push in schools is going to be a big push in the library.”

Finding relevant, fun and accessible programs for the community and underserved populations is part of Moyses’ mission. This is a particularly important task for this age group, she says.

“It’s also a great way for us to get kids to come to the library. We have our Storytime, our tried and true program for kids under six, and then we have teen zones for 13+, but we didn’t have a lot of programming specifically for those kids in the middle,” she says. “If they don’t keep coming to the library while they’re in elementary school, they kind of forget about us. These STEAM programs are a great way to get these kids to come to the library so they become lifelong library users and use us as a resource. It also gives them an opportunity to explore something that interests them that isn’t for a school assignment, something they want to do, and something new to try.”

The activities themselves are ward-related and are offered as a drop-in event at all library branches at various times. Participants can wander through different stations at their own pace or complete them all in sequence.

According to Moyses, the feedback on this lab programming has been positive — something she’s excited to finally see, given that some of the activities were originally created before the pandemic.

“During spring break we had a tub called Brain Games,” says Moyses. “It had one RubeGoldberg Activity so we had a lot of pieces and parts and we let kids explore. The whole point of a Rube Goldberg machine is that at the end you want to ring the bell, so you build dominoes, racetracks and whatnot like that. The kids there just explored it for at least 45 minutes,” she says.

“A lot of parents like it because it’s something they can take their kids to; there isn’t really a screen in the game.”

Without the pressure of being given a “right or wrong” answer, students are more able to explore in a casual setting like a museum or playground than in a rigid classroom and without the pressure of a grading system. “Sometimes we have technologies that can give them hands-on experience and give them super-simple coding experiences or trial-and-error experiences,” says Moyses. “We have some things like circuits to learn what closed loop is, and kids just learn in a safe place where they’re not being graded, not being judged or anything like that,” she says. They can just do what they want to do and explore what interests them. It’s not like school when there is one person teaching everyone. It’s more self-guided, but there is one member of the library staff in the room who can help answer questions or provide guidance.”

STEAM programming is just one way the library is encouraging users to check out all the different activities and learning opportunities it offers alongside the traditional books on the shelves. Moyses says the library has undergone a major rebrand with its summer reading program summer wonder in 2020. “It’s still very much reading-based, but it also allows people to explore wonders,” she says. “To complete this challenge, instead of just reading, you can listen to a story, write a story, do a STEAM experiment. In our kaleidoscopeour quarterly magazine, this issue includes our Summer wonder book inside. It features STEAM activities created by the Summer Wonder KDL Working Group in partnership with other local STEAM entities.”

If you are interested in participating in the Work Lab, drop-in times are typically 1-1.5 hour slots and are offered system-wide, with different times in each KDL location. You can search all KDL programs by parameters, e.g. For example, you can search for your favorite store nearby, or search for STEAM programs here.

Photos courtesy of Autumn Johnson, Bird + Bird Studio

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by the Kent District Library.

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago before moving back to Lansing, but that love for West Michigan never really left her heart. Through her coverage of small businesses, arts and culture, restaurants, and everything made with mittens, she is committed to convincing everyone how great the Great Lakes State is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You’ll find her in a record store, at a nearby concert, or eating one dessert too many at a bakery. If she happens to be in none of these places, you can contact her at [email protected]