Local launch of ‘STEM Kits for Regional Libraries’ planned

Dave Lein, Editor

Courtesy photo

JR, 3, demonstrates his skill at using forceps to lift organs from the “Squishy Human Body” STEM Kit onto the “Organ-izer” mat as Mike and Minwaate observe during a test phase of the STEM Kits for Regional Libraries Project, held during last summer’s Native American Camp in Elk Rapids.


REGION – Local families will now have expanded access to high-quality STEM learning games and toys for their children through local libraries.

According to organizers, the hands-on experiences incorporate math, science, engineering and/or math skills (STEM) while problem-solving and exploring.

“Research shows that engaging our children in STEM skills from an early age, both in and out of school, is critical to later learning success,” said Barbara Termaat, director of development and communications for Newton’s Road, which is working with the Traverse Area District Library (TADL) on the collaborative project.

According to Termaat, this project was inspired by the main TADL branch offering more than 80 STEM Kits for families to check out for free near downtown Traverse City.

“They’ve had very positive feedback,” she said, “however; it is not practical or affordable for most rural and small town families to leverage this great resource. This opportunity birthed the idea of increasing access to quality STEM learning opportunities for free in libraries across our five-county region.”

A pilot effort in Elk Rapids was initiated by Newton’s Road last summer with funding to purchase the toys, games, kit containers and other materials from the Elk Rapids Rotary and Elk Rapids District Library. The STEM Kits were “tested” in August by youth ages 3-13 in the Elk Rapids Native American Summer Camp. The youth then helped Newton’s Road with organizing the STEM Kit materials and “training” Rotary and other community members about the kits.

Termaat worked with TADL Youth Services Librarian Andy Schuck to select kits that are highly engaging and suitable to be managed by a small staff. She then collaborated with Nannette Miller, director of the Elk Rapids District Library, and her staff to adapt the TADL processes for their own space and staff.

A critical question was how to organize the kits so that they would be relatively easy to check in at the counter, which resulted in using visual aids such as photos and labeled bags.

“We were so glad that the Newton’s Road team did most of the heavy lifting on making the STEM Kits work for us,” said Miller. “We believe this project will be an impactful way to serve more rural and small town families across our region through sharing our best practices and learning how to adapt them for smaller libraries.”

In return, the Elk Rapids District Library will serve as the launch site for the STEM Kits for Regional Libraries Project with an event planned at 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25. Twenty-two kits will be available to check out from the library.

The kits’ themes range from robots and programming to strategy games that incorporate physics and patterns to human biology. Each kit is supplemented with a link to the Newton’s Road website where families can search a database of over 100 regional STEAM/Maker activities, organizations and events as well as quality online STEM resources.

“Our goal is to have STEM Kits available in all 20 regional libraries by the end of 2020,” said Termaat. “Offering experiences at no cost and in their community really levels the playing field across economic, time and lifestyle barriers. Families can try a wide variety of STEM toys and games that encourage the whole family to learn together, and discover the types of STEM experiences that are most exciting as their children grow and develop."

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