Beyond Books – The Library Introduces New STEAM Tools for Kids!
By: Alexa Johnson Anderson
A couple of weeks ago I heard that the Columbus Library System (also known as The Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System) was offering more than just books, CDs, and DVDs for check-out. In order to continue to expand their services and meet the needs and desires of our community, they have expanded their offerings to STEAM-based tools for all age ranges to include ad-free tablets, snap circuit sets, instruments, and lots of other goodies.
I have a 4 and 6-year old so I borrowed a few of the items that I felt would get the most play time from my kids and each and every item we took home with us was a hit. As a parent, “a hit” means that the item was age-appropriate, didn’t require complex math skills on my part, and didn’t end in tears or anger. So, you can see the bar was pretty high for success.
The first item the kids wanted to test out was the LaunchPad. This thing is amazing. It’s a tablet that is pre-loaded with age-appropriate games. Each library in the system has its own set of LaunchPads.
We checked out the Language Arts set for younger ages. Noah, my six-year-old, particularly loved the word games. He is at a point where he’s getting the hang of reading and the games reinforced many of the concepts he is learning at school. Vivian was a fan of the books already pre-loaded on the LaunchPad. I liked that the tablet came to me all charged up and ready to go, secured with a very durable cover (my kids are destructive), and that some of the choices on the tablet were that the books could be listened to by the kids. Oh, and I also was happy that no internet connection was needed. Why, you ask? Because goodness knows what kids can find on YouTube with the click of a button. One minute they are watching an innocent Disney Princess scene, the next they have stumbled on some sketchy business. This all goes back to my qualifications for success – was it easy? Yes. Did anyone cry about it? No. See, that’s success.
Next up was the Snap Circuits. I’ll be honest, I let my husband and kids work on this treasure while I watched and enjoyed a full hour of cooperation from both kids. A miracle, really. Of all the items we checked out, this one was the activity that captured the attention and enthusiasm of everyone in the family. Using easy to create circuits (a booklet with instructions is included), we made light shows and even had a dance party in the basement with flashing LED lights. Noah was itching to play with the Snap Circuits the entire week we had it at the house. Although my kids are a little young to do this completely on their own, no complex math skills were required and it was easy enough to make it enjoyable for everyone. I imagine in a few years both kids will be able to far exceed what we were able to do just completing six of the 80-plus different designs provided by the kit.
The last item on our list was the ukulele. Vivian loved it. While her dad noodled around on his guitar, she grabbed the ukulele from its case and jammed alongside him. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
Tiffany Wilson, the Marketing Coordinator at Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, said that the STEAM kits and tablets have been wildly popular, even exceeding their expectations. I can believe it. My kids loved the variety and the varying levels of difficulty that each item offered. All the items we played with were hits and all for different reasons. And I promise, no tears were shed in the testing of these products.
There are several things you may want to know before checking out the items:
- Unlike books at the libraries that are floaters, meaning you can check out at one library and return to another, these are NOT. Whichever library you borrow from is the one to which you must return the item.
- The check-out period is one week.
- The fee for late items is $3.00 per day, per item.
Below is some detailed information about each type of kit available.
Everything You Need to Know
The kits break down into 4 STEAM-based categories:
- Wacom Intuos Digital Drawing and Graphics Tablet – Perfect for beginning digital artists to draw, paint, and edit with an easy to use pen tablet. Just download the driver to your computer and start drawing
- Target age: anyone
- 3Doodler 3D Printing Pen – The 3Doodler is a new kind of pen that doodles in three dimensions instead of two. Essentially it works like a 3-D printer, melting and cooling colored plastic to create rigid, freestanding structures in any shape imaginable (sort of like a hot-glue gun but better).
- The Columbus Public Library Teen Department will be sending out extra ABS and PLA plastic to everyone, pre-bagged for each checkout.
- Target age: 3Doodler recommends these for ages 12 and up, so use that as your guideline. The tip does get hot.
- Go Pro Action Video Kit – the GoPro kit contains a GoPro Hero camera, as well as a flex tripod, selfie stick, clip mount, chest mount, floating mount (GoPros are waterproof to 131 ft. when enclosed in their case), USB cable, and quick start guide.
- the micro-SD card already inside the camera – there is an adapter included to plug into a SD card port, but you can just plug the camera directly into your computer to download and edit footage
- Target age: 8 and up
Technology and Engineering
- Makey Makey – Turn the whole world into a keyboard. It’s a simple Invention Kit for Beginners or Experts doing art, engineering, and everything in between. Alligator Clip two objects to the Makey Makey. For example, you and a banana (or an ice cube, or a kitty cat). When you touch the banana, the computer just thinks a keyboard key is being pressed, so you can type a letter, jump in a video game, take a picture, or play some music. The possibilities are endless, and it’s a lot of fun.
- Target age: Makey Makey recommends ages 12 and up, but younger kids can also have a lot of fun with this, with an adult’s help
- Squishy Circuits – Squishy circuits are a project from the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas. The goal of the project is to design tools and activities which allow kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough.
- Columbus Public Library is not supplying the dough – there is a recipe on the inside of the box that teaches you how to make the conductive dough (actual Play-Doh brand is nonconductive anyway). That’s part of the fun, and part of the activity.
- Target age: 5 and up
- LittleBits – Getting started inventing with electronics has never been easier. All ages can learn the basics of electronics, explore STEAM/STEM principles, form the foundations of critical thinking, or just have fun with blinking, buzzing creations. Bits snap together with magnets, so it’s impossible to make a mistake. It’s a great to get little inventors building, with no soldering, wiring or programming required and no prior experience required.
- Target age: Recommended for ages 8 and over
- Snap Circuits – Snap Circuits are an easy and fun way to learn about electronics. You can connect your phone/iPod/music player and watch as the lights of what you’ve built change to the beat, and learn about electronics with easy-to-use plastic parts that snap together.
- Target age: Recommended for ages 8 and over
- Ukelekes – Ukuleles come with the ukulele in a case, tuner, and book with CD/DVD to get you started learning to play
- If you need replacement strings, we have them in CPL Children’s – ask Charley and she’ll get you set up (and teach you how to re-string a ukulele)
- Kids Toy Accordion – This toy accordion from Hohner has 7 treble buttons, songbook, and playing instructions.
- Wood Xylophone – Each note of the xylophone is stained a brilliant, bright color that is coordinated with enclosed music sheets. Your child simply follows along with the colors to play a well-known song. The xylophone has 15 notes, and comes in a bag with mallets and a booklet.
- Metal Xylophone – The metal xylophone comes in a blue plastic case, and includes mallets and a notes chart.
- Percussion Chimalong with carrying case – Children can discover pitch and melody with confidence and sound great doing it with these chimes – easy to play and lots of fun.
- Kids Toddler Music Band Set of 5 Pieces – 5-piece band will get all the kids involved with making music. Set includes musical shapes, wave drum, and toddler glockenspiel. Safe, durable, and a good sound.
- Rhythm Drums – Drums are all cataloged separately – congas, floor tom with a mallet, tambouring, and bongos. The drums come in a box which describes what they are, but don’t have any separate instructions, as “see drum, hit drum” is hopefully pretty self-explanatory for young children.
- Boomwhackers – Boomwhackers come in a wrap-up case, and the case contains mallets and a booklet. The Boomwhackers can be taken in and out of the case, played like a xylophone in the case, or hit against each other or just about any other object. Perfect to encourage music and movement.
- Portable Recording Studio – the Portable Recording Studio includes a digital recorder, tabletop tripod stand, and accessories to help musicians, students, podcasters, and anyone who wants to do pro-level recording on the go.
- There is only one and it is housed at Columbus Public Library on Macon Road in the Children’s area, however, it will be available for request.
- Target age on all musical instruments – everyone! These are obviously targeted for kids, but anyone can play!