Category Archives: Library Programs

Early Learning STEAM Programs: Art Start

Library Programs

In April 2017, I presented with a coworker on Low Cost/No Cost STEAM programming ideas at the Texas Library Association annual conference in San Antonio.  Today’s post will share one of the program ideas we talked about, an early learning program that combines story time and art for a STEAM-based program for little learners.

The Program

Art Start is a program offered by the Plano Public Library.  It’s described in our program brochure as:  Stories to inspire your little artist, followed by a different hands-on art activity each week.  Things may get messy!  Smocks and materials provided.

Intended Audience

This program is designed for children between the ages of a 3 and 6 years old, the same audience that we target with our preschool story times.  Parent/caregiver participation is required, and adults stay in the room and work with their children during the program.  To keep costs down and the room manageable, we limit the number of families allowed in each session.


A typical session costs $5 to $10 for simple crafts, with a greater investment for continuing supplies or more elaborate programs.  Funding for our Art Start program is provided by a grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC).  The activities are easily modified based on craft supplies that you already have on hand.


This program requires basic craft supplies, easily modified based on the activities you choose.  Think craft essentials like crayons, markers, construction paper, and paper towels.  It’s easy to choose your theme for the week around supplies that you already have on hand, or pick projects that use similar supplies to make the most of what you do order.

How It Works

Staff read a book related to the day’s art project.  When I present this program, I also include a related element like a flannel story, just to incorporate a little more of the story time feel.  However, the focus is really on the art.  After the story time portion, we explain a little about process art.  The focus with every project is on the process of creating the art rather than the finished product.  One of the most important things to do as a facilitator of this program is to encourage the parents/caregivers to work with their child, instead of doing the project for their child.  The program lasts approximately 30 minutes, with about 10 minutes for the welcome and story and the remainder of the time for art.  Depending on the project, the room can be set up with tables and craft supplies, but it’s also great to allow plenty of free space to work on the floor as well.

Sample Topics

Some of the outlines that have worked in the past include:

  • Balloon painting
  • Chalk with buttermilk
  • Feather painting
  • Folded paper prints
  • Fruit prints
  • Glitter art
  • Hole punch collage
  • Ice painting
  • Paper cutting
  • Sand art
  • Shaving cream art
  • Tape resist art
  • Texture rubbing


This program is very open ended, so it’s easy to customize to the type of projects that your patrons find most interesting.  Many crafts can be found and modified from Pinterest.


Leave a comment

Filed under Library Programs, Story Time

Blast Off! at the Library

Library Programs

In October, we hosted our first STEAM program at the library.  We scheduled the program for an hour and a half, taking the place of our regularly scheduled after-school craft program for the week.  Our theme:  space.  Our mission:  make learning about space fun and hands-on for each participant.

image (5)

Program and Room Set Up

Based on our past attendance at our after school programs, we planned everything for 24 attendees.  (This also worked out well in terms of dividing up supplies based on serving sizes and other considerations).  Our program was held in our meeting room, which gave us access to enough space for several tables and chairs, as well as the projector and sound system.  We set up a total of eight tables in a rectangle on one side of the room, with chairs only on the outside edges.  The center we left open to give us (the librarians) space to move around, help the children, and demonstrate concepts as needed.  The project screen is set up to display in the center of the room, and the other half of the room was left empty for our rocket launches later in the program.

We planned for a combination of technology, discussion, and hands-on learning.  We planned three major segments to the program:  moon craters, rockets, and comets.  When we were setting up for the program, we did as much prep as possible ahead of time so that we didn’t have to do it during the program (I’ll give more specifics about each activity later in the post).  At each place at the table, we put out any supplies that would be needed that were not sensitive to exposure.  This gave the kids some visual clues about what we would be doing, and also kept us from having to run back and forth setting up materials during the program.  Since part of program involved food, we prepped everything in the kitchen adjacent to our meeting room to be brought out when we were ready for the part of the program.

Program Introduction

We invited everyone into the room at once, and once everyone was seated around the table, we provided a brief introduction to the program.  Originally, we had planned to just describe the afternoon’s activities, but my colleague had the great idea of asking the kids to guess what we might be doing with the materials that they had before them.  We used those guesses to start our discussion about what we would be doing, and provided a few more details about the anticipated activities.

Interactive Technology:  Solar System Scope

Since we were talking about space, we started out with a discussion of what we already knew about the stars and planets.  Using our laptop and projector, we pulled up the Solar System Scope.  We started out by learning some facts about the earth and the moon, and then took suggestions for other planets to explore.  Rather than just delivering the information about each planet, we asked the kids what they knew about the planet or any questions they had.  We threw out ideas about the different planets and then consulted the information on the website to learn more.  I was actually surprised by how involved this portion was – almost every child present wanted to contribute information at some point or read facts from the website.  We kept this going until we covered all the planets and interest waned.

Hands-On Activty:  Moon Craters


  • Salt map dough (pre-made at home and put into individual Ziploc baggies)
  • Rocks (large and small, purchased in bags from Dollar Tree)

After looking at some pictures of moon craters, we talked a little about what would form them.  We talked about different items that might find craters, and whether the distance or size of the object would impact the size of the crater.  Then, each child got to make their own moon craters!  We provided each child with an individual bag of salt map dough and a selection of rocks to drop and press to form the craters.  We purchased two bags of rocks (one of large rocks and one of small rocks), and divided them up into plastic cups the day of the event so that everyone had a few.  Some children made their own moons and planets by leaving the rocks in the dough, and some dropped or pressed rocks to make different shapes and craters.  One thing I would do differently in the future with this part is NOT putting the salt map dough out ahead of time.  Almost all of the children played with the dough in the bags during our introduction and discussion, so by the time they wanted to take it out, it was warmed up and very sticky.  However, we did get a lot of positive feedback from parents for using the salt map dough since it has all-natural ingredients.

Video to Share:  The Chemistry of Rockets

After moon craters, it was time to move on to our next component, rockets.  Originally, we had planned to show this short video about how rockets work.  However, since our salt map dough was a little messier than anticipated, we ended up dropping this activity in favor of a massive hand-washing expedition.  We sent everyone out to wash their hands and cleaned up some of the biggest mess from the moon craters, and transitioned right into the next activity, instead.

Hands-On Activity:  Straw Rocket Aeronautics


  • Pencil (purchased in package of 12 from Walmart)
  • Straw rocket template (printed on paper and pre-cut by teen volunteers)
  • Straws (purchased in package of 100 from Walmart)
  • Tape

Our next hands-on activity was creating our own rockets.  We found this great soda straw rocket template from NASA that we used for this portion of the activity.  The template includes all of the instructions, which was also a plus.  Since we had extra volunteers for a different program a few weeks before this one, we had them cut out the rocket pieces ahead of time to save time.  We gave each child the pieces he or she would need, and then talked about the steps to create the rocket.  We assisted with the taping as necessary, and most of the parents also helped in putting the rockets together.  After we created our rockets, we all lined up on the empty side of the room to launch our rockets and see whose would fly the farthest.  I think everyone’s favorite part from this was yelling, “3, 2, 1, Blast Off!”

image (4)

Video to Share:  How to Catch a Star Stop Motion Short Film

We planned to break up our rockets and transition to comets with this short film by Oliver Jeffers.  What we didn’t plan for was that rocket launching would be so exciting that we would have a hard time calming the kids back down for our next activity.  So, we admitted that we probably weren’t going to keep their attention with this one, and instead transitioned into our final hands-on activity.

Hands-On Activity:  Edible Comets


  • Instant pudding (1 box for every four children, we purchased store brand)
  • Milk (1 half gallon)
  • Clear plastic cups
  • Spoons
  • Add-ins like cookies, chocolate chips, and sprinkles

Originally, we had planned to do ice cream comets for the final portion of the program.  But, we decided that ice cream might be a little too involved, and we adapted to make pudding comets instead.  If you divide the pudding from one box into four cups, and add 1/3 cup milk, it makes a single serving of pudding.  Secret tip:  Put the milk in the freezer for about 30 minutes, and it will be slightly slushy.  This will let your pudding set up in 1-2 minutes instead of 5-10.  We had the milk and pudding already separated out prior to the program, so all we had to do was bring out the ingredients.

We gave each child a cup of milk and a cup of pudding mix and instructed them to mix them together.  We talked about the dust and debris that comets pick up, and then we added cookies that we crumbled, chocolate chips, and even sprinkles to represent our comets’ flight paths.  When we had all the necessary ingredients, we stirred everything together and watched it solidify into pudding.  The clear cups were great, because they let the kids see the entire transition from liquid to solid.  Then we got to enjoy eating our creations!

Program Evaluation

Overall, this program was a great success.  While we didn’t use all the elements that we planned for, the kids (and parents) had a great time and especially liked the hands-on components.  We spent some time talking about our favorite parts after the program, and the parents did some socializing before leaving.  I’m definitely glad that we did so much prep work ahead of time, because it made it so much easier to run the program.  I do wish, though, that we had taken more pictures throughout the program to document what we were doing.  Unfortunately, we were just too busy!  But, several of the parents took pictures, so at least the families have some documentation from our program.  The total cost for this ended up being about $1 per child, which was great.  We let them take home their dough, rocks, and pencils if they wanted, and of course, everyone had a comet to eat, too.  This was such a success that we are hoping to bring STEAM back again in January, with a snowman-themed program.  I can’t wait to share about it, too!

Leave a comment

Filed under Library Programs

1000 Books before Kindergarten

Library Programs

I’ve officially been a children’s librarian for almost six  months now.  I’m starting to settle into a groove, and there are so many things that I could be writing about – book selection, recommended book lists, story time planning, special programming…all of which I hope to get to eventually.  But today I want to share one of the “special” projects that I’ve been working on with my library:  1000 Books before Kindergarten.  When I started, I was given this program as one of my special projects.  The good news is, I get to design the program to run however I want.  While the program has been officially launched already, I get to make any changes that I want to it and run it however I want.  The bad news is, I also have sole responsibility for the success (or failure) of the changes that I am making.

So, how does the program even work?  It’s all about reading together with your child.  Your goal is to read 1000 books together before your child starts kindergarten.  The point is to increase early literacy skills – research shows that the more parents (or caregivers) and children read together, the more pre-reading skills are developed.  With that foundation, a child is more likely to read independently later on, and be more successful at it.  Even better, the program promotes bonding between children and adults.  I remember reading stories with my parents growing up, and this program is a fun way to build those memories with future generations.  The entire program is based on it being a “just right” goal – 1,000 is enough books to be challenging, but not so many that parents get discouraged or feel like there is no way they can complete the program.

Because they program is self-paced, it is also to some extent pretty hands off for me.  Parents and caregivers register their children, and then they choose whether or not to complete their reading logs and stay in the program.  But, I wanted my library to make more of an effort in marketing the program, to encourage children to sign up and to motivate them to keep reading.  The first thing that I did was completely re-brand all of our existing literature.  I updated the flyers that we had available from parents – what was once a four-page, half-size booklet became a half-sheet with the basic facts of the program and the library’s contact information.  That gave me something I could easily put around the library, but also something I can email to others or easily take with me to outreach programs.  As part of the process, we designed a new logo.  The previous logo involved a rainbow, so we chose to leave the rainbow as part of the new design.  But, we also included a little alligator as part of the design who now serves as the unofficial mascot of our 1000 Books program.  He is also on certificates and other flyers that are associated with the program.  Where we previously had a poster of the old logo, we replaced it with the new logo.  I also moved the poster into the children’s area near the picture books so that it was more visible to parents and children visiting the library.

To complete the program, parents must  first register their children.  Counting registrations is our primary measure for recording success in the program currently.  Previously, we had an ongoing list at the youth services desk that include the child’s name, parent’s name, and relevant contact information.  I wondered if our lack of registrations was due in part to parents not wanting to leave their personal information readily available on a public desk, especially one right by a public access phone that gets a lot of use.  So, I replaced the registration list with individual registration cards.  Parents can fill out the information and hand the card directly to library staff in exchange for a registration packet.  I still keep a master participants database with all of the information, but it is no longer accessible to the public.

The packets were put together in part to replace the previous brochure, and in part to make the presentation of information more professional.  I started by purchasing colored two-pocket folders to keep the information.  On the outside of each, I put a flyer for our weekly story times, featuring the same little alligator that appears on the 1000 Books logo.  Inside, I put one of my business cards, so that parents and caregivers can contact me (or the library) with any questions.  The left side of the folder includes a welcome letter outlining how to participate in the program, suggestions for caregivers, and information about the 1000 Books app for iPhone and iPad (I only wish it was also available for Android).  It also includes early literacy tips for our three main age groups, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.  On the right side of the folder, I included a copy of our recommended books to read before kindergarten, their first color in book log, and a complete set (all 1000 books) of write-in title logs.

Since our families were already used to the color in book logs, I kept those as the staple of the program.  The child colors a circle for each book read, and after 100 books, the log is complete.  They then bring the log back to the library, where they get a special sticker to put on their log and we provide the log for the next 100 books.  In order to track more than just registrations in the program, I have asked library staff to keep a list of who returns a book log so that I can track their dates throughout the program.  However, I also wanted a visual way to track progress in the program.  Keeping with our rainbow theme, I created a giant (2 foot tall by 5 foot long) rainbow.  For each color tier (and also the clouds and the sun), I added a label for the book level (100 books, 200 books, etc.).  Each time a child completes a log, he or she gets to add a star to their level on the mural.  I also designed a giant bookshelf (5 foot long by two feet wide) as our reading wall of fame.  There are a few books on the shelves, but as a child completes the program, he or she will be able to write his or her name onto a book shape and add it to the shelf.

We hosted a special story time event to kick off the program in January, but attendance was fairly small.  Weather may have had an impact on the attendance, but it’s hard to say for certain.  However, in January we had a record number of sign ups – 13 – for the program.  So far February has not had nearly as many sign ups, and none of our new participants have yet brought back a book log.  The greatest challenges I foresee for the program are continuing interest and motivating children to keep reading and adding their stars to the wall.  It seems like once parents register for the program, they often fall off and don’t complete it.  In the future, I would love to apply for a grant to sponsor prizes for different levels (currently we only offer a prize at the end of the program).

If your library is hosting a 1000 Books program, what ideas have you had that worked?  How are you motivating parents to participate in the program, and how are you tracking your participation?

Happy reading!

Leave a comment

Filed under Library Programs