By Tameca Beckett, Youth Services Librarian (Laurel Public Library, DE)
According to the Webster’s Dictionary, mess is defined as “an disordered, untidy, offensive, or unpleasant state or condition.” At the Laurel Public Library, we think MESS is a good thing! While summer reading brings its fair share of messes, we had something a little different in mind. This summer, we “Get Your M.E.S.S. On!”, an interactive STEM program that encourages creation, independence, problem solving and critical thinking through M.E.S.S. – Math, Engineering, Science and Social Learning.
Through six 1-hour sessions, kids and teens came together for a little STEMtastic fun! This program was created for children, ages 8-12 years. Additionally, teen summer volunteers served as program mentors. The teen volunteers met prior to the start of the program to establish a clear understanding of the program and session goals. The teens were given an opportunity to complete the projects prior to the children’s arrival. This allowed the teens to actively participate in the program (and learning goals) while familiarizing themselves with the project for each session. Little to no instructions was given for each project. The children were encouraged to question, try, iterate, and explore all possibilities. Materials were made available in a central location for children to access. And the great thing about this program…it didn’t break the bank! Most of the materials were easy to collect (paper towel rolls) or inexpensive to buy (popsicle sticks from the local dollar store).
The results were clear. Kids loved M.E.S.S.!! Each session was filled to maximum (and sometimes over) capacity. They loved the opportunity to think independently and critically about their desired outcome. The kids thrived in an open-ended, collaborative environment that encouraged opportunities to iterate (what might be called failure) throughout the process. All participants were actively engaged and social throughout the program, readily sharing ideas and strategies with their peers. No projects were exactly the same.
I’m looking forward to revamping this program for next year’s summer reading programs, “Fizz, Boom, Read!” and “Spark a Reaction!” Hmmm…now what can we make go BOOM!