Fairy Tale STEAM: A Digital Program Series That Encourages Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

Age Range: 5-12 years
Time: One hour for three challenges with in-person groups; One hour per challenge at home
Program Type: Registration; Series; Online

When COVID-19 shattered our plans of in-person summer reading programming, we scrambled to retrofit many of our pre-planned programs to be viable online options. This saved us a lot of valuable time several months ago when we were concerned about reinventing the wheel and putting out content in a timely fashion, although in hindsight, it may not have been the best model for digital content. (But you know what they say about hindsight. *ba dum tsss* Sorry, I had to.)

However, one program that I think may translate just as well to a virtual format is my Fairy Tale STEAM program. The idea for an in-person program was that there would be three stations set up in the room, each with an engineering challenge based on a well-known fairy or folktale, fable, what have you. I had my three picked out already: design a raft for the Three Billy Goats Gruff, build houses for the Three Little Pigs that can withstand a wind blast, and design a pulley system (or something similar) so that Rapunzel doesn’t have to keep using her hair to get people and things up and down the tower. We’d have a plethora of upcycled and craft materials for children to choose from when completing the challenges and have a showcase of all the different solutions at the end, talking through what worked, what didn’t, and what had to be reconfigured.

When thinking about translating this to an online format, I decided I’d do a challenge a week for four weeks in July (another replacement for our big Thursday programs that we’d normally have at the library). I’ve finished two videos at the time of writing, one of which has already been released on social media. For the fourth challenge, I’ve decided to encourage the children to find a way to safely cushion Humpty Dumpty’s fall.

I wanted the challenges to be as open-ended as possible to encourage the children to work through them and troubleshoot when necessary. I wanted to create a provocation that would encourage an inquiry-based exploration (once you’ve been touched by the Reggio influence, it never quite goes away). We did not provide kits for this program (mostly because we didn’t want to get them mixed-up with the storytime craft kits that were already going out at curbside), but I’m hoping that not limiting materials will help the children think outside the box on these challenges.

While I do demonstrate one possibility for the challenge in the videos, I’m careful not to show them every step or list quantities of materials. I wanted to give them a starting point without limiting their imaginations or stifling their creativity.

As I’m examining this program series, I think I will include somewhere along with the second episode a list of open-ended questions that families can ask the children as they work through each challenge. The idea is not to necessarily have a perfect final product, but to figure out what works and what doesn’t and, most importantly, why. I believe that including those sample questions will be helpful to adults who may not be used to this type of learning.

Subsequent episodes will air on the Johnson City Public Library’s YouTube channel if you’re interested in more. =)

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