WRL's first STEAM Saturday builds momentum

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

Over the holiday weekend, the James City County Library hosted the first of five STEAM Saturdays, a series of monthly children’s programs covering science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. The community’s response far exceeded the library’s expectations for the program, which targets kindergartners through eighth graders.

“It’s been an incredible turnout,” said Sandy Towers, youth services director at the library. “We’ve been so pleased.”

The program opened with “Fire and Ice,” a show highlighting the chemical reactions of flames, dry ice and other forms of matter organized by Mad Science of Central Virginia. Melissa Simpson, the library’s adult services director, said about 100 children and adults made it into the initial 1 p.m. show inside the library’s community room, while another 250 were unable to enter.

The library added a second performance for 3:30 p.m. to give visitors another shot, and the line nearly stretched out the main entrance when doors opened; more than 100 people saw the follow-up.

“It far exceeded our expectations,” said Barry Trott, the library’s special programs director.

He said the library estimates between 500 and 600 people attended the program, well above their prior expectations of about 200. They had to send someone out to buy more vegetable oil for the event’s art component, an activity allowing children to craft their own makeshift lava lamps using water, food coloring, Alka-Seltzer and oil.

The program also featured several booths throughout the library, giving children the opportunity to play with magnets, make their own bouncy balls to take home and more over the course of three hours.

“These guys love it,” said Sunny Crawley, pointing to her daughter and son. “I like that they’re learning without knowing it.”

She also appreciated that both girls and boys were able to participate in all of the day’s activities equally.

Suzanne Hagedorn took her son to check out Saturday’s programming, a natural fit for a 7-year-old enamored with science.

“I think a lot of parents had cabin fever,” Hagedorn said. “I like coming to this kind of thing.”

Her son, Ned Carr, said his favorite part of the program involved the booth where children could build bridges using magnets.

“I liked that,” he said.

Hagedorn added that the such programs prove particularly good for parents whose science knowledge might be a little rusty. She also lauded the library for its regular stream of similar children's programs.

“I wish they had something like this when I was a kid,” Hagedorn said.

Trott said that following the inaugural event’s success, the special programs team is discussing plans for the remaining four STEAM Saturdays, including the possibility of buying more supplies, setting up additional stations and organizing further programming with presenters.

“We want to continue the success,” he said. “If that many people are excited about it, then we want to be able to meet their expectations.”

Want to go?

STEAM Saturdays continues with “Critters and Crawlers” 1-4 p.m. Feb. 24 at the James City County Library. Admission is free.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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