STEAM Saturdays encourage interactive learning

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

The Williamsburg Regional Library is kicking off STEAM Saturdays, a series of free monthly programs for kids spanning the fields of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. The first such event runs Saturday at the James City County branch.

Sandy Towers, youth services director at WRL, said the endeavor is meant to complement the recent emphasis on STEM and STEAM programming in schools.

“We realized that the library was perfectly positioned for some,” she said. “We’ve designed these days to be family afternoons where the kids can come and have a good time and also be learning at the same time.”

For the five-part series, the library partnered with several organizations, such as the Virginia Living Museum and Mad Science of Central Virginia. It targets kids from kindergarten through around 8th grade, although Towers said children of any age and their families are welcome.

Programs combine presentations and performances with hands-on opportunities. Each event features an artistic component as well.

“We tried to pick programs that would appeal to a broad range of kids,” Towers said.

The initiative kicks off Saturday with “Fire and Ice,” a show demonstrating the chemical reactions of flames, dry ice, bubbling potions and other forms of matter. The soda burp simulation segment might prove most exciting for kids in the audience.

“It can provide a lot of fun,” said Victoria Sharp, a senior instructor at the Richmond-based Mad Science center. “It’s pretty interactive, and it’s pretty funny.”

She and her team will also set up four booths where kids can explore topics of sound, magnetism and air pressure alongside the opportunity to create and take home their own bouncy balls. The art component sees kids crafting their own lava lamps using water, oil, food coloring and Alka-Seltzer.

Sharp said the goal is to make kids more comfortable with topics that can seem daunting, something that she said was amplified in her youth as a woman interested in such a male-dominated field.

“I don’t want the kids to be afraid of mathematics or engineering or science in general,” she said. “It’s a really great and rewarding area to be in. It’s such an integral part of our society.”

Other STEAM Saturdays include a zoological event with ZooPro Animal Adventures, including the chance to meet various mammals, reptiles, birds and more up close in February. March shifts the focus to math, with a visit from “mathmagician” Brian Curry and his humorous show exploring mathematical concepts.

Mad Science returns in April with “Radical Robots” invading the library, featuring robotic demonstrations and related performances. The series concludes in May with a visit from the Virginia Living Museum and the Virginia Aquarium featuring more animal programming.

“The library has always been thought of as reading and language arts,” Towers said. “We also want to show our community that we have programs and services that serve the whole child.”

Want to go?

The “Fire and Ice” show heats up at 1 p.m. Saturday at the James City County Library. Other activities run 1-4 p.m. For a complete schedule of STEAM Saturdays, visit wrl.org/steam-saturdays. All events are free.

The Two Drummers Offbeat Eats food truck will also be onsite Saturday.

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

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