STEAM Team at the Library: An Afterschool Program for Kids

Over the past few months, all of the San Mateo County Libraries have been offering a series of afterschool workshops for kids in grades 2-5 once a month. Each one has focused on a different element of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).

For Science, we made Bath Fizzers (the instruction sheet is posted below). For Technology, we made Bobble Bots (basically a simple circuit with a vibrating motor inside of a plastic capsule). This week, for Engineering, we did one of my favorite activities: the Design-a-Latch challenge.

The concept of the challenge is very simple, and based on the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (I asked the kids to give a quick summary of the story before I explained the project). Each participant is given a piece of card stock to make into a “door,” by folding each side of the paper into the middle. I started by asking the kids to fold their paper in half “hamburger style,” and then fold each end of the paper so that the edge touched the center fold. Some library branches gave the kids small cardboard boxes instead, and challenged them to create a latch to keep them closed.

A Paper “Door” (a piece of cardstock with each of the ends folded into the middle). Students are challenged to create a “latch” out of everyday materials that would prevent Goldilocks from opening the door to the Three Bears’ house.

Once the kids made their paper doors, we explained that their challenge was to create a latch that would prevent Goldilocks from getting into the Three Bears’ house, while still allowing the Bears themselves to go in and out. We put several bins of everyday materials out for them to work with: rubber bands, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, paper clips, toothpicks, pompoms, yarn, glue sticks, and markers.

I briefly talked about the Engineering process, using the Bay Area Discovery Museum’s three step model: Think, Make, Try. The main point I emphasized is that once you try your first design, you often have to go back and think how you can make it better. Sometimes you have to do the whole process several times until you get a design that works the way you want it to. (When I do engineering programs with younger kids, we usually sing this song to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus, using the ASL signs for Think, Make, and Try: We are engineers, so we Think, Make, Try,/Think, Make, Try/Think Make, Try./We are engineers, so we Think, Make, Try,/That’s how we design.)

After this very quick introduction, the kids were on their own to complete the challenge. It was amazing how engaged and animated they were. For our previous STEAM programs, most of the kids were finished within 30 minutes, but for this one, many of kids stayed for over an hour, adding to their latches and sharing ideas. Two second grade girls designed intricate locks out of pipe-cleaners and toothpicks, and then added a small door for Baby Bear. Several kids drew alarms and security keypads next to their latches. A very animated group of fifth grade boys made several different doors, adding warning signs, and even rick-rolling anyone who got their doors open.

Here are some of their latch designs:

Back of a paper door design
Front of the door, showing two latches made of yarn and pipe cleaners
Action shot of door-decorating in progress. This latch is made with an intricate pipe cleaner “lock” held together with toothpicks, on top of a craft stick.
A paper clip and pipe cleaner latch with warning sign, security keypad, and alarm system.
This fifth grader invited me to open his paper door, where I was instantly “rick-rolled!”

This was such a fun, easy, and inexpensive afterschool program. I highly recommend it! For our branches that were unable to host a live version, we made Take and Make Kits with the supplies, and included a link to a YouTube video made by Foster City librarian Adrienne Gass during the lockdown.

Here are the instruction sheets for our previous STEAM programs (we don’t have the instructions for Art or Math yet, but we are planning to do Felt Stuffies for Art and Lunar New Year Origami–to tie in with Geometry–for Math).

Have you done any fun STEAM workshops at your library or school? Please share them in the comments.


If You’re Happy and You Know It: A Storytime about Feelings

Emotions are a storytime theme that I do fairly regularly, because I think it’s so important for kids (and adults!) to learn how to recognize and name their feelings. And I’ve heard a number of news stories recently about how in the aftermath of the past year and a half, schools are seeing a lot more kids struggling to express their emotions in healthy ways. So for this storytime, I pulled out three of my favorite books about feelings for a fun (if chilly) storytime at San Pedro Valley Park.

Here are the books and songs that we did:


The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

This is one of those books that I feel is just as instructive for the parent or caregiver reading the story, as it is for the child listening to it. When a flock of crows knocks down Taylor’s block tower, all of the animals rush in to offer advice. The chicken wants to talk about it, the bear wants to yell about it, the snake wants knock down someone else’s tower. But Taylor doesn’t want to do any of those things. Finally, a rabbit creeps up to just sit quietly and listen to all of Taylor’s sadness and anger, until Taylor is ready to build a new tower. This book does such a wonderful job of describing all of the impulses that strong feelings can evoke, and it’s also a great reminder to grown-ups that sometimes it’s best to just be there with your kids while they are working through those feelings (something I definitely struggle to remember as a parent). It’s also just a fun read-aloud.

Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban and Henry Cole

When Mouse gets mad, he tries out lots of different ways to express his feeling: hopping, screaming, stomping, rolling on the ground. But the other animals always want to tell him how to do things better: Bobcat is an expert at screaming; Bear can make the ground shake with his powerful stomps; and Hedgehog can roll up into a perfect sphere. Even worse, every time Mouse tries to copy them, he ends up falling into a mud puddle. Finally, Mouse just stands still and breathes, something he can do better than any other animal, and, in the end, he feels better. For this book, my coworker Angela used a mouse puppet to act out the different motions while I read, and we encouraged the kids to stomp, scream, hop, and breathe along with Mouse.

My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

This was one of the first Elephant and Piggie books, and I think it’s still my favorite. When Piggie sees that her friend, Gerald, is sad, she tries to cheer him up by dressing as a cowboy, a clown, and a robot. But this makes Gerald sadder than ever. Why? Because his best friend isn’t there to see these amazing things with him. Angela and I each read a different character, which is one of my favorite ways to share the books in this series.


Did You Ever See a Rabbit?

Angela used a rabbit puppet to act out the motions to this version of Did You Ever See a Lassie? while the kids and I pretended to be rabbits. For the different verses, we leaned left and right, stretched up and crouched down, and made little rabbit ears with our fingers which we moved in a circle clockwise, and then counter-clockwise. This is a really versatile action song for storytime, since you can sing it about any animal:

Did you ever see a rabbit, a rabbit, a rabbit?

Did you ever see a rabbit go this way (lean to the left) and that? (lean to the right)

Go this way (lean left) and that way, (lean right)

And this way (lean left) and that way, (lean right)

Did you ever see a rabbit go this way (lean left) and that? (lean right)

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Naturally, I had to include this song, and my favorite way to do it is to add in different emotions for each verse. This time we did: If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands; If you’re sad and you know it, cry “Boo-hoo!”; If you’re angry and you know it, say “I’m mad!” If you’re sleepy and you know it, yawn and stretch; If you’re shy and you know it, hide your face… peek-a-boo!; If you’re cold and you know it, snuggle close (hug yourself or your grown-up); and If you’re happy and you know it, shout “Hooray!” Here are the chords for guitar or ukulele:

[C] If you’re happy and you know it, clap your [G7] hands (clap, clap)

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your [C] hands (clap, clap)

If you’re [F] happy and you know it, and you [C] really want to show it,

If you’re [G7] happy and you know it, clap your [C] hands! (clap, clap)

Happy Face, Happy Face, What Do You See?

Angela led this rhyme, using paper plates with drawings depicting different emotions. You can also sing this to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Happy Face, Happy Face, what do you see?

I see a Sad Face, looking at me!

Sad Face, Sad Face, what do you see?

I see an Angry Face looking at me!

Angry Face, Angry Face, what do you see?

I see a Surprised Face looking at me!

Surprised Face, Surprised Face, what do you see?

I see a Sleepy Face looking at me!

Sleepy Face, Sleepy Face, what do you see?

I see a Happy Face looking at me!

Breathing Colors

We did this easy breathing exercise to go along with Mouse Was Mad. I learned it from the Library Explorer camps our library system offered this past summer, which always opened with a series of mindfulness activities. I use this one all the time as a stretching break, especially for elementary school kids.

The first time I demonstrate it, I stretch my arms out to either side and then lift them up as I take a deep breath in. Once my hands are over my head, I clap them together, and then bring them down in front of my face as I breathe out. We usually do this together at least once.

The second time, I tell the kids to picture a great big bubble full of their favorite color that stretches out to their fingertips. When they clap their hands, I tell them to picture their favorite color spilling down onto their heads. Then I have them picture their second favorite color as we stretch and breathe together again. It’s a great way to refocus your group, especially after a really active song.


If this had been an indoor storytime, I would have loved to do watercolor painting along with different types of music, and asked the kids to paint the way the music makes them feel. But since watercolor painting requires a lot of supplies and set-up, I gave them Dot Markers instead. These are always a huge hit, especially with toddlers, who can move them smoothly across the page to make colorful lines, or bang them repeatedly on the paper to make colorful dots. The grown-ups enjoyed them too. The only hard thing was gathering up the supplies when it was time to go back to the branch, because some of the toddlers had very strong feelings about putting their markers back in the box!

What are your favorite songs or books about Emotions? Please share them in the comments.