STEM Kits spark curiosity and problem-solving

Is your child ready to learn more about STEM? 

Last month a young boy named Camahry asked to use a Snap Circuits kit at the Library, and learned how to use batteries to make the circuits work. After he completed the challenge, Camahry showed another family how to use the kit. Erin Donaldson, Youth Associate Librarian, observed how Camahry gave each of three siblings a turn after explaining very thoroughly how things worked. The snap circuits Camahry used are part of the Library’s new STEM Kits.

What are STEM Kits?

STEM Kits are a new learning experience for children and tweens. Elaine Albaugh, Youth Associate Librarian, shares that these kits are meant to spark children’s curiosity, encourage hands-on learning and collaborative problem-solving. Each kit includes prompts, building materials and supplies for science-related activities, and offers bite-sized pieces of STEM education. The Library plans to rotate these new kits to offer youth a variety of science and technology-based projects to explore.

Jill Williams, Youth Services Manager, explains that the STEM Kits are not the only opportunities for youth to learn about science. “While the Library’s STEM Corner offers kits such as Brain Flakes and Magnatiles for all ages, new STEM Kits for tweens (ages 8-11) are available at our service desk! We’re featuring 1-2 kits each month that are available to be used in the Library. The tween STEM Kits are a little more challenging, and are designed to be used with a caregiver, or by an experienced young scientist!

Where are the STEM Kits located?

The new STEM Kits can be found at Main Library at the Children’s Desk. Kits are available for In-Library use.

If your child is eager to learn about STEM, have them try out a STEM Kit! Don’t forget to tag us in your photos next time you complete a STEM challenge at the Library.

Storytime critical for developing early literacy skills

By: Brianna Knisley

Do you ever wonder how much your young toddler is truly absorbing from the story you read? Do you ever think that reading a short story to them doesn’t make an impact on their learning? The truth is it actually does. The younger you begin reading to a child, the more beneficial it is for their early language and literacy development. A child starts to learn language before their first year of life, and learning continues to build from there through the support of their family or caretakers (ASHA, 2022). One of the easiest things that a parent can do to promote early literacy and language development is to engage in storytime with their child. Language and literacy go hand-in-hand; with a strong language foundation, literacy skills can develop earlier and enhance school readiness.

Early literacy skills begin to develop between the ages of 3 to 5 years, which is known as the preschool period. Children develop three important literacy skills during this time: phonological awareness, print awareness, and alphabet knowledge (Pence & Justice, 2017). These three skills are heavily dependent on the child’s early language that they have developed during their first three years of life.  Early literacy skills are a predictor of later school performance for the child; the stronger their skills are when they begin school, the better for their overall development (Shahaeian et al., 2018). Reading to children at an early age can give them a head start in literacy and have a positive effect on their future academic achievements as well. 

Storytime has many benefits for children other than promoting early literacy and language development. It can help develop their concentration, social skills, communication skills, and encourages their imagination and creativity (Kids Kingdom Early Learning Center, 2022). Also, taking the time to read together can promote bonding between you and your child. It is never too early to start reading to your child, nor is it ever too late to begin! 

Storytime is offered at St. Joseph County Public Library locations. Designed for families with preschool children ages 3 to 5, Storytimes promote early literacy skills through books, rhymes and songs.

Mondays – 10:30 a.m.
German Branch

Tuesdays – 10:30 a.m.
Francis Branch
Tutt Branch

Wednesdays – 10:30 a.m.
Centre Branch
Francis Branch
Western Branch

Thursdays – 10:30 a.m.
Main Library
River Park Branch
Lakeville Branch (alternating)
North Liberty Branch (alternating)


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2022). Reading and Writing (Literacy). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Kids Kingdom Early Learning Center. (2022). Benefits of storytime for a child’s development.

Pence, K. & Justice, L. (2017). Language development from theory to practice. Pearson.

Shahaeian, A., Wang, C., Tucker-Drob, E., Geiger, V., Bus, A., & Harrison, L. (2018). Early shared reading, socioeconomic status, and children’s cognitive and school competencies: six years of longitudinal evidence. Sci Stud Read, 22(6), 485–502. doi:10.1080/10888438.2018.1482901.

Written by Brianna Knisley
Graduate Student in IUSB’s Speech-Language Pathology program
Expected graduation: May 2023

Play at the Library

By Kara Pauley

Families with young children who visit the library may have noticed that there are many ways to play—from the play areas to imaginative activities in Storytime. Why are the librarians at the St. Joe County Public Library so focused on play? It is one of the most powerful ways that children learn to read.

But play does so much more than that. According to a School Readiness Presentation Paper by the Bay Area Discovery Museum, play helps children prepare for school and beyond by helping them build high-concept and critical thinking skills (math and science) as well as social-emotional skills. Coming out of the pandemic (or at least the phase of self-isolation), children are in more need of play experiences than ever before.

Though children may have their own toys at home, engagement with others is critical for rich play experiences that expand vocabulary, challenge their thinking, and develop social skills. Children especially need to play with other children, not just their parents or even their siblings.  Learning to play with a new friend puts a child in a situation to gain empathy for someone they don’t know. It can also give a child the experience of working through tough emotions when things don’t go their way or practicing self-control when they need to share a toy.

Two key types of play are dramatic play and constructive play. In dramatic play, children are taking on different roles they see in everyday life and modeling their actions after adults.  According to Will Erstad from Rasmussen University, dramatic play supports self-regulation, conflict-resolution, and literacy development.  Through this kind of play, children are doing more than playing pretend, they are learning to identify objects and get along with others.  

Constructive play revolves around building with objects, such as blocks, and goes through several stages. Although constructive play nurtures STEM skills, it also has a profound effect on language.  In a paper written for the Association for the Library Services to Children, Sue McCleaf Nespeca says, “Children are deciding what to build and selecting different sizes and shapes of blocks, but also are communicating with their peers and with adults.”

Over the past year, the library has taken steps to create diverse play experiences for families.  One of the most notable is the special play area at Main Library called Tiny Town–a play village that includes a cafe, a car shop, a market, and an animal rescue. These shops are filled with toys and props children will need to interact and role play.  Many families return several days a week or stay for several hours, and children have plenty of opportunities to make new friends and learn to coexist in the play space.

The library also has self-contained Playtime programs. Playtime is an opportunity for parents and children to engage in reciprocal play (playing collaboratively) which is one of the most effective ways that children make connections and build critical thinking skills. Since Tiny Town focuses heavily on dramatic play (role playing, modeling, and pretending), often STEM toys are brought out for Playtime.  However, we also have dedicated toys for dramatic play during Playtime, such as baby dolls.  It is amazing how something as simple as a doll sparks the imagination.

In Storytimes and other programming, we are always thinking about play and the ways that we can incorporate it. We like to lean on guided play, which means that we will facilitate, but we want children to make their own choices about how they will accomplish a craft, challenge, or activity. Come and see what we have in store for you and your child to engage together in meaningful plays that are sure to become treasured memories.

Kara Pauley is the Early Literacy Librarian at the St. Joe County Public Library. Her areas of expertise include storytime instruction, exploratory play, and inclusive programming and services for children with disabilities. Check out some of her favorite books to read for Storytime.


Erstad, Will.  “6 Reasons Why Dramatic Play Matters.”  Rasmussen University.  May 2022.

Nespeca, Sue McCleaf.  “The Importance of Play, Particularly Constructive Play, in Public Library Programming.”  Association for Library Services to Children.  September 2012.

Rood, Elizabeth Ed.D. and Helen Hadani, Ph.D.  Reimagining School Readiness.  Bay Area Discovery Museum.

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