Young children fill the community room at the library. It’s loud and they are excited. They’re crawling all over the floor constructing mazes with plastic straws, wooden popsicle sticks and tape.
“We’re taping bending straws to the floor to make a maze,” said 11-year-old Wyatt Litster. “And we can change paths by moving the straw parts. We can make new paths or block old ones.”
The children are split into groups of three or four. Each group has a Hex Bug, which are tiny plastic toys about half the size of your thumb.
I check in with 8-year-old Fisher Humphrey about her Hex Bug.
“So you’re making kind of a path roadway for the bug to follow?” I ask her.
“Yeah, that’s what we’re doing. And we’re putting tape on it to hold it down,” Humphrey said. “We’re going to separate this so it makes thinner lines and so the Hex Bug won’t go in circles.”
The Hex Bugs are robotic in the simplest sense, programmed to keep going. If placed on a table or the floor they’ll often spin in circles. But if given direction, say with walls in a maze, they’ll keep moving forward until they find an obstruction and must change course.
On the other side of the room 10-year-old Patton Gonzales is helping two younger girls with constructing a maze.
“Right here we’re making a ramp,” Gonzales said. “It’s made out of five big, large, fat, popsicle sticks and it’s taped together with washy tape sort of stuff.”
“Have you tried it out? Can I see it?” I ask.
“Ok, here it goes…It sort of falls off sometimes, we’re going to have to put walls on the sides so it doesn’t exactly fall off like it is,” Gonzales said.
This type of discovery is exactly what the program, Curiosity Creates, is after. It’s using the STEAM initiative which engages students in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. It’s a long name when most kids just say,”it’s fun.”
At the local public library, the program is held every other Thursday in the winter months. Library Program Coordinator Jessica Ieremia worked to get it started through funding from Friends of the Petersburg Libraries. She says it gives young students who come to the library after school something fun to do by learning through play.
“They’ve been in school all day long sitting down in a very structured environment and we know that they need to come afterwards and just move around and we kind of wanted to funnel all their energy into something fun and creative.”
So, they called upon Andrea Weathers to teach the program.
“The reason why I started doing the STEAM programming is because I just love working with kids and being super creative and just adding a ton of fun to their lives,” said Weathers.
She says there is not enough play for children right now.
“We’re so focused on sitting still and being quiet, and not playing outside,” she said. “I live my life for fun and I want kids to have more fun and more free time to be themselves.”
Nearby 9-year-old Alex Holmgrain is taping together popsicle sticks.
“I just built this tunnel that the Hex Bug will go through,” Holmgrain said. “I need to tape it a little bit more so it will stay and it goes straight through here. And then we’ll build more.”
“How did you get the idea for a tunnel?” I ask him.
“I just thought that to make it really cool looking, I thought that most people aren’t really going to do a tunnel so I think we can make ours stand out by making a tunnel,” Holmgrain said.
The next time Curiosity Creates meets, the students will be making large three dimensional snowflakes.
Curiosity Creates is held every other Thursday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Petersburg Public Library. It’s a free program and there is no registration so students can just show up. You can check the library’s website for more information.