FAQ: WonderWorks

What is WonderWorks?
The Madison Public Library began offering WonderWorks in the fall of 2012.  The goal of these classes is to offer 3 & 4 year olds (and the adults who bring them) an opportunity to play (and sneakily, learn) with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills in a no-pressure environment.

Why teach STEM classes at the library?  Students in the United States tend to score lower in STEM skills areas than students in other parts of the world.  We're hoping that if we can engage young children in those disciplines in a way that encourages them to explore, experiment and think for themselves, they will be more likely to engage in these areas when they are older and excel.  We're laying the very smallest base layer to begin a lifetime of learning.  While some children may receive these opportunities in preschool settings, we realize that many parents feel unqualified to explore these areas on their own at home.  We hope that the activities we try out at the library are simple enough (and interesting enough) that they will be replicated at home to give kids a chance to continue experimenting and learning about the topic.

I want to teach WonderWorks classes at my library, what supplies do you recommend?
At a minimum, I'd recommend getting a large set of wooden blocks.  There are so many things that can be learned from blocks and so many activities that blocks can be incorporated into.  Beyond that, the supplies you use are really dictated by the projects you choose.  Look through the books on our Recommended Books and Website lists for inspiration.  If you can afford it, I also highly recommend investing in some short tables (16-22" height).  Young children work best when standing at tables that are at their height.  I was able to find some lightweight folding tables that adjust up to adult height if necessary and they have already proven to be well worth the money (around $100 apiece)!

Should I limit attendance/require pre-registration? How many participants do you recommend?
Currently, I limit my class size to 15 (or so) students, partly because that's a nice group size for that age group, and partly because I only have three toddler-height tables and don't want to squeeze more than 5 kids (plus their families) around each table.  Because the projects in this class generally don't go home with students and because there are often multiple stations set up around the room, there is a bit more flexibility with class size than in Toddler Art Class.  I do generally have two programs, one in the morning (10:30) and one in the afternoon (1:30) so that I only do one main set-up and clean-up per day (with mini-clean-ups between each class) but I can still accommodate families who have children in either morning or afternoon preschool or 4K classes.  Each class lasts about 30-45 minutes, but some kids get so involved with their projects that they stay a little longer.  I love to see such engaged learners!

What does a typical class session look like?
1. Each child writes their name on a piece of masking tape that is stuck to a building block "nametag."

2. We start the class with a hello song where we greet each child by name (see next question, below)
3. I read a book to everyone.
4. I present the area of study for the day and describe the different experience-stations I have set-up around the room (I don't always set stuff out before kids come in.  If I think they'll struggle to not mess with it during the first part of class, I keep all the materials at the front of the room on a table behind me and then distribute it to the tables after I've explained everything.).
5.  Then, I explain the "adult challenge of the week" and we go straight to the hands-on part.  I try to get to the hands-on portion as quickly as possible because otherwise the kids get antsy AND they do their best learning that way anyway. 
6. After that, the class is pretty self-directed.  Kids and their grown-ups interact with the materials however they want to (as long as it doesn't do any harm to themselves, other people or the room) until they're ready to leave.  For some kids (on some days, with some projects), that's three minutes.  Others stay until I have to gently nudge them out the door before the next class begins.

Soooo.... what's your hello song?
Our hello song for this class is sung to the tune of "Goodnight Ladies" (here's a clip of the original song if you're not familiar with it) and has these lyrics:

Hello __________ (first child in the circle)
Hello __________(second child in the circle)
Hello __________(third child in the circle)
Come build something with your blocks!
When the verse is over, those three children are invited to come to the front of the circle and add their block to whatever "structure" is being constructed by the group.  It's often just a pile, but I like the "engineering" aspect of this exercise and the kids seem to enjoy it too.
I really don't feel confident in my own STEM skills.  Can I still teach WonderWorks?
I highly recommend reading Science is Simple by Peggy Ashbrook (see recommended books section).  The introduction to that book specifically addresses this concern and will reassure you that your ability to demonstrate an interest in learning and exploring the world around us is more important than your knowledge base of science facts or mathematical skills.  You are probably already teaching many of these things without even knowing it!

If you have further questions, feel free to e-mail me at: cchristner{at}madisonpubliclibrary.org

1 comment:

  1. Tears of inspiration are streaming down my cheeks from your block idea. That may be a hyperbolic statement but I still LOVE the idea. Thank you for sharing!


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