Imagine Children’s Museum and Sno-Isle Libraries are collaborating to bring a virtual version of the popular Little Science Lab program to 160 families across Snohomish County.
The hands-on program from the Everett-based museum focused on kids ages 3-5 and their caregivers before in-person events were canceled in March due to coronavirus precautions.
Librarians in Darrington, Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Lakewood/Smokey Point, Lynnwood, Mariner, Monroe and Sultan worked with museum staff to identify the children and families to serve in the virtual Little Science Lab. Grant funds limited the number of participants.
Museum staff members assemble a monthly activity kit for each participant. Participating families are already picking up their Little Science Lab kits at their community library, contact-free. The first month’s activity will show participants how to measure the length of their shoe.
Each month will bring a new activity kit with a new lesson.
“We decided to create an activity kit for each Little Science Lab unit and offer them to our partner libraries to distribute to registered families during contact-free pickup,” said Nick Spicher, Manager of Education and Program Innovations for Imagine Children’s Museum. “We like that this lets us stay connected to our Sno-Isle Libraries partners, as well as to the families at each partner library who enjoyed joining us each week.”
To show how virtual Little Science Lab activities work, Imagine Children’s Museum has posted English and Spanish instructional videos on its YouTube channel that use building blocks to explain measurements. While the number of available kits is limited, the videos are available for anyone to watch.
From their homes, families join a Little Science Lab Zoom meeting so they can watch the instructor and other students while they learn the concepts. Lessons are presented in English and Spanish in separate meetings held at five different times during the week.
For now, Spicher said Imagine Children’s Museum lacks the capacity to add more families to Little Science Lab’s live, online sessions.
Making the transition from in-person learning to an online format took thought and effort.
“We wanted to create a program that would capture the same spirit of playful learning that families have enjoyed for years at Little Science Lab,” Spicher said. “We wanted to make the program as accessible as possible, which meant offering flexible times and multiple modes for families to engage with us. It’s also important for us to continue serving our growing audience of Spanish speakers.”
Spicher said the biggest consideration was figuring out how to continue the hands-on elements of the program.
“We experimented with videos (last) summer, which offered ideas for using materials at home,” he said. “We released Little Science Lab videos in English and Spanish weekly throughout the summer and received positive feedback from viewers who were excited to have activities to do at home.”
Part of the fun of Little Science Lab is getting to use tools and materials that are special to the program, he said.
“We learn about the science of rain, for example, by putting on a rain poncho and testing its ability to keep us dry,” Spicher said.
Little Science Lab activity bags include extensive written instructions, so internet access isn’t required.
“Parents and caregivers can use these instructions to engage their children in the activities entirely on their own,” Spicher said. “For those who do have online access, the YouTube videos and live Zoom sessions are a great way to get even more out of the kits. The live Zoom sessions also help to create a regular weekly routine.”
There are nine total units in the Little Science Lab curriculum, each one consisting of four lessons. Spicher said that as long coronavirus restrictions remain in place, Imagine Children’s Museum will produce a bag for each unit with four weeks of live sessions for each unit.
“When and if we’re allowed to deliver programming in person again, we’ll go back to having weekly sessions at the partner libraries,” he said. “We are spending more on materials than we used to, but we think it’s well worth the extra cost for families to have access to these materials at home. Plus, we’re excited to find out how they will continue to use the materials beyond the monthly unit.”