It’s a sensory small world at Viridian Event Center
Cassandra Crane exhibits “Name the Animal Brain.” (Amy Green/City Journals)
Folks are becoming familiar with the STEM acronym. It stands for Science. Technology. Engineering. Math. It’s a way of teaching, parenting and mentoring. One of the ideas behind STEM theory is to get kids comfortable trying each of the four subjects. And better yet, it’s to try them at an early age so they can prepare for school.
The Viridian has jumped to action with a high opinion of this learning approach. It provided a morning of activities, targeted for pre- and grade school children at its Jan. 27th “Get Curious” event. No special ticket was required. Families were encouraged to drop in and try out free crafts, sensory stations and friendly exhibits.
Salt Lake County librarians offered their familiar faces and help. Upon entering, Cynthia Hinckley showed a display of dinosaur bones and massive teeth, “all replicas of real fossils found, borrowed from the Utah Geological Society,” she said.
Viridian staff encouraged visitors to pick up the models. “This whole event is about touching, feeling, and learning things about a lot of different stuff,” Hinckley said.
Across the room, kids were also drawn to a more modern set of anatomy sculptures. This display was an animal match game challenge. One could look at a small skull or heart and guess what species it belongs to. Some of the choices were alligator, pigeon and dogfish.
Shaving cream was lathered across another table. The fluffy-smooth texture cued kids to delve in with bare hands. Is it a liquid or a solid? Oversized Legos were blocked out over a colorful floor spread for open play.
Other attractions were cardboard boxes for stacking and for making tunnels and towers. Bubble wrap laid out a tempting sensory walkway. Even Curious George made an appearance to give unlimited photo-ops and high-fives.
A candy-inspired architecture table supplied construction materials. For small fingers, toothpicks and mini marshmallows worked nicely. Piper Jensen, age 5, modeled her project. “It’s a house... with a hammer,” she said with confidence. Piper showed ingenuity. Her design included a convenient tool attached right to the roof. This is exactly what the Viridian staff is rallying the community together for: getting STEM going with the early learners. Age 5 and even sooner, is a prime time to begin. Piper’s older sister Isabel also joined in to design a delicate pyramid.
Susan Spicer, early learning activities manager, spoke about the importance of the program.
“In public libraries, everyone benefits if your children participate, because they have an opportunity to interact with people who think differently, which is a remarkable thing,” she said.
Spicer demonstrated her sensitivity to all types of kid personalities.
“A space like this, is for some children, sensory overload,” she said. “But for other children, it provides a space for them to maybe act a little bit differently. And the expectation is not the same as it would be in a storytime.”
Bubbles and books even made their way into the mix. Marilee Moon represented the Children’s Literature Association of Utah, dressed as a fuzzy winged bumblebee. She welcomed children into her beehive. There were no real bees; it was a book-testing area for little ones to practice handling books. And for older kids at reading level, it was a chance to sample authors.
Lisa Grant offered a reminder about how kids can vote for favorite reads at their local library and also pick up a list of the “Beehive Book Award” winners—the most acclaimed reading material, preferred and elected by kid peers. Grant knows the library experience can vary, saying, “Not every book is for every kid. Trying to find what’s going to get your child interested in reading is so huge. It can be overwhelming walking into a library and not knowing what to read.”
Viridian event planners and coordinators gave valuable information and shared it enthusiastically. Like their own well-oiled metaphoric STEM machine, they set up an inviting, easy-to-navigate space. There were enough opportunities to keep every child engaged, trying out materials for two solid hours. It was a small world of big exploring—color, texture, light, shape, building, mixing and moving. Mostly, it was for the very curious.