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Robotic toys aid in teaching the sciences in new library program

New series of STEAM activities geared for children

Toy robots zip around the room at the Book Patch Library on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The library’s class on how to use the customizable robot Dash and Dot, was part of a new series STEAM activities for children. Photo credit: Spc. Erica Earl

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Blue three-wheeled robots about the size of soccer balls zipped, slid and danced across the floor at the Book Patch Library on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The room erupted with laughter as about 15 children between the ages of 5 and 10 made the robots beep greetings, cruise into each other and run over feet.

The Book Patch Library, the children's library at Grandstaff Library on JBLM, is hosting a new series of activities in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) geared for children. The series began in January and is scheduled for the first Friday of every month as part of the library's permanent programming.

The library's February event allowed children ages 4 and up try their hands at Dash and Dot, interactive toy robots designed to teach simple coding principles and fundamentals of computer programming.

Using applications compatible with Dash and Dot, children can program codes to make robots respond to sounds, move on a pre-designed course, maneuver through obstacles and perform customized movements including dancing and singing.

Isabel Mora-Shafer, a library technician who teaches the STEAM classes at the Book Patch Library, said children pick up on technology quickly and have an advantage of learning something valuable in their playtime.

"Establishing basic skills in computers can help with educational developments down the road, especially if creativity is involved," Mora-Shafer said.

Mora-Shafer added that it is important for children to get a head start in the sciences as technology continues to advance.

"Kids still read," she said. "But toys like this satisfy the curiosity children have in the technology that surrounds them in a way that's educational."

The Army Library Program awarded the Book Patch and Grandstaff libraries a combined grant of $58,000 for the initiative to have what is known as a makers' space, a program set aside for children to come together to design, create and brainstorm creative projects using new materials they may not otherwise have access to.

Mora-Shafer said the program presents the opportunity to use educational toys and teaching tools for introducing technology and creative sciences to youngsters beyond their familiar video games.

She added that the STEAM series, like other child and youth programs offered at JBLM, especially benefits military children who may relocate often by providing a social environment important for childhood development.

"It brings the children and community together for something fun to do that could benefit their futures," she said.

Mora-Shafer said even if a child isn't an aspiring engineer, collaborating and working together to figure out how to program the robots can uncover talents in the sciences by providing the hands-on opportunity.

Crystal Provience, a member of the JBLM community, said she has brought her 4-year-old son to several of the library's past events as a way to keep her child entertained.

When she saw the new STEAM program, she thought her son would have a knack for it.

"It's mesmerizing how he knows how to do this stuff," Provience said, as her son made the robot change colors. "As much as I don't want him on the computer all the time, computer technology is where we are now, so he might as well be prepared."

The Book Patch Library is scheduled to include toys and learning tools that teach circuitry, design and more robotics at future STEAM events. The January event featured Ozobot, a pocket-sized robotic device that, similar to Dash and Dot, teaches basic coding.

The library also hosts the bimonthly Dream in STEAM Club for children 8 and older to engage in similar activities.

For more information, call the Book Patch Library at 253.967.5533.

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