BY JOHN E. USALIS
Learning through creativity and being creative while learning is something the Ashland Public Library will support with its new Design, Create, Play Kit.
The kit is part of a statewide initiative that focuses on engaging children’s natural curiosity about the world, including those interested in building Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) skills.
Library Manager Margaret Schachte said items in the kit, which can be used in the library and in some cases borrowed, include two iPads, two Chromebooks (which are on back order), animation software, a digital camera, a Silhouette Digital Fabricator and fabrication software, and 3D Snap Circuits.
Meant for use by children in grades two to seven, the kits help them learn essential skills for school and life, and give them an early start on concepts like critical thinking, problem solving and familiarity with simple technology.
The Silhouette fabricator can be used to make different things when connected to a computer.
“This is really cool,” Schachte said. “You can program on your laptop what you want to design and it will print it out on construction paper so you can make pop-out cards, stand-up houses and build stuff with it.”
The Snap Circuits work with more advanced electricity.
“We have all different levels here,” she said.
The value of the items is about $5,000.
The kit is funded by a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the state Department of Education’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries. OCL’s mission is to operate “a major research library and to collect, preserve and connect state government, libraries and all residents with the information and resources needed for education, enrichment and advancement.”
Its five goal areas are lifelong learning and literacy, digital library services, training and support, underserved and populations with special needs, and workforce development.
Schachte said the kit’s two Buddha Boards are “really cool.”
“I was happy to get these since they are super-expensive,” she said as she took one out of a box. “You can paint on them with water and it makes a design, but then it fades when the water evaporates. It’s great therapy for stress.”
The Buddha Board is environmentally friendly since it only uses water — no ink, no paint, no chemicals.
Children will benefit from having so many options to explore, she said, while adults also enjoy using the items.
“The kids love this stuff,” Schachte said. “Last year we had a science program called ‘Young Scientist’ and it was two hours of science experiments on Tuesday afternoons in the summer every single week. We had 15 kids at every one. It was really popular,” she said.
“I can’t wait until we can use these with them again,” she continued. “Right now with the coronavirus, the program is really difficult. We’re not allowed to have people touch things. What we’re considering doing is cataloging these materials so people can take them home. That takes time because we have to code them into our records. We’re really hoping to get these into the hands of kids.”