STEAM and storytime go together at Cognition

Published 2:46 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

By Meredith Ratledge

Word Master Media Group

Cognition Davie Children’s Museum is committed to providing enriching experiences for individuals of all ages.

One initiative shines.

In collaboration with the Mebane Foundation, STEAM Storytime at Cognition is making strides in early childhood literacy in Davie County.

The STEAM Storytime program merges science, technology, engineering, art, and math activities with storytelling. Events unfold with a reading session tailored for children aged 3 to 5, transitioning into related STEAM activities or crafts.

The experience culminates with playtime in the museum’s main exhibit area. Sessions accommodate up to 12 children, and each family takes home a copy of the featured book.

While the museum’s play area sparks enthusiasm for STEAM concepts, the Cognition staff emphasizes the importance of integrating STEAM with reading. The emphasis lies on the process rather than the product, allowing children to exercise creative thinking skills and encounter new ideas.

Site coordinator Jessica White and educational center manager Becca White shared their insights.

“Being exposed to science themes and vocabulary at a young age correlates with later success in those fields. Do 3-year-olds understand the concept of a phase change and the complexity of what’s actually happening? No, but if you put it out there, it will be more familiar when they start studying it in school and easier for them to grasp,” Jessica said.

The themes at Storytime sessions range from exploring dinosaur bones to creating Thanksgiving turkeys.

At one session, a bilingual Spanish book, “Paletero Man,” featured a man and his popsicle stand. Children explored the concept of phase changes and made their own popsicles. At the end of playtime in the main exhibit area, the popsicles were ready for kids to enjoy.

At one event, attendees dug for plastic dinosaurs amid an excavator site – a small sand-filled kiddie pool.

Most recently, kids mixed vinegar, baking soda, and food coloring in a small plastic bag to create “turkey bombs.” Exposure to chemical reactions accompanied the Thanksgiving book “Turkey Trouble,” while the excavator site was inspired by “Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones.”

A critical element is the financial support from the Mebane Foundation.

“We tried to introduce similar programming in the fall of 2021 when we reopened after COVID. It was originally called ‘Little Cogs Read,’ but it got too pricey, and we couldn’t sustain it with the books we were giving out,” Jessica said.

A grant from the foundation enabled the museum to relaunch the program in October of 2022.

“The Mebane Foundation has made this possible. They’ve allowed this to be free, so we don’t have to charge families for the event, enabling us to reach more people and ensuring we can give books out to every family,” Becca said.

The foundation’s mission is to prepare children for life through literacy, working to ensure children read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. This made funding STEAM Storytime a natural fit.

Larry Colbourne, president of the foundation, underlines the commitment to Cognition and its impact on the community.

“Cognition does really good work around here. So ever since they opened their doors, we’ve been engaged with them on some level,” Colbourne said. “It’s a place for community and families to come together. Not only is Cognition educational, it’s a good social outlet.”

In 2022, Cognition approached the foundation with its proposal for STEAM Storytime. The program hit the foundation’s sweet spot, given the primary focus is funding literacy initiatives for pre-K to fifth graders.

“STEAM Storytime brings young families together and brings books to life. Some kids thrive on that multi-sensory engagement. The opportunity to engage with both the child and the parent is pretty cool. Any opportunity to make a kid excited about reading is important. This program fits in well with what we do and what we’re after,” he said.

Colbourne also elaborated on why programming like this is so crucial.

“If you can’t read at a third-grade level by third grade, you’ll probably struggle in life. It’s going to be very difficult. But if you make reading fun for a young child, that will stick with them. And when that sticks with them, it achieves what this foundation is trying to do: enable young kids to read at a good level and, in this case, make it even more fun,” he said.

The positive feedback and consistent attendance reflect the program’s success in cultivating a fun and beneficial learning experience, Jessica said.

“We have really hit our stride with the programming. There was a learning curve regarding what the kids like to do, what they’re able to do, and what the parents can help with. We initially started with a smaller group, but within the last two months, we expanded the number of tickets we have for each event, and we’re still filling up. So just being able to grow with this is exciting.

“The best feedback we could possibly get is that so many of those kids continue to come back every week. You know you’re doing something right when you have regulars, but you’re also still appealing to newbies.”

Cognition and the Mebane Foundation express eagerness to continue collaborating on similar programming.

“We value our relationship with the Mebane Foundation. We appreciate their support and look forward to possibilities of future partnerships,“ Jessica said. “We’re so excited to continue this program in the future, and we have some other ideas that we think align with both our mission and the Mebane Foundation’s that we look forward to sharing with them.

“STEAM Storytime at Cognition Davie serves as a testament to the power of community collaboration in early childhood education. As the program continues to flourish, it sets a model for targeted literacy initiatives that not only ignite a passion for reading, but also lay a foundation for a brighter future in our next generation.”