Spring into STEM with rocket pulleys and paper plate mazes

Neill Public Library offering free grab-and-go STEM activity bags until June 20



Library patrons grabbing some Spring into STEM bags.

JULIA MESSEGEE, Evergreen reporter

Whether rocket pulleys or paper plate mazes, the Neill Public Library’s Spring into STEM grab-and-go activity bags have it all.

Neill is offering free bags with STEM activities for youths up to age 17 to grab on Mondays until June 20. The bags are usually gone by Tuesday evening, said Rachael Ritter, youth services librarian and youth programming overlooker.

Each bag consists of one big STEM activity, youth services technician Amy Ferguson said. One week’s activity was a paper plate maze and another week’s activity was a rocket pulley.

Ferguson said she feels the STEM bags are important because STEM education is crucial, especially for younger kids. It is important to foster early curiosity, especially in younger girls, since there is still a minority of women in STEM fields like engineering and computer science, she said.

“I feel like the library is a place where sometimes some of those more marginalized or not as advantaged groups can tend to congregate,” Ferguson said. “They come to the library because we have free services and being able to provide educational things for any young people that are also in those groups is, I think, probably pretty important.”

Ferguson said Neill’s recommended age range for the bags is up to age 17, but they do not really police it, so there may be a few people outside their target demographic taking bags. However, she said she believes most people are within their target demographic.

A variety of patrons take bags, including students taking bags after school and families who attend library programs, Ferguson said. Some families are regular patrons, while some are new to the experience.

Ferguson said young adults observe the bag activities and replicate them at home or just stop to chat about them.

“We have families grabbing together, we have kids knowing they can grab for themselves, and really just youth of all ages I’ve seen,” Ferguson said.

Some people just grab a bag and leave, but the majority also attend a program or use other library services, Ferguson said.

The Spring into STEM bags are not the first grab-and-go bags Neill has offered. Ritter said she initiated the grab-and-go bags program during the pandemic.

Neill initially made grab-and-go bags specifically for babies, preschool-age and elementary school-age children and teenagers, Ritter said. As Neill transitioned out of remoteness, they began to provide activity bags for all ages.

Ritter said the grab-and-go bags came out of a need to provide programming remotely.

“Our grab-and-go activity bags were an opportunity to still connect while being remote. We literally made thousands and thousands of grab-and-go bags,” Ritter said.

During the height of the pandemic, Neill constructed about 400 bags each week for distinct age groups but has decreased construction to 100 per week since they have returned to in-person activities, Ferguson said.

Ritter handles supplies, activity planning and material ordering for the bags, Ferguson said. Ferguson personally tests the supplies and writes instructions for them, which Ritter reviews and then prints.

Youth services assistant Zoe Ramberg takes Ferguson’s instructions and Ritter’s materials and creates her own “one-woman assembly line,” cranking out 100 bags, sealing them up and putting them on a cart, Ferguson said. Then, the whole team places the 100 bags on a shelf at the beginning of each week before opening.

“We’ve had kids occasionally be so excited about grab-and-go bags that they have to do them right now … We found occasionally grab-and-go materials left behind that they forgot, they just can’t wait,” Ferguson said.

The Spring into STEM grab-and-go bags are sponsored by the METER Foundation, Ritter said. She wanted to acknowledge METER’s science background, so the current grab-and-go bags are titled Spring into STEM.

Based in Pullman near Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, METER manufactures tools used in food production, pharmaceutical applications, crop science, environmental research, indoor cultivation and more, according to METER’s website.

Neill offers grab-and-go activity bags year-round. After Spring into STEM, their bags will consist of art activities.

Neill’s hours are from 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday–Thursday and 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Friday–Saturday.