Tiny Terrariums: Beaumont libraries promote STEM activities for area youth

Photo credit: Eleanor Skelton

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Parents and kids from elementary to college age crowded around Geri Roberts, branch manager at the Elmo Willard Library.

“Is everybody here ready to build a terrarium?” Roberts asked.

“Yes!” the children answered.

Roberts told her class to take a small, round glass bowl and put 1 inch of bark in the bottom, then one spoonful of dirt in the center.

Then each participant picked two succulents.

“Break off the bottom half of the roots,” Roberts said. “Then insert your plants into the dirt.” She explained this would help the plants fit into the glass bowl.

Rogina Whittley, a student at University of Texas at Arlington home for winter break, made a terrarium with her mom and younger siblings.

LaShonda McNeil with her four children and Sharon Aldred with her two children also helped their kids to prepare the roots and loosen up the dirt before replanting in the glass bowls.

Roberts showed her class how to sprinkle more bark on top of the dirt, then told everyone to get a seashell or rock to decorate their terrarium.

“Give it a teaspoon of water when you get home,” she said. “Don’t overwater.”

And with that, perhaps, new seeds were planted in the minds of the young people in attendance that would grow into interest in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

The Tiny Terrariums class, held Dec. 21 at the Elmo Willard Branch Library, is part of a bigger push for STEM educational programs nationally, according to both Roberts and library administrator Paul Eddy.

The Elmo Willard branch library is now regularly offering an after-school program with the children’s librarian, Robin Smith. The program is on Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade with STEM activities.

The topics will change weekly, “surprising the participants with new and varied activities,” according to a press release from the Beaumont Library system.

“We’re trying to encourage children to become more fluent in the sciences,” said Paul Eddy, Beaumont libraries administrator. Eddy explained that both the National and the Texas Library Associations are “really pushing for this.”

“This is the first class we’ve offered of this type,” Roberts said. “I thought it was very successful; we had 22 people take part, and that was more than we had hoped. We hope to offer it again next December.”

Roberts has been working for the Beaumont library system for 10 years, starting at the main library downtown. She was transferred to Elmo Willard four years ago.

“I read different blogs on what we can offer in STEM projects for kids and adults,” she said. “I saw this and it looked really interesting.”

Roberts has been reading library blogs for about a year, she said, but before the terrarium project, she said, “I hadn’t really seen anything that’s caught my eye that would work for both children and adults.”

“[STEM education is] a big thing in the literature, not only in education but also in library literature, and we want to bring it into our library,” Roberts said.

“They seemed to really love it; they just seemed so excited,” Roberts said, after her Tiny Terrariums class. “They were just so happy to show me what they did. They were just so happy and proud of what they created.”

The Beaumont library system is planning to incorporate STEM programming into its summer reading program, Roberts said, although “nothing is set in stone yet.”

Anyone wanting to register for a class can contact the Elmo Willard Library, located at 3590 East Lucas Drive, by calling (409) 892-4988 or visit beaumontlibrary.org. Library hours are Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.