STEAM Storytime: Stars!

Image credit: How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, 2004).

New job, new program! Our STEAM Storytime is targeted for 3-6 year-olds. It happens on a Monday afternoon and we read at least one nonfiction book and end with a hands-on experiment. For the month of March, we’re traveling to outer space! Read on for the first week’s program.

Rather than sing, I start STEAM Storytime with a discussion. My intention is to sort of mimic the scientific method with the program. We start by observing, and then I come up with a question and ask the kids for their hypotheses before we experiment. Before the kids leave, I ask them to report what they’ve learned. That’s the goal anyway. For this first program, we really just observed and experimented. It’s a work in progress—just like science!

Brainstorm: What do you know about space?

I asked the participants what they already knew about space and then wrote their observations on the whiteboard. Most of these were words (planets, stars, asteroids). One participant said “not Earth” which I found to be fascinating because when I asked what Earth was no one responded. I like starting with what they know because it gives me a baseline and let’s the kids share their knowledge first.

Book: How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

catch a star
Image credit: Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, 2004).

I really like this book even though it’s ending is a bit weird for a STEAM Storytime (he eventually does catch a star but it’s not a space star). I saw it as a way for the kids to start to think about something they already know (stars) and really reinforce the somewhat abstract concept of space. One super smart kid who could name stars off the top of his head (with Henry Draper Catalogue specificity) really resisted this one but I’m still glad I chose it. It also gave the younger attendees a book that was a bit simpler.

Song: “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom”

Couldn’t resist. Some of the older kids weren’t totally into it but I can’t do a storytime without doing this song at least once. It would feel like blasphemy. Plus, it was a natural segue from the book.

Book: Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

star stuff
Image credit: Stephanie Roth Sisson (Roaring Brook Press, 2014).

Carl Sagan for kids? Yes! And it’s an interesting book but not a very great read-aloud for this setting. I lost the kids toward the end. There was too much about Carl Sagan and too little about the mysteries of the cosmos. But some parents thought it was cool that there was a picture book about Carl Sagan. And it did mention Voyager I and II. It just wasn’t the best choice for a book that was supposed to contain the main takeaway for storytime.

Activity 1: Star Viewing With Gels

Image credit: Alec Chunn (me!).

My coworker came up with this one. I think she saw a science museum do something similar and gave me tips on how to recreate it. I thought it was really cool but it didn’t hold the kids’ interest. Maybe it’s too subtle?


  • Printed photos of stars, taken by the Hubble space telescope (HubbleSite and APOD have some great shots)
  • Colorful cellophane paper (red and blue are all you really need)

Did you know that the Hubble photos are actually grayscale? The astronauts have to add the color in after. By overlaying the cellophane over the images, it cancels out certain wavelengths to change what you see. In a way, this mimics how the scientists add the color because they use filters to determine the color of the light in the photos.

Activity 2: Make a Constellation

Image credit: Alec Chunn (me!).

source: Abby the Librarian


  • black construction paper
  • white crayons
  • star stickers

I put out H.A. Rey’s Find the Constellations and some printouts of simplified constellations and asked the participants to either make their own constellation or copy one that already exists in space. Most made replicas of Pisces and the Big Dipper. A brave few made their own original constellations, including one boy who named his “Heart” (you can guess what it looked like!).

How It Went: All in all, I’d say it was a successful program. I’m still working out all the differences between this hands-on storytime and the more traditional models I’m used to. I’m really glad I took ALSC’s STEM Programs Made Easy course in January/February so I could wrap my head around what STEAM programs look like before taking this new program on. What I’d like to work on for next week is coming up with a takeaway associated with each activity so I can feel like they learned something, and to better anticipate some questions the kids might have (or at least to have a book at the ready so we can look things up together). While I was floating around I missed some opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue. I’d also like to build in time for a debrief rather than let the kids trickle out.

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