STEAM Storytime: Astronauts!

mousetronaut2
Image credit: Mousetronaut by Mark Kelly, illus. C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

A month later (sorry, folks) I’m finally finishing my recap of STEAM Storytime’s voyage into outer space. On week 3 we talked about astronauts (aka “star sailors”) and “mousetronauts” (aka… “mouse sailors?”).  Read on to learn about how Star Wars hijacked storytime and how we made and launched paper rockets!

Note: 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. Full disclosure: I’ve yet to achieve this goal. Still, I find it’s helpful to have a concept to frame my storytime practice.


Discussion: What do you need to live in space?

This turned out to be a difficult question, so I quickly amended it to “What do you need to live?” Water, air, and food came up—with some prompting from accompanying grown-ups. We also talked about showering, brushing teeth, and going potty. I shared some fun facts I’d learned about astronauts (e.g., salt and pepper kept in a liquid form in space because, otherwise, they flakes would float away from food). It wasn’t the best question to lead with but I’m still testing the waters.

We also talked a little bit about Elon Musk and his plans for space travel. I told the parents I’d be willing to travel with Elon Musk to Mars in 2024.


Book: Mousetronaut by Mark Kelly, illus. C. F. Payne

mousetronaut
Image credit: C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

This is such a fun book, because it’s written by a real astronaut and is partially true. By that I mean that a mouse named Meteor did go into space. But, unlike in the story, he didn’t leave his cage. The story is a great introduction to preparing for space travel and showing some of what it’s like to live on the ship. It was a bit wordy for this group, so I ended up paraphrasing parts but this was the only book multiple participants wanted to take home to read again.


Song: “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom”

Especially fitting for this week’s topic. I always tell kids to make sure their rocketships are warm, that their engines are ready to blast off into space. One participant said “My rocket is getting too warm!” and we launched with a special sense of urgency.


Book: Astronaut Handbook by Meghan McCarthy

astro handbook
Image credit: Meghan McCarthy (Knopf, 2008)

I really, really wanted the kids to like this one. And I think they did—especially the participant who freaked out when he saw the periodic table! But once one kid brought up Star Wars and started recounting the plot of the most recent movie, it was all over. Many others joined in and started talking over the story and I didn’t deal with it in the best way. Mostly, I quickly skipped through most of the pages and just ignored the behavior after I said something like “you’re talking about a different galaxy than the one we live in, and I’d love to hear more about that after storytime.” I did stop when we got to the page describing a toilet in space, though, because I knew that would be of interest.


Activity 1: Build a Rocket

source: Kids Science Challenge

This is a fun activity but it was definitely geared toward the older kids, at least in terms of the difficulty of construction. There’s a lot of tape involved. Unless you tape over all the spots where air might flow freely the rocket won’t work. As an added challenge, the straws had to rest inside the rocket at a specific spot (not too close to the nose cone, but not too far away either) in order to launch. The launching was the best part. And, since every kid got two templates, some grown-ups built alongside their children. One pair even had a race to see how far the rockets would fly. Great stuff!


Activity 2: Rocket Sort

rocket_size-640-640x350.jpg
Image credit: NASA (California Institute of Technology)

source: NASA

Because I knew the other activity would be a bit too high level for some of my regulars, I included a very simple rocket sorting/coloring activity. Of course, even the littles wanted to come to the other tables and sneak away with scissors so it might not have been the best choice. I could have moved it somewhere on the other side of the room so there was less temptation. In this program, I’ve learned that sometimes less is more and other times the grown-ups will turn to me and say “Is that it?” Striking that balance is difficult.


How It Went: The good news about doing a more difficult project: the grown-ups got really involved in making the rockets. But my instructions weren’t clear and the straws we were using didn’t quite work that well—though they were certainly very pretty! I had originally planned to also demo a film canister rocket but, since I’d only practiced it outdoors and was in an indoor space with many light fixtures, I got too nervous to attempt it. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty good storytime. I’d have liked to show a video of a real astronaut or look into some sort of interactive app to give kids the concept of what it’s like to be up in space. The books focused on astronauts; the activities focused on rockets. Next time, I’ll try for cohesion.

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