Coronavirus, Education

With Summer Programs Scaled Back, A Nonprofit Nudges Kids To Explore Outside

The STEAM truck drives to schools to introduce kids to science, math, technology, engineering, arts and math activities.
The STEAM truck drives to schools to introduce kids to science, math, technology, engineering, arts and math activities.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE

Many organizations that offer summer programs for kids have scaled them back this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some programs have been canceled. Others have moved online.

But there are efforts afoot to keep kids learning outside this summer.

The STEAM Team

The STEAM truck drives around to different schools introducing kids to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities. It’s funded by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

Executive director Jason Martin says the organization wanted to find a way to keep kids engaged over the summer, but not necessarily by staring at a computer screen.

“We wanted to figure out a way that even if you didn’t have access to high-speed internet or even a computer, we could get something into your hands,” Martin says.

Jason Martin shows what kids receive in their STEAM boxes. It includes a birdhouse, a bug catcher and a journal to write observations. (Martha Dalton/WABE)
Jason Martin shows what kids receive in their STEAM boxes. It includes a birdhouse, a bug catcher and a journal to write observations. (Martha Dalton/WABE)

So, he partnered with Brown Toy Box, a STEAM subscription service, and put together a box full of projects kids could work on over the summer. The boxes are funded by the United Way and the Community Foundation’s Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. They’re free to families and will be distributed at Sheltering Arms early learning centers and some YMCAs.

The boxes contain bug catchers, books, a birdhouse kids can paint and display and a journal where they can keep track of everything.

“We don’t want an activity that they simply do it and they’re done,” Martin says. “We want something that they work on and it doesn’t end, but the learning can continue.”

Sustaining The Spark

Martin hopes to hand out about 250 boxes during the first phase of this three-phase project. While this first phase focuses mostly on science, Martin says the next two phases will shift more to math.

“We landed on math as an area that we could probably have the biggest bang, where we could focus on the standards that teachers are saying they would have taught in the fall and design things for kids to do at home … to ensure … if we’re not moving backwards, we’re helping kids maintain what they would have learned if not moving them forward a little bit,” he says.

Kids at Sheltering Arms in College Park received STEAM boxes when they came to say goodbye to their teachers at the end of the year. (Martha Dalton/WABE)
Kids at Sheltering Arms in College Park received STEAM boxes when they came to say goodbye to their teachers at the end of the year. (Martha Dalton/WABE)

Mike Davis is the vice president of strategic initiatives and partnerships at Sheltering Arms, which serves kids from the ages of 6 months to 5 years. He says it’s never too soon to introduce kids to STEAM activities.

“A lot of programs — not to knock those programs — look at high school and junior high, but if you think about it, you’ve already lost a significant portion of the population,” Davis says.

Research shows kids’ stereotypes about who can be a scientist have changed over time. Despite the progress, the technology sector still lacks diversity. The majority of students who attend Sheltering Arms are children of color.

“I want our children to see themselves as mathematicians, as scientists. So, that’s really where we’re coming from,” Davis says.

This summer, Davis would like to see them leave their computers to explore outdoors and start thinking outside those boxes.

 

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