Empowering Young Minds: Mebane Foundation Supports STEAM Storytime at Cognition

By Meredith Ratledge

Becca White, educational center manager at Cognition, leads a STEAM Storytime session.

Cognition Davie Children’s Museum is dedicated to promoting educational outcomes and exploration. While the nonprofit provides opportunities for people of all ages to play, learn, and grow, one program in particular consistently shines bright. In partnership with the Mebane Foundation, an innovative program called STEAM Storytime is making significant strides in early childhood literacy.

STEAM Storytime: Igniting a Passion for Reading

STEAM Storytime integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math activities with engaging storytelling for young children. Cognition’s program comprises a reading session followed by a related STEAM activity or craft, concluding with playtime in the museum’s main exhibit area. 

Tailored to children aged three to five, each storytime event accommodates up to twelve children and their families. At the end of each event, children receive a copy of the book read that day to take home with them. 

While the museum’s play area encourages an enthusiasm for STEAM concepts, Cognition staff also emphasize the importance of integrating STEAM within the context of reading. During these STEAM activities, the process itself is more important than the final product of the activity or craft. Hands-on play allows children to exercise creative thinking skills and encounter new ideas.

Jessica White, site coordinator, and Becca White, educational center manager, were eager to share their thoughts. 

“Being exposed to science themes and vocabulary at a young age correlates with later success in those fields. Do three-year-olds understand the concept of a phase change and the complexity of what’s actually happening? No, but if you put it out there, it will be more familiar when they start studying it in school and easier for them to grasp,” Jessica explained.

STEAM Storytime themes have ranged from dinosaur bones to Thanksgiving turkeys. At one session, a bilingual Spanish book, “Paletero Man,” followed the story of a man and his popsicle stand. Children made their own popsicles and explored the concept of phase changes. At the end of playtime at the museum, the popsicles were frozen and ready to enjoy. 

Another favorite was “Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones,” where attendees dug for plastic dinosaurs amid an excavator site – a small sand-filled kiddie pool. Most recently, kids created a “turkey bomb” by mixing vinegar, baking soda, and food coloring in a small plastic bag. This exposure to chemical reactions accompanied the Thanksgiving book “Turkey Trouble.”

A Key Partnership

The STEAM Storytime program wouldn’t be possible without financial support from the Mebane Foundation.

Jessica shared, “We tried to introduce similar programming in the fall of 2021 when we reopened after COVID. It was originally called ‘Little Cogs Read,’ but it got too pricey, and we couldn’t sustain it with the books we were giving out at each event.”

A grant from the Mebane Foundation enabled the museum to relaunch the program a full year later, in October of 2022. 

“The Mebane Foundation has made this possible. They’ve allowed this to be free, so we don’t have to charge families for the event, enabling us to reach more people and ensuring we can give books out to every family,” Becca elaborated.

Taking home copies of “There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow.”

Preparing Children For Life Through Literacy 

The Mebane Foundation’s mission is to prepare children for life through literacy, ensuring that children read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. This made funding STEAM Storytime a natural fit for the organization. Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, noted their commitment to the museum.

“Cognition does really good work around here. So ever since they opened their doors, we’ve been engaged with them on some level,” Colbourne shared.

“It’s a place for community and families to come together. What brings people together is their children, young children. Not only is Cognition educational, it’s a good social outlet,” commented Colbourne.

Young ears listen in as Cognition Site Coordinator Jessica White reads “How to Catch a Mermaid.”

Cognition approached the Mebane Foundation in 2022 with a grant proposal for STEAM Storytime. Since the foundation’s primary focus is funding literacy initiatives for pre-K to fifth graders, this program hit its “sweet spot.” 

“STEAM Storytime brings young families together and brings books to life. Some kids thrive on that multi-sensory engagement. The opportunity to engage with both the child and the parent is pretty cool. Any opportunity to make a kid excited about reading is important. This program fits in well with what we do and what we’re after,” he said.

Colbourne also elaborated on why programming like this is so critical in this age group. 

“If you can’t read at a third-grade level by third grade, you’ll probably struggle in life. It’s going to be very difficult. But if you make reading fun for a young child, that will stick with them. And when that sticks with them, it achieves what this foundation is trying to do: enable young kids to read at a good level and, in this case, make it even more fun,” he said.

Immersive learning at work – digging for seashells after reading “What Lives in a Shell.”

An Interactive, Hands-On Approach

Cognition has been thrilled by the community’s engagement with this program, as well as how they have been able to develop and perfect it over time.

 “We have really hit our stride with the programming. There was a learning curve regarding what the kids like to do, what they’re able to do, and what the parents can help with. We initially started with a smaller group, but within the last two months, we expanded the number of tickets we have for each event, and we’re still filling up. So just being able to grow with this is exciting,” Jessica shared.

“The best feedback we could possibly get is that so many of those kids continue to come back every week. You know you’re doing something right when you have regulars, but you’re also still appealing to newbies”.

Looking Ahead

Both Cognition and the Mebane Foundation look forward to opportunities to continue working together on programs like STEAM Storytime. 

“We value our relationship with the Mebane Foundation. We appreciate their support and look forward to possibilities of future partnerships,“ Jessica stated.

“We’re so excited to continue this program in the future, and we have some other ideas that we think align with both our mission and the Mebane Foundation’s that we look forward to sharing with them,” she elaborated.

The STEAM Storytime program is a testament to the power of community collaboration within early childhood education. As the program continues to thrive, it serves as a model for how targeted literacy initiatives can kindle a love of reading in young minds, laying the foundation for a brighter future for the next generation.

Attendees join for a story about New Year’s Eve during the holiday season.
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