Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Attack on the Fort! A STEAM Program

This week, a battle took place at my library. In the program room, to be exact. Don't worry, the battleground was prepped and the skirmish was intentional. It was all a part of my school-age STEAM program, Attack on the Fort!

Our simple, unprogrammed program, which lasted an hour, consisted of four stages:
  • I told the story of the Trojan War. As a preface to the topic of attacking a fort, I told an abbreviated version of the Trojan War myth. I started with the goddess beauty contest judged by the Trojan prince Paris; told of the theft of Helen from Menelaus and the sailing of 1000 Greek ships for Troy; and the 10-year stalemate that finally ended in favor of the Greeks thanks to the strategic genius of the Trojan Horse. In favor of keeping the kids' attention, I just hit the highlights and focused on the culminating action.
  • We built catapults. The basic catapult construction requires 10 popsicle sticks, 4 or 5 rubber bands, a bottle cap (or other shallow cylinder), and something to affix the cap to the arm (we used velcro dots). Assembly instructions here. I demonstrated each step of the process with my own catapult, and I walked the room helping as requested.
  • The kids built forts. I had plenty of large sheets of construction paper, straws, popsicle sticks, tape, markers, and scissors to allow for creativity in the fort engineering process. Once again, I was flabbergasted by the ingenuity of the kiddos. Some made turrets, some made walls, some made total fortresses.
  • We had a battle. I had the children set their forts on the ground in a round; that way the battlefield was in the center of the forts, and all outward-shooting catapults would be sure to hit something. I handed out pom-pom balls as ammunition, then told the kids to prepare their catapults. I counted down for the opening shots, and from there it was total thrilling, soft, puffy war. The battle went on for a good 15 minutes, with little appearance of fatigue from any of the children.

After the program, the children were able to take home their catapults, a few pieces of ammunition, and their forts, which was obviously very exciting--the kids always love to take home their creations. I had lots of positive, enthusiastic comments from both children and caregivers who attended; they loved the simplicity and freedom of the program, and they loved the chance to get to make something that was "so cool." Attack on the Fort! was definitely that: simple, minimally-structured, and cool.

STEAM and unprogramming, two of my favorite ways to think about children's programs.


  1. That sounds so very exciting! I may be "borrowing" this idea in the fall...

  2. What age do you consider school age? We would probably do this as a sign up program so I would like to have an age range for the sign up. What ages do you think would work best for this?

    1. Most of my school-age programs at the library where I offered this program were for grades K-5. That's admittedly a large age range, but it was a necessity because of our staffing levels and our desire to offer programs for kids throughout that full range. If your library can support multiple programs throughout the month, it might work best to separate by K-2 and grades 3-5.


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