Libraries are morphing from the bastions of quiet they traditionally were to more family-friendly learning places.

The older crowd still cherishes their tranquil spaces in the library, but now it’s a little different for kids: Instead of being shushed, they’re free to make a little noise and have fun while learning.

The new paradigm can be seen at the Stewart C. Meyer Harker Heights Public Library. The children’s area includes plenty of rows of books. But most activity is centered at the Friends and Family Learning Space, which has a variety of toys and seats for caregivers to rest a minute and watch their little ones play.

“Time for science; time for exploring,” sang library staff members and families as they entered the children’s room for Little Steamers, one of the child-led programs for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

It is held Tuesday mornings at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. through February.

“The focus is on STEAM for the very young,” said Amanda Hairston, children’s librarian. STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and math.

“It fosters those skills using their natural curiosity,” Hairston said. “We just give them a safe place to explore freely.”

The parent’s job is to follow along and let the child interact how they want.

“Play-based environments are a natural way for kids to learn,” Hairston said, emphasizing there is still a need for traditional sit-down story times.

Children were busy, all smiles, wandering and exploring toys. Sounds of tambourines, maracas and xylophones filled the air along with a hum of children and grown-ups talking.

Brianna Hartman’s family has lived in Harker Heights since June.

“We’re a military family so we’re from everywhere,” she said.

The library has become a familiar place for the stay-at-home mom and her two children, an “almost-2-year-old” son and a 1-month-old daughter.

“We come religiously every week for story time and programs like this, so my son knows everyone here. It’s really built up his social skills and he’s made a lot of friends,” she said.

Hartman said the programs keep her toddler “up and moving.”

“They can’t sit still for more than five seconds,” she said.

Stay-at-home parents want to do more than stay at home, so it’s beneficial for grown-ups, too.

“It’s nice to get out of the house, and do things like this on a schedule,” Hartman said. “Seeing his development is a big reward for me as a stay-at-home mom. He learns skills here that he practices at home.”

Little Steamers includes sensory exploration, musical instruments, as well as an introduction to hard science concepts. Kids explored magnetism using miniature fishing rods, attempting to catch magnetic fish.

It’s harder than it looks. Still, Cierra Stanziale, of Killeen, decided to give it a try along with her daughter, Makynzee, 2.

“We’ve been to a few of these library events; we like the experience,” Stanziale said. She has seen improvement in her daughter’s social interaction and fine motor skills.

Little Steamers has been offered for the last year and a half, with an average of 25 children and grown-ups in attendance. “It’s one of our more popular programs,” Hairston said.

Each children’s program includes two sessions: Children 18 months and younger at 9 a.m. and older kids (19 months through 5 years old and their younger siblings) at 10 a.m.

Children’s programs are organized into eight-week blocks. After Little Steamers ends in February, families are anticipating “Mother Goose on the Loose” in March and April.

The Stewart C. Meyer Harker Heights Public Library is located at 400 Indian Trail, Harker Heights. For more information, call 254-953-5491.

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