Swing by the Davidson branch of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library on any given Saturday and you’re likely to find the usual suspects: readers pouring over just-released titles. Newsies checking out that day’s edition of The Charlotte Observer.
Children investigating dog poo under a microscope.
Sound unusual? Well, it’s all in the name of science. Matthew Shaw, 16, is a junior at the Community School of Davidson and the son of Pat and Brian Shaw of Virginia Road. He has been leading a different kind of book club for nearly three years, and you could say he has it down to a science. His approach to incorporating reading with hands-on activities for kids in grades 2-5 has them learning – and coming back for more each month.
Matthew, who has long been interested in science, approached children’s librarian Beverly Swanson with the idea nearly three years ago. “I just thought kids should do more than just read about the subjects,” he said.
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The first month, participants read a book that included information about polymers. Then, they sat in a circle and discussed what they learned from the book.
Next came the fun part – making slime. The gooey substance, with properties of both a solid and a liquid, was a hit.
A tradition was born. Matthew soon began leading a Silly Science class the first Saturday of every month.
Over the years, Matthew has led discussions and experiments about different kinds of rocks and minerals, a “crime scene investigation,” coin collecting and – his favorite – paleontology.
“That one was cool because we read about how scientists excavate, then the kids used paintbrushes to find pieces of terra-cotta pots in sand and mud. Then they put the pots together from the tiny pieces,” said Matthew.
“That was probably my favorite because it was a clear example of putting what we read about into action.”
For each class, Matthew comes up with a few titles for children to read and gain some background knowledge about each subject. He thinks the combination of learning through the printed page, then putting what is learned into action is how the children truly understand.
“It’s great when they read it, but when they do the activities it really solidifies the concepts. Plus, it’s really fun,” he said.
As for the dog-poo under the slide? Matthew says he’ll never forget one girl’s response to that experiment.
“She said, ‘This is better than any day at school.’ ”