This program was an idea I totally stole from TikTok! And it turned out even better than I expected!
Y’all know that beginning-of-the-year build that middle school teachers do? With gumdrops (or mini marshmallows) and toothpicks?
Think that concept… but instead of toothpicks, you use different kinds of crackers and pretzels. And instead of gumdrops, you use cans of Cheez-Whiz!
We started off easy with the building challenges. I had small rubber-y/plastic animals, and they had to make a doghouse for whatever animal I gave them.
We progressively got harder: challenge number 2 was a lighthouse. Then, a bridge that a LEGO car can go across
The last two challenges, I had them work in teams, and I passed out famous structures that they had to recreate. These were Hard (challenge 4) and Harder (challenge 5). They actually did super well!
And for those so inclined, I included an Encyclopedia Britannica blurb about each structure, which ranged from well-known ones like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben to ones that aren’t as well-known in general American purview like Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Thailand and Sucevița Monastery in Romania.
My teen program meets weekly. To help me provide variety and not repeat programs too often, I use a rotation:
First Thursday of the month is games
Second Thursday of the month is STEAM
Third Thursday of the month is food and fun
Fourth Thursday is wild card
Fifth Thursday is also wild card, if applicable
Food and fun is probably the program I most enjoy putting together because I get to have fun with alliteration.
Because teens like food, I combine an activity with a food, and they both have to start with the same letter. For example: Puzzles and Pizza, where we do jigsaw puzzles and eat pizza. Or Oranges and Obstacles where I create a variety of obstacle courses and we nom on oranges. It’s great because they think it’s a super special program because it includes special food, but mostly it’s simple prep for me– my favorite kind of program these days.
Last month, we did Oreos and Opinions. Someone in the TSU Facebook group talked about how they did a blind taste test with some of the weird Oreo flavors (thank you person — I’m sorry I don’t remember your name!). And then I just had a list of would you rather questions that we worked our way through between trying different Oreos.
It worked out great because we have had some new teens join in over the summer, so it was a good opportunity to get them comfortable and talking with one another.
For the blind taste test, I had a gallon bag for each flavor of Oreo and each bag was numbered. My “answer key” matched the numbers with the flavors because otherwise I would have definitely mixed them up! We would do two flavors, then 7-10 questions.
I didn’t bring the Oreos out in numerical order. I called on different teens to “give me a number between 1 and 7” and would bring out that bag. This ensures pure randomness!
They had to guess which number matched which flavor and then order the cookies from their favorite to least favorite.
The Firework one was very interesting because it had Pop Rocks in the cream! And the two coffee ones made it really hard to differentiate which was which, which was a super fun twist that I hadn’t originally anticipated.
One of my go-to activities for tweens and teens is rock painting. There are just so many fun designs you can make and it can work for almost any theme or holiday. One of my favorites is painting rocks for Halloween (or whatever you may choose to call the spooky October holiday theme.) And since October is almost here, I thought I’d share!
I have done this as an in-person program and as a take-and-make craft. It’s usually pretty popular either way. Pinterest has some great ideas for designs, and I have an entire board of ideas I borrow from.
Here are some of my spooky samples:
It’s fun to find rocks that you can almost see the design in the natural shape, like one shaped like a gravestone or one with strange edges that makes a charmingly awkward mummy head!
Here are a few tips & tricks to help a rock painting program run smoothly:
Don’t try to find smooth rocks outside. Your best bet is to buy them. You can find large bags of smooth beach rocks/pebbles at places like Home Depot or Lowes for about $10-$15. I have found gray ones and white ones to purchase. You just need to wash them off first because they are very dusty.
Pre-paint some of your rocks. If you know that you will have teens wanting to paint pumpkins or skeletons, do a base painting of a portion of the rocks in orange, white and black. This can take a lot of time and require 2-3 coats of paint, depending on what quality the paint is. This means a long drying time in between coats. Also, DO NOT USE WASHABLE PAINT.
Use hair dryers. If you don’t already have a hair dryer at your library for craft projects, it’s a great investment. Doing more intricate rock painting designs means letting some portions dry before painting more. Hair dryers will save your sanity!
Invest in some paint markers and/or good (tiny) brushes. I used paint markers on my sample rocks. It is possible to do these designs with very thin brushes, but markers are definitely easier to control. You can also use sharpies, toothpicks, q-tips, dotting tools, and other small-tipped tools to paint with if you can’t afford to get paint markers. (Sometimes Dollar Tree has them in the craft section!)
I recently returned from the ARSL (Association for Rural and Small Libraries) conference, and one of my primary interests in attending was, of course, connecting with other teen librarians and going to as many talks on the subject as I could. It was a blast, and I returned with a lot of thoughts on teen programming and ideas to incorporate into my plans. It’s fascinating to see the many approaches to teen librarianship and the reminder that there really is no one, true way to work with teens. For those of you who weren’t able to make it, I thought it would be cool to share some of what I learned! I hope you enjoy.
YA Their Way
I’m conflicted about this one, mainly because I have been moving away from too many prizes for teens. This library’s summer reading program relies heavily on “coupons,” with small rewards throughout the summer and a chance for a big raffle prize at the end. When I think of raffle prizes, I remember my first half year (after switching schools partway through) with the Accelerated Reading program. Between being an avid reader and a great test taker, I quickly outpaced my classmates. When it came time to the raffle prizes at the end of the year (which I didn’t even know about), I had the bulk of entries. I went home with a lot of candy, pencils, and other assorted small prizes. I also had a lot of guilt. I like making people happy, and my classmates were, understandably, NOT. It made me feel guilty for doing something I loved. That memory has stuck with me, the excitement sliding into humiliation as my name was called over and over. I’ve read several articles on the subject now that I’m older, and it seems like while extrinsic motivation can encourage avid readers to read a little more, it often doesn’t change the behavior of more reluctant readers. “What’s the point?” tends to be the general mindset.
That being said, their program has undoubtedly been successful. The coupon books give teens a way to participate more without coming to the programs, and the experiential elements (like an end of summer lock in) have made summer reading a big deal in their community. I like giving teens more freedom scheduling wise, so I want to figure out how to incorporate at least some of these elements into my own programming. For those of you who are interested, their coupon books (and sometimes they are only loosely coupon books, depending on theme) include any basic information on the overall program that needs to be included, like events and how to earn prizes, etc., then the coupons themselves, around three themes: reading, research, and creative. Reading depends on how your library does summer goals, research is giving them a question to answer, and creative is along the lines of art/writing type challenges. I believe they also included some service coupons, like doing someone else’s chores unasked. They normally do three big raffle prizes, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, because they don’t require teens to be there to win. They had been trying cash, but apparently cash is just not cool anymore. They give teens extra reading coupons upon request, but I would encourage against that so that the raffle doesn’t end up too weighted.
Overall, fun, but doesn’t quite fit into my personal style for working with teens.
Voices of River City: Local Poets in Conversation
This was a breakfast panel, and while I looked forward to it, I didn’t anticipate how many ideas it would give me for teen programs. The three poets they had speak (Meredith Garrett, Erika Roberts, and Marcus Ellsworth) were great. The first one is a street poet, going out with a typewriter and creating poetry on the spot (I didn’t even know that was a thing, how cool!), and the latter two were more performance type poets, especially Marcus Ellsworth. He apparently has also done a TED Talk which I’d like to watch at some point. 10/10, highly recommend, I’m going to be looking into their works further. But onto the ideas for teens!
I would love to create some poetry displays in the future. Books, QR codes linking to performances, and poems on display that are modern and meaningful. Books in verse. Passive programming with magnetic words, blackout poetry, fill-in the blank, poetry prompts, share your favorite poem, etc. I want to do writing workshops, and one thought for next summer in part prompted by this, is to do a series of writing/art workshops over the summer and at the end share a newsletter, both print and e-version, with the collected works from everyone over the summer. With name or without, depending on preference.
Seriously, this reminded me of how much power a few carefully selected words can hold. And they’re right-a lot of the ones taught in class just don’t speak to teenagers of today. That was, is me—I think the only one from school that has really stuck with me is “Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood. They also pointed out how hard it is to get poetry published via traditional publishing. I think one of the things libraries are great for is getting a hold of books you might otherwise not easily be able to, so while I’m not normally a big fan of self-publishing, I am going to keep a more open mind when it comes to poetry. Another tip they gave was to find people who are famous for other things, names teens will recognize, and go hey, look, they wrote poetry too! (Another possible display idea.)
Overall, great panel, totally worth me waking up to go to breakfast that was at what is normally 7 AM my time (not a morning person.)
The Dynamite Dozen
Oh boy did y’all miss out. This was another great talk! This was all about quick and easy—which staples are a must for your craft closet, and what you can do with them. Beyond the basics which they assumed most people would have, the “Dynamite Dozen” were: glass gems (like the ones you use to make those magnified magnets), balloons, straws (both straight and bendy), ping pong balls, socks, craft sticks (also of various sizes), round magnets, all the googly eyes, battery tea lights, used books for crafting with, plastic cups, and yarn. The ideas ranged everywhere from emoji magnets to hover ball to coffee cozies.
There were projects based on ideas I’d seen before, though some were new, but more than that I loved the organization of it all. They didn’t just keep these supplies on hand, they made kits of the different projects. Have a bunch of teens in randomly? Go grab your pencil box sized case for straw rockets and slap ’em down on the table. Get a last minute invite to man a table? Grab a box of crafts/projects or two and go. Need to go to a school? You’re set. Rotate them out as passive programs in a teen room. Organize some minute-to-win-it style programs. Take-homes. The flexibility and mindset for this was great, and while we keep some of those objects on hand, others we didn’t.
Honestly, this is part of what I meant when I talked about the different approaches to working with teens. I do craft type programs regularly (when there isn’t a pandemic). I’ve even done a minute-to-win-it type program before. But after every project, I would dutifully organize everything back into its appropriate space.
Well, not anymore.
Pro-tip: They tried to keep spending down by using containers for the different project that they had on hand when they could, using things like coffee tubs and the like.
Everyone Is a Maker, Even You!
Wow, ok. Was I expecting 15 index cards to turn into a mini maker program? No. No I was not. Try it out. Get a partner. And figure out how to build the highest possible tower you can with just those cards. I think one team’s record was somewhere between 30-36 inches. No tape. No other office supplies. Just 15 regular index cards.
My team was got to well over half that high, but I like to think it was more stable…
Long story short, maker programs aren’t all 3D printers, recording equipment, and other expensive gadgets. It’s a mindset. It’s looking at the programs you offer already, and tweaking them to promote ingenuity and experimentation. From there, you can add in other things, but at it’s heart it’s taking limited supplies and going, “What can I do with these?” It’s about not giving answers, but asking things like, “Why do you think it’s not working?” “What are you trying to do?” “What have you tried so far?” Spark ideas to encourage more trial and error.
One of my favorite STEM projects, for instance, is the Egg Drop challenge. I love this one, because all you need is a bunch of eggs, and whatever you want to provide from your craft room. Let them name their eggs. Draw little faces on them. And then give them 30 minutes to come up with something to keep their egg from meeting Humpty Dumpty’s fate as you drop their project from higher and higher heights.
Would I have thought of this as a Maker program beforehand? No. My brain was too fixated on STEM/STEAM vs. thinking of maker programs as literally the libraries getting in all the big fancy equipment we couldn’t afford. Now I do, and that’s without changing a single element of it because their recommendations is exactly how I run it. Give them a goal, give them supplies, and encourage experimentation! If you have the time and materials, let them do it twice, so they can try again after seeing how their first projects fared!
Is there more you can do? Definitely! One of the speakers had a cart (that they modified from Harbor Freight) that includes a bunch of different materials and tools. They roll it out, give them a goal for the week (or leave it open-ended) and see what they come up with! Kids and teens get experience using different supplies and tools, and more importantly, learn to grow their problem solving skills.
I love the ARSL conference because I’ve always worked at small libraries. A lot of conferences feature programs they claim can be scaled down in price, but typically that’s by increasing the amount of time spent on the project…something that is often in short supply at understaffed small libraries. These ideas feel manageable. A lot of them fit into my current mindset and goals, which is making programs more flexible and including more self-directed programming and displays. Even if it felt like something I couldn’t or didn’t want to incorporate exactly as recommended, all the speakers still made me at least second guess myself, or re-frame my mindset and/or approach. This is just a fraction from what I got out of it, but I hope something from my thoughts gives you ideas as well!
My favorite recurring program that I created for my current library is a craft program for kids in grades Kindergarten through twelfth grade called All Ages Adventure Hour. It came about last fall when I noticed that I had a teen craft the same day as a postponed craft program for kids. I suggested that we just hold it together in the same room, for all ages! Now we do this program each month. We choose a theme and my coworker comes up with a craft for younger kids and I come up with something for tweens and teens.
We paused this program for the summer in favor of summer reading programs, but it’s returned for the school year. September’s theme was “upcycled books” and we used outdated ARCs to create a pumpkin (younger kids) or a hedgehog (older kids.)
The reason this program is my favorite is because it allows siblings to attend together, ones who would otherwise be separated into different programs because of their ages. Kids and teens of all ages can work on something age-appropriate with the same theme, but younger kids don’t have to feel left out for not getting to do something the older kids are doing, and the older kids don’t feel like they’re attending a baby-ish program. It works out for everyone and they all love what they end up crafting!
When a former library board member and community activist (I’ll call her C for anonymity’s sake) approached me with an idea for a teen-led program related to climate change, I jumped at the opportunity to work with her. I’ve had a surfeit of teens interested in volunteering, and I knew they would love the chance to lead an event. Teens in my town are also incredibly interested in environmental causes. It seemed like a win-win.
The project was inspired by the book The Carbon Almanac, a community-created book all about climate change. There is an accompanying Educator’s Guide designed for classroom use that C helped design. Eager to test out one of the activities, she modified one related to food waste and compost for us to use at the library. We both loved the idea of having teens lead the charge since they are already passionate about this issue.
The activity was called “I Didn’t Eat the Whole Thing” and had two parts. First, C created a chart for participants to use to calculate what portion of the leftovers of their last meal was compostable, and what portion would be going to the landfill. We wanted to sneak in the food waste knowledge without the program feeling too much like school. Next, there was information about using your food waste at home to make your own tiny composter out of an old plastic cup/bottle. We provided cups and bottles, had a station where participants could decorate them, and then provided seeds they could take home to plant in their compost. We also had pre-prepared kits people could bring home as Take and Makes.
We hosted the activity outside of the library on a Saturday morning that coincided with Farmer’s Market and ended up connecting with about 75 people. I had 10 volunteers running the show. Most of them had been trained in advance so they all had some good talking points to share about food waste, composting, etc. and felt knowledgeable enough to take charge. We mainly had younger kids who wanted to come chat with us and decorate planter bottles, but we talked to people of all ages and even adults were grabbing the Take and Make kits.
Normally my programs tend to be more silly and fun, but it was great to change it up and do something a little more educational, and the volunteers (I had about 10 total) did an amazing job. The program was low-cost too–cups and bottles were all donated by staff, the seeds were really cheap, and we used supplies on hand to decorate. This definitely inspired me to have more teen-led events in the future.
I am slowly getting back into the world of school visits. The thought of being somewhere as packed as a school while in the midst of an ongoing pandemic still scares me, but I am taking my reintroduction into school buildings one step at a time. And to be quite honest, after an especially busy summer, doing anything this fall seems like A LOT.
This fall, I will be starting up one of my favorite school programs. The tried and true Books and Bites. Variations of this program exist worldwide. The idea is simple: talk about books with students while they eat food. Bonus points if you give them free books.
I began doing this program while at my old library system. The way Books and Bites was handled there was a bit different than my current iteration of the program, but both ways work well. At the middle school, students in Library Club would come to the library during class time with a special pass and I would host Books and Bites for them. Books and Bites was an exclusive program where select students would have a special meeting and the school librarian would have pizza delivered. I would bring 3-4 books to book talk, answer any questions the students had, and then I would hand the students a quiz based off things I said about each book. Things like “why is the main character in blank traveling across state lines” or “what year was blank published?” I would then grade the quizzes and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners would get free books– typically ARCs. Students would also bring their own books to book talk.
I started doing Books and Bites in my current position a few years back but stopped due to the pandemic. This time around, I was hosting Books and Bites at a high school during their lunch periods. This particular high school has 3 separate lunch periods. Books and Bites at the high school was a drop-in affair. Half the attendees were students who had intentionally come to the library that day for the program and half were students who had just stumbled upon it. I would bring candy and quizzes and free books and more candy.
I was invited back to do Books and Bites at the high school (major compliment) and I intend to run the program the same way I have in the past. Of course, I will make room for adjustments if the students prefer something a little different. We have some left over Summer Reading prize books that I will be using as prizes for the program.
All in all, Books and Bites is one of my favorite programs to run and the fact that it’s so simple makes it even better.
When I was working at the Grapevine Library I was in charge of overseeing the Grapevine Mobile Library and I loved it! We were stocked with books, and other materials and would go around town to afterschool programs. We also appeared a multiple events around Grapevine.
Our main location was the outreach center for kids afterschool. We let them check out books and play with different tech item we kept on board. We went every other week to that location. We had kids of all ages, and everyone enjoyed different aspects of it. We made sure that we had different items each week for the different age groups. Some of the programs are as outlined below.
A picture of the Grapevine Mobile Library
Play with Dot & Dash
Build with giant building blocks and then crash them down with robots.
Create codes with the codeapillar
Build with giant building blocks
Create a building on the earthquake simulator
Engineer a coaster on the coaster set and magnet board
Build with Magna-tiles
Snap and design cars and trucks
Magnetic cars and trucks
Race tracks to race what had been built
Plants & Animals
Look through the microscope at different slides of plants and insect parts
Create animals with magnetic sets
Create origami animals
Most of the items for the mobile library were purchased from Lakeshore Learning. We had multiple grants to be able to provide hands on items for the mobile library and tech items too. I purchased all the materials for the mobile library, it was a lot of fun to purchase items for all ages to have available.
Giant building bricks
Each week we would have out some of the same items, the big building blocks or magna-tiles were always a big hit.
We also had wi-fi on the bus and at events families could use it. We used it for check-outs and creating library cards.
It was amazing to see how excited the kids would get each week as the got off the bus to come and see us. The library bus can still be seen around Grapevine and still offers it’s services. It is a great way to provide services to those who don’t have transportation to the library.
Outreach is such an important part of any library system.
I have done more than just the mobile library in the past. I have been to daycares, schools, and even nursing homes to provide information and materials from the library and to talk about what the library offers. Many still don’t know that the library has more to offer than just books these days. If you have any questions about implementing more outreach within your library, reach out, I would love to chat about it.
After being home sick for most of May, June, July and August, it feels good to return to work (mostly full-time). I’ve been rattling around a few program ideas in my brain and here’s what I’ve decided to try hosting this fall:
On Wednesday afternoons, I’m offering a virtual creative writing program where teens can explore new writing styles, topics and ideas in a supportive environment. There will be poetry, short stories, flash fiction, etc.
For the rest of 2022, I’m hosting a monthly virtual book discussion group that focuses on banned/challenged books. This month we’re reading and talking about Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. In October, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. In November, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. And for December, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. We’ll address where and why these titles have been banned/challenged, how they feel about reading them and if they agree with book bans.
At least one of my regular programs will remain virtual, but at some point this fall, I would like to start a weekly in-person board game program.
I welcome any ideas or questions regarding my plans!
One of the joys of my high school library clerk job the past few years has been co-leading my school’s student and staff multicultural book club. Before getting involved with this club, I had never participated in a book club before. I wondered if involving staff would keep students from speaking up, and I feared only two or three people would sign up. Thankfully, students are consistently willing to speak up and share their ideas. We’ve also had good turnouts, even when the club had to pivot to virtual meetings.
Today I want to share a bit about the club and the books we’ve read. If you’ve been thinking about starting a similar club, I hope this post helps. Leave any questions in the comments.
The book club’s primary goal is to promote equity. We want to highlight authors whose voices have often been overlooked and give students a safe place to have tough conversations. One of the perks of joining the club is getting a free copy of the book to keep. Even if students sign up for the club and only show up for one meeting, they get a book. Receiving their own book is a big deal for kids who don’t always have access to books, especially brand-new copies. (We pay for the book club with grants.)
My school holds two book clubs each year, each lasting around 6-8 weeks. At the first meeting, we hand out copies of the book, enjoy some snacks, share who we are, and talk about the text and why we chose it. The rest of the meetings are spent discussing that week’s assigned pages and what’s happening in the world that ties into the book’s subject matter.
My favorite part of the book club is when we can pull in an article, video, or even a person from the community who can help us learn more about what we’re reading and why it matters. When we read Dear Martin, we also read and discussed articles about police violence in our city. A local refugee came in and talked about her experience when we read When Stars Are Scattered. Even when people disagree with each other, the conversations are always respectful and kind. The internet can make it seem like life is just one big comment section with people yelling back and forth, but it isn’t. If people feel safe, they’ll bring their vulnerability to the table and share.
WHAT WE’VE READ
Since our club has a mix of teen and adult members, we read both teen and adult books. Each round of the club has focused on one book, except last spring when we read three graphic novels.