How We Do Library Tours (Grades 3 & 4)

We did it!  We finished another school year of library visits and tours! Lessons were learned, improvements were made, and tons of kids, teachers, and parents visited our main library and our branch library for tours and outreach. I previously wrote up the process of how we do tours for our K-2 visits and people have found that post really helpful so I decided it was FINALLY time to write up the next entry in the series.

I’ll go over some of the basics, but a lot of that is covered in my K-2 tours post, including all of my amazing inspirations (check the comments there’s great stuff there too!) so definitely go over there and take a look.

Nothing has made my life – and my staff’s lives – easier than getting our tours down to a routine! This is the #1 thing I’d like to stress about however you want to handle tours: make it routine.  Get to the point where you can pull out a standard tour schedule without blinking.  It will make you more receptive to saying SURE YOU CAN COME without panicking about it and it gives an overall much better experience.

My main disclaimer, as last time: yes, our tours take a lot of staff.  (in fact, we have them down to such a routine that now our biggest problem is figuring out the scheduling parts.) But we get a lot of yield out of that staff.  The majority of these tours are the entire grade from a local elementary school, 2-3 classes of kids. That means it’s usually 45-65 kids plus a minimum of 12-15 adult chaperones. That’s a big program so it warrants a big staff investment.

We make great contact with the schools and help encourage visits through our Celebrate A Grade Initiative. Our 3rd-4th grade tours have lots in common with our K-2 tours – but we gear up everything for our older kids, especially the skills lessons.

As with the K-2 we invite the 3rd & 4th grade classes/grades to visit for one hour.  In this hour we rotate through three stations, each lasting twenty minutes.  Most often the classes/grades come in groups of three, which make this rotation simple but if they come in groups of two, we rotate them through the first two stations and then have a big storytime as a final activity.

Here are the three stations we’ve created for the 3rd & 4th grade tours.

Tour! Since these kids are older, we give them a slightly more in-depth tour.  Some of their favorite things are: going outside to see the book drop, seeing the inside book drop and where things end up (notice a trend), hearing about and seeing the hold shelf, and hearing about our circulating art collection. (We check out framed paintings – kids love knowing about this.  So, if you have a cool/unique collection, think about adding it to your tour!) We usually spend this part of the tour talking to them about how the library works/touring the adult department. (Our children’s department is on another floor, lucky us.) I have thought about adding in a tour of the kid section, but they enjoy the larger behind the scenes picture of the WHOLE library and I think that’s important to learn about. But we shall see!

We also have an art gallery on the third floor and when there’s a kid friendly show up there we sometimes take kids on a tour of that instead.  They like hearing about how many people visit the gallery and what it means to have a gallery inside a library.  And they love getting to go through the exhibits. They have come during Youth Art Month when the gallery is all art from local students and when the local photographer’s club have their work up and those are two favorites.

Dewey Decimal Activity! This is the simple craft (color your owls) station for K-2.  But we think the 3rd-4th graders are ready for some Dewey Decimal lessons. We start by watching this Capstone video about BOB THE ALIEN.  The kids freaking love Bob the Alien because … we have no idea! This video is slow enough to read along out loud and since it doesn’t have commentary, we can add our own extra info. There’s even a book about Bob, should you be so tempted and want to use it as part of your tours. (note that’s a whole series from Capstone covering book/reading topics, so it could be of use in school libraries/tours.)

After watching the video, the staff member running this station talks a little bit about the Dewey Decimal system.  Usually we’ll talk about how learning Dewey is sort of like learning a new alien language … but with the numbers and letters we already have! Then we all hop up to do an activity.

My amazing colleague Melissa came up with a fun activity where the kids become books and put themselves in order. We usually start by just alphabetical order, which they are used to.  They make a line and call out all their names and they love it. THEN they get …. their own book spines.

spines 1

Melissa originally just printed out slips of paper for this activity but … REPEATABLE ROUTINE! Instead, these are laminated and taped onto big Popsicle sticks, so we can use them over and over again.  And the kids love them, of course.  We have 30 – more than we need for any one class but it’s always good to have some extras. They are real books from the collection, which we make sure to mention. We always slip in some high interest titles: oooh, you have Minecraft books?  COOL! Here’s an up close:


This activity makes the kids work together and pay attention to detail. They also get to see that Dewey means more than just the first three digits. We tell them that they are books and they must make sure they are in the right order so people can find them to check them out and this makes them giggle but also think seriously about why it matters where books are. It also gets them moving, gets them talking and working together, and helps them pay attention to the Dewey Decimal system in a hands on way.

We have an answer guide to check their work, which we have them call out, and that makes it easy and quick to check their work.

check sheet

Their take home for the visit is a Dewey Decimal bookmark.  We buy the oversized Dewey bookmarks from Upstart and the kids really love them.  They’re worth the money.

dewey 2 dewey 1

Storytime! We like to have a story as a part of all the tours for K-4th. (for the upper grades we do booktalks – more about that in the next post!) I mean…it’s a library tour.  Much like the K-2, we use this station as a chance to talk about what they can do/find at the library : things like where they can talk loudly and play games and where they have to be more quiet to study and work.  We talk about looking for people with nametags to help, how they can read anything they want and we have so many cool things (video games, magazines, computers to game on if your parents say it’s OK, tons of comics and manga) And even though they are older, we still sing some songs, which they get into even when they are sure they won’t, of course.

We can do longer books with more imaginative play/word play with this group, so we have three main choices we rotate through, all of which I highly recommend!


Quiet! There’s A Canary in the Library by Don Freeman. Yes, this old classic! This Don Freeman classic from the late 60s is about a girl imaging how if SHE ran the library, she’d have all the animals come in and it’d be just great…until…maybe… I like this one because we can talk about what you would do in your library and some of the rules about how we use our library.  Also, the older kids get that this is her using her imagination, which is a good bridge for talking about how stories and libraries let us imagine all kinds of wonderful things.

library book for bear

A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker. Bear doesn’t want to go to the library with mouse.  He has seven books at his house, he doesn’t need any more! But maybe he can find some treasure at the library.  The kids love grumpy old Bear, his love for pickles, and the scene where he gets to SHOUT. (lots of fun to read.)  Gives us a chance to talk about how you can find a book about every thing you might be interested in and, yes, even programs that are just perfect for you. (And this is just one book in the series about Bear and Mouse, so we can talk about series books too.)


No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou by Rhonda Gowler Greene.  Pirate Pete wants the treasure hiding in Seabreezy Library, but Library Lou says she’ll only help him figure out the map if he learns her code…it’s full of strange symbols and letters besides X. There might even be a clue in all those books on the shelves. I HIGHLY recommend this slightly longer book for the older kids. I just did it with about to graduate 3rd graders and they were with me every page. It’s told in rhyme and is, of course, about a pirate who learns to read (and then works his way through subject areas/genres) and comes to love reading.  Lots of chances to talk about how the library works/different kind of books and for the kids to figure out what’s going on and a sing-song pirate speak is fun to read. Also, I dig that he does not marry the librarian at the end.

The other thing about all three of these books is that if you have younger 3rd graders, older 2nd graders,  not enough time to do the Dewey Lesson (or they already cover that at school etc) you can easily make the third station crafts connecting back to the books .  We’ve done color your own pirate/bear bookmarks, respectively, to go with these and they were hits.

As I said – we do still do a song or two with these kids so besides opening with something to warm them up, I like to close with everyone standing up, shaking a little bit, and then doing Form the Orange, which even if they know it, sends them into fits of delight. Sometimes we also do this version of Put Your Hands Up High (thanks to Jbrary!) which also cracks them up and can then be done again in slo-mo (a favorite) or super fast.

And that’s about an hour!  We had a great year with the older kids touring and, again, having it all down to a routine has really made it a breeze setting one up.  Once we got the Dewey station set up with more solid props, that just added to the overall experience. Teachers, parents, and kids definitely notice that we’re prepared and I think it absolutely makes them feel more welcomed and excited about the library.

I’ll hopefully have one more post in this series, covering what we do for the upper elementary (and sometimes even middle school – the entire 7th grade of our town usually stops by once a year, oh boy!) but in the meantime, I’d love to talk tours with YOU!  How do YOU do tours and class visits?  What works for you?  What have you had to discard?  How often do you get class tours from your schools? Tell me all about it in the comments – and if I left out anything you’d like more info about in this post, let me know – or chat with me on Twitter.


Rainbow Fairy Magic @ Your Library

In a way, this event exemplifies everything I think these one day stand-alone programs can be: no matter what you might see, you don’t have to spend a TON of money and endless staff hours creating something that looks like it came out of a party planning book.  You don’t have to limit attendance just so you’ll have enough dowels or can provide elaborate party favors as if at a children’s party.  We invite everyone in and work with what you have! You can have events like this on small budgets, using upcycled material or cheaper supplies like … sequins.  It’s not about making it look like Pinterest or Martha Stewart.  It’s about opening up the library as a place for families to create and make and showing kids, with no judgment and great enthusiasm instead, that we have piles and piles of the books they love and know about ones they haven’t even heard of yet. That’s the most important part and it’s worth everything.

Which one is your favorite?  I think mine is Lara the Black Cat Fairy because FOR SOME REASON this is in the Magic Animal Fairies series even though black cats aren’t actually magical and the other fairies in that series are, like, unicorns and phoenixes! And how is there even also a series about PET fairies.  I mean …

Well, I guess that sums up why we decided to have this event.  Because we have shelves of the darn things, because kids check them out in stacks literally up to their eyes.  Because they are great safe chapter books that build confidence and passion in kids which helps them become dedicated readers. BECAUSE RAINBOW MAGIC FAIRIES, come on.

This was one of the VERY FIRST programs we ever did as a single stand-alone the summer we started making a big switch to them.  THAT turned out to be one of our greatest learning experiences – we scheduled it for two hours and we quickly learned that’s FAR too long for these events!  We scaled them down to an hour after me and my co-worker Melissa spent 2o minutes dancing in a circle doing a song Melissa made up on the spot (“The Fairy Hokey-Pokey” –  put your wings in, put your wings out!) to kill time. So, since it had been a few summers, we decided repeating Rainbow Magic Fairies as a stand-alone was OK.  Here’s what we did!

20 minutes of story

birthdayAs you probably know, all of our events start off with a story.  It’s why we’re all there, after all, and it gives us a chance to come together as a group and talk about books and all the neat stuff the library has. When it comes to bigger properties/characters, I like to focus on a SPECIFIC title because it makes it easier to tie everything together and really focus on something.  We lucked out with Rainbow Magic Fairies because at last there are beginning reader titles!  Jackpot for reading out loud, baby!

I chose The Fairies’ Birthday Surprise because … uh they make a cake in it? I knew we could have an easy/all ages craft station for a cake. And I loved that at the end, they cut into it and it was ALL colors, wheee! Simple predictive text that satisfied the kids when the inside of the cake was revealed. (if you don’t have these readers, there’s five all together, I highly recommend them and they’re worth every penny of the library binding.)

40 Minutes of Activity

At almost all of our events, we include a look and find scavenger hunt around the youth services area.  This is a good way to keep our active kids moving and it splits up the crowd.  We print out 10 images related to our theme and hang them up around the library and send kids out with a sheet to look and find for them.  I always recommend having this as an activity – it’s simple and the kids loooovveee it.  We chose the seven fairies from the book and three ingredients to make cake (see the theme’s usefulness?)

We also usually have some kind of activity station – a bean-bag toss or knock-over or a balance relay but we decided the look and find would be enough for this one. (especially since there was no mention of Jack Frost in this reader, but if you did a knock-over station, it’d be easy to do Jack Frost/icicles as targets.)

We had three craft stations and a photo booth (we love photo booths, if you have the space I always recommend throwing one up, it’s a great way let patrons share/spread word about your events FOR you.)

Station One: load up muffin tins with pony beads – make sure you have some cool ones mixed in like pastels and glow in the darks – and have the kids make themselves rainbow necklaces and bracelets as their hearts dictate.  This is always a popular station. It’s also gotten a lot easier since my colleague Melissa came up with the genius idea to set it down on the floor.  No more kids crowding around a table as pony beads roll to the ground  and then they chase after then.  Now we all sit down on a sheet (to contain them all) and relax and bead.  Super-easy change that makes a big difference, even in the vibe.

rainbow beading

(yes there are boys down there beading because of course there are, because of course they came, because all kids like beaded bracelets and did I mention there were glow in the dark beads?)

Station Two: make your own wands. BUT we never do registration for our events, so we’re never sure how many people will show up. So I wasn’t going to invest in a ton of dowel rods to make wands, which is a common thing you see.  Besides, we have tons of material (specifically calendars – I love old calendars!) waiting to be recycled so why not use those?

We let kids choose their own pieces of calendar paper and then, starting at a bottom corner and rolling tightly, we rolled it into a wand.  If you look at this tutorial, we used these basic instructions.  We used glue sticks instead of two side-tape and we stopped at the part where she starts hot glue-gunning.  Using the calendar paper was decoration enough.  We used some of our fancy scissors to cut other calendar pages into rickrack and included some strips of ribbon which we let the kids glue inside to give them something fun to swish around.  They loved it, of course. Lots of swishy.  The stiffer calendar paper made the wands more substantial, which lead to a lot of fun.  And since they weren’t stereotypical princess wands, everyone felt comfortable making them.  Most of the pics we got of them were actually in action, but here’s an OK shot of one. (note beaded necklace)

rainbow wand

Station Three: here we are, back at the theme with a decorate your own cake! I found a free coloring page that looked like a delightful, giant cake and we put out sequins, more of our homemade rickrack, colored pencils, and crayons and let the kids go to town.  If you look at the little girl in the Hello Kitty shirt you can see a pretty typical cake in process.  And if you look to the back at the little boy in the stripes is literally pouring an entire container of sequins on his cake.  He couldn’t even pick it up.  Ah, library magic!

rainbow cakes

I also put out some Rainbow Magic coloring pages at this station, since it felt like a good place to have coloring and creating.  Here’s what the cake I chose actually looked like – the layers made it perfect for decorating and it EVEN looked a little like the cake in the book! color cake


We had about 35 kids and assorted grown-ups attend and everyone loved it.  I made a big display of FOR FANS OF RAINBOW MAGIC! books and they all got checked out. We’d definitely do it again, but we might wait a summer or two to put it back in rotation.  As per usual, it could have never happened without my fantastic staff, who dressed up and were game for everything! (and yes, in case you can’t tell, I am obviously wearing wings.)

rainbow staff

Are there any questions about our event I didn’t answer?  Let me know!  Have YOU had a Rainbow Fairy Magic event at your library?  I’d love to hear all about it!  What books did you read?  What crafts did you make?  How did your patrons react?  Did you make a read-alike table (what could read as wonderfully as these masterpieces?) and if so, what other books did you share?  I want to hear all about it, so share in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Baby Storytime!

Many moons ago we got a patron comment that the person loved our storytimes for their older kids, but their younger child was too little for “flashcards and long stories.” (I like to sometimes start older kid storytime sessions with color/shape/animal flashcards to have the kids make sounds, guess shapes, etc.) This was a real turning moment for me because I connected deeply with it.

Our storytimes were all mixed up, we tried to jam both age sessions (0-2 and then 3-5) on the same day, it never worked.  I knew we had a gap, I knew this patron had hit on something true.  And I knew we could be doing MORE.

I wanted something for the babies, you see.

I was reading a lot of blogs from my favorite, most inspirational librarians about their baby programs and it gave me some good foundation and the confidence to make a program that worked for my library and my staff.

So, you should start there!

Baby Storytime by Storytime Katie

Baby Storytime by Reading with Red

Baby Storytime from Mel’s Desk

Amazing round-up of Baby Storytime resources from Jbrary

Add into that one important revelation from a casual conversation with my dearest Cory – there was no reason to have these storytimes on the same day.  So, we split Baby Time away from Toddler Time and started working on our messaging to parents – this is a different program, and it’s JUST for babies!  Join us, won’t you? The different days really helped and if you can manage that as your library, it’s my first tip.


  • We have Baby Time once a week.
  • It’s open to ages 0-24 months, but it often skews to the younger .
  • We do NOT keep out older siblings (how could you?) but we do not gear the program to them.  We sometimes set out some toys or books off to the side for the older kids but we don’t mind trying to get them involved with the actual program (as you’ll see).
  • We don’t have registration for any of our storytimes, this is a drop-in.  We have it immediately after our morning Baby Dance program to get the crowd already in the library.
  • We spend 15-20 minutes doing rhymes and songs.
  • We usually get through about 7-10 rhymes and bounces per session.
  • We repeat rhyme/bounce twice.
  • Sometimes we use scarves or shakers, but we keep the program mostly prop free to concentrate on the bouncing, singing, and caregiver/baby interaction.
  • Once we’ve completed out set of rhymes and bounces, we put out board books and toys and just let the caregivers and babies play.
  • A staff member sticks around – at least at the beginning – to offer some tips about interacting with books and learning through play.
  • But we also just like to give the caregivers and  babies time to socialize and play without us there, so we don’t feel obliged to be there talking and leading the whole time.


Here’s how we set the room up


Parents like the chairs and it’s good for lap bouncing!



Staff sits up front right next to our magnetic flannelboard/whiteboard. We use it in a lot of ways and it helps focus the class.  Here’s a shot of the main use during session:


Most of our rhymes are written out (by my awesome co-worker Chelsie who has great handwriting, lucky!) or printed out via Word on multiple sheets to create a poster.  We then use old posters to back them and display them through the session to give caregivers the words to follow along.  This is absolutely critical, I think. If you want caregiver participation, you have to give them the words.  This is a good visual.  We’re definitely looking at projecting the words using Powerpoint and one of our projectos. [and I’d LOVE to move to having some rhymes in Chinese (that’s our largest language outside of English) included when we do that too.] Here’s some more samples:


People really love The Grand Old Duke of York and it’s a ton of fun!


We can fit more than one rhyme per poster.

Some other favorite and frequently used bounces & rhymes:

Mother, Father, Uncle John

Let’s Go Riding In An Elevator

Where Oh Where Are Baby’s Fingers?

Here We Go Up, Up, Up

We also have a specific, permanent Baby Time cart, which always helps.


Here’s where we keep the books, the toys, the odds and ends. Let’s take a closer look!


Save up and get some stackable cups!!  I spent $12 for four sets at Tuesday Morning and they are such a hit.  The babies love to stack them, clap them together, try to fit them inside of each other.  Caregivers easily see how they encourage dialogue and word-building.  Love these cups.


Interactive blocks from Ross.  I got two sets of these, total of six, and they have activities and textures on every side and stack according to shapes.  These are a huge win because they are EASILY CLEANABLE (not true for all blocks) a little bit bigger so easier to hold for little hands and very interactive in a variety of ways.

Here they are together.  And you know one of the OTHER favorite toys?  The bins!  They are all from the Dollar Tree and babies LOVE to experiment with taking things in and out and playing with the storage bins themselves!



Sensory balls!  I bought sets at Costco and Target (yes Target!) and they are beloved. They weren’t cheap (nor were they TOO expensive) but we get a ton of use out of them.  These balls are another popular favorites.  They encourage interaction and play and caregivers start talking about them almost immediately.  Like the blocks, they are easy to clean (yay) and really encourage exploration for the babies.

BOOKS! We have a special set of board books JUST for Baby Time.  We try to have a mix, many are culled from donations or bought from the Dollar Tree. I like simple books with big pictures and easy vocabulary, as they fit the Baby Time crowd better than longer board book stories. I know many places have sets of board books and do choral readings.  I am not ruling out adding that to our Baby Time … but I also wanted to just START and the easiest way to just start was to round up some board books and encourage one on one sharing with caregivers and babies and then GO.  And that’s proven to be a beloved part of the routine.  No one seems to need choral readings of one titles and it really makes the book sharing more intimate.  If you’re nervous about getting a whole set of one title or don’t have the funds?  Don’t let that stop you! The important part is putting the books out there and sharing what you know about how caregivers can share the books with babies. We pour out two buckets of books and magic happens!


Remember I said we don’t tell older siblings to leave?  One tip I picked up while I was building my Baby Time skills was to have dolls on hand for the older sibilings.  (Yes, I’m talking about 3-5 year olds here!) If we have an older kid who wants to be PART of Baby Time, we have a bucket of dollies to encourage them to participate by following along with their own baby. I ask them to be a helper and a leader for the babies and they love this. First, this is adorable.  Second, it encourages play and keeps them (somewhat!) focused on the program.  What’s not to love?  We bought a case of these dollies from Dollar Tree (as you know, I often buy from them in bulk!) and they can even work for the babies during play.


And, of course, I have to have a baby of my own!  How else can I lead the activities?  Our baby is named Eebee.  He’s an real branded character, but most people aren’t familiar with him.  I won two Eebee’s at an ALA raffle YEARS ago and once we started Baby Time, I knew he was my perfect baby!


Yes, grown-ups don’t always like him and sort of find him creepy.  But babies LOVE him and are drawn to him.  I love him because, unlike many stuffies or baby dolls, he has EVERY thing we sing about (well not a bellybutton, sadly) to the babies.  Note his clearly articulated fingers, toes, nose, and ears!  Now, when I say and sing these I am really modeling to caregivers. We also carry Eebee through the department right before the program begins, cradling him like a baby, to invite people to the program.  They have become familiar with him, so he signals to even our non English speaking patrons that BABY TIME BABY FUN BABY BOUNCE time is happening.


You can!  You really can!  I think my whole staff had some trepidation about Baby Time.  I know I did!  It felt like it was never going to work or that we were wasting time and not connecting.  We we worried we’d never get the right age to come or that it wasn’t “program-y” enough.  Yes, there were bumps.  Yes, patrons didn’t instantly get what we were doing.  But after just a few sessions, parents (and staff) could see the babies really laughing and smiling and loving the bounces and it just felt right.

The most common refrain about Baby Time is: no one does it the same way.  This is true!  And don’t be afraid of that! Try something out.  I was SO WORRIED because we didn’t read books (even just one!) or do choral readings of the same board book but it didn’t ruin our Baby Time or make it useless, it just made us work harder to connect caregivers with the rhymes and bounces and it gave us a new way to explain that the library isn’t just books and building early literacy skills didn’t have to center ONLY around books.

I’m so glad we started Baby Time.  It has been a learning experience – heck, it still is.  If you don’t have a baby time … start one NOW!  You don’t need to learn a thousand rhymes or buy a thousand things: get two sets of stacking cups, a handful of board books, and use 6 of the rhymes in this post and you’re READY TO GO.

We don’t get huge crowds for Baby Time, but we can average 6-12 grown-ups per session, which ends up with a room full of bouncing, laughing, LEARNING babies.  What could be better?

Do you have a Baby Time?  I want to hear all about it and see pics and learn about what works for you and what your patrons love and learn from it!  I want to hear about your successes, your failures, and your plans! Leave me a comment or chat with me on Twitter about it.

If you haven’t started Baby Time, have no fear! Eebee and I believe in you!



Paperbag Theater @ Your Library


One of my co-workers called this “the perfect library program” and I have to agree!  It’s also SUPER SIMPLE and BASICALLY FREE and has a huge age range appeal.  What’s not to love!?

We opened a new branch library after years and years of planning. (My library system only has two locations – our larger main location where I work most of the time and our smaller branch library in the town at the bottom of the hill, about 15 minutes away.) It’s an amazing, open building with tons of new shelf space and an amazing stage area for reading and storytimes.  It’s located right next to the youth activity center, a playground, and a skate park.  As you can imagine – that means we CAN’T WAIT for tons of kids to visit the library.

As part of our opening – right after our summer programs ended – we added a special week of programming at the new branch library as a way to get people from both towns through the doors.

One of the programs I desperately wanted to add since we have A STAGE now was a paper bag theater.  I came on this idea after our Mo Willems program this summer.  (more about this soon!) Our Elephant and Piggie station was making Elephant and Piggie paper bag puppets (this is a very popular craft!  You can find some templates at this blog) and seeing how the kids interacted with them.  They LOVED making them talk to each other and telling stories with them.  I thought  – how simple and how fun.

When I saw our new library had a great stage area, I knew this was meant to be a program.


  • Buy a bunch of regular sized paper bags.  You could go look for colored ones or white ones, but we used the piles of brown paper bags we already had on hand.
  • Find some paper bag puppet templates you like.  These were easy enough to find on Pinterest.  (Check my Pinterest page) We decided we wanted to do ALL “color your own” but there are plenty out there that are already colored if you want to skip that step/have some of those on hand. We decided on a sea turtle, two dinosaurs, and an octopus.  (We had Elephant and Piggie and some parts to make monsters – left over from our monster party earlier in the week – but the kids weren’t as interested.)
  • Make some cool examples. (KIDS NEED TO SEE WHAT YOU MEAN!)


(my ever game student interns)

  • Build some kind of stage. Originally I thought of making something out of some large boxes … but I felt like those might be too stifling.  Ideally, I wanted this to be a program for older kids (ages 7+) so I didn’t want them to feel stuffed/squished/baby-ish.  Instead, my co-worker Chelsie found a pattern for some simple “stages” made out of butcher paper.  Basically, you just cut squares out of the butcher paper and could decorate it as you wished, then hanging it up where you wanted the stage to appear.  Perfect.  We made three.

That’s it!  That’s all you need.  Get some scissors, colored pencils, and glue sticks and you’re ready to go! (we chose colored pencils because we thought they would give the coloring more definition and again, seem “older” – but you could easily use crayons and/or markers too.)


Low and behold when we got to the library we discovered that in the all-purpose program room they had …. taken the doors off and the shelves out of the three HUGE cabinets in the room.  It was almost like they knew we were coming. (they were really fixing some things but what a divine coincidence!) Chelsie immediately knew that instead of worrying about how we’d hang things up on the stage we could just use these perfectly sized cabinets now with now shelves!  So, the stages were hung!


(see how there’s a little room to the right for kids to get inside?  It’s like they were built for this, I say!)

We chose to read stories that had lots of dialogue and could be “performed” by two library staff members.  This was fun and got them excited about acting out their own stories.

Perfect reading choices: any Elephant & Piggie book, This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat BackYo! Yes? and Ring! Yo? or Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack. (I am sure you can think of other great examples with two characters having conversations!)

Then we let the kids loose to color and create their puppets.  We encouraged them to make two for dialogue and they all seemed on board.  If anything, they rushed through to get to the dialogue, so I’d watch that and encourage they take their time to make them look great.

Then they went inside and the fun began.  My co-worker Melissa called out some prompts for them when they got stuck – “The turtle is angry with the T. Rex, what does he say?”  or “The Octopus lost something and needs the dinosaur’s help!” but once the kids started, the giggling and the conversation flowed.

two turts

dino turt

dino roar

turtles talkin

I MEAN WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE.  The kids didn’t want to leave as we were cleaning up and every single one took their puppet home to play with some more. Afterwards, Chelsie did say it was “the perfect library program” – and I knew just what she meant.  It involved creativity and re-telling stories and acting them out to understand what they’re about. It connected directly with stories and play and it was FUN!

We also were SO EXCITED to get an older crowd (we have tons of successful programs for 0-6, so whenever we can get the 6-12 year old school age crowd into a successful program they’re really into it just feels great.) who really got to play and work their imagination muscles during the program.

We’re definitely going to do this one again and I can’t recommend it enough – you could even make it themed around books, a seasonal program, or any specific theme.  It was more about getting kids to play and imagine than about one specific puppet. It was cheap, easy and quick to implement, and fun! A dream library program!!

Have you ever done a program around creating simple puppets?  Do you have a puppet theater or stage at your library?  How do you see kids playing with it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts/inspirations.  Leave me a note in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Passive Programs

WE DID IT.  We survived summer!  Ah summer! The most exciting and exhausting time in a public youth services librarian’s life.  Even when you’re pulling your hair out, every day has a moment or two that reminds you why you’re doing this whole thing.

This summer I decided I wanted to make some BIG and fundamental changes to our library’s offerings.  This included through programs and through the traditional reading program.  Over the past few years, I’ve been making incremental changes so this just seemed like the next step. We learned a lot of things, had some successes and some failures too and it’s just made me EVEN MORE HUNGRY TO CHANGE. I decided one of the best ways to reflect on all this was to write up some accounts of the changes we made and this is the first of the series.

You can find the other entries here: Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Redesigning the Logs & Fixing The Prize Problem and Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action Play Packs (prizes)

I wanted ways for EVERYONE who came into the library to participate and to have something to interact with.  One of the first things we added this year was the WEEKLY SHOWDOWN.  This was passive programming of the simplest kind and it encouraged the MOST fun conversations and engagement across all ages. Whole families participated, the kids who are on the computer every second participated, little kids and teens, everyone loved this. What’s Weekly Showdown?  All we did was decorate the large area across from our desk and, every Monday, put up two blank pieces of paper and a VERSUS for people to vote on.  Let the fun ensue!

Here’s the categories we used:

Weekly Showdown

Shout-out to Robin Marwick for some of her great suggestions!  I tried to avoid pop culture ones because I wanted it to be something for all ages/backgrounds.  No one seemed to mind! (and yes, that’s 957 votes which is AWESOME.)

Here’s what the whole display looked like:



Note the clever reference to Highlander, lol. As you can see, it looked like a lot of fun and encouraged everyone to participate.  We posted images of each competitors at the bottom of each sheet and tried to do a rough count every Monday.  We were always right?  Of course not, but we got a good base figure of how many people participated every week – a great addition to our “who REGISTERED??” ritual of summer.  It was fun to see patrons debating and whole families encouraging each other to look at what was new.

We also have a weekly challenge.  When kids/teens complete the challenge, they earn a piece of taffy.  As you might imagine, they will do anything for a piece of taffy!  So we try to make the challenges fun: put out a sign language book and have kids learn a sign and show it to the librarian, put out a pair of dice and have the kids record how many times it takes them to roll a number higher/lower than their age.

And of course – lots of chances to MAKE ART AND CREATE STUFF.

Two of our biggest hits this summer were squiggle pictures and complete a picture.  These are familiar activities in classrooms for early finishers or to develop creativity.  Why not bring them to a library?

There are lots of resources online, but this was my favorite example of squiggles pictures, which we printed out on cardstock.  We went through HUNDREDS on them in the course of a week.  Kids and parents just kept wanting to create with them.  Here’s a look at some of what they created:



The “complete a picture” design I chose for this summer was from one of my favorite sites that’s full of great printables, Picklebums. I chose WHO BELONGS TO THESE LEGS for robots.  As you can imagine, we got a ton of great responses.  Like the squiggle pictures, this was an activity that all ages could do. Note the different skill levels in these two pictures:


And finally, my new favorite addition of the summer!  I read about Marge’s library building a sticker robot based on visits and I knew I wanted to do something similar.  Again – it was tied to the idea that we would work on making coming to the library – JUST PLAIN COMING TO THE LIBRARY – a fun/incentive.  (Another post in this series will look at the other changes we made to the program including YES the “prize dilemma”)

We are lucky enough to have a neat display space – an art gallery with great display boards.  We made eight themes for the eight weeks of the program.  They had themes like JUNGLE – PLACES TO GO – FIREWORKS and we used corresponding stickers we had left over from Oriental Trading and some I bought from Lakeshore Learning.  It really wasn’t that expensive and we cleared out a lot of old, musty stickers. Every time a kid came in with a reading log, they got to put up a sticker on the weekly collage.  As you may guess, the kids loved doing this and we always made a big deal about it. Not only did they love it, but it was (another) informal way for us to track who was coming in.  AND it was cool decoration. What’s not to love? Like the voting, we didn’t get it right every time, but there was a measure.  Here’s a few looks.





(note that kids chose on their own to make a school of fish who were being fed by multiple fish food bottles. Also see how we ran out of fish and had to just add other stickers in.  Big ocean this week!)

We also decide to have one for the middle and high school kids too.  It didn’t change every week but they LOVED doing it.  BECAUSE OF MUSTACHES.




Over the course of eight weeks we had close 1,000 returns.  A great stat, yes, but also something more than just “how many completed? how many finished?  how many walked off with a log?”  Well – we can collect that too but now we know that over eight weeks we had almost 1,000 visits to the library.  THAT’S a number that tells the REAL story of what summer at the library is.

These passive programs were great additions and helped me achieve goals on several levels:

  • engage new library visitors.
  • show a more accurate picture of what summer is like at the library.
  • add something to summer events without adding a lot of staff time and effort.
  • have a way to informally track summer participation and library visits.

And, oh yeah, it was a ton of fun. Can’t forget that part!

Have you ever done these kind of passive programs?  What ways do you think they could work in your library as part of summer or any time programming?  What additions can you think of for any of these programs or displays? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or you can chat with me on Twitter.

(and stay tuned for more posts in my re-vamping summer series!)


Proposed Program: STEM Meets Diversity

I was brainstorming for summer reading when I came up with this program.  A lot of the inspiration came from What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Raymond Obstefeld.

color my world

This book traces the history of several African American inventors who are not widely known.  As I was thinking about creating a STEM program for the summer I thought … why not make the STEM program based on the work of real scientists? (yes, this thought was helped by the fact my town is filled with ever so many real scientists and many kids here have scientist parents.  As they always say: the best place to look around for ideas is your own community!)

This could help the kids, especially school age kids, put the experiments and science into a real world context – hopefully making a stronger and more lasting impact on them. As you may know, I love putting things in a real world context as it is a way to show kids that learning really is all around them and extending learning beyond the library and beyond library programs.  So connecting STEM programs to actual scientists and actual discoveries and actual inventions seemed like the perfect fit.

And once I thought of that … I instantly thought of this book.  What if we created a STEM program that was based around real-life inventions and scientists … of color.

Some advantages:

  • kids probably won’t be familiar with these scientists and their work, so you’re not just repeating things about Newton they’ve heard twenty times already. New!  Exciting!  Interesting!
  • you INSTANTLY have another diversity program that also covers STEM programming: two areas most libraries are looking to develop in.
  • it’s chance to take on STEM in a new way  – when I was creating our ScienceFest week of programs, I found a lot of the same stuff.  WHICH IS AWESOME but this is a way to approach STEM from a whole new direction and expand STEM to cover history and biography too.
  • I relish any chance I have to educate caregivers too – this could be a great chance to explain to caregivers WHY you are having this program, HOW they can help have conversations with their children about diversity and discovery. We can be the facilitators and leaders in these conversations about diversity and this program, which will have hands on experimenting and FUN is a perfect gateway.

Here are a few inventors and experiment pairings:

And those are just a few – I am sure there are tons more.  My original idea was to call the program Colors of STEM, but when I thought of also adding (white) women who were lesser known inventors I realized it didn’t quite fit.  So, I don’t quite have the right name yet: maybe something about discoveries or diversity or broadening your STEM horizons.  I also thought you might do this thematically by month – so you could have Great African-American Inventors in February or Women Inventors in March.  That would be another way to make those celebrations and displays get active in your library.

So what do YOU think?  Have any great names for this program?  Have some good ideas of  inventors/projects you think could go together and fit the theme?  What are some ways you could expand your STEM programming to be more diverse or more real world relevant? Comment here or chat with me on Twitter

Oh and one thing I definitely know – you could wrap the series up (especially if you do it in summer…) with a water gun party. After all Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker, is African American! 🙂



Proposed Program: Meet the Music

It all started with Little Melba!


Little Melba and Her Big Trombone was one of my favorite books of 2014!  This swinging picture book biography (winner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Frank Morrison, yay!) tells the story of Melba Liston, a girl in the 1930s who was told little girls couldn’t play trombones.  Of course, Melba picked that trombone up and mastered it – becoming the first woman to play trombone in big bands of the 1940s. After I read, and fell in love with this amazing book, I thought just one thing –


After jamming out to Melba Liston, I started thinking about how I could share this book in programs.  It’s a little too long to use in a story time, even one of our early readers sessions (which are geared at 4-7).  But I knew kids would love the illustrations and love the story of Melba’s creativity, determination, and successes.  So….where and when to use it?

Then I thought waaaay back to one of my first summers programming – all the way back in 2009. That summer, I built a program around one of my favorite American artists – Jackson Pollock.  Specifically: we had a school-age program in the summer – it lasted about an hour and we were always looking for programmings.  I read the book Action Jackson and then we spread out paper, listening to some jazz and did Jackson Pollock proud.

The kids had a BLAST – I could actually see them splattering to the music – just like Jackson Pollock did. The book and the art and the music all came together in this tangible, memorable way. It was an awesome program

pollock(me, rocking it in 2009 with Action Jackson and the kid’s art. See how long I’ve loved my job?!)

I thought about Melba Liston’s music and then I thought about that paint splatter and summer and school age kids and combining different literacies and … then I thought about all those cool picture book biographies about musicians that it’s sometimes hard to find the right reader for and …

MEET THE MUSIC was born!

What’s MEET THE MUSIC?  Let’s look at a program outline!

  • When: Once a week during the summer programming blitz, when we have lots of kids and families coming in and looking for programs to share.
  • Who: School age kids – old enough to listen to longer stories and discuss them but still young enough to love picture books and being read to.  We’ll have it open to ages 7+.
  • Why: Developing multiple literacies (music literacy!  visual literacy!  multicultural literacy!) and giving a spotlight to some books that might get lost in the biography section.  Also – these biographies do a great job highlighting multicultural and diverse lives and achievements. (So many POC, heck yes! And two of the books I selected are Schneider Family Book Award winners, spotlighting disabled protagonists who were successful musicians.)
  • What: Every week we chose an artist!  We read a biography about them and then listen to some of their music. TA-DAH. That’s it, program done.  NOW you could build out from this.  You could encourage the kids to talk about the music afterwards: did it sound like they thought it would from the book?  Did the writer do a good job describing the music and the way it makes you feel?  How would THEY describe the music and the way it made them feel? What about the pictures?  How do music, words, and pictures all work together? You could extend that to an art activity – draw during or after the music.

I talked about this ideas with some of my favorite librarians at Midwinter – Kendra, Laura, and Cate (among others) and they each came up with ways this program might work in their communities.  Kendra thought about adding live music and turning it into a longer family program featuring community musicians.  THAT’S AMAZING! (see why I have the best PLN both online and when I get really lucky IRL?!)

And that’s another thing I love about this program – it’s flexible and it can grow and to fit YOUR library.

Don’t believe you have enough books to power this program?  More like you don’t have enough weeks to cover all the books.  Here’s just a few of the titles I thought of. Look at the genres of music they span! Look at the different faces and illustrations!

And, of course, the cute program name: kids will be invited to meet the musicians by learning about their lives through the text and then meet the music by listening to it.

I can’t wait to start the introductions!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  This program is DEFINITELY read to be stolen and implemented at your library! Do you have modifications for the program that might work at your library or make it more engaging?  How about other suggested titles that might fit – I’m sure there are some awesome picture book biographies of classical musicians, for instance.  Do you think a program like this would be successful at YOUR library? Are YOU ready to meet the music?!

Leave me a comment here with all your thoughts or talk with me on Twitter.


Thrive Thursday February 2015 Round-Up

thriveWelcome to Thrive Thursday for February the month of love.  It’s a perfect month for me to host, because I LOVE THIS ROUND-UP and I love this community!

There’s TONS of great content this month, so let’s get going!

  • Mallory has a BRAND-NEW blog (aw yes new bloggers, welcome and keep writing!) and she wrote this great post about her World Record program and it sounds totally do-able and amazingly customizable.
  • Lindsey at the legendary Jbrary wrote about her adventures booktalking.  I loved her lists AND there are included Powerpoint presentations!
  • Brytani has a wonderful new addition to the list of character events with … a WINNIE THE POOH party! Um, yes.
  • I am OBSESSED with Lisa’s super-simple and super-wonderful Car Day program. All you need is tape and imagination!  I’m definitely doing this one!

Another amazing month of school-age programs.  If you wrote something in January that fits, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it in.

THANK YOU to everyone who wrote and submitted something – you are all inspirations to program for this age and share ideas about it.  We CAN serve this age group just as well as we do babies and teens.  Let’s keep the conversation going!

If you’re interested about learning more about the wonders of Thrive After Three and the monthly blog hop you can:

  • Check out the schedule here.
  • Pinterest board: Find roundups and themes for your after school programs here.
  • Join in on the after school fun with the Facebook Group.

Thrive On!


FROZEN @ Your Library!

There’s no way to escape Frozen.  And hey, why would you want to?  Of all Disney products, it’s not the worst.  In fact, there’s some pretty great parts.  What’s not to love about a heroine with ice powers and another heroine who saves her? The idea for this program really started growing when I noticed a group of four year old girls playing this really elaborate fantasy game about going on a hunt for Kristoff at the same time another little girl was sitting at the coloring table and narrating to her mother how the picture she was coloring was Elsa’s castle.

I want in on that kinda elaborate fantasy life! Accordingly, we decided to end our summer of programs with a Frozen sing-along.  We’ve done this kind of media-ish event for teens before, but this was our first attempt with the 3-12 year old crow. (yes, it was a huge age range.) But how hard could it be?  Just throw in a DVD and press play, right?  But, of course, we learned some lessons.  Here’s how we put it all together!

First, let me say this event would have been impossible to pull off without the help of my three student workers: Jared, Dillon, and Stephanie. They did tons of the prep work for it, cosplayed on different levels for it, and helped manage it the day of.  You’ve seen them before on the blog because they make our programs happen but this event, especially, depended entirely on them since – literally – the rest of my regular staff was on vacation.  In fact, this is tip one: have staff that is willing to play along.  We wanted to make this a real event not just something they could watch at home on their giant TVs. So this made it so much more fun for all the kids!

First question: Were we going to watch it with the subtitles on? 

When we did this at the end of July, there was no Sing-Along version. There’s also no way to turn the subtitles on and off without going to the main menu, so that was obviously out.  The subtitles were also just regular subtitles, which means small and yellow.  We decided they were more distracting than worth it.  So … no subtitles.

But GOOD NEWS – if you’re having an event on or after November 18, you can use the official SING-ALONG version. I haven’t seen any clips or anything, but I am imagining the songs will be like this one from the UK sing-along version.

I still don’t know if I’d bother with that, though.  Besides the fact we had many pre-readers (and many families/kids that have limited English) and the kids mostly knew all the songs … that dancing Olaf head is sort of  distracting.  It might make it feel more SPECIAL EVENT-Y, though. But at least now you have the option!

But we were worried about the lyrics.  So we made up some lyric books.

lyric books

(Dillon posing with the lyric booklet)

We laminated the sheets and put them together using binder rings.  They went in order of how the song appear in the movie. As you can see, they were not fancy and they were mostly meant for the adults.  We expected a huge crowd, so we didn’t make enough for everyone, just enough to go around. Mostly parents were uninterested in them.  It was dark in the room and they didn’t really want to follow along anyway.  They wanted to keep them after though, haha. So maybe you could make them as take-home favors?  Otherwise, we definitely wouldn’t do this again.

Second question: How to decorate? What about costumes?

Remember, the goal was to make this AN EVENT: something worth specifically coming to the library for, something they couldn’t just do at home.  (as long-time readers of the blog know, this is one of our main goals for these kind of events, no matter the theme.) And you know what events have?  DECORATIONS.  So, we made a big purchase. We bought stand-ups of Anna and Elsa and Olaf so we could set up a photobooth. We bought them from Amazon (closest party store didn’t have them in stock) and, as you can see, they were expensive.  BUT. BUT.

This is one of the most successful pieces of marketing we’ve EVER done.  And we didn’t have to do a darn thing besides set it up.  Because every parent and grandparent and caregiver that came took a ton of pictures of their charges posing and then did what we do with pictures these days: shared them.  Shared them all over and said it was at a library event and everyone saw them and then there were conversations about the library and library programs and how amazing the library is for families. (I am friends with some moms on Facebook, so I saw those and that was great- and I know there were many more all across social media and personal sharing.) There were parents there with professional grade cameras, taking pictures that will be part of their child’s story for a LONG time.  And that will ALL tie to the library. It was worth all the money.

We took the stand-ups and all my leftover holiday wrapping paper (now’s the time to pick up that snow wrapping paper!) in blue and silver and used our Ellison to make some snowflakes. With some white butcher paper and cotton batting, all on hand, we created the world’s greatest photobooth/posing area.


We were originally going to give these away as door prizes, which could be a way you could justify the cost. But we decided to keep them both in case we have another Frozen event and also to possibly use in display and promotion – imagine the reaction to them hanging out in the YS area with info about programs! Overall?  If you have the budget for the stand-ups I say go for it.  But even if you don’t spring for them: having a photobooth is a must.  Make one with snowflakes, wrapping paper, and posters – just make it clear that this is an area for posing. This, of course, encourages the kids to come in costume, which is another huge draw of making your event special.

And yes, that brings us to costumes.  Oh, if you know me, you know a costume’s coming.  But this time I lucked out, my whole staff dressed up.

group 1 P1020354


Here’s what was great: we had all different levels of cosplay happening to take the pressure off.  Stephanie wore something as simple as a Frozen tshirt.  Dillon matched her outfit to Anna’s thematically/color wise. Jared and I went to a fuller cosplay level, with Jared taking it to a con-worthy outfit. The kids LOVED IT.  They asked Jared to be in pictures with them and they giggled with delight on seeing us ALL.  For me, the biggest choice was Elsa’s hair.  It’s hard to find an adult wig for her that doesn’t look cheap.  So … I had a friend make this amazing knitted creation. (You can buy them on Etsy in all sizes, another bonus.) Kids loved it too, it was very approachable.  And yes, I did Elsa make-up: another huge hit.  (bright purple eyeshadow, light blush, tons of red lipstick.)

elsa faceWe had TONS of kids in Elsa costumes – from 2-3 year olds to 9-10 year olds, hand-made to fanciest of the store-bought. We had fewer Annas, but they were also representing.  We had a family come in costume, with a 4 year old Anna and the dad wearing antlers to be Sven and the older brother as Olaf. We even had a kid dressed up as the Duke, complete with black glasses made out of pipe-cleaners.  The costumes were a real highlight, so I would make sure to highlight and encourage that element in your promotion. If you’ve ever wanted your chance to be a Disney character that kids want in their pictures, well!  Today’s your day!


Third question: would we have handouts/favors/props?

At a lot of our themed events we have crafts and things the kids take home.  But we weren’t doing anything at this one besides watching the movie, so I didn’t mind (clears throat) letting that go. Not every program has to be the same program, after all.

BUT.  I did want them to have something.  I was worried about the kids who were going to show up without costumes.  I wanted them to feel part of the event, part of the FEELING, anyway.   We created something cheap that turned out to not only be a photobooth prop but something for them to have at the movie.  All we needed was our stash of popsicle sticks, white paper, and our snowflake diecut again. That’s right: everyone got snowflake wands!


The event was held on the third floor of our library, where we opened our three giant meeting rooms into one room.  It’s set up with pretty sweet surround sound and has a giant screen.  We created a white butcher paper runway with blue cellophane over it leading to the photobooth/posing area.  When the kids came up the stairs or off the elevator, they got a snowflake from the ice block and a greeting from staff, errrr … the citizens of Arendelle. They went to the photobooth area and then headed in to sit on the floor in the meeting rooms.  (it was about a thousand degrees, ironically, so we had to quickly set up fans.) Here’s some fans posing with their wands:


The other instructions/use for the wands helped make the kids feel a little more relaxed and involved during the movie: we encouraged the kids to hold them up high and move them back and forth as they were singing along.

As they became more and more enchanted with the movie, they lifted the snowflakes up and swayed them side to side. It sure was something to see.

When the movie was over, we gave all the attendees one last parting gift – an Anna and Elsa paper doll set.  I found a really talented artist named Cory Jensen. He makes beautiful art. He also makes free (as long as you don’t use them commercially, of course) PAPER DOLLS.

elsa doll

He has several different sets of Frozen dolls on his Facebook page, but we chose these because there wasn’t a lot of cutting around their heads and faces. It was a good thing to give on the way out and as a take-home. The parents LOVED paper dolls and when we showed kids the ones we’d prepared, they couldn’t wait to try out this brand new technology of dolls made out of paper with interchangeable clothes! We had them printed on cardstock by our print shop but they came out a little grainy at full 8 x 11, so I suggest doing a test print.  I think we’d do them again, but I could easily see trading it out for a color-at-home crown or a packet of coloring sheets. The take-home part was more important than the fancy/color paper dolls. The take-home was a good way to bring everything to a firm conclusion.

Final Thoughts

What an event! We had around 130 people, parents and kids and whole families, in attendance and more people talking about it for weeks and weeks after.  There were definitely some snags and here’s a few things to consider as you plan:

  • The temperature of the room was boiling, so that was difficult.  (Facilities issues, amIright!) We also had to have the majority of people sitting on the floor, sorry but it was the only way to get them all in. So, ahead of time: think about the physical location of where you’ll be having this, what the room will feel like, how to set it all up. Be prepared to talk to patrons about if they’ll have to sit on the floor or explain why the room is set up the way it is – most were understanding.
  • There will be latecomers, there’s no way around it.  But we were firm on starting the movie on time. The con of course was people stumbling in while the room was dark and crowded, but … well at some point you HAVE to start, so make it on time.
  • If you decide you’re going to have a photobooth/photo area, decide and decorate ahead of time.  You’ll note in one photo we added an X for where to stand, that helped. It helped us have this separated off, don’t have it too close to the screening area.  We left the photo area up for just in case after shots. (but we found toddlers knocking over the stand-ups as they wandered out of the movie, so make sure you rope it off/clean it up if you won’t have staff near it.)
  • Took the kids a song to two to warm up, but if you have a grown-up singing/into it up front, it helps – as did our staff’s enthusiasm, costumes, and willingness to play. But d0n’t sing OVER them (an issue me and my big mouth had to learn.)

In all, it was a great topper to our summer program.  This program was about much more than a movie kids loved, it was the exact kind of event that we KNOW the library is all about and we dream of finding a way to tell the world we’re all about. It was a day of play, imagination, love of story, community and … FUN!

The best proof?  Here’s some video my student intern Stephanie shot of our crowd singing Let It Go.  You can hear me shouting, of course, but just listen to their voices.  Watch the gentle rise of snowflake wands, hear how they invest this moment with ALL THE HAVE inside them.

If this isn’t why we do what we do … well, what is?

Have YOU had a Frozen event or something similar based around a fandom or movie for this age cohort at your library? Are there any tips and tricks for events like this that have really worked for you?  If you’re planning an event like this what are you working on and when do you think your patrons will be the most interested? Did you want clarification or expansion about anything I mentioned in this blog? Leave me a comment here or let’s talk on Twitter.

Now start practicing those songs!


A Week of ScienceFest Programming

My town loves science!  Of course we do – we’re where the atomic bomb was built and, since that time, we’ve had a national science laboratory here in our town that fills up our community with scientists from all over the world.

For the past few years, our town has celebrated a yearly Science Festival.  Over the years, the name and length has changed all building up to this year, which was eight days of events all across town.  There were all kinds of events all over our community – at museums, parks, schools and more. There were author talks and live demonstrations and lectures and hands-on demonstrations of tech – you name it. It all culminated in an ExpoDay with booths, music, live demonstrations, the whole she-bang.  You can view the entire festival schedule online here.

Since STEM is so important in libraries right now – rightfully so for all the ways it encourages different literacies and engages our growing users, I decided this was the perfect chance to stick our toes into STEM programming in a major way.  So, I announced our library would participate by integrating STEM activities into our regular weekly programming for ages 0-6 AND by adding extra afternoon sessions for 7-12 year olds AND by having a special teen session to go along with our monthly TAG meeting AND having a booth at the actual ExpoDay.  You know me: go big or don’t bother.

How did it go?  What did we do?  What did we learn? Let me share!


Program: Mythbusters

Ages: 12-18

Source: I first saw the idea on Bryce‘s Sneaky STEM blog and then I raided Pinterest and the actual Mythbusters site for ideas.

Total Cost: Under $2o

Attendance: 14 kids

How Did It Go? The idea was that this would be teen centered programming before our monthly Teen Advisory Meeting where the teens come to hear about the newest books.  I was worried about it because it was the first TAG of the school year, so I knew we’d have new teens (I hoped!) and wasn’t sure what it’d be like.  But why not try?  So, we had Mythbusters RIGHT BEFORE TAG, giving us only half an hour to run the program.

We had three activities planned and we posed them as questions on sheets of paper taped to the wall.  The kids had to come up BEFORE each experiment and write if they thought it was a myth or not.  After we tested it we wrote BUSTED or CONFIRMED on the paper.  Easy way to track it and fun visual too!

The activities were: buttered toast always falls face down (the one we didn’t get to test), Pop Rocks make your stomach explode, and a substance can be a liquid and a solid at the same time.

We ended up rounding up a mess of 12 year olds (with a few 10-11s mixed in) to supplement the program, because most of our older TAG kids were not impressed.  I think because they’d seen a lot of it before and because they were there for TAG, darn-it. But even they got a little nervous with the Pop Rocks, which was hilariously fun.  We made them measure it out and use different amounts of Pop Rocks and Coke and I shook some of them up, which sent the kids running – convinced it would explode. The younger kids loved digging their hands in the Oobleck and watching it go from solid to liquid as we added more water and cornstarch.




What Did We Learn? This would be a tons of fun program to host for tweens and younger teens. And I’d definitely recommend staging that incarnation of it for a longer period of time. And we maybe shouldn’t have piggybacked it onto TAG … but a lot of the 12-13 year olds stayed and they might not have if they hadn’t had the science part first.  Making our decisions about if it was a myth or not was fun and added interest for sure. Talking about how each was busted or confirmed was a good STEM conversation with lots of questions and speculation from the kids. Good time, would do again!


Program: Sensory Bags at Baby Time

Ages: 0-4

Source: I have been transfixed by this idea since seeing Kendra‘s Baby Art in a Bag and Brooke‘s Baby Art. This is also a popular activity for older kids busy bags on Pinterest, so it kept coming up.

Total Cost: Around $20

Attendance: At least 30 parents and babies during the 30 minutes we had the stations open



I did something different than art.  We took bottles of hair conditioner and hair gel and mixed them in bags  with a little bit of food color.  We taped them down to the floor and taped down “work mats” for the babies to sit and crawl on. Then we let them at the bags.  They mixed colors, they stepped on them, they smushed them in their fists. They felt the texture.  They even sat on them. I COMMAND YOU TO LOOK AT THIS ADORABLENESS.


toesies(look how she’s putting her little feet on it!  LOOK!)


(one of the bags post mixing – the lasted a really long time and no babies managed to get inside.)

premixing 1(bags waiting to be mixed. Oh and it should be obvious that besides the mixing, the babies loved crawling, walking, and feeling these cheap plastic tablecloths we taped down.  It was a sensory experience itself!)

What Did We Learn? OMG THE SMELL. The smell of the conditioner and gel was overwhelming to me.  I wish we had done it in one of our rooms with windows that opened. Other staff said it wasn’t so bad but basically everyone in YS area that day mentioned it smelled like a beauty shop. I think it gave me a serious headache the next day.  So, be warned. We also learned to NOT USE SHAMPOO.  It quickly melted into a soupy mixture that actually made us gag a little! It just wasn’t thick enough.

BUT using the conditioner and gel over the paint did let us experiment with different textures/mixture levels of gel and conditioner.  The babies were especially drawn to the gel (that’s the one they liked sitting and walking on the best) and the way it color mixed.

I think the fact it was a thing most people have at their house made it feel more replicable to the parents, so that was a bonus.  This is the program where I got one of the best compliments of my professional life when a mom said, “This is like a Pinterest idea come to life!” YEEEEEEEEES!

I’d definitely do this, or something like this, again.  (like with paint this time!) The parents loved it, the babies REALLY loved it, and it gave me a good chance to mingle and talk with them about how even this kind of play is science, how their babies are learning from everything, how sensory play enriches all their learning and even the youngest children can engage in it. Also I got to see tiny babies hammering away with their tiny baby fists at sensory bags so WINNER!

Program: Magnetic Slime

Ages: 7-12

Source: My colleague Melissa ran this program.  Originally I had scheduled something about volcanoes because who doesn’t love that but Melissa wanted to try something new.  So sure! She found the idea on a blog via Pinterest.  (I highly recommend you follow Melissa’s craft board on Pinterest, she is our guru of this!)

Total Cost: We did have to buy the magnets (but then they just wanted to use our magnet wands) and the black iron oxide.  That was about $2o. We found them on Amazon. With the rest of it, the glue and liquid starch, I’d say it was all about $3o – but that made plenty.

Attendance: 10 kids.  We had this at our branch, where we usually get much smaller attendance, but Youth Activity Center has been temporarily set up next door so we actually had kids show up.  This is exciting for when we’ll build our new branch in JUST MONTHS and the YAC will be nearby.  Yes!

How Did It Go? Much messier and chunkier than the blog made it look (shocker).  The kids didn’t mind this, of course, but it did end up making clean-up basically being throwing lots of stuff away.  They liked making the mess just as much as seeing it was magnetic.

slime 2


What Did We Learn? MOAR MESS!  As we discovered with Mythbusters: the best programs for tweens are the ones where they can get elbows deep in making, touching, and creating stuff. It didn’t even have to be about the mess, it was just as much about the mixing and watching the reactions. We tweaked the formula a little too – more iron oxide made it more magnetic but we didn’t want it to become TOO liquid-y. Also there was no way we were having them put this near their mouths like on the blog.  Leave that to actual guardians, hah.


Program: BristleBots

Ages: 7-12

Source: Library programs and maker-movements worldwide.  Years ago I saw this demo’ed at a library conference and always had it on my list. We had done robot kits before and always had the BristleBots on our list so, again, another perfect chance.  There’s lots of tutorials online: this is the one we used the most.

Total Cost: You can buy whole kits to make them, but they’re hard to find (sold out in every place I looked, shipping in 10-45 weeks) so we just bought parts.  All together it cost a little over $30 to make 10.  I got toothbrushes at the Dollar Tree, we used mounting tape, lithium coin batteries, and small pager motors. Here’s Melissa on why she chose to use the pager motors: “Having the copper leads already attached was crucial to this project. Otherwise we could have been doing all the attaching ahead of time or while the kids waited- it’s too fiddly for most 7-8-9- year old hands.”

Attendance: Exactly 10 kids.  How perfect was that? (we don’t do registration, so this was a fingers crossed!)

How Did It Go? They were even MORE interested when Melissa hauled out the Legos and let them put the motors on the Legos.  So there you go!  But what’s not to like about tiny little vibrating robot?


What Did We Learn? Yeah, we obviously needed smaller batteries, as you can see.  OR we should have cut longer stems from the toothbrushes like in the guide we found.  We also discovered that hot glue worked on the batteries as well, but it wasn’t as malleable. The fun came from putting the motors on other things too – like the Lego monsters or paperclips – to see how it worked. (but they really did like the toothbrushes.) And we could have made a better racing course or mazes for them, but that could be a second program with them. We’d definitely do it again and it was good to have a program for a slightly older skewing crowd that still appealed to and was possible for 8 year olds.


Program: Geyser Science at Toddler Time

Ages: 3-5

Source: One of the amazing Amy‘s ALSC blogs from last year was about doing a Geyser Science session for school-age kids.  I thought “Hey, why not age that down?!”

Total Cost: I guess about $16 for all the Alka-Seltzer tabs, heh. My boss drinks about a million mini-water bottles (8 oz) a day, so we have piles of them.  They were perfect for this because they were just the right size for littler hands and didn’t need as much water.

Attendance: We had this session twice: once at our branch’s Family Storytime where we had about 20 parents and kids participating at our main branch Toddler Time where we had about 40 parents and kids participating.

How Did It Go? Amazing, amazing, amazing.  The kids loved it, the parents loved it: they did it over and over, they wanted to take sets home, they raved. One of the things that was great about this experiment was that it gave us some flexibility in presenting and talking about science concepts. When we had the Family Storytime, my colleague Chelsie chose to focus on sick day stories.  This gave her a chance to talk about how germs are spread and to then segue into how Alka-Seltzer – or bubbly drinks – can sometimes help our stomach feel better when it’s upset and how liquid medicine can act quickly.  BIG science concepts, right, but approachable by even young kids … especially when they get to see how that medicine works in a quick and bubbly way!

When I did the same experiment at Toddler Time the next day, I chose to focus on opposites instead.  Why?  Because the experiment would show us what reactions happens what opposites – bases and acids – come into contact. It would really give the kids a visual on what OPPOSITES mean. All of my stories and songs were about opposites.

Chelsie did her storytime outside over concrete and I did mine inside over buckets.  Like I said: easily modifiable for the space you have to work with or other themes you can think of.  (I think this would be a fun activity to do with stories about bubbles too.)

I started by showing them the most basic of opposite reactions: the classic vinegar and baking soda.  Many of these small children had never seen it before and they. were. blown. away.



Then we were set for them to try.  We set parents and kids up over these giant Rubbermaid containers.  We made it clear that this was a perfect chance for parents to get directly involved because there was no way we could do it with every kid.  They were pretty responsive and engaged which made it easy.


Here’s a Mom helping her kid hold her hand over a bottle.  Note baby brother





The wild leftovers.  This bin was literally still fizzing it had so much Alka-Seltzer bubbled over in it.

Of COURSE that’s a girl in a full princess outfit with a crown on digging her hands in.  OF COURSE IT IS.  That’s the magic of science!

What Did We Learn? Don’t be afraid to scale activities down.  Don’t be afraid to tackle big scientific concepts even with small kids – we had 2 year olds who were putting their hands over the bottles and watching them spill over.  And even though Chelsie and I did totally different themes we used the same activity – with slight modifications, giving us a lot of interpretation room on either side.  It was easier getting the parents involved when it was a one-on-one scenario.  If it had been 10 kids around a bottle it would have been much harder all round  but the individual bottles made sharing the Rubbermaid containers easier.  On the way out all the parents and kids asked when we were doing a science activity again.

Program: Airplanes in Action

Ages: 7-12

Source: I saw a paper airplane kit at the Dollar Tree (y’all know how I feel about the Dollar Tree) and decided it would fit ScienceFest programming.  I bought several sets.

Total Cost: $4 for the kits.  Cheap!

Attendance:  Like the magnetic slime program – and like most of our school year afterschool weekday programs – we had a low number show up just for the program.  So!  We  went around the library and rounded up kids hanging out and pulled them into the program.  That gave us 11 kids when it was all over and they didn’t want to leave once they started having fun.

How Did It Go? We had some simple hand-outs about why airplanes fly and why pieces of paper don’t so we opened with a discussion about that and simple aerodynamics.  The kit had patterned paper and instructions to make cool looking planes and once we actually practiced the patterns so we could show them to the kids, it was actually pretty cool.  The heavier paper made the planes fly longer and straighter and the kids loved the shapes and patterned paper.  Inside each kit was a landing strip with points.  We laminated them and set them up and had the kids aim for points.  We also made a super-simple target made from a single piece of posterboard with holes cut out and scores on it (another Pinterest idea) and the kids LOVED THAT.  They would have stood there all day trying to get the planes through the specific circles.


Here’s a sample of the runways and the patterns. Good value! Go check out your Dollar Tree in the craft aisle to see if they have some.

We took Friday off since we didn’t have a regularly scheduled programs and we get lower attendance (school age) on Fridays.  And we had to rest up for ExpoDay!


Program: Is It Magnetic? at ExpoDay

Ages: All ages

Source: my burning desire to use magnet wands.

Total Cost: $13 for the set of six magnet wands.

Attendance: Over the course of four hours, we outreached to at least 250 patrons and performed the experiment with around 175 kids, teens, and adults too.

How Did It Go? We created simple testing sheets for the kids to make their hypotheses on.  Then we handed over the magnet wands and let them test each item and record the findings.  We did something similar a few years back with WILL IT SINK OR FLOAT and I just think these are the best kinds of experiments for all ages – it gives you a chance to explain what a hypothesis is, how science is about testing and not being right or wrong, how you can only find out the RIGHT answer by doing the testing yourself.  And we got to celebrate with all the kids about how they were scientists, which they loved and is great language to use. When they completed they got some cheap prizes we had left over – parachute people, foam gliders, balloons, and stickers.

They LOVED using the wands, they loved being surprised (by the pipe cleaner and the soda tab – that one got them all and lead to lots of great conversations), and they loved being right too.

In a career highlight moment, one parent stopped by, observed the kids hard at work with the magnets and testing sheets and then asked if we were from the National High Magnetic Field Lab (a real thing in our town!) HAHAHA NO SIR BUT THANK YOU FOR ASKING, HAVE A BALLOON!


Hard at work doing SCIENCE! (the objects we chose were: a pom-pom, a penny, a paper clip, a soda can tab, a pipe cleaner, and a screw.)


The set up of our table.

We also had some containers (see right side of the table) that had pieces of pipe cleaners and pom-poms inside.  One was a glass vase, one was a giant plastic bucket, and one was a smaller plastic bottle.  We let the kids drag the wands along the sides to show how the pipe cleaners followed along.  This was great to have on hand for the younger kids (I literally had to pry it out of the hands of a toddler at one point.) and no matter their age, they loved playing with the big plastic bucket. This was a Pinterest idea I expanded/modified a bit and it was a last minute addition, but I was so glad we had it! Everyone was absolutely fascinated and delighted with this!

magnet bucket


magent bucket 1

WHEW!  So there you have it!  Our Chamber of Commerce reported that over 9 days there were 90 events with over 5,000 people attending.  That seems like most of the people who showed up at the library. 🙂 In all, we had a great slate of events.  While there was definitely some prep time for each program, it wasn’t anything that felt out of control. Ditto with the costs.  And, of course, I was helped by my great team of colleagues and facilitators – Chelsie, Melissa, Stephanie made these events possible.

I’m not sure WHAT we’ll offer for next year’s ScienceFest, but I know we’ll be part of it.

What’s the number one thing we learned?  I think it’s that STEM activities really CAN be put into all the programs you already offer and for all ages and that they fit right in with what a library offers to a community of children and teens and, well, learners. I think we also discovered that we could both find great inspirations and try changing them in a variety of ways so why not JUST TRY?!

You might not have a ScienceFest in your town (or a National High Magnetic Field Lab) but you can JUST TRY too.  If you have questions about any of the programs I laid out here, suggestions or stories about what kind of STEM programs work for you or that you want to try – I wanna hear all about it! Leave me a comment here or talk to me on Twitter.