Like many of you, I want to provide the homeschoolers in my community with programming relevant and interesting to them. Many homeschoolers are heavy library users so it made sense to design a program for them. Anyway, we’re always looking for more school year programs for school age kids so why not use this demographic?
As always, I looked to my friends and colleagues for inspiration! Abby has the smartest blogs about programming for her homeschoolers and the many different things her library has tried and what they’ve discovered each time. Please take some time to read her blogs tagged homeschool.
One thing I decided early on was that I wanted to build the program around books. There are so many things you can do for homeschoolers, but books seemed like a thing that could really promote the library’s strengths and offer something unique to draw this crowd in.
Hence: HomePages! I also had a specific vision I thought could make HomePages unique: we would read and discuss the same book and … it would be a Newbery winner. This is another draw to many homeschoolers: literary merit! Children’s classics! Also as a side benefit there’s lots of Newbery winners in print so if a family wanted to buy their own copy (again, many homeschoolers build home libraries) it was easy and cheap to lay hands on one.
We tried this out for the first time a few years ago and it was a moderate success. I geared it towards the tween crowd (since teens are invited to regular teen programming like our teen advisory group) and really aimed hard for that 8-12 year old crowd. It worked … mostly. But once a few families drifted off, the program floundered.
After some moderate interest from patrons, I decided to start it again. But with some modifications with the hope we could get more patrons interested and keep coming.
- Rotate Newbery winners with Caldecott winners.
- Open the Caldecott sessions to 6 year olds.
- Combine the Caldecott sessions with hands-on art in the style of the winning illustrations.
This was an instant shot in the arm! Parents loved that they could bring younger kids every other months which made them more understanding of the months where we had only older kids. The older kids loved having their own book club sessions. And all the kids loved making the art and connecting it with the style of art in the books.
We did Snowflake Bentley and did styrofoam printmaking. We did Joseph Had A Little Overcoat and created mixed media collages. We did Knuffle Bunny and made our own scenes mixing photographs and illustrations. We did The Snowy Day and created cut paper collages.
Note I say “did” instead of read – that’s another idea I had to enhance the process. Instead of all trying to read the picture book before hand or just having it read by staff, we watched the amazing animated versions from Weston Woods and Scholastic Storybook Classics series, which turned out to be a great use of these DVDs and a fun way to highlight that collection. We often paired that with some videos about the artist’s process or interviews with the artist so kids could see the illustrators were REAL PEOPLE WHO DID REAL ART – just like them!
For the Newberys, I tried to mix it up, especially with titles they might not have read before. Last year we read Adam of the Road, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH (the perpetual favorite, you guys), Sarah, Plain and Tall and Thimble Summer.
Attendance wasn’t always great. Sometimes the Newbery sessions would only end up with 4-6 kids. The Caldecott sessions ALWAYS got higher attendance than the Newbery sessions. But I was (and am) still committed to making the Newbery sessions an important part of the program as a whole. I love the way patrons get involved during the Caldecott sessions, I love the connections with art and illustration we make, I love sharing picture books, I love the age range. BUT. I love the book discussions that happen around our Newbery choices, I love have something that really is JUST for those tween kids, I love the Newbery books introducing these readers to new genres they may never have explored on their own. It’s worth keeping and we’re not abandoning it!
We just launched this year’s season! I definitely think we’ve got lessons to learn and I have ideas for how to grow the program this year too!
- We’ve gotten great response from a local Facebook group of homeschoolers. I highly recommend you check to see if your community has something like this. BUT I’d like to work harder on reaching out to the crowd not on Facebook, so I’m collecting email addresses AND urging all the families to pass along our info.
- We’re going to do more IN HOUSE advertising – not always the greatest for reaching new people, I know, but I think we could hit a demographic of heavy library users who are homeschoolers who might not be on Facebook or are new to town/homeschooling.
- More promotion of HAVE YOU READ IT YET? DON’T FORGET! during the Newbery months not just right before the club meets to help keep parents and caregivers on track.
I also decided on all our of choices ahead of time and worked rough ideas of what kind of art project we would be doing for each, which has helped a little. (and made sure we have all the DVD versions!) And we made this year’s flyer have the WHOLE YEAR of selections to give parents a little plan ahead time too.
Overall, this has been a great program for homeschoolers and our own programming for this age range. It doesn’t take a lot of time to plan or pull off and most of the art projects use things we already have on hand. I think it’s encouraged more homeschool engagement with the library – lots of the parents sit around and chat outside the programs and I know they appreciate having the space and a chance for the kids to socialize and learn. As I suspected, the parents love that it’s based around literature and they’ve come to really trust us as experts, which makes connections with them about all their learning needs much easier!
If we continue to get steady numbers this year, I’m definitely thinking about expanding the types of programs we offer during the school year for this demographic (maybe more STEM and research based kinds of thing like Abby has tried) and MAYBE even try to run some during after-school hours to build on the homeschool base but mix it up too!
Do YOU have programming for homeschoolers at your library? What kind of programs have been really big hits? Have you had programs, like ours, that floundered and then got restarted? What worked and didn’t work each time? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of programming, collection development, and working with your homeschool community! Leave me a note in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!