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 Back, Yo! 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.
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!
Congrats on your new library building! This is indeed the perfect library program and it’s a passive one! What more could you ask for:)