Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action PlayPacks

Previously in this series

No more cheap plastic crap!  No more cheap plastic crap!  Keep saying it to yourself (and your administration!) until it is imprinted on your brain.  Your summer programs don’t need it, your patrons don’t really want it, and everything will be so much easier once you get rid of it.

We still give away what you might think of as small prizes – but they are items that can be OF USE. Everyone likes that.  Pencils, bookmarks (especially the scented kind), erasers, earbuds, lanyards.  For the littles we always have some stickers and that’s about as close to “useless” as we get.

That was a great first change.  But I knew we could do more.  So the second I saw the amazing Abby‘s post about switching over to Science Activity Packs as prizes, I knew that was a change we were making for summer 2015.  FINALLY a chance to give kids a prize that could encourage play and learning and activities.

I took several of Abby’s wondrous ideas and added some – especially more focused on art and creation so STEM wasn’t the only topic.  I also added some choices for younger kids. As I covered in part two of this series, we revamped our summer program to have levels and goals. We decided that kids would earn these packs after finishing their reading goal.  That was 25 hours of reading for a Super-Action PlayPack.  That seemed like a reasonable number to test this out for the first year.  To add to the fun, we made a menu of their choices for the kids to pour over. Let’s take a look at the menu and inside our Super-Action PlayPacks!

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As you can see, we had six choices.

Our far and away most popular choice was CREATE A CHEMICAL REACTION. It was inspired by my boss’s copious tiny water bottle habit and the amazing experience we had during a special Toddler Science Time. All it cost us was the Alka-Selzer!

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The kids also loved WRITE YOUR OWN COMIC.  We found some comic templates and bought a case of colored pencils. This was a big hit, especially after our summer Comix Club.

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One of the packs for the younger kids was PLAY A MATCHING GAME.  I bought some superhero/ine clip art from Etsy and printed out sets of my favorite matching cards and put them together as sets for kids to play memory games or pattern matching.  Parents mentioned liking these to have “games to go” on hand.

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Another choice for the younger kids were sets of superhero/ine finger puppets that we bought from the Upstart catalog as PLAY WITH FINGER PUPPETS. These weren’t as popular as I thought, I think because it was an abstract concept.  If we brought them out and played with them, kids wanted them – but otherwise, it was hard to show them in action. We’ll probably end up using these in a program and not recycle them into a PlayPack. They were super-cute though!

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A choice that we thought would be for the littles but then surprised us with its popularity  was MAKE A TEXTURE BOOK.  Along with the classroom pack of colored pencils, we also bought a classroom pack of crayons so they were all fresh and new and then made a little booklet of paper.  So many of the kids wanted these and they were packs we saw getting played with RIGHT AWAY as kids started texturing around the library.

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This program went up to kids in 5-6th grade, so we wanted to make sure there was stuff for them too.  (like the comic book pack.)  Our older kids are into origami and we had tons of origami paper hanging around, so we had FOLD AN ORIGAMI ANIMAL. The older kids were definitely drawn to this too.

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Another all ages appeal pack was BUILD WITH MARSHMALLOWS.  This was just toothpicks, which we had tons of on-hand, and a few packs of marshmallows.  We had to make sure they were sealed up tight. The good part about these was some of the older kids really dug them.  The bad part was most of the younger kids just wanted to get some gross half-dried marshmallows, haha.  So … we probably won’t be doing this one again.

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We didn’t have any MAKE A BALLOON ROCKET left!  But to create them, we just followed Abby’s instructions.  Of course the kids LOVED this one.  We bought kite string and non-bendy straws, which was a great decision … but I would have spent more for the “longer” balloons.  And make sure your balloons are new, haha, we used older ones and many were dried out!


  • This was too much fun!  Talk about people not missing cheap plastic tchotchkes! Kids felt like they were getting a REAL TOY and parents loved that it wasn’t another piece of junk to throw out after it broke on the way to the parking lot. Kids definitely wanted to earn more than one.
  • Each pack was in a self-contained Ziploc baggie, so there were no pieces falling out or anything of the like.  Then they were stacked up, by group, in a single storage bin behind the desk.  When a kid chose from the menu, it didn’t take us too long to find one to fish out. You could separate them out further though, if you had the space or were worried about the time commitment of finding one.
  • We made 25 of each pack to start off with, decided we were just going to have to see what was popular and refill from there. We only had to refill two or three one time over the two months of the summer because, well, kids liked the choices.  (most popular: Create a Chemical Reaction, Make A Balloon Rocket, and Write Your Own Comic.) Our delightful student interns assembly-lined the packing over the course of a day, but this would be a great volunteer task.
  • It wasn’t SUPER cheap – we did have to make a few big investments like the class-packs of crayons and colored pencils, but we’ll use those for lots of giveaways and even some programs. And there were other things: the kite string, the Alka-Selzer, the finger puppets.  BUT we had other stuff on hand – the bottles, the origami paper.
  • Overall, it was a great value because it was easy to replicate on a big scale once we made an initial investment.  And it was SURELY worth more than buying 700 sticky hands from Oriental Trading!!
  • We did not have this option for our middle/high school program.  The end of their reading goal was a free book.  I don’t think we’d have the budget to invest in packs that would interest them and they were happier with books anyway!

We’ll definitely be bringing the PlayPacks back (maybe with a less superhero/ine oriented name?) even if we make some changes to which activities/packs we have available. And we might even make it so the kids can earn more than one.  We’re doing MUSIC as our theme this year (since I hate that stupid sports theme) so we might add something related to music – and that’s another bonus, you can customize these by program theme.  I got some great ideas from searching for BUSY BAG ACTIVITIES on Google and Pinterest and many parents recognized the “play and go” packs as these kind of activities and they LOVED it.

What do YOU think about activity packs as an incentive or supplement for your programs?  How are ways you might use it in your program in summer or year round? Do you have a take-home component that your patrons love? What kind of activities, games, or experiments do you think your patrons might like for this kind of incentive?   Do you have any questions I didn’t answer here? Let me know about it all here in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!