Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rachel's Program: The Less is More Rule of Programming

Last August I threw the requisite end of Summer Reading party at my branch.  It was an operation run with military precision, my cadets a troop of teenage pages who dutifully shepherded 70 odd children through snacks, gift bags, trivia games, and then back out the door.  As the teens and I cleaned up, we listened to music, and the kids watched us through the window of the programming room with their noses pressed against the glass.  I finally took pity on them and opened the door so they could come back inside.  It turned out to be a great idea.  We danced, sang, and took turns belting into a microphone that had been left behind after an earlier teen party.  I made an offhand comment about it being “phase two” of the party, and one of the kids shouted happily, “Phase two is WAY more fun than phase one.”  Phase two had no food, no prizes, no games, and most of all, had involved no planning. But he was right.  It was way more fun.  Not only were the kids having more fun, but I was too.

After that, I decided my new rule of thumb for library programming should be less is more.  Sure, we can’t always get out of finger-cramping stencil cutting and, with the increased emphasis on including science and math in our programming schedules, we’ve all become adept at creating tightly planned mini-lessons.  But when it’s time for non-academic, creative programming for school aged kids, I’ve found that that the less rigid the game plan, the more fun and less stressful the program will be. 

Here are some of my favorite low planning/high fun programs for school aged kids:

Draw Your Dream House
Ages: 6-12

Materials: Paper, pencils, erasers, markers.  You can include magazines, glue, and scissors if you want to add a collage element.

Instructions:  Ask the kids what their dream home would look like.  After brainstorming a bit, hand out paper, and have them sketch it out.  I always stress that even if you don’t like drawing, you can make squares for rooms and write what you’d like inside them.  Permission to fantasize is a great way to tap into children’s creativity.  A twist on this is a writing exercise where you ask kids what they would do with a million dollars.

Dress up your Snowman
Ages: 6-12

Materials: Markers.  A blank snowman for each child.

I use the draw function in MS Word to make the blank snowman, but if you aren’t comfortable with that, it would be equally easy to draw the outline and to photocopy the image.

Instructions: Snowmen may scream "winter", but you could easily do this craft in the summer under a “cool off at your library” theme.  To carry out the activity, simply tell the children to dress up their snowman! I find this activity works well as a contest.  Tell the kids that there will be prizes for the most creative snowman, and they really let loose!   The last time I did it, I got a cowboy snowman, a spaceman snowman, a mermaid snowman, and even a gangster snowman.  When it comes time to announce the winner, I would recommend the old, “they are all so creative, I can’t decide” route, and give a prize to everyone. While the thought of winning is a great motivator, there is really no need to crush their little egos over snowman drawing. 

Dance Party
Ages: 6-8

Materials: Ribbon, poster board, markers, music, and something to play music on.

Instructions: This program does require more prep than the above mentioned, but it shares the same relaxed vibe once the program itself starts. To prep, curl poster board into conical tubes, with a roughly 3 inch opening near the bottom, and a ½ inch opening at the top.  You’ll need one cone per child.  Next, cut 2-3 foot lengths of ribbon, four or five per child.  Tie a knot at the bottom of each piece of ribbon.  Once the program starts, have the kids decorate their tube with markers.  As they are doing this, hand out the ribbon, and show each child how to put the ribbon in the large opening of the tube, and pull it through the small opening in top, using the knot to anchor the ribbon in place inside the tube.  Once the craft is done, turn on the music, and let your teeny-weenie boppers dance around with their awesome, swirly ribbon accessories.  Throw in a little freeze dance, and you’ve got yourself a room full of sweaty, grinning children.  

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