School Age

Imagination Station: Movie Theater

Westerville Library’s youth department includes a pretend play area–our Imagination Station. Each month, a different youth librarian picks a theme and plans a play area designed for ages 3-6.

There are no strict guidelines for this space, but generally we try to:

  • Pick a theme that appeals to children
  • Keep all activities safe for all ages
  • Make clean-up and maintenance manageable for staff
  • Create materials and activities that are durable
  • Incorporate early literacy activities

In August 2018, I took over the Imagination Station, creating a play space I had been looking forward to for over a year: a movie theater.

Explore another Imagination Station – Mission Control themed – in this post.

Pretend Play: Movie Theater

While some of my Imagination Stations include a ton of obvious early literacy activities, this one focused almost entirely on pretend play. This appealed to all ages, with evening staff occasionally having to distract our older teens from playing at the Imagination Station so some of the younger toddlers could still enjoy the space. Pretend play has a ton of benefits for all ages, including social-emotional skills, language development, vocabulary building, problem solving skills, and more.

To create the “movie theater” experience, my Imagination Station had a few key areas:

  • Ticket Booth
  • Concession Stand (with popcorn machine)
  • Movie Posters
  • Showtime Board

Ticket Booth

The ticket booth included our department cash register, stocked with fake money. There was also a bin of tickets with space for cashiers to write down the name of the movie and a “tear-off” side so the tickets could be redeemed to see a movie. We had 3D glasses too–you have to be prepared for those special (and more expensive) movie showings!

Concession Stand

The concession stand included all of the classic movie theater favorites including:

  • Nachos (yellow felt circles — purchased pre-cut from Etsy for less than $5)
  • “Cheese” cups (condiment cups with yellow circles hot glued to the bottom
  • Drink Cups
  • Candy (purchased at Dollar Tree, emptied of candy, stuffed with stuffing, and wrapped in packing tape)
  • Popcorn

The popcorn machine was the favorite item of our visitors, but the least favorite item of staff. The popcorn box was a Donatos pizza delivery box from a past lock-in (when we had 20+ pizzas delivered). Holes were cut in each side, and the largest three holes were covered in clear cellophane. Popcorn could be scooped out of the front.

The individual popcorn kernels were crumpled squares of roughly 2″ x 2″ tissue paper. The kids loved the texture and enjoyed unraveling and re-rolling popcorn kernels.

Staff did not enjoy the clean up. I am still apologizing for the popcorn of 2018.

Movie Posters

The movie posters were one of my personal favorite spaces in this Imagination Station. Our awesome marketing department printed the larger “Coming Soon” and “Now Playing” signs on our library banner printer. I laminated those and attached 11″ x 17″ page protectors with a ton of packing tape, leaving the top of the sleeve open.

I printed about 20 kids movie posters that were a little smaller than the sleeves (so that pages dropped in easily). Kids loved swapping the posters out to show what was playing in their theater.

Showtime Board

The last element of my Imagination Station was the “Showtimes” board. This included a collection of showtimes and movie titles (that matched the names on the movie posters) that kids could swap out on our department magnet board.

I love creating these pretend play areas, but this theme was definitely one of my favorites. The kids loved it, asking where the popcorn went months later.

One of my favorite stories was when a child took her dad into our homework help center (during the early afternoon, when it wasn’t in use), turned off the lights, and started the movie, which they “watched” together while eating popcorn in the dark space. Pretend play for the win!

Pokemon Party

There is nothing quite like the Pokemon fandom. Pokemon love spans all ages–from preschoolers to grown-ups. There is a huge Pokemon following at my library, and this year’s Pokemon Party was no exception, with 150 folks coming together to celebrate.

My unregistered fandom programs over the summer typically include three core elements: group trivia, group BINGO, and a variety of crafts and games that folks can participate in at anytime. The annual Pokemon Party involves a few additional items, including raffle/door prizes as well as a ton of snacks. I normally avoid food in programs, but at each Pokemon event, I have groups of kids who bring binders of trading cards and sit with other kids for the entire two hours. The snacks are meant for them but are available for everyone.

Looking for More Pokemon?

Check out how I made this program virtual with Pokémon Trivia, Pokémon BINGO, and Guess that Pokémon.

Pokemon Trivia & BINGO

Trivia and BINGO are optional for whoever wants to participate. Trivia is difficult intentionally, with prizes for the Pokemon trivia experts. Everyone who participates gets a sticker, but our top three trivia masters get to pick from some nicer themed prizes (in order from highest to lowest score).

The program outline and all trivia questions are in the below powerpoint:

BINGO is for everyone. We continue to play until everyone has gotten a BINGO. For many of our youngest players, this is their first ever BINGO game! When someone gets a BINGO, they bring their board to the front of the room and get to reach into a mystery bag filled with tiny Pokemon figurines. One prize-winning BINGO per person.

I got my BINGO boards free from The Eco Friendly Family, and using the extra boards provided, created enough boards to have 50 players at once.

3Doodlers & Button Makers

I use our library tech whenever possible, especially at fandom party programs. The 3Doodler pens made an appearance, with outlines of various Pokemon to trace (Pikachu was the favorite).

Our 2.25″ button maker was also available, with a teen volunteer helping kids make as many buttons as they would like.

Pokeball Ping Pong Balls

This is my third Pokemon event, and I am always on the hunt for new crafts. One of this year’s addition was ping pong balls with sharpies and pictures of Pokeballs. Kids could color their own Pokeballs, with clear rules that they couldn’t throw their new pokeballs during the program.

Trainer Toolbelts

Another new craft for this year was trainer toolbelts. I gave kids black strips of 12″x18″ paper, string to tie to the ends, and various cardstock pokeball designs they could color and cut out. “Pokeballs” could be taped or glued onto “pokebelts” and worn around the waist.

Guess the Pokemon

Guess the Pokemon is an annual favorite game. This year, I used 20 new Pokemon silhouettes. Kids had to identify the Pokemon’s name, check their answers, and pick up a small prize.

Pin the Tail on Pikachu

Exactly what it sounds like. Kids pinned the tail on Pikachu. This was also a return game from past events.

Catch the Pokemon

I wrapped pop cans in Pokemon character faces and colors. Kids threw a stuffed pokeball at the cans in an effort to “catch” the Pokemon by knocking the cans down.

Pokemon Scavenger Hunt

Each year, to advertise my Pokemon Party, I put a Pokemon scavenger hunt around the youth department, adapted from the one created by the Ontarian Librarian. This is always a huge hit, with a few hundred kids completing the scavenger hunt.

Innovation Academy: Tech Fair

After receiving a grant for some technology items two years ago, I’ve been running registered, monthly technology programs for upper elementary school kids (roughly ages 8-12).

These were great programs, except for a few recurring issues:

  • Each program focuses on one topic or device, and I have a limited number of devices, so a limited number of kids could attend (max. of 20, sometimes as few as 10).
  • This means that these programs had to be registered. Registration often filled up within 30 minutes of it opening (two weeks before the program date), even when I was offering 2-4 sessions in a month.
  • Each program, I have a new set of kids with different abilities. Some have coding skills well beyond my own; others have never heard the word “coding” before walking through the door. This made it hard to plan anything too advanced.
  • While programs were designed for ages 8-12, I often have parents sign up their 5-7-year-olds for my programs. While I am glad they are excited about tech, it makes it even more difficult to teach basic coding to a group of kids with mixed abilities when a few of them can’t even read yet.

This summer, I decided to try something different. Instead of offering weekly registered tech programming, I offered a monthly tech fair. I put out as much technology as could fit in our space and work with the number of tablets we own. I wasn’t sure what to expect with attendance or participation, but overall the programs were a success.

Tech Fair Content

During each month’s tech fair, I strategically planned out how the room was laid out to accommodate the most technology. Almost all of the technology we own was used at some point during the summer–it was a great bonus to see everything out of the cabinets and being used by the public.

Tech I used at least once over the three programs included:

Each technology item was at a different station with a loosely structured activity. As the sessions went on, I realized that structured activities really weren’t necessary. Kids explored the technology in deeper and more creative ways when they had the time to do that on their own without having to focus on specific steps in a task.

Family Engagement

An unexpected outcome of this program was the multi-generational experiences and learning that took place. During my monthly registered tech programs, sibling partners often worked together, but, with rare exceptions, adults stayed outside of the room.

Since the tech fair wasn’t structured in the same way, adults were welcomed into the tech space. Little siblings came too. Third graders showed grandparents how to build a video game with Bloxels. Parents explained to kids how Ozobots use sensors to read color patterns that tell them to complete certain actions. Five-year-olds who didn’t yet have the skills to use the Blocky app with Dash helped create an obstacle course, and an older sibling explained to them how their code worked.

Families walked out of the program with some hands on time with new technology after thinking creatively about ways to take a simple challenge or activity to a new level.

Tech fairs are simpler for me to plan than monthly programs. I am essentially pulling from our supply of tech, charging and pairing everything, and leaving the rest up to our patrons. Registration and age requirements are no longer issues. However, the simplicity in program planning is not why I want to repeat this series–the learning that came from family engagement made this series something to remember.

Mother Bruce Storytime

Mother Bruce is one of my favorite book characters. If you haven’t read, or, even better, listened to, the book Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins, track down a copy now. It is a funny read, perfect for preschool through first or second grade. The audiobook, read by Roberston Dean, is a particular favorite of mine with excellent pacing, great sound effects, and an original musical score that brings the grumpy old bear to life.

I was determined to celebrate one of my favorite storytime characters at the library. We had a great Saturday morning with a family storytime and a visit from Bruce himself!

My storytime outline is below.

We didn’t get through all of these activities (I often plan way too much). Goin’ on a Bear Hunt was a group favorite.

Mother Bruce Storytime Activities

After storytime, folks were welcome to participate in a variety of themed activities. These included:

Mother Bruce Ears & Gosling Craft

Visitors cut out bear ears and attached them to brown headbands. Optionally, they could also cut out yellow goslings to tape to a string hanging off the back of their headband (so your goslings would follow you everywhere, just like Bruce’s).

Goin’ On a Bear Hunt Obstacle Course

No preschool program is complete without some physical fun. Little ones explored our Goin’ On a Bear Hunt obstacle course. They completed some of the activities we did as a group during storytime including climbing a mountain, crossing a river, walking through a wheat field, and going into a cave to find our bear puppet.

Find the Goslings Scavenger Hunt

Ten goslings were hidden around our meeting room, and little ones had to find them all! When they found all ten geese, they got to pick a Mother Bruce bookmark.

Download geese to hide around your room or library here.

Gosling Match

I love to give little ones an opportunity to play in water. Just like a fair game, little ones could pick up rubber “goslings” and try to find two with matching colored bottoms.

This didn’t work quite as planned, as my ducks shifted and didn’t want to stay bottoms down in the water.

Meet Bruce!

The star of the event–Bruce came to visit! After sufficient warning to prepare little ones for a visit from the big bear, Bruce stopped by for photos and to participate in the crafts and activities. The Costume Specialist store in Columbus, Ohio lets libraries borrow book character costumes for free, and these visits always make an exciting addition to any program.

Imagination Station: Mission Control

Westerville Library’s youth department includes a pretend play area–our Imagination Station. Each month, a different youth librarian picks a theme and plans a play area designed for ages 3-6.

There are no strict guidelines for this space, but generally we try to:

  • Pick a theme that appeals to children
  • Keep all activities safe for all ages
  • Make clean-up and maintenance manageable for staff
  • Create materials and activities that are durable
  • Incorporate early literacy activities

In June 2019, I took over the Imagination Station, connecting it to our Summer Reading theme, Read and Blast Off.

Explore another Imagination Station – Movie Theater themed – in this post.

Pretend Play: Mission Control

The star of the space themed Imagination Station was our mission control board. I can’t provide much information on how this board was made–our amazing maintenance team took this project on.

Underneath the panel, a battery was attached with some wiring that made the lights turn on and numbers to change when kids flipped the switches. The best feature? The two phones actually talked to one another–if you held one phone to your ear, you could hear a person whispering into the other phone. So cool!

In addition to the amazing mission control board, we provided some simple dress up clothes to encourage pretend play. These included:

One of my favorite pretend play items were the jetpacks. These were not the most durable items. I had to remake an entire set halfway through the month. There are many instructions for these on Pinterest, but my steps are outlined below.

How to Make Jetpacks:

Materials (per jetpack):

  • 2 2-Liter Bottles (empty, without lids)
  • Thick Cardboard
  • Silver spray Paint
  • 2″ Thick Silver Ribbon
  • Silver Duct Tape
  • Hot Glue
  • Orange, Yellow, or Red Felt

Steps:

  • Cut cardboard so it is a little wider than the two pop bottles pressed together and just shorter than the height of the bottles.
  • Use spray paint to paint 2-Liter bottles and thick cardboard piece silver on all sides. Wait to dry.
  • Measure the silver ribbon to 18-24″ long. Use duct tape to secure to one side of the cardboard, creating a loop for a child to fit their arm. Repeat to create a second arm strap.
  • Flip the cardboard over and tape the two pop bottles to it. The more tape used here, the better. Wrap tape around all sides of the cardboard and use multiple layers, especially if the jetpack will receive a lot of use.
  • Cut felt to form flame shapes with a very narrow tip at the opposite end from the flames.
  • Squirt hot glue into the end of pop bottle and attach the flame pieces.

We also included a pretend play rocket tent for kids to explore.

Fine Motor Skills: Rocket Building

We purchased an additional pack of magnetiles to add to our regular storytime play collection. Kids built elaborate rockets and structures out of them.

Letter Recognition: Mission Codes

To incorporate early literacy, I created a mission codes matching activity. Kids had a bin of capital letters to sort through. They slid the capital letters into the 5″ x 7″ page protectors underneath the matching lowercase letters. The space words changed each week.

Writing: Trace Paths & Checklists

We included blank flight plan tracing sheets (from this Teachers Pay Teachers pack) to help build fine motor skills.

Flop: Moon Rock Exploration

I was really looking forward to this activity. Kids were supposed to explore tin foil balls–“moon rocks”–of different sizes with a magnifying glass, magnet, tweezers, and more. Instead, kids managed to rip off the gloves (which were hot glued, rubber banded, and sealed with shipping tape, plus duct tape later), take the foil balls out of the box, and pull them into tiny pieces.

This box didn’t last a full week–and we confirmed that nothing is kid proof.

Dog Man to the Rescue!

This summer, we celebrated our library’s most popular book character – Dog Man! Reflecting the passion for this book series and our busy summers, 110 patrons ages 6-10 (and their parents and younger siblings) attended this 1.5 hour event.

Over the last year, all of my unregistered fan-event programs have followed a similar template: two group activities at specific times and a variety of stations that attendees can visit at their leisure. This program was no different.

Looking for More?

Check out Virtual Dog Man Trivia and Virtual Dog Man BINGO.


Group Activities

Dog Man Trivia

Trivia allowed those kids who have read every book ten times a chance to show off their knowledge. About fifteen minutes into the program, trivia began. Kids wrote down their guesses for all 20 questions before self-grading their trivia sheets on the honor system. Everyone who participated got a bookmark, and the top three participants got to pick, in order of highest to lowest scores, from our trivia prizes.

All questions and answers are available in the PowerPoint below (in addition to my opening program slides). Visit my slideshare page to download the full slideshow.

Dog Man BINGO

While trivia is for the experts, BINGO is for everyone. We play BINGO until everyone has earned a BINGO, with a few rounds so that new folks have a chance to jump in. Winners reached into a brown lunch bag to pull out a random themed 1″ button.

To help kids who do not know every book and character, all images had a number beside them. I called out the number in addition to the name of the image when I pulled each picture out of the jar. All images were on all boards.

Download all 51 BINGO boards here, and the BINGO jar pieces here.


Stations

Police Academy Obstacle Course

Attendees trained like Dog Man and his police officer friends, making sure they have the physical agility to be prepared to save the day when needed. Today’s obstacle course included:

After completing the obstacle course, attendees received a Dog Man hat.

Petey’s Invention Lab: Robot Craft

You can’t have a Dog man program without some reference to the sometimes nefarious, sometimes good, Petey the Cat. Attendees built a simple robot craft from a cardboard tube and a variety of everyday craft supplies, including construction paper, pony beads, pipe cleaners, pom poms, googly eyes, and more. Tubes were spray-painted silver before the program.

Make Your Own Comic

Dog Man books are comics (made by the George and Harold of Captain Underpants fame), so kids got a chance to make their own comic strips. The blank comic sheets I used are available as free downloads from the picklebums website.

3Doodlers

Dog Man 3Doodler Station

We bought 3Doodler Start pens as part of a technology grant a few years ago, and I use these magic pens whenever I can. They are very simple to use–turn the pen on, wait for the green light, then push the big orange button to make plastic come out of the tip. The plastic is warm, but never so hot that it risks burning anyone. Patrons leave programs with a physical, 3D-version of whatever they drew.

I provided Dog Man outlines for patrons to use, but I don’t think too many folks had much success with those. Mostly kids made what they wanted.

Button Making

Similar to the 3Doodler pens, our department 2.25″ button maker gets a lot of use, especially at public programs. Attendees selected a 2.25″ button image, cut it into a circle, and brought it and the needed button pieces to a teen volunteer who helped them make the button.

Download the 2.25″ button images here.

Pin the Head on Dog Man

Pin the Head on Dog Man

Attendees had one last activity to complete–a simple game of Pin the Head on Dog Man (because pinning hats or badges would be too simple). My awesome marketing department printed a large body and three heads on our banner printer.

Participants got a sticker for completing the activity. These print on Avery 2.5″ round label sheets. Download here.

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