School Age

Virtual School Age: Virtual and Augmented Reality

I’ve been part of my library’s virtual storytime team for the last few months (and into the summer). Last week, I had a chance to dive into school age programming again.

This was my second foray into a virtual Innovation Academy program. I received zero feedback from the first program or from this program, so I have essentially no idea what patrons thought of either event, or if they even opened the documents I sent. So it goes with virtual programming.

Read more about the how, why, and pros and cons for this particular program series in my last post on this topic: Virtual School Age: Coding.

Some details on how this series works:

  • Program materials are designed and curated for ages 6-11.
  • Attendees register via Evanced (our regular event registration software).
  • On the day of the event, the program presenter emails attendees a video introduction as well as a PDF with resources, content, and activities to do at home.

Content

The challenge with tech programs at home is coming up with tech ideas that only use technology the average family is likely to own–essentially, a computer and a smartphone. Coding was an easy choice, but so many of my regular in-library programs rely on physical technology (3D pens, 3D printer, Bloxels, various robots, etc.).

Augmented Reality just involves a smartphone–something that many people may already own (or at least those people who are signing up virtually for a virtual event).

I wanted to make this program a bit more focused with activities that build based on your knowledge and age–starting with defining the concept, moving on to exploring the concept, and finally creating something on your own.

This was a great plan until I spent way too many hours trying to find a tool that allows kids to create their own Augmented Reality apps or games. This feels like it should exist, and it does in a few forms, but most of those forms involve (1) apps that are outdated/don’t work with the newest Android/Apple updates, (2) software that costs money, or (3) apps that are in development by Princeton and will be SO COOL in three years.

To allow for that “create” portion of the program, I expanded the program topic to “Augmented and Virtual Reality.” While you can’t explore virtual reality without a headset, you can create some cool virtual reality tours with Google that can be made and shared without needing a headset. Is it as cool without a headset? No. Does it still get the point across? Yes.

Just like last time, I provided an instruction video for participants:

Participants can watch the video, or they can move straight to the packet, included below. It covers the concepts reviewed in the video, and also provides a written explanation of the resources and tutorial shown in the video.

Summer Reading Promo

Like so many libraries, we are re-examining our Summer Reading Program through a virtual lens. At the end of 2019, we moved our reading program from software designed and managed in-house to the ReadSquared platform, kicking off using that service with our first Winter Reading Program in December. Personally, I can’t say I love ReadSquared, but it gets the job done.

We don’t have answers to many of the questions that I see being asked in Facebook Groups every day–how are you distributing prizes? Will any part of the program be available in person? What about people without Internet?

My library doesn’t have all of those answers, and I surely don’t, but I did get tasked with making a video to replace our annual school assemblies. A few years ago, we were able to start visiting 15+ elementary schools in our service area during May for assembly-style presentations where we got kids excited about summer reading. In Ohio, the kids didn’t go back to school after mid-March, so those assemblies obviously were not going to happen. However, we did want to send the schools something to supplement those visits.

Enter the summer reading video.

This took me a few full days worth of work to make, with the bulk of the work taking about 8 hours (filming, editing, screaming at my computer, etc.). Finished product is below:

…and the how-I-did-it follows.

Preparation

General Idea

I knew I wanted to create a video that mimicked the general style of YouTubers–short quick cuts, lots of humor. That seemed like a safe, approachable direction that should appeal to elementary students, and it also meant that I wouldn’t have to (1) memorize really long chunks of text or (2) read from a script (a pet peeve of mine–it is always obvious you are reading, and it always pulls me out of whatever I am watching).

During my storytime videos I just talk freely, but I wanted to make sure I got my words exactly right in this video because so much of our program is up in the air, and people remember what we say. I don’t want to talk about how the kids get to choose their own prize books (a normal staple of our program) when that may not happen this year. We just don’t know.

I was a bit lost for direction on this until a coworker sent me a lovely video made by a school librarian advertising their book fair. I think her humor and silly motions gave me a much better idea of what I was aiming for (and an answer to the dreaded “how do I start?”).

Storyboarding

Storyboard Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Back in the days when I made videos more frequently, I got into the habit of storyboarding. I knew I was going to need some sort of direction for this video, as I was planning for a lot of short clips/scenes to keep the video moving.

I didn’t draw out a full storyboard, but I did write out a simple word document breaking the film into clips including my general ideas for props, background, and more:

Some of this changed before the final run through–I couldn’t find free green screen software quickly, so I dropped the space bit. The Spongebob rainbow imagination hands didn’t translate when filming either. However, this gave me a place to start.

PPT Text

I transferred big chunks of text to PPT slides, broken into the small bits that were going to take place in one cut. I was going to use this as a script behind the camera to read from, though, as mentioned before, I hate reading from a script, so I ended up just using this to help practice before saying whatever came out of my mouth on film.

Props & Supplies

Mostly, I didn’t need too many props…except for the bits where I attempt to be funny near the beginning middle. (Yes, that is supposed to be a tiger king joke. No, I don’t think it hits home.)

I worked with what I have on hand. For example, the book fair video started with that school librarian playing a trumpet and using a toy megaphone. I have neither. I made a paper megaphone and leaned into the awkward by writing MEGAPHONE on the side.

After the experience I had filming this, I would suggest less props. I think I started to lose my mind when I started swapping out all of the props on the storage unit behind me for each of the “funny” bits (tiger king, Harry Potter, Frozen). This took much more time than it was worth (maybe 10 seconds of camera time for 20-30 minutes of setup and destroying my house).

Filming

Background

I don’t really have a house that is setup for filming anything. The easiest room for me to film in is a spare bedroom, which was essentially a storage space before this. To avoid the mugshot effect (filming against a bare wall), I hiked upstairs the best piece of furniture I could stage–a 3×3 cube unit (that had once been holding craft supplies…that are now all over my house). For storytimes, keeping this unit on the floor works well–it isn’t very tall, but I was trying to focus on the rhymes and my stuffed bear “baby.”

For this video, I wanted my background to be more engaging. So, suddenly, the cube unit is precariously on top of a trunk, and I am rearranging the items on the unit to appeal a bit more to the 6-11 year old crowd instead of the 2-3 year old audience I normally have.

I also had to figure out placement. For storytimes, I am typically a bit further away from the camera–for baby storytime, I want my lap to be in the shot to show when I am touching my baby’s feet or bouncing; for toddler storytime I need to have enough space around me to hold up a flannel board or book. None of that mattered here–it was all about me being engaging, and, following the pattern of YouTubers everywhere, that meant making myself more of a central part of the frame. Figuring out how to position myself with roughly my shoulders and head filling the frame with a background that was engaging but not overpowering took more time than I would like to admit.

Equipment

The particular equipment I use included:

For my particular device, I think the audio in the smartphone is sufficient (no need for an external mike). I have a few issues with lighting on particularly gloomy days, but 90% of the time, natural lighting is the best option when filming. Just make sure your window isn’t directly behind you.

Being on Camera

I read about the struggles of being on camera for many librarians, and, unfortunately for any readers out there, I don’t have too much to add to that conversation. I think I’m actually a little more comfortable in front of the camera at this point than I often am in front of patrons.

My tips for getting comfortable:

  • Don’t watch yourself while filming. If you tend to overthink everything you do, turn your phone around and film with that much higher-quality camera on the back of your device. I started doing this for live storytimes because, on an Android device, you can’t flip a livestream so that the words in a book are facing the right way for the audience on your front-facing camera. And it is freeing. I stare at that little circle on my phone and release any tension–I can’t see comments, I can’t see my weird hand gestures, I can’t see anything–and it is all out of my control now. Embrace the chaos. It let me stop overthinking every motion.
  • Picture that one storytime kid. You know the one. The one that comes to all of your storytimes, and hopefully appears at some virtual ones too. I know that Miss Julia is always watching–and she is who I am presenting too. If no one else comes, I know Julia had a blast–and that is all I need.
  • Get silly. I am always, always, so self-aware in storytimes. I can move past some of it, especially with a bigger crowd, but when I have just a few adults and kids staring at me, it makes me very aware of my every motion and every time a story, song, or joke doesn’t connect. I am always looking for reactions–and here, I have to give that up because there are no reactions (at least that I can see while presenting). It is just me. So, mentally, I tell myself that every single thing hit home. There is nothing to tell me otherwise–so gosh darn it I am going to believe that the viewers LOVED every second of it. This lets me get sillier than usual. There isn’t a mom in the corner silently judging me (more likely spacing out completely out of exhaustion, but our brains tell us we are the center of the universe so…). It is just me dancing like no one is watching.

Editing

Oh, editing.

Your success and frustration with editing is largely going to depend on your computer. Do you have a high-powered computer? Preferably a Mac? The fastest, best internet humanly possible? You should be set.

Oh, you are like the rest of us mortals, and you don’t have all those things?

Join the club.

I have a decent-ish (Windows) computer now, but it was still a struggle at many points in the editing process. I don’t suggest you buy a new computer for this, so use what you have.

I used OpenShot video editior. This is free software that gets the job done. It is not very intuitive–not nearly as intuitive as, say, iMovie (available for free on a Mac)–but it has the bells and whistles if you know where to find them. I had to do a lot of Google searches to figure out how to do most tasks, but there are many really accessible tutorials out there. Just be ready for the time commitment and learning curve, especially the first time you use it.

Music

I didn’t worry too much about music being copyrighted, except for whether YouTube would demonetize a video vs. block it entirely. Most popular songs lead to demonetization, which as a public library not making any ad revenue anyway, this really isn’t a big deal. (Some songs do lead to a Youtube video being blocked in most countries, which is depressing after all of the effort you put in to make it.)

I was able to download both songs I used for free from Freegal using my library card. I also regularly pull Royalty Free Music from bensound.com for introductions and such.

So many of us are filming our own videos now…what are you doing? What questions do you have? Virtual programming isn’t going anywhere anytime soon–how are you making it work for you?

Virtual Book Talks

Reader’s Advisory is a major part of any youth librarian’s job–you need to be familiar with popular titles as well as be ready for those more obscure reader’s advisory questions (“I want books about REAL unicorns. None of that pink glittery nonsense. The REAL ones that eat people.”).

In the library, we provide this service regularly through all kinds of resources–in-person reader’s advisory, displays, booklists, librarian-curated posters and bookmarks of recommended titles and popular genres, and more. My library also sends us into classrooms to talk directly to kids about some great books they might be interested in.

I read a lot. I also love booktalking in classrooms. But I am now working from home, schools in Ohio are not going back this year, and, honestly, I don’t really expect public librarians (or anyone really) to be allowed into classrooms next fall.

So how do we keep reaching those kids? The same ways we have been doing everything lately…virtually.

Video Book Talks

Someday, when we are in a better routine and know what to expect out of life again, I would love to make video book talks. At the moment, I am just getting my feet under me with weekly virtual storytimes and starting monthly virtual school-age programs, and with the constant uncertainty of when and how we will reopen, I don’t want to start something like this at the moment.

Feel free to watch this, uh, interesting creation circa 2017 (that has over 700 views?!?!?!).

I think there are ways to make virtual video book talks much more engaging than the above video, even after eliminating the obvious issues like what-color-is-that-wall and better sound (And, um, pronouncing the title and main character’s name correctly. I’m sorry Hena Khan.).

Some of my dream video book talks include a lot more engaging cuts, edits, and images to be more visually exciting, but I think I may have to settle for a notch under that if I am able to start filming these in the next few months, just due to the time required to make those edits. I’m storyboarding our summer reading video at the moment, and while I think it is going to be pretty awesome, I also recognize the time involved.

Audio Book Talks

One of my coworkers started making audio-only book talks uploaded to SoundCloud, which is a new format for me. I really miss the visual element of video, but I will be the first to admit that it is much easier to read a script into a microphone than babble into a camera and worry about lighting and camera placement and my hands endlessly moving.

I have not put in the time on these that my coworker has (listen to Lisa’s great work here), but some of my files are linked below.

For any of you with an ear for audiobooks–I know some of you are reading this blog–please ignore my mouth sounds. And breathing. And spit. And dry mouth. And p-pops. I’ve been trying to edit all of that out, but it is exhausting, and there is only so much time in the work day. I can’t spend three hours or more editing a three-minute audio file, as much as ALL I HEAR is spit when these play.

Note: I watched a webinar yesterday on disability access and virtual programming. One of the key points they mentioned was making audio files accessible with a script to read for folks who are deaf. I hadn’t considered that before but am planning to edit descriptions for the files below and include text for future audio book talks.

2nd-3rd Grade:

Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol by Andres Miedoso

Mia Mayhem by Kara West

Zoey & Sassafras by Asia Citro

3rd-4th Grade:

Poop Detectives by Ginger Wadsworth (non-fiction)

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat by Johnny Marciano

4th-5th Grade:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Do you have plans for new ways to look at reader’s advisory in a world where we may not be encouraging patrons to hang out in our building and may not be going into new locations for in-person outreach?

Virtual School Age: Coding

I’ve been part of my library’s virtual storytime team over the last month, and today, it is my turn to expand into virtual school age programming.

About three years ago, I started the Innovation Academy programming series because of a technology grant that gave us about $5000 in tech ideal for ages 8-11. The program series was popular, as anything with technology seems to be, but after a few years I grew close to burnout with tech. I was one of the only staff members interested in tech programming, and I felt obligated to keep creating it since there was a patron interest.

We had a mixed audience at every program, which made it difficult to plan. I couldn’t move on to advanced content because at least a third of every program’s attendees would have never used any kind of tech before. Another third would have come to every single tech program I had done in the last 2-3 years, and they would quite loudly complain that they had done this activity before. The other third would be some combination of the previous two, while also regularly letting me know that they had more advanced tech at home or at school. Oh, and there were also the kids who were too young to be in the room and couldn’t read (and didn’t have the patience to try to work through any kind of problem solving).

Luckily, last year, our department divided up the Innovation Academy program series, expanding its content to cover more than tech but also expanding the staff who ran the program. This gave me a much-needed technology break, and while I can’t say I am ready to jump back into monthly tech programs, I don’t mind the occasional offering, and I definitely don’t mind trying to translate that content to a new medium–online!

My library decided to approach school age programming so that:

  • Ages are expanded–all programs have materials for ages 6-11.
  • Attendees register via Evanced (our regular event registration software).
  • On the day of the event, the program presenter will email attendees a video introduction as well as a PDF with resources, content, and activities to do at home.

My first program goes live today, so I don’t know what the patron feedback will be. Four days before the event, we already have 60 sign-ups, which is fantastic! Our first school-age event from last week, virtual Young Engineers, received a great response from virtual attendees, so I’m hoping that pattern continues.

Content

This session’s intro video is below. It is boring. I’m going to work on ways to make it more engaging–including seeing my face talking–for next time, but I was determined to get this done this week, and double storytimes meant that reading my notes instead of talking was just easier.

Participants can watch the video, or they can move straight to the packet, included below. It covers the vocabulary reviewed in the video, and also provides four pages of coding resources for all levels of coders, from beginning to advanced, including unplugged, block-based, and text-based coding activities.

Pros and Cons

Obviously this format is different than standard library programming, and there isn’t too much we can do about that. Until we have a vaccine for COVID-19, our world is going to look different. Encouraging people to gather for entertainment purposes, while mentally helpful, is simply dangerous at the moment. Speaking personally, my life, my coworker’s lives, and our patron’s lives aren’t worth creating an hour’s worth of entertainment–or learning–right now. When stay at home orders are lifted, some people will run from their homes to any open location–that doesn’t mean we are obligated to amuse them at our own personal risk. Other people will stay home and prioritize their and other people’s safety.

Everyone will make their own choices, and virtual programming allows us to reach people in a way that is safe for everyone. Unfortunately, it means we will be missing people, especially those that need our services the most. I don’t have an answer for that, but I will say that in almost all cases, in my particular library, the people who are coming into our library to attend our physical programs are not the people who don’t have Internet at home. They may make choices about screen time limits that may make it hard to attend our virtual programs–and honestly, if you are able to stick to those limits in these crazy times, good for you–but they still have access if they choose to use it.

I don’t think temporarily moving our programs virtual is preventing our regular users from accessing the library. Figuring out how to reach those folks who could never make it into the library in the first place is a bigger question, and virtual programming may actually be opening doors instead of closing them. According to Pew Research, 68% of low income families use social media (with Facebook being by far the most popular tool). While I don’t have the statistics, I will bet that 68% of our low income families don’t visit our library regularly.

Obviously, no matter how I try to spin it, there are still cons to online programs. They feel impersonal. I can’t adjust a program based on a participant’s response. I can’t lead them through a problem the same way I could in person. I can’t give them physical items to work with and explore, from robots and 3D printing pens to even simple craft materials. I don’t even know how many participants opened the files I sent or actually did any activity. People could really struggle with what I provide, or simply not like the format, and I may never know.

To end on a positive note, however, there are small good things to focus on too. So many of those reasons that I was burnt out on tech disappear here. I can provide activities and resources for all ages and abilities–from those preschoolers sneaking their way into school-age programs to the attendees that have been coding for years. I’ve got you all covered.

Online programs can promote family engagement in a way that in-library programs can promote peer-to-peer learning. Adults learn about fun ways they can connect with their kids without having to spend money on robots and 3D printing pens and craft supplies. Programs can be completed whenever is convenient for a family–as soon as an email is distributed, after work is done, over the weekend, a year from now. If the baby is super grumpy, a family doesn’t have to worry about leaving the house and arriving 30 minutes late. If a kid is really, really, really bored with Scratch, they don’t have to yell that at the top of their lungs in a room of their peers–they can just try Code Combat instead.

I want to get these kids back in our programming space–I miss them. I miss watching them grow up over the last few months, and possibly over the next year. Virtual programming provides us a bit of everything–while we don’t always get to see the kids, we still get to connect with families, share some cool learning opportunities, and connect our patrons to the ideas, interests, and passions that matter to them. Just with a little more distance between us and them.

Reader’s Theater

I am not a theater person. That isn’t entirely true–I love watching productions. However, I am not a fan of performing in them, nor do I have any background in theater or drama club beyond that one play in middle school and a scattering of elementary full-class productions.

For unknown reasons, within days of starting my current job, I was told I would be the partnering librarian for the monthly reader’s theater program. Fifteen kids ages 8-12 attended a one-hour weekly rehearsal for three weeks followed by a performance for family and friends during the fourth week. We would take a two week break, and restart the cycle with a new set of scripts and (potentially) a new batch of kids.

This program has grown on me, and evolved, over time. It is still quite bare bones for a theater/acting program. I only see the attendees for three hours ahead of performance day, and this program has no budget beyond the folders that hold their scripts and a roll of masking tape. However, the kids enjoy the program, the simple structure works for me, and the low budget makes this easy to replicate.

Before the Program

Most of my work takes place before I see the kids the first time. Personally, I don’t use standard “reader’s theater scripts” that you can find on Google–they often feel forced or aren’t as fun for my 3rd-5th graders. Instead, I look for funny picture books that can be adapted to a reader’s theater style performance. I also have a stash of old Zoom Playhouse Scripts. The Zoom website is no longer available, but some of these can be transcribed from YouTube videos.

Some of my favorite picture books I’ve adapted over the years include:

I’ve also been creating a jokes script that all the kids can perform in at the same time (mostly pulling from the Just Joking series).

I plan for a full group of 15 kids. Not every kid is in every play. I select scripts that allow for 60 parts total (four per reader). Many picture books allow for multiple narrator roles, allowing me to tweak scripts to fit the number of parts I need to reach 60.

Once I have all of my scripts, I print them all out and highlight the appropriate lines for each part. Then, the sorting begins.

I sort scripts into folders before the first rehearsal. Kids then randomly select a folder without knowing what parts are inside. This doesn’t let me control which performers get which parts, but it does allow for scripts to be more evenly distributed and leads to less arguments from kids (and parents) about favoritism.

To break scripts down into folders, I try to aim for the following:

  • 4 scripts per folder
  • At least 1 script that is a “lead” role (more lines)
  • Not all parts in one folder are narrator roles
  • Folders generally stick to one “gender”. I try to use gender neutral names when possible, but if I am stuck with a few more obviously gendered parts I try to keep them together. (I was so proud of my group this last round–this was the first time that we had boys as Cinderella and girls as Princes and not one complaint or argument about switching parts from kids or parents.)
  • If possible, spread scripts out based on the chosen performance order (not all scripts are at the beginning or end)

After (or during) the script organization process, I create the performance order. Once that is set, I create labels that list which scripts are in a particular folder as well as a second label listing the performance order. Both labels are put on the front of each folder, and then the folder is filled with the appropriate scripts, in performance order. I use three-prong folders, so scripts are hole-punched and inserted into the prongs.

Some other practices to make script assignment smooth:

  • Scripts are all labeled with a letter.
  • I create a master sheet for me, organized by play, labeling which scripts have which parts. Eventually, I change script letters to the name of the performer. This helps a ton when 15 8-11-year-olds are paying zero attention to which play comes next.
  • I have a jar on hand with the names of each kid inside on a separate slip of paper. If someone is absent, I pull a name out of the jar to evenly distribute extra parts.

During the Program

Each Reader’s Theater session follows the same 4-week structure:

  • Week 1: Intro to Reader’s Theater, Basic Stage Terminology, Random Script Distribution, Rehearsal of First Half of Scripts
  • Week 2: Script Folder Exchange (optional), Rehearsal of Second Half of Scripts, Practice any scripts from week 1 that now involve props or a lot of entering and exiting
  • Week 3: Full Rehearsal
  • Week 4: Performance for Parents

Before the kids arrive, I set up our stage, by running a piece of masking tape to block off a chunk of the room. This is the easiest “stage” creation, and everyone understands the distinction.

The first three weeks begin with a theater game, normally either Bippity Bippity Bop or Splat. I’ve never been too successful with other theater games. Normally only 2-3 kids out of 15 are actual current or future “theater kids”, and at least a few will shut down if I try to get them to dance in front of their peers or do something that could be seen as embarrassing. The kids are generally already full of energy after school, so I also avoid any game that encourages running as it is hard enough to get them to not do that on their own.

We only rehearse one script at a time, so the kids who are not currently practicing are welcome to watch and give feedback, or they can explore some busywork packets–mad libs, dot-to-dots, kawaii coloring sheets, Captain Underpants Name Changer, etc.

On performance day, kids enter our Activity Center first for one last talk through before we invite friends and family inside. I give them a hodgepodge of cheap dress up items we have on hand to help them get the theater vibe and feel a little bolder when performing in front of a crowd. I introduce the performers to the room, and we run through our scripts for our audience.

Once the initial work is complete, this program is easy to setup and roll out each week, with little prep needed week-to-week. I currently run this program once a year (instead of monthly), and while I don’t see this as strongly with the less frequent programming, there is a notable improvement in the kids reading skills and confidence reading out loud over the course of the month. It also fills a gap in our programming–we regularly offer tech programs and quite a few art programs, but there isn’t an alternate offering that fits that “performing” space. Between helping interested kids test out their stage skills on an easy audience and the direct connections to reading fluency, Reader’s Theater is always a winner.

Kids Passive Program: Book Tournament

A few year’s ago, one of my personal work goals was to start a monthly kids passive program. At the time, our library offered a monthly Imagination Station, a pretend play space for approximately ages 2-6, and a monthly teen passive, for students in grades 6-12. Children in the middle often ended up trying to participate in the activities designed for younger or older kids.

Read about some of my other passive programs at the links below:

One of my favorite passives is our Book Tournament voting bracket. I select 16 titles that have appeal to ages 6-12 (generally our most popularly requested titles), and match them against one another.

Visitors of all ages can vote about once a week for their favorite titles. Over a month, our titles are whittled down to our final match-up, which has now twice resulted in Harry Potter vs. Dog Man (but a different outcome each time).

Voting sheets and a voting box are displayed at the youth desk and beside our large bracket poster.

For 2020, our first round match-ups included (winners in bold):

  • Dog Man vs. Magic Tree House
  • Land of Stories vs. Amulet
  • I Survived vs. Wimpy Kid
  • Big Nate vs. Smile
  • Harry Potter vs. Last Kids
  • Bad Guys vs. Captain Underpants (by one vote!)
  • Who Would Win vs. Percy Jackson
  • Wings of Fire vs. Baby Sitter’s Club

Our rounds continued until we were eventually whittled down to the same match-up as 2018: Dog Man vs. Harry Potter. In 2018, Harry Potter won by a landslide. In 2020, however, Dog Man took the trophy by a single-vote victory.

Many patrons came in each week to check on–and sometimes attempt to contest–who had won the previous week. I’m excited to bring this back again next year and to see if we have a different outcome. 

Innovation Academy: Coding 101

The Innovation Academy series began as monthly tech programs for kids ages 8-11. Since then, it has evolved into a series that lets school-age students explore different skills, art forms, technology, and more.

One of my favorite program themes is Coding 101. In just an hour, with kids with a wide range of coding skills, we covered the basics of block-based coding and how computers work

The PowerPoint I used during this program is below:

Inside of a Computer

We started by talking about how computers work. I have an old computer tower and some extra parts from our computer services department. We discussed what each piece did. The kids loved getting their hands on all of the small parts and looking at them up close.

Eventually, our conversation shifted from hardware to software, which led us to coding.

Group Coding Practice – Jelly Sandwich

After talking through some coding vocabulary, we discovered key coding concepts by completing a group activity. I was the “robot” and the kids told me, step by step, how to make a jelly sandwich.

Things quickly got quite ridiculous. The kids always seem to start this activity by telling me to “get some bread” or “open the bread” which leads to me promptly tearing open a bag of bread in a way that causes bread slices to fly everywhere.

Afterwards, we discussed how this activity connects to the coding practice they will be doing later. The kids catch on quickly to coding skills such as having to be very specific and learning that they will spend time making and correcting mistakes–and that is okay.

Activity 1: Drawing with Dash

I have been presenting fewer technology programs lately. I’m burnt out on them, and I think a lot of my growing disinterest is doing the same activities over and over again. My regular kids get bored, and so do I. We can only do so many obstacle courses. There are only so many challenges that the kids find fun that also work well for a mixture of kids with differing abilities. Every program, I have those few kids who have attended every one of my technology programs, mixed in with those kids who have never heard of the word “coding.”

This month, I pulled out an activity I have done before, but with a bit of a twist. We used Dash robot LEGO connectors and rubber bands to build a marker attachment for Dash. This takes a majority of the activity time, though there is always that one group that eventually realizes that two rubber bands will work just as well to hold a marker in a standing position as the most elaborate LEGO arm.

After attaching their marker, kids then pulled a variety of drawing challenges out of a jar. They used the Blockly coding app to try to create everything from letters to simple shapes to more elaborate and ridiculous creations (like a sloth or a banana–which end up with some interesting pictures).

Activity 2: Sphero Bocee Ball

This was a first-time activity for me and a smash hit with attendees. Kids worked in pairs to play an abbreviated version of bocee ball. The goal: get your SPRK+ robot as close as possible to the center of the target as possible.

All teams started in the same place. Once the game started, no one could stand in the playing field or physically touch any robots. Robots can hit other robots, (hopefully) pushing them away from the target. Robots can only be moved via code through the Sphero EDU app.

Each round was timed carefully to keep things moving.

Pairs had two minutes to practice their strategy and familiarize themselves with block-based coding via the Sphero EDU app. Giving the kids practice time was vital to let them realize exactly how far the robot could go in a short amount of time at a high speed.

The competing pairs played a round of rock, paper, scissors. The winning team decided whether they wanted to go first or second.

The team going first had one minute to finalize their code. After Team One’s turn, the second team then had another minute to work on their code.

We repeated this for three rounds.

Kids got very competitive trying to see who could get their robot closest to the center of the target (preferably knocking other robots out of the way in the process).

Kids Passive Program: Scavenger Hunts

A few year’s ago, one of my personal work goals was to start a monthly kids passive program. At the time, our library offered a monthly Imagination Station, a pretend play space for approximately ages 2-6, and a monthly teen passive, for students in grades 6-12. Children in the middle often ended up trying to participate in the activities designed for younger or older kids.

There is nothing quite as appealing to kids of all ages as a scavenger hunt. These are particularly great passives, as the intended audience of school age children complete them, but younger siblings can too and therefore don’t feel left out.

We have made a ton of scavenger hunts at my library, and a few of my favorites are available to download below. Most scavenger hunts involve a sticker, 1″ button, or bookmark as the prize, typically made by department staff.

Dinovember Scavenger Hunt

I couldn’t help but use Land Before Time characters for the November 2019 Dinovember scavenger hunt.

Mother Bruce Scavenger Hunt

This was made for a Mother Bruce program, but I have used it a few times since. Little ones practice their counting skills by finding all 10 numbered geese.

Pokemon Scavenger Hunt

This scavenger hunt design is adapted from the amazing Ontarian Librarian blog. It makes an appearance in the week before my annual summer Pokemon Party.

Pooh Count the Bees Scavenger Hunt

The Winnie the Pooh Count the Bees scavenger hunt has a different concept behind it–instead of finding six specific pictures, participants count how many bees they could find around the room. I believe I hid around 30, and anyone who gave an answer over 28 received the prize. 

Superhero Scavenger Hunt

My very first Imagination Station was superhero themed, and I created a superhero logo hunt around the youth department.

Where’s Waldo Scavenger Hunt

Definitely a fan favorite at our library, patrons loved this real-life Where’s Waldo game. 

Frozen Sing Along & Celebration

Whether you personally have children or not, it is impossible to work as a youth librarian and not be aware of the Frozen phenomenon. I am a Disney fan, and I have been waiting for the release of Frozen II since I started this job three years ago. I’m not kidding–I had the date for this program reserved in our meeting room scheduler for well over two years before the program finally occurred.

My library had hosted Frozen movie watching parties in the past, but I wanted to try something a little different. At the time this program was planned, I was still reeling from the Paw Patrol Program of 2019, when we had 300 people lined up outside of the building and around the corner to enter our Friday morning Paw Patrol event. Our meeting rooms, with stations set up inside, can not accommodate that many people. With those numbers in the back of my mind, I was definitely nervous about what a Frozen program would bring on a Saturday afternoon a week before the release of Frozen II.

To prepare for crowds, I structured this event much differently than other fandom based programs that I regularly run. The afternoon ran as follows:

  • 1-5 pm: Frozen Activity Stations in Youth Dept.
  • 2-2:40 pm: Frozen Sing-Along & Celebration Option 1
  • 3:30-4:15 pm: Frozen Sing-Along & Celebration Option 2

Frozen Sing-Along & Celebration

The star event was my performance–and yes, this was as close as I have gotten to a “performance” in a program–retelling the Frozen story in about 30 minutes with jokes and songs scattered throughout. The same show was presented twice during the day, to audiences of about 120 people each.

Technology

I relied heavily on technology to make this program work (which, as expected, worked flawlessly for the first program and exploded in fire like Kristoff’s sled for the second).

Two laptops were connected to our meeting room’s overhead projector. One was set to my powerpoint (included below) and the other had the Frozen Sing Along DVD set up. Under bonus features, the Sing Along DVD lets you jump right to the start of each song and takes you back to the song selection menu when finished.

Our projector remote allowed me to toggle between the two laptops with the press of one button. Essentially, when it was time to move into a song, I would continue spieling as I approached the laptops, would select the song on the second laptop, and would then press the button to change inputs on the remote. By the time the projector caught up, the DVD had as well, and the song was beginning. When I was ready for a song to end, even if I wanted to cut it off early (like after the part where the parents die in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”), I changed the input back to the other laptop. My powerpoint appeared on the screen again, while the song played on without sound on the other laptop, invisible to patrons, and returned to the menu screen by the time I was ready for the next song. This structure worked well throughout both performances until my HDMI cable decided that it didn’t want to play sound anymore.

I imagine that explanation isn’t entirely clear–please reach out or comment below if you want to talk through this more.

Presentation

The “show” involved me bumbling through a retelling of Frozen, sometimes getting things very wrong–such as forgetting that Kristoff exists or the entire ending to the story–and sometimes cracking jokes made for parents (such as the trolls making the excellent decision to terrify a 6-year-old Elsa by telling her that her powers are extremely dangerous, but not offering her any help with them when they obviously can do magic themselves).

I used the PowerPoint below to move through the storyline, breaking for most Frozen songs as they occur.

I’m not going to upload by script here, as I didn’t entirely stick to it, and I think it makes things more confusing, but if you would like to talk through what I did, please comment below.

Frozen Activity Stations

Meanwhile, before, during, and after my presentations, the youth department was covered with snowflakes and Elsas and included a collection of Frozen activity stations.

These were intentionally kept as low-key as possible, in an effort to not completely overwhelm our two youth librarians working in the department. Teen volunteers helped throughout the afternoon as well.

Frozen Scavenger Hunt

Visitors completed a scavenger hunt to track down a collection of Frozen characters. Scavenger hunt sheets and characters can be downloaded below. They received a sticker at the youth desk upon completion.

Elsa Crown Craft

Girls and boys decorated gorgeous Frozen crowns. I printed the crown outline on blue glitter cardstock from Amazon, and pre-cut the crowns. Adults and teen volunteers measured ribbon to tie to both sides of the crown to fit to their child’s head.

Sven Reindeer Antlers

Kids also had the option to make Sven Antlers, which were loved by many attendees (there were also some interesting crown/antler mashups).

Pin the Nose on Olaf

Finally, we had a Pin the Nose on Olaf activity that resulted in getting a Frozen bookmark. Due to some teen volunteer mishaps, this activity did not run according to plan, but we did end up with extra Frozen bookmarks to distribute for days afterward to many happy children.

Stuffed Animal Sleepover

While a Stuffed Animal Sleepover is certainly not a unique program idea–a quick Google or Pinterest search will quickly bring up ten or more articles featuring libraries who have run this type of event–it is still one of my favorites. In addition to being downright adorable, it helps young kids practice parting with precious items for a brief amount of time–an important skill.

Last week, we had 17 stuffed friends spend the evening at the library.

Drop Off Storytime

I structure my Stuffed Animal Sleepover with a drop off program and then an all day next day pickup. This evening program means less attendance than we would receive during the day, but it also means providing a program for our working parents.

Our program was designed for ages 2-6 and followed a standard storytime format, with the idea that each child’s stuffed animal acted as their “baby”–meaning the attending children bounced their stuffed animal and helped them participate in the rhymes and songs. The full storytime PowerPoint is available below:

We had some library owned stuffed animals on hand for any drop-in attendees who did not bring their own stuffed animal but wanted to participate.

Before starting the storytime, as families came in, they worked on information sheets for each stuffed animal. These sheets helped us give each stuffed animal the best experience and eased the fears of some of our younger attendees.

We ended our stortime by singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with Raffi and putting our stuffed animals to sleep underneath our parachute. We had a few kids who were hesitant to part with their stuffed friends, but they did eventually.

Photo Time

After the storytime is over, the real fun begins. I had two hours to take as many pictures as possible, design souvenir albums, and assemble the albums. Even with plenty of help, it was a whirlwind few hours!

I had a few planned photos, and everything else was just what worked best at the time. I knew I definitely wanted photos of:

  • Stuffed Animal Dinner Party
  • Stuffed Animal Glow Party
  • Youth Dept. Treehouse
  • Book Sorter

Some of my favorite photos are below:

After taking pictures, I inserted the pictures into our souvenir photo albums, printed them, and had teen volunteers help stuff the albums so they were ready for pickup the next day. A sample album is featured below (with one of our sample photos featured throughout):

All of our stuffed friends were picked up the next day, with lots of adventures to share with their owners.