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


  • 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.

Teen Advisory Board

Lots of libraries have advisory boards for their teenagers. A place where teens can voice their opinions, ask for materials and programs, and meet peeps from different schools (or even homeschoolers). When I became the Teen Librarian at Westerville, I inherited two: Junior Teen Advisory Board (JTAB) for middle schoolers and Teen Advisory Board (TAB) for High Schoolers.

At my previous library, at the advice and mentoring of my director, I tried to create a Teen Advisory Group. It somehow devolved from a group that met to help brainstorm, create, and inspire programming to being just another program I had to continually create new material for. Over the course of one semester it changed from being TAG: Teen Advisory Group to TAG: Teen Arts and Games, a hangout group that focused on activities and crafts.

It could have been the intense, once a week, schedule I was asked to implement for meetings. It could have been that I was a newly minted librarian and I was still testing the waters on what my program style was. The giant learning curve figuring out my new community coming from Chicagoland to western Kentucky. Or that no one knew what was going to happen with teen programming as I was literally the first Teen Librarian for Henderson Library and County. But somewhere along the way TAG changed and it was no longer an advisory group.

Arts & crafts and gaming programs are important and needed for teens, but that was not what I had prepped for. The new direction meant that I was quickly burning through all my programming ideas, that should have been spread over many months, and quickly burning out. During the small break in programming we had over winter break I was able to regroup and plan out some fun weekly activities without losing my mind but was never able to get a true advisory group off the ground.

And then I moved to Westerville, where there was already a Teen Advisory Board in place. And after acting as a substitute Teen Librarian during a maternity leave, I became the Teen Librarian…and wasn’t sure what to do with the advisory boards I inherited. After all my last foray into this type of programming fizzled out and turned into something completely different.

It was time for my new teens to school me, yo.

I was up front and honest about my experience with advisory groups to the JTAB and TABbers and asked how the program currently ran. Then we talked about what they wanted the group to be like. And over the course of one semester it changed from what I inherited to a hybrid of what my teens and I both wanted and needed.

Things that stayed the same:

  • When we meet – once a month on the last Thursday, for about an hour. JTAB at 6pm TAB at 7pm
  • Who it’s for – JTAB is for middle schoolers, TAB is for high schoolers
  • Service hours – as long as a teen signs in on the attendance sheet and participates in the meeting they get an hour of community service
  • Snacks – are served and enjoyed at the meetings, but can’t be taken home at the end
  • What we do – share wants for programming, library materials, and random conversations/ideas
  • Marketing – All members (including me) talk to teens in the community about coming to check out the fun we have at JTAB/TAB
  • Officers – TAB members elect officers for roles and more or less run the program with librarian guidance as needed
  • ARCs – anyone that attends can snag one ARCs to take home

Things that changed:

  • How to join – Show up! No more applying and interviewing, you show up you get to participate
  • Snacks – options are now a combo of healthy and sugary, but take into account shared allergies, religious dietary restrictions, and packaging (being able to save some snacks for the next meeting is a big plus!)
  • What we do – Create and run programs independently. Teens still help create programs and activities, but the onus of an entire program is no longer on their shoulders
  • Marketing – teens create special campaigns and activities to spread the word on the fun that we have at JTAB/TAB
  • ARCs Frenzy – anyone that attends can snag one or several ARCs to take home
  • Book reviews – JTAB and TABbers can fill out bookmark book reviews stating why they loved or hated a library book that gets tucked into it’s respective title

Small changes in how things went made a big difference for how we all view the advisory boards. Teens still get agency by sharing their ideas and wants, but don’t have the same pressures of having to be present all the time for everything. I don’t have have an overloaded schedule of crazy and have help in coming up with programs. And we all get snacks and hang time with people who’s lives may not cross paths if it weren’t for the library.

Baby Play: Cereal Boxes and Straws

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

A simple fine motor activity, cereal boxes and straws, is always a success. Babies build their finger muscles while placing smoothie straws in pre-cut holes in cereal boxes. This is especially great because it can be easily replicated at home and appeals to a wide range of ages.

How to Make Cereal Boxes and Straws

Materials: Empty Cereal Boxes, Smoothie Straws, Pencil or other poking tool, Packing Tape


  • Collect empty cereal boxes.
  • Tape all sides of the box to make the seams sturdier.
  • Punch holes in the front of the box using a pencil or similar tool.
  • Test a straw to make sure your holes are large enough for a straw to fit but not so large that it flops over and falls into the box.
  • Optional: Make a pattern with your straw holes, such as a letter of the alphabet.

Cost: $0-10

Time to Make: < 10 minutes

Pro-Tip: If you are going to use this activity a lot, consider purchasing reusable straws that can be washed. Smoothie straws can be washed, but tend to get bitten, and the teeth marks show.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • How many straws fit in the box?
  • Can you take a straw out of the box?
  • Can you make a straw fit in the box?
  • What color is the straw?
  • How does the straw feel?
  • What happens if you hit the box with the straw?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:




It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (7/22/19-7/28/19).

Annamarie’s Reading

Annamarie’s top titles include:

Note: Annamarie serves as chair of the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings Committee. Due to her position, she listens to and evaluates many audiobooks for children and teens. Annamarie never includes any of the audiobooks she listens to in her “What Are You Reading?” posts.

Michala’s Reading

Michala’s top titles include:

Note: We are in the final stretch of Summer Reading at Westerville Public Library!!!! Lots of last minute reading from my teens and me alike. Hope everyone’s summer reading programs were amazing with lots of finishers! Next week we will know how many teens made it to their summer reading goals.

Baby Prom

Fancy clothes. Lots of music. Awkward dancing. Awesome (or maybe not so awesome) decor. My fellow librarian, Sarah, and I agree that there is only one thing that can make a standard American prom better — babies. Enter Baby Prom.

After reading about Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Baby Prom via the ALSC blog, we decided to tap into our very large baby and toddler population (storytimes for those ages in the summer regularly reach 80-100 people) to create our own Baby & Toddler Prom experience.

About 50 parents and little ones joined us for an hour on a Friday afternoon for music, crafts, dancing, and fun. Babies and toddlers were dressed in a variety of styles, from those with fancy dresses and all the accessories to those in their everyday storytime attire.

Baby Prom Decor

Prom needs a great photo op and awesome decorations, and we delivered with 40″ mylar balloons. We purchased these in prepackaged sets as the words “baby” and “prom”, making them significantly cheaper than individually purchased letters, even if the gold tones don’t match exactly.

We created a photo background with silver mylar and half of a balloon arch. The dark blue, gold, silver, and white colors continued around the room.

Dance Floor

The center of the room contained our amazing dance floor, designed by my coworker, Sarah. We call these “liquid floor tiles”, and they are a hit at all of our programming. The liquid is contained inside of 9×12 lamination pouches, ironed closed. Most include a mixture of baby oil, water, food coloring, and other items (foam shapes, glitter, etc.). The ironed lamination pouches have duct tape around the edges to further secure the liquid. Our industrial hole punch creates spaces in the foam tiles so the bags can be zip-tied to the tiles. We have had a few leak over the last few months of use, but overall they hold up great.

Baby Prom Music

The bulk of the program involved our little over one-hour playlist and a variety of manipulatives to keep the little ones engaged. We used a combination of popular music and upbeat kid favorites.

Since the little ones were not interested in dancing for an hour straight (much to my dismay), we planned for a variety of manipulatives that were distributed at regular intervals, including:

  • Shaker Eggs
  • Bells
  • Scarves
  • Puppets
  • Bubbles
  • Balloons (part of balloon drop finale)

We left all items out on the dance floor till the end of the program, no matter when they were introduced.

Baby animal videos played on the big screen throughout the event.

Limo Rides

Babies could take a break from the dance floor to take a wagon limo ride provided by one of our teen volunteers. Not every baby participated, but one of our regular storytime attendees spent a majority of the program in a wagon because she enjoyed it so much.


Parents could make a simple wrist corsage for their baby by layering colored felt flowers and weaving through a velcro strip.

Balloon Drop Finale

We planned to end our Baby Prom with a balloon drop finale. We wove together two dollar store tablecloths, attached them to the ceiling, and stuffed them with balloons. The balloon drop worked, though something in the execution wasn’t quite right, as all the balloons fell on me (the person pulling the string) instead of out of the other side of the tablecloth and onto the babies. It was a little awkward, but the babies didn’t seem to mind.

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes, no matter how much you have prepared for a program. No matter how much you promoted it. No matter how excited you are…no one shows up.

It makes you question your teen librarian skills. Are you still cool? Still hip? Still with it?

I had a program like that this past week: Silent Card Castles.

The premise of the program is super easy. Over the course of an hour, teens use index cards to free build structures however they want to. There are no building rules beyond build a thing. Cards can be bent and mutilated beyond repair, ripped in half, stacked however they want. And, occasionally, (every 10-15 minutes) you throw out a challenge to them that they have to complete. Things like:

  • connect your structure to at least 1 other person’s creation
  • everyone stop building and spin around 3 times, then switch places with another builder
  • 30 second dance break
  • lights off, build in the dark
  • destroy those creations Godzilla style, then pick up all the cards

And throughout the hour teens are supposed to remain silent. It is meant to help recharge their brains thinking of ways to communicate without words, help them Zen out a bit with the creative but simple task of building things, and have an almost nostalgic kind of fun where they are completely unplugged for just a little bit. All you need to run this program is a room, a bunch of index cards, and some teenagers.

…..I had 2 of those 3 things on Wednesday.

In the past, when I’ve done this program I have had stellar attendance for something that is not food or tech related. My teens have found the fun in the simplicity of it all. Quietly groaning over the challenges I threw at them. Abandoning the silence rule and laughing hysterically when they smashed everything to the ground at the end.

But even with my promotion in the schools before summer break, even with social media and remind blasts, even with JTAB and TAB members telling other teens that they have come to to this is the past and that “it’s more fun than it sounds”. I was alone in a room until I admitted defeat and closed the program.

I had to enter a 0 in the attendance record and let my manager know that this time, not one teenager came to my program. I felt like I failed as a teen librarian. Like I failed my kids in providing them something fun and educational during the summer months when I am actually able to give them more varied programming. And in my little moment of professional self doubt, I threw the world’s smallest pity party.

But after taking a deep breath and utilizing the same skills I had hoped to foster in teens during the program. I reminded myself that even when a program fails. Even if a program falls of the rails with no hope of getting back on track. Even if in the middle of it all it turns into a dumpster fire. As long as I keep trying to engage teens, advocate for their wants/needs, and continue to grow with them. I am still a good teen librarian.

So when you have a program fail like mine did, take a deep breath, pick yourself back up, make yourself a s’more using that dumpster fire, and try again. Cause you are still a good teen librarian and you got this!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (7/15/19-7/21/19).

Annamarie’s Reading

Annamarie’s top titles include:

Note: Annamarie serves as chair of the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings Committee. Due to her position, she listens to and evaluates many audiobooks for children and teens. Annamarie never includes any of the audiobooks she listens to in her “What Are You Reading?” posts.

Michala’s Reading

Michala’s top titles include:

Note: Happy YA week on Goodreads! This Week, Michala is running away from the library for a few days. With any luck she should return to finish out Summer Reading with tons of restorative energy!

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.


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.


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.


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.

If you feed them, they will come … Cake Pops!

There is a phrase that is bandied about quite often when discussing teen programming: “If you feed them, they will come.” It is on message boards and comment sections and Facebook posts. It is the first response to anyone posing the question: How do I get teens to come to programs?

I am not denying its positive response. Snacks do bring in a bodies for programs, but I also want to have snacks make sense and make sure that my teens are engaged in the program. Creative food programs for the win!

This year, I had a cake pops program lined up as a part of summer reading. It sort of came as a suggestion from my TAB group. I say sort of because I was actually out sick the day of the TAB meeting and my substitute *cough cough, Annamarie* wrote down the suggestion of a cake pop program. It turns out it was actually a suggestion for a K-pop program. And while I still haven’t tackled a K-pop program, cake pops were definitely a hit regardless of how it came to be.

The original concept I was going to try was a Nailed It/Failed It style, and in fact it was even named Cake Pops: Nailed It/Failed It in the library’s program guide. However, when looking at the amount of tools each teen would need to try and recreate sample cake pops, I decided to scrap that and just let my kiddos play with their food.

By dropping the Nailed It/Failed It aspect of the program I was able to focus using my budget solely on basic cake pop supplies, instead of including any piping tips or bags. Changing how my funds would be used also meant that the number of participants could increase as I could buy more delicious supplies.

Now it was time to figure out a list of everything that would be needed to create cake pops and not make a giant mess in the process. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Disposable table cloths
  • Paper plates
  • Disposable bowls
  • Plastic spoons
  • Mini cupcake wrappers (completely optional, and I probably wouldn’t use them in the future)
  • Baggies
  • Sucker sticks
  • Almond bark (or candy melts, or tempered chocolate)
  • Slow cooker(s)
  • Food coloring
  • Sprinkles, mini M&Ms, chocolate chips, etc.
  • Donut holes

I went back and forth on what to use as the actual cake for the program; letting the teens make real cake pops by smooshing cake into balls or with donut holes? Ultimately, due to limited access to a sink and a freezer and the time constraint of the program, I went with donut holes.

On the day of the program I set up tables with groups of 6 chairs, had supply stations at the front of the room, covered everything with tablecloths, and put mixtures of the decorating supplies out on each table. After a brief tutorial on how to make a cake pop (directions in notes field below), I released the teens to gather their melted almond bark, donut holes, and sticks before having fun creating deliciousness.

During all the fun it came up that I had never had a cake pop before, even though I had made them many times in my former career as a pastry chef. So of course it was a momentous event when I had my very first cake pop during the program.

Note: Cake Pop Construction

  1. Dip the cake pop stick into the melted almond bark, wait 5 seconds and then place the stick into the donut hole. Patience is key! If you rush the dry time on the almond bark glue your cake pop can come off the stick very easily.
  2. Once the donut hole has adhered to the stick, dip the pop into the almond bark and gently shake or twirl off excess. Once the almond bark begins hardening you can begin adding your decorations. This part can sometimes be tricky – if you go too fast some of your decorations can slide off, but if you go too slow they could need more glue to adhere.
  3. Enjoy all the cake-y goodness, but remember to snap some photos first!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (7/8/19-7/14/19).

Annamarie’s Reading

Annamarie’s top titles include:

Note: Annamarie serves as chair of the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings Committee. Due to her position, she listens to and evaluates many audiobooks for children and teens. Annamarie never includes any of the audiobooks she listens to in her “What Are You Reading?” posts.

Michala’s Reading

Michala’s top titles include:

Note: This Week, Michala also read The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane with Neil Martinez-Belkin which does hold older teen appeal, but is an adult book.