Tag Archives: School Age

Virtual School Age Program: Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits

We’ve been exploring different ways to provide virtual programming to our patrons. Many libraries have been providing make-and-take kits, but, unfortunately, due to our library’s curbside setup and our patron demand, that isn’t an option for us. It really isn’t possible to add anything larger than a piece of paper to our already cramped holds area.

Mailing things to patrons wasn’t my idea, but I happily stole the concept after my coworkers had some success with their amazing Unicorn Rescue Society Program. Luckily for us, at this point anyway, the postage cost for these type of activities doesn’t come from our youth budget. (Though, I am a bit nervous that will change eventually with the size and popularity of these kits.)

This post is very much a toot-my-own-horn deal. I loved making this kit, I am quite proud of the final product, and the patron response was amazing. With that said, I went overboard. This is probably the real reason I shouldn’t be left alone too long.

Why Mail? Why Baby-Sitters Club?

Mail is convenient, though costly. It lets us reach our patrons who can’t come into the physical building, but it also lets us reach patrons who can’t come to the library, period. There are still limitations here: you need access to a phone or internet to register for the program, and access to the internet to be aware of the program in the first place, but it still opens up a lot of possibilities.

I am especially happy with this program because this is one of my first programs that was truly born from COVID and thinking about what virtual programming can do. This wasn’t an adaptation of a planned in-person program–it was very much a last minute calendar addition after the release date for the Netflix series was announced and after seeing the excitement my Graphic Novel Book Club kids had for the books and upcoming TV series. This was something that would have been fine in person, but might have actually worked better as mailed packages. This wasn’t a substitute for an in-person event–it felt like something entirely its own.

I loved this kit because it was about joy, passion, and fun; not school. Yes, I know that kids are struggling and will continue to struggle with school, kindergarten skills, learning to read. All of those things are important, and there are ways we can help. But. But getting an email from a mom about how her child screamed with pure joy when she got her envelope in the mail–kids need that joy right now. Even if there is no school this fall or for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year–we will figure it out. The world will.

Kids are being super strong right now, while they watch their grown-ups fray at the seams. Kids are dealing with no friends, no trips, no regular activities, honestly better than many grown-ups seem to be. Kids will, soon enough if not already, be buried in school work and education and people desperately trying to teach them through a computer. I’m not a teacher; I’m not a preschool educator. I can try to help, but my skills only go so far. But, if I can bring those kids joy and fun, if I can make them think their favorite book and TV characters created a kit just for them, filled with activities that could keep them busy for a few days, even if that excitement lasts for just one afternoon–well. That’s my contribution to all of this. That’s what I can do. (Told you I was tooting my own horn here. This post is like that. Skip to the downloads if you just want the goods.)

Oh and why Baby-Sitters Club? I mean, there is the obvious release of the Netflix series, but is there a series–other than the one by that author we don’t talk about anymore–that has transcended generations in such a way? These kids’ parent’s remember reading these books, and they will find their own joy in this packet. Right now, a nostalgia trip isn’t such a bad thing. And this series manages, especially in the Netflix series that I can’t stop talking about, to be wholesome while also confronting and discussing real issues. It never gets as hard as it could–as hard as it might get as the series expands and these kids age–but it feels real. It feels legitimate and relatable and all of those things that kids look for in good stories.

Kit Contents

As I mentioned earlier, I went overboard. And I’m not sorry. (I was when I was making them, but that falls under “logistics.”) Do I suggest you do this much? No. But here we are.

Downloads for most items can be found in the downloads section.

Each child received their own envelope, even if there were multiple kids in the same house registered. This made it more individual–not just that the oldest or youngest got to open the package from the library. I considered more envelope decorations and doodles, but that didn’t happen due to time.

Each kit contained a general membership kit, in a document envelope, as well as five individual bags, one from each babysitter.

The general membership kit included:

  • Personalized welcome letter from the Baby-Sitters Club
  • Personalized Membership Card
  • Guide to Babysitting (borrowed liberally from the Red Cross Guide)
  • Readalike Books (listen to me talk about these titles in this YouTube video)
  • Swag: Bookmarks, Flyer, Trivia Sheet, Which Baby-Sitter Are You Quiz, Membership Profile

Kristy’s Bag focused on leadership and included:

  • Letter from Kristy
  • Leadership Packet

Claudia’s bag (the most fun, obviously) included:

  • Letter from Claudia
  • Mini sketchbook and glitter pens (leftovers from previous programs, but could easily be printed yourself)
  • Friendship bracelet materials and instructions
  • Art Project Ideas for Babysitting (double as activities great to do with supplies you may have at home)

Mary Anne’s bag focused on organization:

  • Letter from Mary Anne
  • “Pocket” Calendar
  • Musical Recommendations (with book recs on the back)
  • Dry Erase Calendar (not pictured, only in select kits due to expanded registration)

Stacey’s bag included:

  • Letter from Stacey
  • MASH Instructions
  • Cootie Catcher Instructions and 2 sheets
  • Healthy Snack Suggestions (cook book recommendations on the back)

Dawn’s bag included:

  • Letter from Dawn
  • Nature Scavenger Hunt
  • ECO-BINGO

Dawn’s kit was meant to include an environmentally friendly craft, ucycled craft, or craft to be donated, but I was out of funds, time, and envelope space.

Each kit (up to a certain number of days before sign-up) was personalized. Imagine the child’s name where the word “Babysitter” is on most of these pictures.

All activities were meant to also be able to be completed by the program participant at home. So, you could go on a nature scavenger hunt with someone you are babysitting, but you could also do this with your family during COVID times.

Logistics

Obviously, these bags contained a lot. Part of this would have been significantly easier if I had been in the physical library regularly. I have a printer at home that I will use in a pinch, but not for this kind of quantity and ink. This meant that a lot of designing happened at home, but essentially all assembly had to happen in one very long work day.

As I mentioned earlier, I would repeat most of this program. But one thing in particular I wanted to highlight was the organization method. The feedback from caregivers was very positive, especially praising the organization and that everything could fit in the document envelope. They really appreciated not receiving a bunch of lose odds and ends.

Now, things I would do differently:

  • Personalization: So much happiness came from these kits being personalized, but wow, sorting and stuffing took so much longer because of it. Due to necessity, for future, similar events, I may just personalize a membership card and general letter, not each and every piece.
  • Folding the letters: There was no reason for this, which just took extra time between double-sided printing and folding. I realized halfway through folding that I could have easily called them stationary and not folded. But by that point they were printed with names on the back, and I was halfway done.
  • Get a long paper stapler that works: I lost hours here restapling. HOURS. There was anger. So much. I’m not sure exactly what was wrong, and I was hesitant about asking to use the basement machine because of COVID and germs. But goodness. The amount of staples I had to remove because they were sticking out? I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

Downloads

This is what you are here for right? You found the gold. Everything should be downloadable from the links below. All files are PDFs, though you can email me or post in the comments if you are interested in the originals for editing. They are all Publisher files, and I do tend to use lots of fonts.

Response

So, I did say I was tooting my own horn here, and I did give you all the good stuff already. Patron response to this program was absolutely lovely. Some of my favorite quotes and feedback are below.

Virtual School Age Program: Book Character BINGO

Book Character BINGO! This was my first virtual event with very low attendance. I had two families play during the event, with about five more play later in the day. I think our virtual programming’s popularity is directly connected to how popular the related franchise is. Pokemon = popular. Dog Man = popular. Generic Book Characters, even with some popular ones thrown in = not so much.

Setup

This program took place on a day I was required to work in our library, so my setup is a bit different. To have a mask off, I have to be in a closed room, and my only real option was the library board room. One wall is a giant window, another is glass facing admin, and the other two are covered in framed awards and maps. I set up in front of the mini dry erase board:

This isn’t the most convenient setup, but it allowed me to have all of my technology connected and have a cute background.

I was planning to livestream from my laptop, but after all the technical issues I had during Dog Man Trivia last week, I decided to use my phone for my cellphone’s internet. Our work wifi is spotty, especially in our filming space, and the publicly circulating hotspots don’t actually work in the library (bad network coverage).

This involved a lot of technology, including:

  • Phone on tripod with phone mount for livestreaming
  • Laptop for watching stream and responding to comments (off camera)
  • Speaker and iPod touch for background music (off camera)

Content

We played three rounds of BINGO, two where we aimed for five in a row, and a final coverall game.

Watch the video here:

All of the BINGO cards have the same 24 characters on them (plus the free space). I include a number beside each character image to help kids and grown-ups quickly find characters they are unfamiliar with. I also used this as an opportunity to book talk some of the characters on the BINGO cards.

Download the BINGO cards here:

Try this link for a lower-quality download (but a smaller file, easier to print).

A full list of the book characters featured (linked to my library’s catalog):

  1. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey (series)
  2. Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi (series)
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (series)
  4. The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (series)
  5. Smile by Raina Telgemeier (series)
  6. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (series)
  7. An Elephant & Piggie Biggie! by Mo Willems (series)
  8. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  9. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean (series)
  10. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
  11. Zoey and Sassafras by Asia Citro (series)
  12. Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney (series)
  13. Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann (series)
  14. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor (series)
  15. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr.
  16. Geronimo Stilton by Geronimo Stilton (series)
  17. The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey (series)
  18. Don’t Throw It to Mo! By David Adler (series)
  19. Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero by Kara West (series)
  20. Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (series)
  21. Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill (series)
  22. Sadiq and the Fun Run by Siman Nuurali (series)
  23. Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee (series)
  24. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (series)

I also curated an at-home fun packet, featuring an activity page for each of our book characters. Download here:

And, of course, a Book Character BINGO printable certificate:

Virtual School Age Program: Dog Man Trivia

I enjoy the Dog Man books. I find them genuinely funny, with great character development and subtle nods to the classic books they are sometimes very loosely based on. Kids devour this series, and I find a loveliness in them rooting for a hero who hasn’t said a word over eight books.

Even though Dog Man won our last Book Tournament voting contest, and it is, without question, the most popular book series in our library, I underestimated its popularity going into virtual Dog Man Trivia. I expected a small crowd (Pokemon Trivia in June had around 55 attendees; surely Dog Man would be less). Nope. 101 people. 345+ comments. Even with technology issues during the livestream, people attended, participated, and were engaged with the questions and each other.

Content

My questions were shared via screensharing a PowerPoint on Facebook Live (details below under Logistics). Twenty questions, followed by going back through the twenty questions faster to review the answers.

Watch the video here:

View and Download the PowerPoint below. The fonts I used (that didn’t seem to copy over) were Century Gothic, ObelixPro, and Grobold:

More links:

Logistics

Like many of our school age programs, trivia was hosted on Facebook Live, though this could easily be translated to whatever platform your library is using for virtual events.

There are many great tools out there for trivia. Kahoot is a particularly popular tool that I’ve seen used frequently. That tool asks participants to play along on their phone or another device while watching the livestream, and the system times the questions and ranks participants. While I like that concept for an adult or maybe teen trivia, when there are no prizes involved, I don’t like that system for kids. Plus, it involves a second piece of technology, and for families playing along, it may be especially difficult to have each kid play individually.

My questions were added to a PowerPoint, shared to Facebook using their livestreaming screenshare technology. Some detailed tips for those interested in trying a program this way:

  • Make your slides “widescreen” so they fill up the viewers full computer, phone, or TV screen. Do this by going to Design – Slide Size in Microsoft PowerPoint.
  • I don’t like the clunkiness of viewers seeing me open my powerpoint after going live. To always just have the powerpoint as the center of your screen:
    • In PowerPoint, start the “Slide Show” mode, making your PowerPoint full screen.
    • Use the Windows key (not ESC) to exit the Slide Show presentation view. This key leaves it open in the background.
    • Start your Facebook Livestream. Instead of sharing your entire screen, just share one application — the Slide Show view of PowerPoint.
    • Return to the Slide Show view to change slides for your participants. Always use the Windows key to exit. If you use the ESC key, you won’t be able to restart the slideshow without creating a new livestream.
  • Using the steps above, you cannot easily see the comments during the presentation. I have my phone nearby with the livestream running, allowing me to see questions and comments as they come in. A coworker posts links and types responses to the comments, and I respond verbally as I can.

My program was supposed to last 30 minutes (I knew I was closer to 35 on practice). Between a solid 10+ minutes of technical issues in the middle, and participants asking me to slow down, the program went closer to 50 minutes, but participants stayed with me.

Dog Man passion is huge here, and I’m going to host a Dog Man BINGO in August to continue that online camaraderie around this fandom. What virtual programs have worked well for you? Let us know in the comments!

Paw Patrol Rescue Academy

Paw Patrol and I have a bit of a history. During spring break 2019, I planned a program featuring one of the most popular kids TV shows of the time. It was scheduled for a Friday morning, and while we could tell from patron questions that there was some excitement, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been planning for a storytime followed by eight hands-on games, crafts, and activities where you earned badges, and ending with an obstacle course where you earned your Paw Patrol “uniform” (hat and necklace).

Before the program started, I debated dropping the storytime portion because my overzealous planning had led to very little room for attendees to sit down before completing their activities. I believe I left the room to get extra supplies about 30 minutes before the program and was extremely surprised to realize that there were over 100 patrons in the hallway. Waiting for a program that started in 30 minutes. A program that was supposed to take place in meeting rooms that have a firecode of around 200 when the room isn’t filled with tables and activities. The storytime portion was dropped, and by the end of the program over 300 people stopped by.

I have never written about that program on this blog because it didn’t go the way I had hoped (high attendance or not), and I didn’t actually have that many resources to share. Pre-COVID, I had been planning to try this program again this summer with quite a few modifications. Post-COVID, this program turned into another online special storytime, following the path of the recent Baby Shark Storytime and Elephant & Piggie Storytime.

Enjoy watching me make a fool of myself promoting this program in the below video. I think the video did help, as we had more people at this virtual program than Elephant & Piggie three weeks prior (about 76 at Paw Patrol).

To help continue the Paw Patrol fun at home, I curated a PDF packet that we shared with event participants. Download it here and view it below:

The general storytime layout is below, with videos where applicable.

Backdrop Setup: Pennant banners and Paw Patrol shields helped make my backdrop more on-theme to increase the Paw Patrol excitement:

Paw Patrol Intro: We got ready for storytime with the Paw Patrol theme song and explained our mission: to complete training activities to earn six Paw Patrol badges and become junior Paw Patrol members.

Book: Pit Crew Pups from Five Puptacular Tales

Amazon.com: Five Puptacular Tales! (PAW Patrol) (Step into Reading ...

Badge #1: Flying Badge with Skye: Airplane Song by Laurie Berkner

Whenever it was time to earn a new badge, we received pup mail. We had to guess which pup’s badge we were going to earn based on the front of our mail and then read about our challenge.

Our first challenge was to practice our flying skills with Skye!

Badge #2: Water Safety Badge with Zuma: Zuma Are You In a Boat?

Badge #3: Safety Badge with Chase: Crazy Traffic Light

Badge #4: Fire Safety Badge with Marshall: Hurry, Hurry Drive the Firetruck

Badge #5: Construction Badge with Rubble: Tip Tip Dig Dig by Emma Garcia
This was supposed to be just a read of the book, but I couldn’t get a copy of the book in time, so it turned into a last minute magnet. I’m sure I’ll reuse this set at some point in a toddler storytime.

Amazon.com: Tip Tip Dig Dig (All About Sounds) (9781906250829 ...

Badge #6: Handyman Badge with Rocky: Our Friend Rocky Had Some Tools

Graduation: Now that we had earned all six Paw Patrol badges, as shown in our Paw Patrol Badge Zone:

We recited the Paw Patrol Pledge:

And danced the morning away as Junior Paw Patrol members!

Closing Song: Pup Pup Boogie

Elephant & Piggie Storytime

10,000 years ago, in the days that were March, spring break week was supposed to end with an Elephant & Piggie Party. We had borrowed the full body costumes for some guest appearances, I had too many games and crafts planned to fit in our space, and we were expecting a decent crowd–last year’s Paw Patrol event, on the same day and time, had 300 people.

But before spring break, our library closed because COVID, etc., etc., etc., if you are reading this post in 2020 or soon after you don’t need me to rehash the details again. If you have no idea what COVID quarantining was…well I’m surprised this blog is still being used. Hopefully Google still exists too. Anyway, last weekend, I was able to bring part of the Elephant & Piggie Party online with Elephant & Piggie Storytime.

We had a smaller turnout than we would have had in person–just 51 online viewers during our Facebook Live event–but there were many familiar faces and the engagement in the comments was amazing.

To help continue the Elephant and Piggie fun at home, I curated a PDF packet that we shared with event participants. Download it here.

The general storytime layout is below. I wish I could share the whole video with you because some of the best parts just aren’t in the pre-made YouTube videos. I added a few screenshots for your enjoyment where I could.

Find additional content at the links below:

Backdrop Setup: Pennant banners and book covers helped make my backdrop more on-theme to increase the Elephant & Piggie excitement:

Elephant & Piggie Intro: We got ready for storytime with my go-to storytime intro song: Shake Your Sillies Out by Rainbow Songs.

Fingerplay: I Have One, I Have Two, I Have Three Little Piggies!

First Book: Let’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

Let's Go for a Drive! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) (An Elephant ...

I used to perform this book as a puppet show back when I was a teen volunteer, so I’m very familiar with the content. I included some props and got quite energetic in sharing the book:

Song: Elephants Have Wrinkles by Rainbow Songs

Magnet: Piggie, Are You In a Book?

Magnet: Five Elephants in the Bathtub
**This was the planned starting point for Pigeon takeover. I made a full video for YouTube, but this wasn’t part of the storytime beyond the introduction.

Pigeon Takeover: I’ve been trying to think of ways to use virtual storytimes to my advantage. In a room full of kids, I could never transform a storytime space like I’m able to by covering the camera for a minute and swapping out decor. Hence, Pigeon Takeover was born.

**Our storytimes are live. This would have been much easier pre-recorded, but it wouldn’t have been half as fun.

How This Worked:

  • While swapping out magnet pieces from Piggie, Are You in a Book? to start what I told viewers was our next activity, Five Elephants in the Bathtub, I really pressed play on the iPod Touch I use for music (connected via bluetooth to a speaker), starting a Spotify playlist. The playlist contained 7 door knocking sounds followed by the Hot Dog! song by They Might be Giants (Pigeon likes hot dogs!).
  • Once the knocking started, I pretended to ignore it while making an annoyed face before apologizing to viewers and telling them I needed to check on the door. I’d be right back!
  • As soon as I was off camera, stuffed Pigeon made an appearance, using a sign to make his opinions known:
  • I moved the Pigeon Storytime sign up against the camera before swapping it out with a black washcloth. The Hot Dog! song continued to play and my awesome coworker kept the shenanigans going in the comments while letting viewers know to keep watching.
  • In a minute, I swapped out as much of the decor as I could, focusing on: the books on the bookshelf, stuffed animals, and hanging up as many Pigeon book covers and pre-cut Pigeon images on top of the Elephant and Piggie decor as I could manage. These were all pre-taped and on a table off camera.
  • I positioned myself with the Pigeon headband and holding some of Pigeon’s signage. I made sure before I started that my chair was close enough to the camera to remove the wash cloth in a clean motion. I stopped the music, moved the wash cloth, threw in a “is there a bird on my head?” joke, and let my confusion show before accepting my fate that I was now in a different storytime:

Book: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems, Hardcover ...

Since this was now Pigeon storytime, we had to wrap things up with a Pigeon story.

Closing Song: If You’re an Elephant/Piggie/Pigeon and You Know It!

Extra: 5 Little Pigeons Jumping on the Bed

Virtual School Age Program: Pokemon Week

Last week was an extra layer of busy for me. Each summer for the last three years we have had a Pokemon event. Typically, our Pokemon Party lasts about two hours, has about 200 attendees, and includes trivia, BINGO, crafts, tech, snacks, card trading, and more. The 2020 Pokemon Party was on the calendar…and then COVID happened. Even though this event typically relies heavily on in-library activities and the shared love of a few hundred Pokemon fans in one space, I knew this was one of my must-make-virtual activities.

Pokemon Party turned into virtual Pokemon Week, mostly hosted through Facebook Live. This platform creates some limitations, but it has been our go-to location for most of our virtual programming (and we do still see a lot of familiar faces on there). I created off-Facebook versions of these programs to allow for non-social-media users to also join in on the fun.

Attendance was strong at these events, with 60 active participants in both Pokemon Trivia and Guess that Pokemon, and about 40 active participants at Pokemon BINGO.

In addition to all of the shared content below, I also had these three links available for each event:

Day One: Pokemon Trivia

Very similar to our in-person trivia (except no prizes and easier), our virtual Pokemon Trivia included 20 questions. This was created in PowerPoint and presented using Facebook Live’s screen share tool. Due to the setup, my computer screen was the PowerPoint file, so I had a coworker typing answers to comments, and I verbally responded to some comments after seeing them through the livestream on my phone. Audio and video quality are a big deal as we move farther down the path of virtual programming, and I will never doubt the value of my lovely Yeti microphone (I actually like my voice when I listen back to a recording. I didn’t think that was possible.).

Video of Facebook Live Event:

Same Event on YouTube: The same trivia content can be found in the YouTube video, though this was created for this platform so the extra content is a little different:

Certificate: At the end of the trivia event, we provided a link in the comments to a printable Trivia Master certificate:

Additional Links:

Day Two: Guess that Pokemon

During our in-person event, this is a passive station with images on the wall that attendee’s identify, self-score, and then pick-up a small prize (like a button or bookmark). I made this another trivia-style event.

Video of Facebook Event:

Same Event on YouTube:

Certificate:

Additional Links:

To Make Your Own Character Shadows: I used Microsoft PowerPoint, though this should work in any Microsoft tool (and most image editing software):

  • I found most of my Pokemon images here, though any image without a background can be edited this way.
  • In PowerPoint:
    • I pasted the image.
    • Right clicked on the image and selected “Format Picture.”
    • In the new options to the right, I selected the fourth image in the new toolbar, “Picture.”
    • Changed the “brightness” to zero. The image is now solid black.

Day Three: Pokemon BINGO

Pokemon BINGO was a different virtual adjustment–attendees were able to see me this time! There was an extra “step” here–attendees needed to download Pokemon BINGO cards ahead of time and either print them out or play virtually (like in a paint style program).

Video of Facevook Event:

Downloadable BINGO Cards: 100 unique downloadable Pokemon BINGO cards, plus instructions to play at home.

Certificate:

Additional Links:

Day Four: How to Draw Pokemon

We wrapped up our Pokemon week with our first virtual presenter for the summer, cartoonist Steve Harpster. He taught kids how to draw cartoon-style versions of a variety of Pokemon!

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.

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.

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).