In which Miss Molly tells another Summer Reading story

MY program for older kids was my upcycling art. Upcycling is all about taking something that would otherwise be trash, and re-purposing it into something beautiful, functional, and unexpected. I love programs that take something simple or plain, and make something completely new. I threw myself into this program. I have a passion for reducing, reusing, and recycling. I think it was because of all the pushing to do so when I was in elementary/middle school. It’s finally sunk in!

To prepare, I limited myself to primarily paper-based crafts that used cardboard tubes (like paper towels, or toilet paper tubes), scrap paper, old magazines, and 1/2 gallon milk cartons. I figured, and rightly so, I would have enough ammunition to create some awesome projects. I was right….I made cardboard tube shadow puppet scenes, wreathes, carton wallets, and a myriad of other things. I had a box of projects. I was so excited and proud of everything I had made.

My idea for the program was to show the kids what I had made, and then let them go to town. I was basing this on the memory of when I was their age. When I was 9-12, I really disliked when a teacher/librarian/parent told me that THIS was what we were doing. All of us. If you finish faster than you neighbor, then you wait. Ugh. Talk about limited creativity! I wanted them to explore, build, create!

So, my kids arrive and we head to the program room. At this point, I should add that a very pushy parent, lets call her The Helicopter, has decided that she needs to be in the room during the program, because her son, “…wants me here.” Looking at the poor kid, I can tell, no, he does not want The Helicopter there. He wants her far away. I can also tell that the other kids are uncomfortable, and I am too. My program is not a place for parents. It’s a place for kids to come to get away from parents. I know many times kids are just signed up by their parents for these things, but I want the kids to have a good time despite that. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, or forced to be there. I want them to want to be there.

I try to explain that this program is for kids only, but The Helicopter ignores me and sits down next to her son. I don’t push the matter, as I was unsure how to proceed at the time. I didn’t want to make a scene and interrupt the program, I also couldn’t leave to get one of my coworkers. So, I grin and bear it. Meanwhile, the other kids are looking at The Helicopter…this adult in a place that’s supposed to be fun and free of judgement. I could feel the change of atmosphere in the room. But, I pressed on in the hopes that they would forget about the extra adult and just have fun.

Pressing on, I showcase what I’ve made, introduce the materials, and tell the kids to go to town. I also add that if they like something that I’ve made, I would love to tell them how I made it so they can too. But that they didn’t need to copy me.

I am met by a room of blank stares. O_O

I try to coax them to the front, to grab materials and get creating….They reluctantly rise from their seats, get materials, and look at what I’ve made.

At this point, monkey wrench number two enters the room. 15 minutes late to a 45-50 minute program, another 12 year old boy joins the mix. He sits down, promptly raises his hand and says, in what was a very snarky tone, ” Um, excuse me. You didn’t explain this very well. What am I supposed to be doing.”

I was floored by his attitude. Biting back a sarcastic reply to the effect of, if you had been on time you would have heard the explanation, I put on my best diplomatic librarian voice and again explained the premise of the program, show him the materials and projects I made, and off he goes. He ended up making a figurine, with moveable joints, out of cardboard tubes….It was amazing. But, getting him to that point was an uphill battle.

During the program, I was a little discouraged:

  • The Helicopter proceeded to do the projects for both her kids, but mainly her son. She cut things out for him, traced them, glued. I know my program has a cool premise, but let the kid do it! How is he supposed to learn? I instructed the best I could, and didn’t comment. How can I? They aren’t my children. If The Helicopter thinks that is what’s best, then, that’s how it’s going to be.
  • There was no talking. It was straight up silence in that room. I walked around, asked the kids how they were doing and if they needed help. They responded with yeses or nos. But otherwise…nothing.

    There was a lot of staring at materials, and not a lot of construction.

  • I gave 4 kids instructions on how to make the milk carton wallet, but some of the milk cartons had a bit of a funny smell, and that was off-putting to them. Since kids apparently don’t like to get dirty or messy any more and are very hesitant about doing something without being explicitly told.

    This kills me. These kids are 11 and 12. They knew how to do the things I am asking them to do without me hovering over them and saying, “Ok, now pick up the scissors, put your fingers into the loops, and cut along the black line.” They are smart, capable kids. I knew they can handle much more than I am asking them to do. I think it comes down to how they are being treated at school and home. It seems like they are being coddled. And these kids definitely don’t need it. They have great ideas, they are competent, they just need to be encouraged to try and to be told it’s ok to fail, as long as you learn from the mistake.

At the end of the program, we gathered up the projects and went back upstairs. I was a bit crestfallen. There were two kids that I knew had a great time. But the others, I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. It was a good idea and I thought I executed it well (despite The Helicopter). But the kids just didn’t seem to connect with it. Sometimes it’s the group of kids who just don’t gel with the idea. Sometimes it’s in the presentation, or the atmosphere…or maybe a combination of all of those things. In any case, while the program didn’t fail, it wasn’t what I hoped it would be.

After talking with my co-workers, who they loved my ideas, they told me I had an entire year’s worth of programming. The kids were probably just overwhelmed. I should have just picked one project and walked the kids through it. All together. Step-by-step. This kills me. In doing that, the kids who are quicker (usually the older ones) have to wait until everyone catches up. They then get bored. Bored kids cause trouble in the program. These kids are too smart for me to spoon feed them these projects. They have too much potential. They just need to have the confidence to Nike (you know…Just Do It.) But, with this advice in mind, for my next upcycling program, I will be doing one or two projects all together with them, just to see how it goes. In the name of science. And it will be science, you see, since I’m writing it down.

As the last weeks of summer reading progressed, I took what I learned from this program and put it toward the planning of my upcoming fall programs. On the last week of Summer Reading, The Helicopter came into with her children and came up to the desk. She looks at me and says, “You know, I just have to tell you about the wallet my daughter made…”

Oh, here it comes. My shoulders hunch against the verbal blows I am about to receive.

“…she loves it.”

Shoulders un-hunch.

“She hasn’t stopped making them since your program. She made them for her friends, my parents, and all our relatives. And it’s gotten rid of all our milk cartons. It’s been great. You did such a great job.”

My cheeks heated up. I was stunned. I thanked her for the feedback and talked with her a little while longer. It was crazy, and incredibly gratifying to know that the little girl liked my program, was continuing to do it at home, and showing all her friends and relatives.

Most of the time, a librarian doesn’t know what effect a program has on a child. There’s no way to measure it. But when we get a parent, especially a difficult parent, comes up to tell me I did a good job and that their child has been positively affected, it’s the best feeling in the world.

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