As a librarian who does all of my own programming, I’ve been asked where I get my ideas. The answer is simultaneously simple and complicated, and really boils down to how I view being a librarian.
I take something I’m interested in, something that catches my attention, something that I want to reuse, and build a program around that. For instance, with my science program, I read, surf the web, and watch videos about science experiments. I recently found one about wind-up toys. The project used paperclips and elastic bands to create a butterfly that, once wound, will pop up and fly—at least until its elastic unwinds. How cool is that?
If it captures my attention, I know I can pitch it in such a way to make it interesting for my kids. So, I next take that experiment and figure out what it illustrates. The butterfly demonstrates kinds of energy (Kinetic and Potential), so we’ll talk about that. Those types of energies have equations, so we can talk about that…and then experimentation comes in. I try out the experiments to see how difficult they are, and decide whether or not this would be feasible for 9-12 year olds to accomplish.
Turns out, the butterfly was a bit tricky to accomplish single-handedly, let alone with twelve 9-12 year olds. While this is disappointing, don’t get discouraged! Look around to see what other projects you can come up with in the same vein. This is where LST comes into play. You know, Librarian Search Training. We are like blood hounds. When we put our minds to it, we can track anything down.
In my case, I found several experiments involving rubber bands that demonstrated kinetic and potential energy—and one of them was for building a windup bobbin car! Same principles as the butterfly, but much simpler to accomplish—especially for a medium sized group and small hands.
Once you’ve picked the experiment, and gathered the materials, it’s time to make sure you understand the concepts enough to explain them to someone else. Basically, you get to read, read, and read some more. It’s like school all over again, except it’s self-directed study. And this is the really important bit: Kids are smart. They know when you don’t know something and are trying to bluff your way through, so be really certain that you understand the concepts before your program. There are always easier explanations out there; it’s just a matter of tracking them down.
Then it’s trial by fire: program time. Just remember—have fun! That’s the whole point. If you’re not having fun, then it’s time to rethink what you’re picking for projects. A little beforehand stress is healthy, but all-out dread is not. Relax. Go with the flow. If something doesn’t work, then talk about WHY it might not have worked. It’s part of the experimental process. Everything, especially failure, is a learning experience.
If science and math isn’t your thing, pick something that is! Do you like cooking? If it’s acceptable in your library, make easy, healthy, no bake snacks; make ice cream in a bag, make butter with a jar, cream, and a marble. Like art? Do a photography, sketch, or a comic program. Like knitting? Start a knitting group.
Long story short: in order to have a successful children’s program, take something you’re passionate about, and share that with the kids.
I love comics, superheroes, graphic novels—so I partnered with a few local comic book shops, and the Cosplay group that I’m a part of, to put on an epic Free Comic Book day program.
I love healthy eating, fruits and veggies, and parent/child bonding through food—so I created a healthy snack program for kids and adults.
You can create a program around anything. The only limit is your imagination (your library budget, and library policies…but, whatever). I strongly encourage community partnerships–if you can make them. That’s what makes the library so great.