A New Approach to Library Programming
Finding high-quality library programming and activity ideas is a struggle. Librarians and educators spend hours doing Google searches, sifting through Pinterest, and scrolling through Facebook feeds to try to find something they can use to engage their kids. Once they find an activity, it often has to be modified in some way to make it fit the curriculum, the theme, or space and budget constraints. If only there were an easier way!
When Cassie Anderson, Youth Services and Technology Coordinator at Milton Public Library in Wisconsin, was offered the opportunity to try a new approach to library programming, she jumped at the chance. She has been a librarian for just over a year and is always on the lookout for new program ideas to keep her tween patrons engaged and active. While it was still in development, she piloted Demco’s Avatar Academy Wonderosity™ Kit by holding a four-day mini-camp for 8- to 12-year-olds. Her feedback, along with her participants’ feedback, helped shape the final programming kit.
Find out what Cassie had to say about the ease of implementing the kits, the benefits of the activities, and the reactions of her participants below.
What about the Avatar Academy Wonderosity Kit was attractive to you?
I think it’s just that it wasn’t the normal kind of programming.
We did the LED and the circuit tape and that’s not stuff you do at home typically. If the library offered this and I didn’t work here, I would still bring my kids here. This is an educational experience, and I’d be peeking through the window learning right next to them.
I really liked that it was more challenging stuff. I’m not even sure that all schools even have those kinds of programs throughout the school year because if you have such a large class, it’s hard to do things on that intimate, small-scale level.
How much time would you say you spent preparing for the program when you did it as a camp?
It really was the week before because I had some other programming going on prior to Avatar Academy. I squeezed it in to a full schedule, so I did what I could when I could, and it worked out just fine. I spent that week ahead of time really diving deep and making sure everything was lined up, and then I just followed the plan. It worked!
What was unique about this program?
Monday they got to be creative with clay, Tuesday was the apparel design — it gave participants pockets of time to be creative on their own.
I was really intimidated by the eco-avatar apparel design activity because I didn’t want to be the one doing all the taping or sewing. And I was hoping that the participants would be creative enough, that they wouldn’t be intimidated, and that they wouldn’t think, “What am I supposed to do with all these recycled goods and fun things?” It turned out that that was the best day; it was the day they had the most fun because we were letting kids just be kids.
With the eco-friendly avatar design, they were able to be themselves. When they went outside to do the avatar “Like a Trainer” activity, they just had fun. That’s something that I have to remind myself about because sometimes I feel like I have to plan every minute of a program, and it doesn’t have to be that way. You can let the kids be a little bored and allow them to be a little creative, and they can take off with those ideas and fill the time nicely just being kids.
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What feedback did you hear from the participants?
You could tell they were enjoying the moment and just having fun with each other. At the end, on the very last day of Avatar Academy, I wanted to make sure that I got some good feedback. So I just said, “You guys, you were just part of a pilot program, and you have a voice here. We want to know what you liked and what you didn’t like, and we want to know what parts of it we should keep the same and what we should change.” It was really fun hearing kids feel empowered to share their voice and to let us know what they liked and didn’t like. It was mostly positives. Everybody had a really good time and enjoyed it.
There were some parents that commented as they were coming and going each day that their kids really enjoyed the programming and they wanted to come back. There were a lot of good smiles and exchanges, parents staying after to take pictures, and just some fun things. Hearing and seeing that let me know it was working.
What are some things you would do differently if you ran this program again?
One thing that I would do differently is not make the kids come to me on my terms with my schedule. I have Thursdays off, so I did do Monday through Friday without Thursday in there, and I lost some participants on Friday. So next time, I’m going to run it Monday through Thursday. Either because I skipped a day or because it was a Friday, I only had half the attendance that last day. That was really sad because it was a really fun day; we could have used some more kids.
I learned a lot during this week, and I think if I can do it, then anybody can do it. I’m not super experienced in all these extra things, but I figured it out. I took on the challenge; I said “yes,” and then I figured it out.
What advice would you give other librarians who are considering getting a kit?
The hard part is done — the ideas are here and everything is mapped out and easy to follow. And, like I said, I thought I had a really big learning curve when I said yes to this, but it was doable. So again, if I can figure it out, anybody can figure it out.
I think it’s worth it because it’s an experience; it wasn’t just showing up for one more program, it was bringing the community together. Doing a week-long Avatar Academy made the kids feel like they were part of something bigger than just one-hour programs, and it kept them coming back for more. That was really nice.
Is it worth getting the curriculum? Yes. We’re all pressed for time. We’re all busy. You want to make sure that if you invest in something, it’s going to be worth the time, the money, and the effort. Wonderosity was simplified enough and it gave us the experience that we were looking for. It made learning fun and it was really engaging. I think that’s really the whole point of having library programs.