The dreaded craft program

I think I have a lot of good qualities as a librarian. I’m good with computers, I read a lot, I’m patient, I like people – et cetera.

However, I am terrible at crafts.

I mean really terrible. Sufficiently terrible that when the kids find out I’m doing a craft program, they say, “Why are you doing a craft program?? Can’t [more talented co-worker] do it?”

In fairness, that more talented co-worker is exceptionally talented. Kids who attend her craft programs leave with something that you’d pay $20 for at an art fair. We keep trying to convince her to write a book, and that book would be a godsend to crafty types everywhere. I don’t think my crafts would look half so bad if they weren’t being compared to hers.

But, you know, they are. And now I have a reputation for making terrible crafts. I’ve had some successes – I’m still proud of the Spongebob ornaments – but I’ve had a number of misfires, too. The worst of these, and the reason the kids dread my craft programs so much, took place during a Valentine’s day program. Talented co-worker had given me what she described as “an incredibly easy” craft project for them. There was just one tricky thing – the paper had to be folded a certain way before you glued everything together. Other than that, she said, I couldn’t mess it up.

HA. Of course, after being specifically warned about this one tricky thing, I did it exactly wrong, and twenty kids held up these weird glob-shaped things that should have been adorable heart mobiles. One of my regulars now chants, “Don’t screw up!” every time I’m gluing something at the desk.

So now the kids dread my craft programs, and frankly, so do I. If I don’t have an Oriental Trading kit to fall back on, a lot of my crafts lately have been things that you actually can’t screw up – like my back-to-school program last month, where I bought a bunch of foam shapes and told them to decorate a ten-cent folder. Woohoo.

I realized yesterday that I was supposed to do a craft program today. Worse: a tween craft program. I can get away with “gluing stuff to other stuff” crafts with the little kids, but the tweens will not tolerate it. With no theme and no ideas, I figured I’d go to Michaels before work and hope for the best.

Believe it or not, it worked out. You guys, I love Michaels. They had all these wooden things – little boxes, picture frames, doll furniture, whatever – for a dollar each. That was pretty much my budget. I bought a bunch of frames and a bunch of the little boxes, put them out on the table with some paints and more stick-on foam things – so basically the same thing as the folder craft, but with nicer base materials – and they loved it. Word to the wise, though: the little boxes are not jewelry boxes, as much as they might look like it. They are treasure boxes, and even the boys were fighting over them. (One kid painted his black on the outside and dark red on the inside, and said it was a vampire coffin. Ooookay.)

I realize that “wait until the last second and then go to the craft store and buy whatever is on sale” is maybe not the best lesson to take from my experience, but it’s the one I got. I will never fear crafts again.

Tween Book Club: Graduation

At my library, there are two book clubs: Tween Book Club, for kids in grades 4-6, and Teen Book Club, for teens in grades 6-12. When I took over the Tween Book Club two years ago, my group was comprised almost entirely of fourth graders. The teens were mostly eighth and ninth graders. Things worked out swimmingly…for a while.

As my kids have gotten older, they’ve wanted more mature and difficult books to read. The same thing has happened with the teens. The problem, of course, is that the age ranges of these clubs are really broad. Tween BC originally included third graders – they got dropped last year because it was just too difficult to find material that was stimulating and appropriate for eight-year-olds and twelve-year-olds. (With the exception of the Wimpy Kid books, which everyone loves.) And now, four of the girls from my group have “aged out” of Tween BC. I can’t keep them – trying to accommodate seventh and fourth graders brings back the problems we had with the third grade kids – but they don’t all feel comfortable transitioning to the teen group, because most of the members are juniors in high school.

Last summer, we tried to start a middle school book club, but attendance was low and 100% redundant with the other two clubs, so we dropped it. Now I’m starting to think that we should reconsider. I would love for our third graders to have a book club again, for one thing. Plus, it would definitely ease the transition – it’s a pretty big jump to go from The Hoboken Chicken Emergency (our book for this month) to the five-hundred-page paranormal romances that are popular in the teen group. By adding a middle school group (thus making the grades for each group 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), we would be better able to find materials that suit everyone’s skill levels and interests.

For today, though, my seventh-grade girls will get a very charming cardstock graduation cap, and we’ll send them off to the teens.

Book Club: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, by Wendy Mass

1. What did you think about Jeremy and Lizzy’s friendship? How do you think it will change as they get older? How did the arrival of the new neighbors, Samantha and Rick, change their friendship?

2. Do you think Jeremy ‘s dad really was destined to die before he turned 40? Did hearing the prophecy as a teenager make his life better or worse? What would you do if a fortune teller told you that you would die when you were 40 years old?

3. What do you think Jeremy learned from Mr. Oswald (the pawn shop owner)? What about the people he visited to return the items they had pawned? How did they feel about the decisions they had made?

4. Were you surprised to learn the truth about the keys and Jeremy’s quest? Do you think that the adults should have told him the truth earlier? What about Lizzy’s decision to keep the final key from him until his birthday?

5. Jeremy decides not to tell Lizzy the truth about her last playing card. Why? Do you think he made the right decision?

    Activities (from here and here – this second link is Wendy Mass’s ed guide, which is super helpful)

    1. When Jeremy finally opens the box, he finds a pile of rocks – each one signifying an important moment in his dad’s life. If you were to make a box of your most important memories, what moments would you put inside it? What items could you use to represent those memories?

    2. Imagine a situation in which you would have to sell your most prized possession. What would you sell, and what reason can you think of to sell it? Fill out one of Mr. Oswald’s pawn shop forms.

    3. Playing cards! OR Hula hoop contest! (They picked the hula hoop contest. Everyone was VERY happy.)

      Program: Gone Fishin’!

      You’re invited to go on a fishing trip right here in the library! We’ll learn about fish, ducks, turtles, and other pond creatures through stories, fun games, and a craft.

      Ages: Kids ages 3-7 and their parents or caregivers

      Budget: Nothing. We had all this stuff already. (That’s the best kind of program.)


      Piggy and Dad Go Fishing by David Martin

      Little Quack by Lauren Thompson

      Swimmy by Leo Lionni

      I LOVE Piggy and Dad Go Fishing, and so did the kids. As a warning, this book is awfully sympathetic toward the worms and fish, and Piggy and Dad are not able to go through with killing them. As a vegetarian, I got a kick out of this, but I could see this book leading to some picky eating/unwillingness to take that fishing trip to Wisconsin with kids who are old enough to understand why the fish is sad. YMMV.


      Parachute fishing: Throw paper fish in a few different colors on the storytime rug. Have everyone grab a handle on the parachute. Send one kid at a time under the parachute to catch fish of a certain color while everyone waves the parachute over them. After some length of time, count to three and bring the parachute down. If the kid escapes with all the fish of their color, they win! Hooray.

      Go fish: Let kids take turns playing with the magnetic fishing game as they finish their craft.

      Duck, duck, goose: I hope you know how to play this already.

      Craft (from Alphabet Soup): Catch a paper plate fish!

      Materials (for each child): 9″ paper plate, fish on colored paper (using this template, re-sized), paperclip (optional), 14″-16″ length of yarn, and small dowel rod about 1′ in length

      Prep: Cut two triangles out of one side of the paper plate – this will be the fish’s tail. Tie one end of the yarn around the dowel rod and glue it down.

      What they do: Decorate the paper fish, then glue it on so that the tail of the fish lays on top of the tail on the paper plate (the original website has a picture of this). Make sure that the hole in the fish’s mouth is on top of the paper plate, then punch a hole through the mouth and the plate. If the kids are older, put a paperclip through the hole and attach the yarn to the clip. For younger kids, just tie the yarn through the hole.

      How’d it go?

      Yeah, we LOVED the magnetic fishing game. I really just brought it out as a way to deal with the fact that kids would finish the craft at different times, but they could have spent the entire hour just playing that game. Weird. The parachute game, less surprisingly, was also a big hit. The craft was easy and cute, but maybe a little too open-ended – I had a LOT of questions about how the fish should be decorated. (Answer: However your heart desires!)

      Program: Pirate Party!

      Come to the library for adventures on the high seas! We will make pirate crafts, play pirate games, tell pirate jokes, and have an all-around ARRRR-mazing time.

      July 6th, 2010 from 2-3 p.m.

      In keeping with this summer’s theme, Make a Splash, I made another attempt at a pirate party – minus the princesses this time.

      Grades: Going into 1-6

      Prizes: Pirate pencils, chocolate coins

      Raffle prizes: Magic Tree House: Pirates Past Noon and Magic Tree House Research Guide: Pirates

      Music: Pegleg Tango

      Budget: $15 ($7.50 for pirate pencils, $5.50 for coins, $2 for roll of black elastic)


      Skull nametag with pirate name: Give each kid a cardstock rectangle and a skull and crossbones to glue on top. Give some examples of pirate names, then encourage everyone to write their own on their nametag. Attach with tape.

      Pirate hat: Using this fabulous template, have each kid decorate a pirate hat. Punch holes in each side of the hat and attach with elastic.

      Eye patch: Cut eye patches out of black felt. Fold the top over a piece of a elastic and glue in place. Tie elastic in back.


      Pin the parrot on the pirate: Using the template in the Summer Reading packet, copy a parrot for each kid and have them decorate it and write their name on the back. As they finish, take them up to a very large pirate poster (we taped together and laminated four 11″x17″ sheets of paper), spin them around, and have them attempt to put the parrot on the pirate’s shoulder.) The closest wins a pirate pencil.

      Pirate freeze dance: To Pegleg Tango. Winner gets a pirate pencil.

      Treasure hunt: Before the program starts, hide chocolate coins around the room. Mark two of the coins with an X. Let the kids search for the coins, then round them up. Kids with the special coins get the raffle prizes. Everyone should get at least one piece of chocolate – it is a good idea to have some extras handy for those who do not find any.

      On the way out, everybody gets a pirate pencil. Hooray!

      How’d it go?
      Unlike at the Pirates and Princesses party – which rapidly devolved into a “just princesses” party – I saw a lot of pirate enthusiasm at this program. We had 25 kids – mostly 1st-3rd graders – and two adults in attendance. For a few reasons, we capped this program at 30 rather than our usual 15 or 20. With the large crowd (and a younger group than I expected), I was glad that the craft projects were limited to cutting, gluing, and coloring. Freeze dance wasn’t the success it usually was – some of the younger attendees were feeling a little shy, I think. “Pin the Parrot” and the treasure hunt were very popular, though, and everyone loved their hats and eye patches.

      Program: Wacky Weather

      Ever wondered where rain comes from? Do you know how rainbows form? Find out all about the science of water at this program just for kids going into grades 1-6. We’ll play games, do experiments, and have tons of fun!

      June 30th, 2010 from 2-3 p.m.

      Ages: Grades 1-6

      Budget: $0

      Materials (for me): Glass jar with lid, flashlight, clear glass cup, hot water, ice

      Materials (for them): Water wheels photocopied on card stock, water cycle name tags, brads, paper, watercolors

      Learning about the water cycle

      Forms of water: Liquid, solid, gas. What is water in solid form? When is water a gas (boiling water on the stove)?

      Water cycle stages: Evaporation, condensation, precipitation

      Demonstration: Boil water and pour into a glass jar. Put the lid on and place ice on top of the lid. Watch it rain!

      Color and put together water cycle wheels from summer reading book

      Water cycle tag: Each kid is assigned to a group (evaporation, condensation, precipitation) and gets a name tag. Decorate and color name tags. Explain that kids can only tag kids in the next group (i.e. if you are condensation, you can only tag precipitation kids). Pick one “It” and have them close their eyes for ten seconds. Then set them free! Last one standing gets a piece of candy.

      Learning about rainbows

      Explain how rainbows work, and ask about times when kids have seen them.

      Demonstration: Fill a clear glass with water, and place on the edge of a table. Hold a white piece of paper below. Shine a flashlight through the glass and move it around until a rainbow appears on the paper. Pull the flashlight further away to make the rainbow bigger.

      Hand out paper and have kids paint a rainbow with water colors.

      Books for display or killing extra time

      A Cool Drink of Water by Barbara Kerley / J-E 363.6 KER

      A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison / J 508 MOR

      A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick / J 546.22 WIC

      The Water Cycle by Rebecca Olien / J-E 551.48 OLI

      How’d it go?

      Way better than I expected. The kids seemed to really enjoy the parts of the program where I taught some of these basic concepts – I think that sort of thing goes over better during the summer, when they aren’t already sitting in classrooms for eight hours a day. The demonstrations were fun – they were really impressed with the rainbow. If I did this program again, I might give everyone a clear plastic cup and let them make their own rainbows. Yes, there is a risk of water spilling everywhere, but getting messy is an occupational hazard for us.

      The crowd was a little younger than I anticipated, so I shared a little bit of A Cool Drink of Water. They loved the pictures of kids from around the world. The age of the group also meant that water cycle tag was difficult for some of them, so I ended up cutting the game a little short. Any suggestions for a more little-kid-friendly water game would be appreciated.

      Program: Intro to Web Design for Young Adults

      This is my final project for Media Literacy and Youth. It is a plan for a four-week (eight session) class on web design, aimed at high school students and taught in conjunction with the high school. Forgive the goofy place names – they’re the ones I used throughout the semester, and mad props if you know what book they’re from.

      Continue reading “Program: Intro to Web Design for Young Adults”

      Program: Dinosaurs and Fossils

      We’ll learn about the dinosaurs through stories and crafts, then do our very own fossil dig here in the library!

      April 22, 2010 from 4-5 p.m.

      Grades: K-3

      Budget: $15: $6 for a bag of seashells, $9 for 150 clothespins. I made the play dough at home, and haven’t got any idea how much it costs.


      Make-your-own fossil (after explaining what a fossil is, of course)
      Each kid gets a ball of home-made play dough*. Roll the play dough into a ball, then flatten it against the table. Turn over so the flattened side faces up. Have kids choose from plastic dinosaurs, twigs, seashells etc. to push into the play dough. Leave them there for a few minutes, then take them out. Have kids place their fossil on a paper plate with their name on it, put aside to dry.


      The Super Hungry Dinosaur by Martin Waddell


      Clothespin stegosaurus: Each kid gets a cardstock stegosaurus cut-out. Have the kids color and decorate their dinosaur, then glue on a googly eye. Color 5-7 clothespins the same color as the dinosaur, and attach to the stegosaurus’s back.

      * Play Dough Recipe:

      1 cup flour
      1/2 cup salt
      1 cup water
      2 tablespoons oil
      2 tablespoons cream of tartar

      Easy. Mix everything together and cook it over medium heat until it all clumps together, then take it out and knead it for a few minutes (until it feels like store-bought play-do). Super easy, and it worked really well.

      How’d it go?

      Everyone loved getting to play with play dough (of course), and the fossils turned out awesome. Some kids took them home, but most left theirs at the library to dry on paper plates – they were all ready by the next morning. The dinosaur book display was also a hit, and everyone wanted to take home The Super Hungry Dinosaur – which is now my second-favorite Dino storytime book, after Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime.

      Book Club: Vampire Island

      Vampire Island, by Adele Griffin

      Discussion Questions

      1. Who is your favorite character? Why?

      2. What do you think about Hudson’s crusade for the environment? Why did it make the other kids in his school so mad? How would you feel if someone like Hudson was in your class?

      3. Was Maddie right to go after the von Krik family? Or should they have been left alone unless they bothered Maddie’s family?

      4. When the Livingstones left the Old World, they gave up the chance to live forever. What do you think about that choice? Would you want to live forever?

      5. Why do you think Hudson might have kept his Old World powers when everyone else in his family lost theirs?


      By popular (and repeated…constantly) request, we played Mafia (called “Vampires” this month). I can never turn down a game of Mafia.