Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Leaf Art - Elementary Art Program

Though I love doing STEM-related programs, this year my co-worker and I decided to mix things up so that we could each do some science and some art, and this month I wanted to do a leaf art program because I love fall leaves, and I've wanted to do a leaf-collage program every since I first saw Lois Ehlert's Leaf Man several years ago.

These were my inspiration books, which I also displayed during the program:

Ages: 5-10

Time: 1 hour, though most kids were done within 45 minutes.

Number: I only had 11, but could have easily accommodated twice that.

Budget: $20


Leaf Art activities for kids

  • lots of leaves of assorted types, sizes, and colors, flat and not too dry
  • glue
  • paint brushes
  • assorted googly eyes (optional)
  • paper
  • crayons
  • table covering (I really like the disposable tablecloths that are paper on top with a plastic layer underneath) - $5 for package of 2
  • small spray bottles - at least 3
  • tempera or powdered watercolor paints
  • heavyweight watercolor paper - package of 30 sheets for $9 (or other thick, absorbent paper, cardstock might work as well, or possibly better)
  • paper towels

Activity #1 - Leaf Collage

1. I provided several pictures for inspiration, some that I found online as well as the pages from a damaged Leaf Man book that had been withdrawn. I told them these were just for inspiration and not to try to copy anything exactly because we might not have the same types of leaves, and to use their own imagination.

2. Each participant was provided paper, glue, and a paintbrush for spreading the glue out in a thin layer. The leaves, extra paper, and assorted googly eyes were placed on a table behind them. I instructed them to just squeeze a little glue onto the paper, spread it out with the paintbrush, and then press a leaf into the glue, or for the larger leaves they could apply the glue to the back of the leaf.

3. This seemed to be the favorite and most satisfying of the three activities for most of the kids.

Leaf art, leaf collage for kids

Activity #2 - Leaf Rubbings 

A classic activity, and all you need are leaves, paper, and crayons! I sorted through our crayons and picked out all the ones that were already naked, but put out extra crayons in case there weren't enough or someone wanted a different color. I first demonstrated how to do it, showing you can do whatever combination of leaves and colors you like (interestingly enough, someone took my example paper home).

1. For this activity, it doesn't matter if the leaves are colored or not, so I just put out green leaves and saved the other colors for the collage table. Simply place your leaves face down (the veins are more pronounced on the underside) on the table, place a piece of paper over them, and rub over the leaf, holding a naked crayon horizontally. Start with light pressure and only increase pressure if necessary. Change direction to pick up all of the details. It helps to have someone hold the paper still, or to tape it to the table.

Leaf art for kids, making leaf rubbings

2. Experiment with different leaves and colors to get different effects.

Leaf art for kids, making leaf rubbings

Activity #3 - Negative & Positive Leaf Prints 

This one was a bit messy! To prep, I covered the tables with disposable absorbent tablecloths with plastic backing (old newspapers would be great, too). Then I diluted liquid tempera paints with water in spray bottles, enough so that they would spray but no so much the paint wouldn't show up well on the paper. I just eyeballed it, but I would guess roughly 1 Tablespoon of paint to 1 Cup of water. Mix well. 

*Make sure the nozzles are set for spray, not stream!

I put out heavy watercolor paper, 5 spray bottles of paint (in blue, green, red, yellow, & orange), assorted leaves (again, green is fine for this activity), and my practice example on the table. I also demonstrated for the kids before we started.

1. Pick out a few leaves with interesting shapes and arrange them on the paper.

2. *LIGHTLY* spray the paint, being sure not to hold the bottle too close to the paper. Spray from about a foot above the table, and slightly back from the paper. You want the paint to fall down on and around the leaves, not go under the leaves, to get the sharpest outline. Remember, LIGHTLY is the key word here! You can use more than one color on different areas, but if too many colors overlap, it will just look brown or gray.

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

3. Let it sit and soak into the paper for a few minutes. Then, place another piece of paper over it, and rub with fairly heavy pressure over where the leaves are, then gently peel the paper back. Carefully remove the leaves and discard. Any excess paint that is not absorbed can be carefully blotted off with a paper towel.

4. This will give you both negative and positive prints of your leaves. Some turn out better than others, in my case one of the kids ended up with a much nicer set than I got from my example above, and it takes a little practice. Some (most?) will have to learn the hard way that it really is necessary to use a light touch and not combine too many colors, so encourage them to do more than one.

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

How It Went  

In all honesty, I was disappointed in the turnout; I really expected to have more than the usual 12-15, not less. I thought people would be all excited about fall and fall leaves, and was actually worried about having too many show up. I don't know if it was lack of interest, or the pull of the beautiful weather we had that day that kept people away. I think I should have played up the collage art more in the marketing, since that was clearly what most participants seemed to enjoy the most.

The collage and rubbings worked fine, and there were no issues there at all, but the print-making did not quite go as well as I'd hoped. I had ordered the special heavyweight watercolor paper thinking that it would readily absorb the paint and dry more quickly, but it didn't quite work that way. While it did absorb some, and once absorbed it dried very quickly, it took much longer than I expect to absorb. 

I thought it would soak up the paint immediately, but instead the paint first beaded on top of the paper and only slowly soaked in, taking much longer than I expected. Also, when doing the positive print, the paint did not transfer as well to the watercolor paper as it did to a piece of cardstock I tried. If I were to do this again, I would definitely experiment more ahead of time with different papers to see if I could find one that worked better.

And, as I have frequently observed when I or anyone else had done a painting activity, people are too impatient to wait for their paintings to dry, and understandably don't want to take one that is still wet with them, and often leave them behind and never come back for them. Even though these dried much faster than most, and all were relatively dry by the end of the program (after blotting off excess), I found many left behind. I don't know if I will bother with any painting activities in the future as there is just too much waste.

Two of our participants found an unexpected guest that had been a stowaway on one of the leaves:

What I Would Do Differently 

I think next time I would definitely do the collage and put more emphasis on it, but find some other way of making prints or a completely different activity instead, and find another activity in place of or in addition to the leaf rubbing, as there didn't seem to be as much interest or enthusiasm for that one, perhaps because it is one that can easily be done at home.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Monsters - Family Storytime

I almost didn't write this up since I've done nearly the identical storytime in the past, but there was the addition of a craft and/or activity afterward, and I made a small but significant change in my intro. I had really wanted to use  books I hadn't used before, but I just couldn't find anything that I thought would work as well with the younger kids I usually get as these tried and true winners.

I decided to drop the welcome song I've used for years, and use the short and simple "Hello" song I've been using in my outreach storytime, along with "Hello, Everybody" as a warm up. Then, since I've had issues with people jumping up and leaving after the first book, and poor participation in the after-storytime craft, I made sure to mention that we would have 2-3 stories and songs, followed by a craft or activity, in the introduction.

After introducing the topic of monsters, we pretended to be monsters with this simple rhyme, which ends with everyone sitting down, ready for the first story:

Monster, Monster

Monster, monster, turn around.
Monster, monster, touch the ground.
Monster, monster, reach up high.
Monster, monster, touch the sky.

Monster, monster, reach down low.
Monster, monster, touch your toes.
Monster, monster, touch your knees.
Monster, monster, sit down, please!

monster storytime
Even Monsters... by A J Smith is a fun book, showing how monsters do many of the same things the kids do, like getting dressed, going to school, brushing teeth, etc., as the kids, though just a bit differently.  Some of the details in the illustration are quite humorous, like a snake used for dental floss, and there is opportunity for the kids to make various monster sounds (snarl, growl, roar, howl...).

This is a great one for breaking the ice as the very first thing the monster does is put on clean underwear, and of course any mention of underwear will be followed by lots of giggles, and I like how it ends showing that even monsters can get scared of the dark and need a good-night kiss from their mothers.

After this we got to pretend to be monsters even more with this song, inspired by Ed Emberley's book of the same name:

If You're a Monster and You Know It

If you're a monster and you know it, snort and growl.
If you're a monster and you know it, snort and growl.
If you're a monster and you know it, and you really want to show it.
If you're a monster and you know it, snort and growl.

Smack your claws (clap hands), stomp your paws (feet), twitch your tail, wiggle your warts (face), give a roar, do them all, sit back down.

monster storytimeAgain, we ended sitting back down, ready for the next book, Monster, Be Good! by Natalie  Marshall. I selected this book for several reasons: the illustrations are cute, just the right amount of text, can be made interactive, empowers kids over the monsters, and reinforces appropriate behavior. 

I especially liked the part where it says if a monster is being mean to just walk away and say good-bye, which is a great strategy for dealing with other kids who are not playing nice. I have the kids to repeat all the lines of telling the monsters to do something. I also like the book has a calm ending, with telling the tired, grumpy monster to go to sleep, then giving him a kiss (I have the kids blow kisses) and say "Goodnight".

monster storytime
Since both books are pretty short and have the theme of giving kids power over the monsters (and thus, their fears) I went straight to Ed Emberley's classic Go Away, Big Green Monster

I don't know anyone who doesn't love this book. It is fun, with it's die-cut pages gradually building the monster's face, then gradually eliminating it as well, and I like that it gives the child the power to tell scary things to go away (and a good opportunity to remind them that monsters aren't real, just a product of our imaginations, therefore they can make them go away, too). I like to let the kids fill in the blank, naming each facial feature as it's added, and then have them repeat all the "go away's". 

I closed with the "Storytime Is Over" song, and then put out the supplies for the optional craft and/or activity.


Since I haven't had great participation in the craft, nor much time to prepare things, I decided to try an activity instead. Since we had several monster puppets, I thought the kids would have fun playing with them instead. We had the following puppets:
Then since there were not enough puppets for every child, I also had a very simple "craft" activity with monster sticker sheets that had a monster body and many assorted parts, so they could design their own monsters. These were very inexpensive, about $8 for 24 sheets in 4 designs, and I gave them paper to put them on, crayons to add any additional scenery or details, and googly-eyes and glue to jazz them up a little.

monster sticker activity, monster storytime craft, monster storytime

How It Went
I still had some of the issues inherent to the time and location, but it was better. This storytime is challenging for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is on the weekend and does not have a regular audience. We see different families every week, and 99% of the time they had not come specifically for storytime, but just happened to be there, so they don't necessarily know what to expect, how long it will be, and often have other things going on, so they don't stay the whole time. The other is that it is in a open area, with the play area right behind, so the kids are distracted by the toys and by hearing other kids playing. 

Because of these factors, there is always a lot of movement, and people coming and going throughout the storytime. I understand it, but I still find it incredibly distracting, to me and to those remaining. It often starts a chain reaction, and I think I would have much better participation if we were in a separate room, away from the distraction.

But, while there was a lot of coming and going, I did not have several families leave en masse right after the first book as had been happening, so I think letting them know up front there would be more than one story helped with that. Also, I had several stay around for the puppet play and sticker activity, though it seemed they were more interested in the sticker activity that in playing with the puppets, which is the opposite of what I expected. But they were happy, so that's fine with me. I do think I need to up my game somehow with the after storytime activity, but I'm still working on that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fall - Outreach Visit


I had pulled several fall-themed books to use for this month's outreach visit, sure that by October 7th we would be having more fall-like weather. So needless to say, I was starting to wonder if I should pull a different selection when we were still having 95-degree weather all last week! But, over the weekend Autumn finally arrived, and I woke up to a cool, rainy, 53-degree day. The books I selected to take, to cover babies through pre-K were:
  • Fall Is Not Easy by Marty Kelley
  • When The Leaf Blew In by Steve Metzger & Kellie D. Lewis
  • Hocus Pocus It's Fall by Anne Sibley O'brien & Susan Gal
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
  • Mouse's First Fall by Lauren Thompson & Buket Erdogan
  • The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
  • Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills
  • Baa Baa Black Sheep by Jane Cabrera
Because the daycare decided to just have me visit the toddlers and 2-year olds today, I ended up only using a few of the books I brought.


I've been visiting this daycare for about 8 months, and have always struggled with knowing what to do for the toddler group, as all my prior experience was with ages 3-5. While they respond very well to familiar songs that have motions to do with them, I had never had any success with books. No matter what books I tried, they would completely lose interest and all start wandering off or getting into my stuff. I really felt like doing storytime with kids this young in a daycare setting was rather pointless and that they were better off with a music program, but I still felt obligated to try at least one book each time.

Well, today was rather monumental in that I was able to get them to engage and pay attention to not just one, but TWO books! I was so thrilled! It may never happen again, but it was still a beautiful thing.

I was greeted with lots of big grins, and started off with my "Hello, My Friends, Hello" song, and followed up with "Hello, Everybody" which involves identifying different body parts doing motions. I didn't get the usual level of participation, so I then moved to one that I know they all know and love, "The Wheels On The Bus", which finally got them going.

While I had their attention, I quickly moved on to the fall book I brought specifically for them, a large board book version of Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills. This is a very short story with very little text, showing the two friends looking in several unlikely places for a pumpkin, before their friend Thistle clues them in to the pumpkin patch. And much to my surprise, most of them stood or sat and looked at the book the whole time! They loved the Duck and Goose, and found the pictures very engaging. I really love the fall color palette of this book myself, with lots of pretty oranges, yellows, and golden tones.

I followed that up with a quick, simple pumpkin song:

Did You Ever See a Pumpkin?
(to the tune of "Did You Ever See a Lassie?")

Did you ever see a pumpkin, a pumpkin, a pumpkin?
Did you ever see a pumpkin that grows on a vine?
There are short ones and tall ones, and big ones and small ones.
Did you ever see a pumpkin that grows on a vine?

Then I decided to try Baa Baa Black Sheep by Jane Cabrera since they were doing so well. I had been meaning to try one of Cabrera's books that are based on songs and can be sung rather than read since this group responds so much better to music, but had forgotten the last couple of times. I pointed out the sheep and one child named it, then several knew it said "baa". That helped get their attention, and the repetition and singing helped keep it. They swayed along with me to the music, and nodded their heads with me to the "yes, miss; yes, miss, three bags full". 

Then I sang a quick "Goodbye" song, and got lots of grins, waves, and high-fives goodbye. Such a great way to start the morning!

Two-year Olds

I visited two different two-year old classes, one is slightly older than the other. Both times I started with the "Hello" song, then warmed them up with "Hello, Everybody" and led into the story with my "If You're Ready For a Story" song.

I read The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri to the first class. This is a short, simple book that is usually good for younger kids as they can identify each animal the squirrel encounters, make its sound, and identify the foods the squirrel is collecting, though they often need help with the corn and berries. 

We talked about how acorns are probably a squirrel's favorite food, which led to a rhyme about five little acorns and a squirrel:

Five Little Acorns

Five little acorns, laying on the ground.
The first one said, "I'm big and round!"

The second one said, "I think I'm getting fat."
The third one said, "I have a nice hat!"

The fourth one said, "There's a squirrel up there!"
The fifth one said, "But we don't care."

Down climbed the squirrel and took them all away,
Back up to his nest, for a cold winter's day!

Then we read Duck & Goose Find A Pumpkin followed by singing "Did You Ever See a Pumpkin", and our "Goodbye" song.

For the second, slightly older group of 2-year olds, I read Hocus Pocus, It's Fall, having the audience say all the magic words. This book was a little long and the illustrations a bit too abstract for this age, so I started loosing them towards the end. I pointed out again the page with apples and all the different colors of apples, then we sang this apple song:

Did You Ever See an Apple?
(to the tune of "Did You Ever See a Lassie?")

Did you ever see an apple, an apple, an apple?
Did you ever see an apple, that grows on a tree?
There are red ones and yellow ones, and pink ones and green ones.
Did you ever see an apple, that grows on a tree?

Did you ever eat an apple, an apple, an apple?
Did you ever eat an apple that grows on a tree?
There are sweet ones and tart ones, and crunchy ones and juicy ones.
Did you ever eat an apple that grows on a tree?

I could tell they'd had enough by then, so I decided to go ahead and stop there with a "Goodbye" song, even though there were a few minutes left.

How It Went
Overall, it went well. It is rare that all classes on an outreach visit do well, so if I get one really good one and no really bad ones, I count it as a win! I was absolutely thrilled at finally being able to get the toddlers to pay attention to a book! I will probably try another book that can be sung rather than read next time. I just wish I had time to visit each class every month, but I'm only given an hour and there are 5 classes, so I have to rotate. It makes it harder to build rapport and have any continuity, but I do the best I can.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Spy School - STEAM Program

spy activities for kids, secret codes for kids, invisible ink for kids

Secret codes and hidden messages for kidsI was at a loss for a program idea when the deadline snuck up on me, so I took a colleague's suggestion to do a "Spy" theme as she had done it before at another branch and said it went over well. I decided to focus on cryptography, playing around with codes, invisible ink, and other ways of sending secret messages, plus a laser beam obstacle course just for fun. 

I got my ideas for hidden messages from WikiHow and ThoughtCo, and my codes from a book in our collection, Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing by Paul B. Janecszko (2004). If you're doing a similar program on cryptography, I highly recommend it.

Ages: 5-10 (5 was really just a little too young, those that didn't know how to read, or at least know the alphabet well, or do basic addition and subtraction got frustrated and bored during the code & cipher part, but the hidden messages worked well for all ages.)

Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes. To do everything I had planned would really require at least an hour and a half. So either allow more time, or do a little less.

Number: 15-20 kids is a good number, though it could work with a large group if all the kids were over 6.

Budget: Very low, most materials we had on hand, so roughly $10-15 for enough for at least 30 kids.


  • Paper
  • Ballpoint Pens
  • Pencils
  • Brad fasteners
  • White crayons
  • Washable markers or watercolor paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Baking Soda
  • Cranberry or Grape juice
  • Skim milk
  • Water
  • Q-tips
  • Dixie cups
  • 2 C measuring cup
  • measuring cup or spoon
  • red yarn or crepe streamer
  • masking tape
  • clothing iron
  • thick towel, preferable 100% cotton

We started off by talking about what spies need to know how to do, and right away someone said they needed to know how to be sneaky, they need to know how to blend in and not attract attention. Then someone said they needed to know how to crack codes, and we talked about how a big part of being a spy was getting information and relaying it back, and they had to find ways of hiding the messages, or encoding them. Someone mentioned using a language the other party wouldn't understand, which was a great segue to telling them about the Navajo code talkers, as well as codes, hidden messages, and invisible inks. One child mentioned dodging laser beams, which we were also going to be simulating. 

I had also pulled a number of books for them, a variety of non-fiction, historical fiction, and fun fiction that had to do with spies, cryptography, and espionage for them to look over and hopefully check out afterward.

Activity #1 - Simple Number Substitution Code

1. I gave them a piece of paper, and instructed them to write down the letters of the alphabet, then number them, starting with A=1, B=2, etc. I was a bit surprised that a few struggled with this, but it is early in the school year, so I guess the kindergardners hadn't all master it yet. I could have already printed it out for them to save time, but I wanted to include a little literacy and writing.

2. I then explained how you could use that to write things in code, by writing the corresponding numbers in place of the letters. For example, "CAT" would be "3 1 20" using that code. I said messages could be hidden in plain sight by disguising them as math homework, and gave them this list of simple addition and subtraction equations to solve, and then decode using the simple code they just created.

Secret message hidden as math homework

3. By solving the equations, and writing the letter that corresponded to the numeric answer for each one, they were able to discover this message "READ A GOOD BOOK".

Activity #2 - Pigpen Cipher

This one supposedly dates back to the crusades and was also used during the civil war. It is actually fairly simple, but it looks like alien writing. I showed them my name written with this code, and they couldn't believe it said anything!

1. I demonstrated how this code was formed, drawing the grids and filling them in, then showing how the portion of the grid around the letter is what is used to indicate the letter. Then I gave them a copy of the printed code charts, with a message to decode.

Pigpen cipher, Freemason cipher

2. Some were a bit confused at first, but once they got the hang of it, they quickly decoded it to reveal the message "I LOVE MY LIBRARY" (and no, I'm not above a little subliminal suggestion). I think they liked this code a lot because it looks so weird; I do, too.

Activities #3 & #4 - Take Home Activities

We didn't have time to do these in the program, unfortunately (I could've done the whole hour just on codes), so I sent them home with them. 

1. The first was a Greek Square coding activity, where the letters are arranged in a 5x5 chart ("I" and "J" share a spot). The letters are then indicated by a pair of number coordinates, the number of the row first, then the number of the column. So the letter "A" is indicate by the number 11 (1st row, 1st column), and the letter "Z" is indicated by the number 55 (5th row, 5th column).

Greek square cipher and message

When decoded, the message says "EAT YOUR VEGGIES"!

2. The second was a free printable decoder I found online from the blog "All For The Boys". You simply cut out the two circles, put the smaller one on top of the larger, and poke a brad fastener through the center to hold them together. You can then rotate the top disc to form a substitution code using the letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. For example, if you rotate it just one spot, then B stands for A, C stands for B, and so one, with ? standing for Z.

DIY decoder for kids to make

Activity #5 - White Crayon Hidden Message 

1. First I instructed them to write a simple message or image with white crayon.

2. Then they colored over it with a washable marker. Voila! The invisible message is revealed! It helps with the marker to go over it in two directions to get the best result (watercolor paint is another option).

hidden message
(The message is referring to the method used.)

We discussed how crayons are made of wax, which is hydrophobic and repels water, so the watercolor or water-based ink doesn't stick to it like it does to the paper, revealing the message.

Activity #6 - Impression 

If you've watched any cheesy detective/mystery shows on TV, you'll be familiar with this classic trick!

1. Put one piece of paper on top of the other (in TV it's always a notepad), then with heavy pressure, write a message or draw an image on the top piece of paper.

2. Set the written message aside, then take a pencil and lightly go over the blank paper underneath, like doing a rubbing, and eventually the original message will be revealed, if enough pressure was used. 

Activity #7 - Invisible Inks

There are many types of invisible inks, and they generally fall into 3 classes: those revealed by heat, those revealed by reacting with a second reagent, and those revealed by UV light. We did one of each of the first two types.

1. Make a concentrated baking soda suspension, 1 part soda to 2 parts warm water. It won't really dissolve, so you have to stir it well and keep it suspended as you use it. Using a q-tip or fine brush, use the baking soda solution to write a message or draw an image. Let dry.

2. Paint over the message with cranberry or grape juice, and the reaction of the baking soda with the with the acidic juice causes a color change, revealing the message.

Baking soda invisible ink

3. Next they used skim milk to write a message, and let dry. Once dry, an adult used a hot clothes iron on high (hair dryers, light bulbs, and hair straightening irons do NOT work) to go over the paper. The sugars and proteins in the milk will scorch before the paper does, revealing the message. (A sugar solution will also work, though the oft touted lemon juice doesn't work nearly as well).

milk as invisible ink

Activity #8 - Laser Maze!
What spy movie would be complete without a scene of someone trying to make their way through a labyrinth of laser beams without breaking one and setting of an alarm, or worse, a booby trap?

My wonderful coworker who suggested this theme graciously set up the laser maze for me and crawled through it to test it out. We used red yarn, but I've also seen crepe streamers used as well. The kids had a blast!

laser maze simulation for kids

How It Went
Other than planning too much and having some of the younger ones struggling a little, it went really well. I always under-estimate how long it will take the kids to do things, and it took way longer for some of them to write out the alphabet than I would ever have expected, and some needed more help and individual explanation catching on to the whole code thing.

Then on the other hand, there were a few older ones who zoomed though all the coding super-fast, so they started writing coded messages for each other to figure out while we waiting on the rest. It's hard to accommodate such a wide age range, from age 5 to 10, as the kindergartners are still working on their ABC's and counting, while 5th graders are reading novels and doing simple algebra! Though I think 3rd grade was the oldest I had today, and this program was perfect for them.

I'm glad I tested all the invisible inks I was considering in advance, become some didn't work at all as described, but the ones I chose to use worked very well for those that followed directions (some didn't keep their baking soda suspended). 

I was disappointed that only 1 person took one of the books to check out. At the previous location I worked, it seemed like people would checkout books related to the programs if we had them on display, but here for some reason they seldom do, even though this community in general have a much stronger reading culture.

Hidden messages and invisible ink for kids
   "Sneeky Spys"   "I Have A Evil Plan!!"    "Love" & "Cat"    

It was interesting to see what they put in their "secret" messages.

What I Would Do Differently
In an ideal world, I would lengthen the program and narrow the age range to ages 7-10, because kids really needed to have mastered their letters and numbers, and be able to read and do basic math to understand the coding. I think it would be neat to have a "training" session where they learn the codes and hidden message techniques, then have an activity that combines it all to solve or find something.

But, since that really isn't a possibility in my current library, I would have cut out more and sent more home. Even with sending home two activities, we were really rushed and didn't spend as much time on each as I'd like. I could honestly do an entire hour just on coding, or just on hidden messages. I wish now I had just gone ahead and printed the alphabet out for them, with corresponding numbers, as that took way too much time. I would also cut out the rubbing/impression hidden method, because while it works, there just wasn't time for that many, and they'll see it on television or in a movie eventually.