Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Programming - How Much Prep Is Too Much?

Are We Depriving Participants of the Chance to Practice Developmentally Appropriate Skills?

This is a subject I've thought about off and on over the years, but something I have been really struggling with lately in my own program planning. 

We all want our programs to go smoothly, and we all know that the best way to ensure that is with plenty of planning and preparation. We scour Pinterest, blogs, Facebook groups, and more looking for ideas. We test things out in advance to see if it really works, how long it takes, what steps might be troublesome. We buy supplies and prepare things in advance to save time and make things easier.

I've seen many arts and crafts programs where participants are given a bunch of pre-cut things, and they just have to glue them on a piece of paper. Sometimes participants were handed pre-assembled little "kits" in zip-lock bags so they not only didn't have to cut anything out, but didn't have to think about what pieces they needed and how many of each and count them out. Cooking and STEM programs involve mixing things together with an expected and observable result, and often all the ingredients are pre-measured into little cups so all participants have to do is combine them. I've taken these time-saving steps myself; I'm sure most of us have at some time or another.

There is no question all the advanced prep saves time, frustration, minimizes the mess, and leads to a better finished product or expected outcome. But is it really what we should be doing? To answer that, we must first really think about and clarify what our goals and purpose are for said program. What do we want participants to gain from the program? Is it about the product, or the process?? Are we depriving them of opportunities to practice developmentally-appropriate skills and gain confidence and independence? I just can't stop thinking about a meme I saw last week, which said:
"Draw it for me...Cut it for me...Paste it for me...Put it together for me. 
All I learn is that you do it better than me."
I know some people really want the kids to have something cute to take home, but that is not as important to me. I'm more interested in them learning or experiencing something, and though I like it when that also results in creating something they can take home, I don't feel like that is a requirement. Kindergarten teachers are reporting that kids are starting school with more poorly developed fine motor skills in general than in the past, and more specifically, they don't know how to use scissors. Kids really need to practice scissor skills, and anything else that uses their hands. They need to cut, twist, squeeze, and smash things; they need to pick up and manipulate small things. The more we can let them do these things in library programs, while educating their caregivers on why they need to do them, the better!

All this is certainly not meant to criticize how anyone conducts their programs, but should be taken as me "thinking out loud" as I'm figuring out how to handle my next STEAM program, as well as storytime crafts. If you've read many of my storytime planning posts, you know I'm all about finding your own style, trying new things, and avoiding absolute thinking (as in  "everybody should do this", "no one should ever do that", "I have to do this"...). So sometimes it might be more about the final product, and that's okay (sometimes). Sometimes there are good reasons not to have participants measure every single ingredient or cut out every piece on their own. So we can compromise; have some things pre-measured/cut/whatever, but let the kids do some on their own, too.

And this brings me to my current dilemma. I'm planning a "Spooky Science" program for later this month, and I'm trying to figure out exactly how I want to handle the measuring of ingredients, and what supplies I need in regard to that. I know it's easier to pre-measure everything and dispense it, and that also leads to more consistent results, but the science teacher in me is screaming that (1) measurement is a critical skill in science, so they need to learn it, and (2) if it doesn't turn out right, that just creates an excellent opportunity for critical thinking and problem solving as they try to figure out why. I'm still not sure *exactly* how I'm going to handle it, but I will definitely have the kids measuring at least some of the ingredients themselves.

I've been think a lot about how important an understanding of child development is for working in youth services lately, so it might be a recurring theme in future posts.


  1. I generally prefer process art where activities are more open-ended, but there's a place for crafts too that are less open-ended. In addition to promoting creativity, it's nice for staff to reduce prep work! When I do crafts for little ones, I try to make them as simple as possible so that the kids can at least do some things themselves. As long as the parent or caregiver is interacting with the child about the activity, I think it's fine if the adult does some things too. It feels more collaborative.

    Good point about stepping back and asking ourselves what our goal in offering the program is, then doing preparation work and evaluation in that light.

    I appreciate your sharing your thinking about programming, and clarifying that you're not stating absolutes like "always do this" or "never do this."

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to comment! Doing a craft/activity following storytime is a new thing for me, so I'm still figuring out my approach considering wanting to keep developmentally appropriate, not too messy (carpet and crowded space), not much time for planning or prep (no time off the desk), and never knowing how many or what ages I'm going get.

      I am definitely not a fan of absolute thinking when it comes to storytime and other programs. Sure, there are some basic principles to keep in mind, but everyone has different personalities and different style, communities are different, even the kids you have may be completely different from one year to the next, or even one week to the next!