Sunday, September 25, 2022

When Programs Flop

It's something every programmer dreads, putting time and effort into what we think is a good program, and nobody shows up. But it's probably happened to all of us at least once, and it doesn't feel good. Though the word cloud above may be a bit harsh, it is definitely how I felt at the time when it happened to me. Like having no one show up to your birthday party, it's hard not to take it personally. And let's face it, as much as we say numbers aren't everything, we aren't naïve; we know numbers are how we are often judged.

I think we are all familiar with the anxiety around attendance that precedes every program. How many should I prepare for? What if too many people show up? What if no one shows up? I have had both happen, and though having more people show up that expected can be very stressful, I think having way less than expected is worse. 

I've only once had no one show up for a program, but it was for a storytime that only had 2 regular families, and a couple more occasional families. I had just added this second storytime a couple of months before, and it hadn't been well attended. I wasn't too upset about it, except that it was my last week at this library, and I hated not having a chance to say good-bye.

However, I recently had a program that I expected to get a large attendance for, say at least 20 kids, and only had 5. I had planned a program around the release of Mo Willems' new Pigeon book, The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster!, thinking a popular character of a series spanning almost 20 years would attract quite a few families. I scheduled it for a Saturday morning, thinking it would appeal to both preschoolers and younger elementary-aged kids. I had a number of activities planned that were loosely inspired by the Pigeon and other Mo Willems characters; some were borrowed, but some were my own. Since I had no idea what to expect as far as attendance, I asked both YS staffers to come in on Saturday to help.

[In case you're curious, here is a list of planned activities and the books/characters that inspired them:

  • Reading the new book, The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster
  • Marble Runs (purchased sets and DIY), The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster
  • Cookie Toss (using beanbag cookies I made by making 'slipcovers' for our regular beanbags with fabric & fabric glue), The Duckling Gets a Cookie?/The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster (roller coasters make some people toss their cookies, right? 🤣)
  • Cookie Counting (count choc. chips, match to number in cookie jar, from Totschooling), The Duckling Gets a Cookie?
  • Duckling, Duckling, Pigeon (like Duck, Duck, Goose)
  • Dress Wilbur (from Mo Willems' Pigeon Presents site, The Naked Mole Rat
  • Help Trixie & Knuffle Bunny get to our library (coloring character then cutting and pasting onto a B&W picture of our library), Knuffle Bunny (this was inspired by a similar activity described by Kelly Corr Amodeo in the 'Programming Librarian' Facebook group)
  • Wash the Dirty Pigeon (printed large picture of Pigeon and laminated, then used washable crayons and dry erase markers to make them dirty, kids could use cloths, paper towels, and baby wipes to clean him up, and then dirty him up again), The Pigeon Needs a Bath! [This one I actually came up with all on my own!]
  • Create Your Own Comic (panels with line drawings of Elephant & Piggie to color, and empty speech bubbles to write in, original source unknown), Elephant & Piggie series.
  • Raffle off a copy of the new book
  • Mo Willems character scavenger hunt
  • Coloring sheets

Pigeon activities, Pigeon library program, Mo Willems program,
Pigeon activities, Pigeon library program, Mo Willems program,

And yes, I totally over-planned with way too many activities, but I was trying to (1) cover a range of ages (3-8), and (2) have enough stations to spread everyone out if I got a big crowd (which is laughable in hindsight).]

So, I had everything set up, had printed out large characters on our plotter to put on the walls, made really cute signage for all the activities, and at start time I had ONE child (there had been another family with two young children, but they arrived at least 30 minutes early, and the kids had gotten too fussy by the time the program started and they left). Luckily a few more trickled in, but I still ended up with a total of only five kids. Now, those five were very excited to be there and had a great time, so I would not say it was a waste of time. 

However, if I had known I was going to have such a small crowd I would cut way down on how many activities I had, I would have given away a paperback copy rather than a hardback copy, and I would not have had my staff come in. I felt really bad about having them come in on a weekend when it turned out to be completely unnecessary. I also felt bad for how much paper and ink I had used for all the decorating, signage, and activities. And I felt pretty foolish for having so misjudged the attendance and over-doing the whole thing.

So, what do you do when this happens? First, try not to beat yourself up. The public can be very fickle, especially now, and it can be so hard to predict what they will show up for, and what good days and times are. I had even conducted a survey to try to figure out what people wanted and when, and though I didn't get as many responses as I would have liked, the ones I got indicated this program would have been more successful. Do try to learn from it, see if you can figure out what might have gone wrong. Was there a competing community event? Was it not promoted well? Was there bad weather that would make people stay home, or exceptionally nice weather that would make people want to do something outdoors? Was it just not the right activity for that age group? Maybe a different day or time? Sometimes you really never know, and someone else could so a similar program another time or at another location and get a huge turnout.

So where did I go wrong? Honestly, I'm not completely sure, and can only guess. I promoted the program heavily on our social media, with posters and flyers in the library, on our TV screen in the entry way, in storytimes, and to any patrons that happened to come in with kids of the right age. There was a festival going on that weekend, but since our building is literally right next to the area blocked off for the festival, we thought that would help rather than hurt, thinking families would park at the library, come in for the program, and then walk next door to the festival. But it didn't work out that way. Also, I knew sports are a big thing here on Saturdays, but I did not realize how early they start these days. I thought age 5 was a little early when my kids started, but now organized sports are apparently starting at age 3! This community also seems stuck in the mentality of thinking library programs are just for the summer.

And finally, I just have to learn to manage my expectations, and forget everything I knew from pre-pandemic days at my old library that was larger, much busier, and in a very population-dense are with a community that had a much stronger reading/library culture. Those days are gone, and I am starting from scratch, post-pandemic, in a different community. I need to let go of the past and figure out what the new normal is, and accept it's going to be a lot of trial and error and time to get there. I am going to keep programs very simple until I start getting better attendance, and I will probably not be doing a Saturday program again any time soon.

So, that's all a very long-winded way of saying: don't beat yourself up, it happens to everyone, celebrate the small victories, learn what you can from it, recycle/reuse what you can, and move on!

Anyone else care to share about a program that flopped?

Sunday, September 11, 2022

SRP 2022 Reflection - Summer Programs

In my last post I reflected on the reading challenge portion of our summer program, and in this one I'll focus on the programming. Overall, the programming part went well; programs were well-attended and we received a lot of positive comments.

The way I organized summer reading and programming was very different from what my predecessor had done, but more in line with what most libraries seem to do. She only had it for four weeks, relied very heavily on paid performers, did not have storytimes in the summer, and did not have age-specific programs. The best I can tell is that her programs were kind of a drop-in free-for-all with various crafts or activities set out, and she did this once or twice a week, in addition to paid performers once or twice a week. 

I felt like people needed something for the whole summer, and a little less intense. I also felt that is important to continue storytime in the summer, as well as have more age-specific programming. I'd been told by several people that the person before me didn't really program for the older kids, just the younger ones, and the teen person programs for middle school and high school ages, so elementary kids just got left out. So I wanted to be sure to have programs just for them in the summer. 

I planned on a weekly rotation, with everything in the morning in case we had to be outside due to Covid. I felt having things on the same day and time each week would make it easier for caregivers to remember. I kept Monday's free for planning and prep, then had toddler storytime on Tuesday, preschool storytime on Wednesday, Thursdays were paid performers or movie days (to give me extra prep time for the elementary programs), and Fridays were for elementary programs. My co-worker had teen programs in the afternoons or on Saturdays, but not necessarily every week.I also required registration, because I had limited supplies for some programs, and we didn't want people to be too crowded together due to Covid.

We did follow the CLSP theme of "Oceans of Possibilities" and most of our programs tied in with that theme. I also ended up having loose weekly sub-themes. It was a super easy theme to decorate and program around. We also started with a kick-off party, with a variety of games, crafts, and costumed characters, as well as a caricature artist.

In general, everything went well. The kick-off was hugely successful, we got a lot of positive feedback about our programs, and programs were well attended. The elementary age-group programs were particularly popular and well-attended, though we did have trouble with a few people who couldn't understand the concept of age-specific programming and came in just assuming it was for all ages, even though it was clearly labeled and marketed as being for ages 6-10 and there were other programs for toddlers, preschoolers, and families.

While I will probably do things very similar next year, there are some things I've learned that will impact next summer's programming:

  • No one cares about watching free movies at the library anymore, even with free snacks.
  • This community needs more all-ages family programming.
  • People had a very hard time with the concept of registering for each program (and that it was different from registering for the reading challenge). They thought if they registered once, they were registered for everything all summer.
  • Attendance dropped significantly for the preschool and toddler programs in July, and slightly for the elementary programs.
  • I cannot do all the kids' programming myself, and will have to delegate at least some to our full-time teen specialists (who does fewer programs in the summer) and our part-time associate (she had just started in May, so I didn't want to throw her into programming that soon).
  • I definitely need to have programs planned out better further in advance. I was scrambling to stay caught up summer as I was still planning as I went.
  • Plan the first week's programs to be easy, low-fuss, and using materials that are easy to stretch in case of unexpectedly high numbers. Allow for time at the beginning to explain how it all works, expectations, rules, etc. 
  • Do NOT plan on making slime or doing anything more involved or with safety concerns the first week or two, that's better for once you've gotten to know your group and things are going smoothly.
  • Be prepared for pushback if you enforce ages, and make sure your manager/director will back you up. I had a mom throw a hissy fit and make a big scene, then trash me on Facebook because I would not let her toddler participate in a program for elementary ages due to safety concerns with the particular activity. She had been told this in advance, and hoped to bully me into giving in by making a scene. She found out I don't give in to bullies or tantrums, whether by a 4 year old or a 40 year old, and my director and several other parents backed me up. I knew if I gave in, there would be no end to it.
I think the biggest change for next year is trying to fit in more all-ages family programs, and moving away from registration. I definitely want a few more teen programs as well. I'm not sure about having all the kids stuff in the mornings. I liked it, and at least one patron commented that they like it, and while we got no negative comments, I can't help but wonder if some families missed out because there was nothing in the afternoon, evenings, or weekends.

How did your summer programming go? What worked and what didn't? What will you do differently next year?

Monday, August 15, 2022

SRP 2022 Reflection - The Reading Challenge


When I started this job in December of 2021, I knew that the summer was going to be hard and stressful, with getting a late start planning it, rebuilding from the ground up, having no idea what people wanted or what kind of numbers to expect, and it was my first time being responsible for actually planning and executing an entire summer reading program. I've lived through many, but always in larger systems where SRP was planned centrally by someone else, and only having to be responsible for planning my own handful of programs. But I was excited at the prospect of for once being able to do things the way I thought they should be done, or so I thought.

As it turned out, though I had been initially told I had free reign (as long as I stayed within the budget), I was hired by an interim director, and once they hired a new director that changed. I was at least still able to plan the programming part how I wanted, but for the second year in a row, I was forced to scrap what I had already planned for the reading part and do something that I didn't think was a good idea, a good fit for the community, nor served my goal of making it fun and encouraging even reluctant readers. My team and I had planned a fun, low-pressure Bingo-card style reading and activity log that would be easy to do, be non-competitive, and hopefully encourage reading for pleasure, trying new things, and attending library programs. We were really excited about it, and I liked how all the staff could be involved and contribute ideas for the squares.

However, the new director discovered something I was unaware of, that the previous administration had already paid for a multi-year subscription to Beanstack, an online reading tracker, and directed me to use it instead. While I understood the thinking that we should give it one good try since it was already paid for, it is everything I wanted to avoid in summer reading: heavily incentivized, highly competitive, and removes the kids from the equation as the parent has to do all the tracking. I also knew it would not be a good fit for this small-town, rural community where wifi access and cell service are very limited, people in general are not very tech savvy, and even those that are comfortable with technology don't necessarily *want* more tech in their lives. I had hoped to at least be able to supplement with paper logs, but was strictly forbidden to do so 🤷. I guess the thinking was we could force the community to do everything online, but I knew from prior experience that does not work. 

I found Beanstack to be incredibly painstaking and time-consuming to set up. This needs to be done by someone with a dedicated position for this kind of thing, not your children's librarian who is also doing all the collection development, all children's programming, supervising the teen programmer, and training a new part-timer, all while trying to get ready for summer! I am fairly good with technology, but spent many, many hours working on Beanstack to get the challenges set up and tweaking it, and I still wasn't really happy with it in the end. I tried to eliminate the features that made it feel competitive, and tracked by minutes as that seemed to be the most fair way to accommodate both fast and slow readers, advanced readers, beginning readers, those who read more shorter books, those who reader fewer longer books, those who read a little every day, and those who may read for several hours just one or two days a week.

My goal for summer reading is simply to get kids reading and enjoying it! The picture above represents what I think summer reading should be about. It is my opinion that the heavily incentivized summer reading programs that have become the norm are counter-productive. I feel they only work for the kids who love reading, are strong readers, and would read anyway; and the competitive feel, high pressure, and big goals are going to be a turn-off for kids who are not strong readers, or reluctant readers for whatever reason. There is also research that suggests that incentivized reading does not promote lifelong reading as reading stops once the incentive is no longer there, and that in general incentivizing something that was originally done by choice for enjoyment reduces that behavior rather than increasing it. Also, I've seen that big, expensive, flashy prizes just results in more cheating, not more reading.

It was very difficult to set up a summer reading program that fit my philosophy using Beanstack, but I did the best I could. Also, since incentives have come to be expected, I felt it would be counterproductive to eliminate them completely. Since my primary goal was to get as many books into as many hands of kids as possible, everyone who registered for the reading challenge got a free book that they got to choose from our selection, and if they reached the goal of 1000 minutes (somewhat arbitrarily chosen), they got a second book. Then at various milestones they earned entries into the grand prize drawings. There were 5 drawings for each age group, and the prizes were mostly various $25 gift cards (that we got for free with points on our company credit card account), but there were also some physical prizes with an approximate value of $25. I wanted the prizes to be just enough so that they felt like they had really gotten something, but not so much that it would motivate a lot of cheating, or that kids would be devastated if they didn't win. 

In all of our marketing materials and in talking with kids and parents I emphasized free-choice and leisure reading, that it was not a competition nor like school: there was no reading list, it didn't have to be library books, any and all reading counted (print, e-books, audiobooks, graphic novels, fiction, non-fiction, reading independently, reading to someone else, being read to...), and it was not about who read the most. It was simply about the joy of reading. For the prize books I tried to provide a wide selection of good books (purchased mostly through Scholastic's "Literacy Partners" program, but also a few from Dollar Tree), and we set up the teen lounge (which never gets used once school is out) like a little bookstore. This was a huge departure from how my predecessor used to do things, which apparently was to give the same book to all kids of that age along with "homework", and then when they finished the book and assigned activities, they got another book; a very school-like approach.

So, how did it go? Well, not surprisingly our participation numbers were very low. I didn't really know what was a realistic goal for this small town, but had hoped to get somewhere around 350 to maybe 500 (though I thought 500 was probably a very lofty goal). We ended up with about 300 kids signed up for the reading challenges, which I thought wasn't bad for the first year, but then when I looked closer, only half of those ever actually logged any reading. And you might think it was a mistake giving out free books just for signing up, but (1) I don't think it's ever a mistake to put a book in the hands of a child, and (2) about 2/3 of those that never logged any reading also never claimed that first free book. Of those that logged reading, only about a third met the goal of 1000 minutes. Another thing we found was that probably half the people who earned entry tickets for the grand prize drawings never chose the drawings to enter. Of those that did, we found that the Amazon gift cards were by far the most popular choice (over fast food, movies, GameStop, and book sets), with the Lego Aquarium set being a very popular choice as well.

It seems pretty clear from the data, feedback from staff, and feedback from patrons that using Beanstack, was not a good fit for this community. It was way too labor-intensive to set up, did not fit our philosophy or mission for summer reading, and was too complex for many of our frontline staff. Patrons reported that it was confusing for them, the phone app turned out to be even more difficult and complicated to use than the desktop website and patrons reported it kept changing and looked/worked differently almost every time they opened it. Patrons also reported it was too much work with everything having to be done by the parent and too easy to forget about, that they like paper logs the kids could do themselves. I and the rest of the youth services staff missed having all the great interactions with kids as they picked up and turned in their completed reading logs. Yes, there were some patrons who loved it, and yes, you can extract all kinds of data and reports using Beanstack, but as a small community library, we really don't need the same kinds of breakdowns and analyses that a larger system might.

Also, it seems that while a few far exceeded the goal of 1000 minutes, it was probably too lofty of a goal for most readers, and may have been too intimidating for some. This was another reason I wanted to give books away at the beginning, but I think it was still too intimidating and prevented some from participating. While we did have one person who very obviously was cheating (made up a child that doesn't exist and logged completely unrealistic times) and one or two others we suspected, overall I think cheating was very minimal, and it was more common that people were forgetting to log and under-reporting reading time. We did get good feedback about the prize books and having such a good selection, though one person did express a preference for the way my predecessor did it. 

I will say that even though participation was lower than hoped, I believe we still engaged more people and a broader cross-section of the community than before, as my predecessor is said to have catered to one specific group rather the whole community, and didn't include all age groups. However, there are no stats to back this up as she didn't track reading program participation separately, just program attendance.

Next year I hope that I will be given more freedom to design summer reading in the way I think will work best for this community, that will serve both my mission to promote reading as well as satisfy admin and the state library's desire for numbers. I feel certain that if my department is allowed to do things our way, we will get better participation. I will still want to give away as many books as possible, and keep prizes small enough so that cheating is minimal. I still like our original Bingo card idea, and I've also heard of a couple of other libraries having success with having each reader set their own reading goals, rather than having the same goal for everyone, and I really like that idea as well. So I'm thinking of some sort of combination Bingo card that challenges them to explore different types of books as well as encourages program attendance and library visits, with some sort of flexible "reading log" on the back that they can use related to the individual goal they've set.

I would LOVE to hear about your experiences with different methods and approaches to summer reading! What have you tried that failed? What have you found successful? 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

SRP Week 8 - Aquatic Reptiles


Since I had booked the local herpetarium for this last week of summer programming, I decided to use aquatic reptiles as the theme for this week's programs, including both oceanic reptiles and the freshwater reptiles that live in our land-locked area.

Toddler Time (ages 1-3)

We started with a hello song, and "The Creatures In the Sea Go..." for a warm up, then I talked a little about aquatic reptiles, and read a non-fiction book, From Egg to Sea Turtle by Lisa Owings. After that we did two scarf songs, "We Wave Our Scarves Together" and "Popcorn". I talked a little about the kinds of aquatic turtles we have in our area that live in ponds, creeks, and rivers in order to segue to our second book, Turtle Splash! by Cathryn Falwell. This is a nice book because it incorporates counting down, as well as showing several different forest animals. We ended with bubbles.

For the after storytime activity, I still had the waterbeads from the week before (I had rinsed and stored in the fridge) and this time instead of sharks I added plastic sea turtles. I also put out some turtle coloring sheets and dot-painting sheets in case someone really wanted to do a craft, and a couple did those as well.

Turtle storytime

Early Explorers
 (ages 3-6)

Again we started with our usual hello song, and then did "Slippery Fish" for a warm-up. Then I talked about aquatic reptiles for a little bit, and showed the life cycle of a sea turtle using From Egg to Sea Turtle by Lisa Owings again. After a lead-in song I preceded reading The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder with a brief discussion of how some turtles live in the sea, but some live in freshwater and some live on land, like the one in this story (I had a really hard time finding good turtle stories for storytime, and none of them were about sea turtles). I followed that with the classic "Snapping Turtle" rhyme, then discussed some of the other aquatic reptiles like alligators, crocodiles, and snakes, then read the non-fiction book Sea Snakes by Lindsay Shaffer. After that we sang "I Wish I Was a Silly, Slippery Snake", then moved to the activities.

I gave them a choice of playing in the sensory bin with the waterbeads and turtles, or making a turtle craft. I printed out flippers and head on green cardstock, then they could make the shell with either a paper plate or bowl, depending on how high they wanted the shell to be. To make the scutes of the shell, I provided circles cut out of green patterned papers leftover from the mermaid tail craft earlier in the summer. Surprisingly, this time they all wanted to do the craft first, then played in the water beads.

Turtle storytime

Elementary Explorers
 (ages 6-11)

I started with our usual book discussion, and for the first time all summer, no one wanted to share. I didn't have as many to booktalk, either, because so many of the reptile books were already checked out, and I didn't have any new books this week, either. So I booktalked the classic Nim's Island  by Wendy Orr and the one decent non-fiction book we had left, Sea Turtles by Laura Marsh.. 

Then I had a brief slide show so they could see the different kinds of aquatic reptiles. Since our theme all summer has been "Oceans of Possibilities" I started with reptiles that live in the ocean, and showed them pictures of the different types of sea turtles, sea snakes, marine iguanas, and salt-water crocodiles. Then I moved on to the types of aquatic reptiles that we might see here, which are several types of pond turtles, including alligator snapping turtles, and water snakes (we have two, only one of which is venomous).

Turtle craft, snake craft

Then we had two crafts, one was making a baby turtle by weaving yarn around three mini-craft sticks that were glued together in the centers, kind of like a snowflake. I provided multiple colors of yarn, and they could use one or more colors, and markers to color the feet, tail, and head and add facial details. The second was making a beaded snake by one of two methods. The easier way was to just string bead on a piece of pipe cleaner, and fold the ends back around on itself to secure the beads and make the head. The other method strung the beads on string, cording, or wire (I used cording), and was a little more complex (It's actually easy once you get going, but initially looks intimidating. I did try to demonstrate and explain how to do it, but also showed the video that I learned it from which makes it more clear.

Turtle craft, snake craft

It went pretty well, though I did overhear one of the caregivers (who is always kinda grumpy anyway) grumbling because I did provide written step-by-step instructions. I often do, but sometimes just have not had time, and I've also noticed that here people generally don't read them or take them home and it just seems like a lot of wasted time and paper. I felt like both crafts were pretty easy, and that the video for the beaded snake was more helpful than written instructions would have ever been. No one else seemed to have any issues, and caught on pretty quickly. I told them they could make more than one if they wanted, as long as the materials I had put out lasted, so some make both kinds of snakes and some made 2 or 3 turtles. A couple got creative, one making just the head of the snake and wearing it as a necklace, the other turning their snake into a bracelet.

Family Program

For our last family program I booked the local reptile zoo, knowing animals is always a sure draw. Since their price was lower than most and they gave a big discount for a second show at the same location, I went ahead and booked them for two shows, one at 11am and one at 1pm. I figured that way we could accommodate more people, and if the crowds were smaller then everyone would be able to be up close.

The first show was pretty full, the second show only filled to just over half-capacity, but overall I felt we had a very good turnout for the last week. The presenter brought an albino corn snake, a boa constrictor, a tortoise, an alligator snapping turtle, a savannah monitor, and an alligator. People were really pleased with the show, and we got several positive comments on our Facebook post afterwards. Another nice thing was the presenter let staff come in between shows to see the animals up close, and even touch them if we wanted.

And with that, our summer programming is over!! Just in time, too; I was running out of steam, and I don't know that I could have gone one more week! I left a little early on Friday, and took a mental health day on Monday to recover, and we are taking a break from programming for the next three weeks. During that time the rest of the staff and I will go over everything and discuss what worked, what didn't, how we want to do things next year, clean and organize our offices, program room, and storage; start a big weeding and shifting project, then start planning for Fall.

I will write up a SRP reflection after I've had time to rest and reflect.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

SRP Week 7 - Shark Week!

I've been doing "Shark Week" with my storytimes for several years now, since long before it was cool and everyone was doing it. I also was using "Baby Shark" before the PinkFong version went viral (my son hates the song and blamed me for it going viral, LOL, as if I were some big influencer 🤣). I'm not even really that into sharks, but I used to like Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, back when it was more educational than sensational, and I found it to be a really fun theme to do, plus a way for the younger kids to get into the Shark Week frenzy (see what I did there?) in an age-appropriate way. I was originally supposed to do a whole big Shark Week program during the summer of 2020, but you know what happened to that. So I incorporated elements of what I had planned for that into my programs this year.

Toddler Time (ages 1-3)

We sang our "Hello" song and then did "Baby Shark" as our warm-up. We talked about sharks for a bit, and then sang our "Are You Ready for a Story" to lead in to our book. Since this book was a little on the longer side, it was the only book I planned on reading for the day. The Little Fish Who Cried Shark! by Trish Phillips is a really fun book to read aloud as it has great rhythm and rhyming text, plus it is a pop-up book! It is a fun re-telling of the classic folktale, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and of course the brightly colored pop-up illustrations are very engaging.

After that I used my shark hand-puppet and five little fish finger-puppets to do "Five Little Fishies Swimming In The Sea", where they tease Mr. Shark that he can't catch them, and he then sneaks up quietly and chomps them one by one. This is great fun, and the kids love it. I followed that by showing a few pictures of different sharks and the different kinds of shark teeth from a non-fiction book Face to Face: Sharks by Scholastic, and letting them rub shark shapes I had cut from sandpaper and glued to blue card stock to simulate what shark skin feels like. That was followed by singing "Slippery Fish", a fun song that goes up the food chain with a fish being eaten by an octopus, who is eaten by a tuna fish, who is eaten by a great white shark, who is finally eaten by an orca whale (who is really not a whale, but a very large dolphin).

For our activities I created a shark-filled ocean in our sensory bin with water beads (a whole 7 or 8 oz bag, plus about 1/4 cup of another and 7 gallons of water) and plastic ocean creatures (mostly sharks, but a few others). Then I set up a gross motor activity - 'walking the plank' over shark-filled waters. I bought a piece of wood, maybe 5 feet long and 6 inches wide (a little longer would be better, but wouldn't fit in my tiny car), then a smaller piece I cut into short pieces to support the long plank, and nailed them together. [I would also advise attaching some kind of non-skid material if you'll be on a hard surface.] Then I cut shark fins out of cardstock and taped them down to the floor. They LOVED the waterbeads, and it was hard to get them to do anything else.

Early Explorers (ages 3-6)

I did an expanded version of the toddler program, and changed the order slightly. With this group, I did "Slippery Fish" as the warm-up and saved "Baby Shark" until the end. I shared some of the pictures from the non-fiction book in the intro, and told them all 3 shark stories we were going to read were based on classic folktales, and to pay attention and see if they could recognize which ones.

I read The Three Little Fish and the Big, Bad Shark by Ken Geist and Julia Gorton, an old favorite obviously based on the story of The Three Little Pigs; The Little Fish Who Cried Shark! by Trish Phillips, a re-telling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf; and I was finally able to complete a trifecta of shark stories that are re-tellings of classic folktales with a new book, Sharky McShark by Allison McMurray. This is the only one whose title doesn't give away what folktale it's based on, which is The Lion and the Mouse. Not surprisingly, the kids didn't really recognize the sources for each story, but most of the adults did. Once it was pointed out, the kids recognized that The Three Little Fish was a re-telling of The Three Little Pigs, but they clearly weren't familiar with The Boy Who Cried Wolf or The Lion and the Mouse.

I also did the "Five Little Fishies" with the puppets for them in between stories, and we ended with "Baby Shark" and then moved on to the activities: walking the plank, playing in the sensory bin, and/or a craft gluing torn tissue paper in shades of blue, teal, and white to create an ocean background, and adding shark silhouettes. As expected, the sensory bin was by far the biggest attraction, and only the parents were interested in the craft and had a really hard time getting the kids to do it, and most just glued a few random pieces of tissue paper down, stuck on the sharks, and ran back to the sensory bin. Which is fine and expected; I just wanted them to have options and make it a little bit more special than a typical storytime program.

Shark storytime

Elementary Explorers (ages 6-10)

I started off with letting those who wanted to share about something they had read or were reading. Then I booktalked a few shark books, both fiction and non-fiction (most of our shark books were checked out, so I didn't have much to choose from!): I Survived: The Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis and Scott Dawson, I Survived, True Stories: Nature Attacks by Lauren Tarshis, and Soul Surfer, an autobiography by surfer and shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton.

Then I showed two short videos (14 minutes total) so the kids could learn some basic shark facts, and then showed slides of some unusual sharks: whale (biggest), lantern (smallest), goblin, sawshark (as opposed to sawfish, which is a ray), hammerhead, frilled, wobbegong, and cookie-cutter. In one of the videos we learned how sharks are always shedding and replacing teeth throughout their lifetime, shedding hundreds or thousands of teeth, which end up at the bottom of the ocean, sometimes washing up on the beach where people could find them.

This segued nicely to our main activity, which was to first hunt for sharks teeth in our simulated "beach" (sensory bin filled with sand and 40 buried shark teeth). They were asked to take turns going in groups, and once they found one to please take a seat. Then we passed out bowls of wooden beads in natural and colored finishes to each table, and a length of waxed braided cotton cording to each participant, and they made beaded necklaces with their shark teeth [many, many thanks to another staff member who makes jewelry for wire-wrapping all the teeth after we realized it would be way too difficult for this age to do themselves; you can buy them pre-wrapped, but they are pretty pricey]. 

I had taped one end of each cord to make string beads easier, but a lot of the kids had trouble with the concept of stringing only from one end and having to put beads on first, then the tooth, then more beads. They wanted to put the tooth on first, add beads to one side, then got frustrated trying to add beads from the other side. Next time, I will downsize on the cord so it will be easier; I had wanted to go with the thicker one so they would be sturdier. Some kids just added a couple beads to each side, some added several, and one girl had beads almost all the way around in a carefully planned pattern, while others just strung them randomly. They really seemed to like having a real shark tooth.

Because I wasn't sure how long it would take, and wanted to have more things just to make it a bigger deal, I also had printed out sheets to make
shark fortune tellers (or cootie-catchers, if you prefer), shark magnet kits from Oriental Trading, and a framed writing prompt from OT (that no one did there, and only a few took home). 

Family Movie Double-Feature

I haven't had much success with movies, but I thought I'd give it one last go. I had originally planned on showing "Finding Nemo", but when the "Bad Guys" movie came out on DVD a couple of weeks before, I grabbed it and decided to add it as a double-feature. I'd hoped that having a new release of a popular movie based on a popular book series would be a bigger draw. I also advertised more, put up flyers, and advertised that snacks would be provided. Then, we got the newest book of the series in two days before, so I added that we would draw names of those attending the movie to see who got to check out the newest book first, and advertised that.

Unfortunately, we still did not have a good turnout. No one came for "Finding Nemo", but the kids from a family that just happened to come to the library did go in and watch for a while, but not the whole thing, and a family that came for "Bad Guys" got there early enough to catch at least the last half of Nemo. I only had a total of three families, nine people, that came for "Bad Guys". However, two of the boys that were there were REALLY excited to see the movie and for the chance to be the first one to read the newest book, so that was nice.

So, I guess I am done with trying movie days. If a popular new release, free snacks, and the chance to get the newest book first were not enough to draw more than nine people, nothing will. I really wish it would, because it is a very easy, no-cost way to add family programs that don't require staff time, but with all the digital access now, no one cares about free movies at the library anymore.

Teen Programming

My co-worker had her usually weekly writing club with a handful of kids attending, and then had the last teen program of the summer, decorating cupcakes and watching "Sharknado". Again, only a handful of kids showed up, despite heavy advertising and free cupcakes. I fear our community is just too small to get the critical mass needed for a truly successful teen program.

And now we are *almost* at the end! Just one more week to go! I am so ready for a break. Next year I hope I can have things more planned out ahead of time, and can hopefully delegate more so it won't be quite so hectic and stressful.

SRP Week 6 - Boats & Floats

Last week was all about boats and buoyancy! Even though we are nowhere near the ocean, we still have plenty of lakes, rivers, and streams for boating.

Toddler Time (ages 1-3)

I started off with our hello song, then for a warm-up did a rowboat version of the old "Little Red Wagon" song:

Little Red Rowboat

Splashin' along in my little red rowboat,
Splashin' along in my little red rowboat,
Splashin' along in my little red rowboat,
Won't you be my darlin'

(Looking out to sea, waving at a ____, don't tip over, rowing back to shore)

Then we sang our lead-in song, and went to our first book, Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera, which we sang. The kids really liked all the different verses with all the animals. After that we went from rowboats to motorboats, rolling our arms fast and slow with this rhyme:

Motorboat, Motorboat

Motorboat, motorboat go so sloooow.
Motorboat, motorboat go so sloooow.
Motorboat, motorboat, step on the gas!

Motorboat, motorboat, go so fast.
Motorboat motorboat go so fast.
Motorboat, motorboat, what out - don't crash! (Clap loudly)

Then I read our second book, Boats on the Bay by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Grady McFerrin, which showed all different kinds of boats and ended with a parade of lights and fireworks over the bay, then finished with bubbles. The after-storytime activities were dot painting, with a choice of three different boat pictures, and playing in the sensory table which was filled with water, and had rubber ducks and boats.

boat storytime

Early Explorers (ages 3-6)

I did the same beginning routine with this group, then read Gail Gibbons' Boat Book so they could see all different kinds of boats, followed by the motorboat action rhyme a couple of times. I had intended to read Bunny Overboard by Claudia Rueda next, but somehow I had a major brain fart and forgot and thought we were finished! I think because I read a book showing all the different kind of boats at the end the previous day, but did a similar one at the beginning to day, I confused myself. I didn't realize it until I was cleaning up, and I was so embarrassed!

A couple of other things threw me off my game today as well. First of all, one activity I had planned did not work, and we had to scramble to come up with something else. I had planned on doing sink or float and having them make cartesian divers, which are supposed to go up and down when you squeeze a closed water bottle. But mine only moved maybe a half-inch, which I knew would not even be a perceptible change to the kids. So while I did storytime, my co-worker quickly found and got things together for a cute sailboat craft. While they worked on the craft, I got things together for a "Sink or Float" experiment and let them make predictions and observe the results, and they also got to play in the sensory table. The other thing that threw me off was I had a very small group, despite having a good turnout previously. It was just an off day all around.

Boat storytime

Elementary Explorers (ages 6-10)

I had originally planned a much more elaborate "Boating School" program, including knot-tying, nautical terms, boating safety, a boat-building challenge and obstacle coarse, and writing "what I learned in boating school", and giving kids licenses. However, after all the drama last week, I just wasn't up to it and scaled it way back.

I started with the usual book-talking (I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic by Lauren Tarshis and Scott Dawson, White Star: A Dog on the Titanic by Marty Crisp, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson, and Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood), then I went over some very basic nautical terminology (bow, stern, port, starboard, parts of a sailboat) and water safety. Then I gave them a challenge: build a "boat" using only a 12"x12" square of aluminum foil that will hold at least 30 pennies. 

Kids books on surviving sinking ship

But first, I did a sink or float demo to get them thinking in the right direction, letting them predict and observe. I let them see that if you put a clam shell in the water the right way, it will float due to water displacement, and that a ping-pong ball floats due to trapped air. Then I used a smaller 4"x4" square of foil to show it would float, partly by surface tension and partly due to the weight being evenly distributed over a wide area. Then I wadded up another sheet into a ball, and they saw that it floated due to small pockets of air being trapped inside. But then I carefully folded a third sheet in half, and in half again and again, until it was very small and compact, carefully smoothing out all the air as I did so. Much to the surprise of many of them, it sank.

Then I gave them all a their squares of foil, and told them to use what they had observed to guide them, and that while it could be a traditional boat shape, it could also be more like a raft, or whatever shape they wanted. I also told them they could try as many different designs as they wanted, but one at a time. At first many of them seemed confused and weren't sure what to do, but once others got going and started testing their boats in the water, the rest soon followed. Some were happy to just do it once, others really got into it with multiple designs.

Buoyancy activities for kids, foil boat challenge, sink or float

In addition, I had two pre-packaged crafts from Oriental Trading I had purchased just in case I needed something extra in a pinch, so I used them for this. They didn't have anything to do with boating or buoyancy, but they were ocean related. Once was making a little "coral reef" with a craft foam base, pipe cleaners, and foam fish stickers, and the other was a paper-weaving with four ocean creatures to choose from. 

under the sea crafts, ocean crafts, fish crafts, reef craft

In the end it went really well, and I was very glad I had scaled back rather than attempt the bigger program I had first envisioned but really wasn't up to doing.

Family Crafternoon

Since the family movie days weren't really drawing anyone, and I had built up a big pile of leftover crafts and prepped materials, I decided to do a drop-in "Family Crafternoon" instead of a movie this week. I had hoped this would be a low-effort program that would used up leftover materials to prevent waste or taking up space, as well as provide a true family program since I keep having issues with some coming to the elementary program expecting all of their kids to participate, even those too young. I put out leftover sand art kits, dot markers and templates; sparkly pipe-cleaners, pearl beads, and cowrie shells leftover from mermaid crowns; various paper crafts, and some general craft supplies for a 2-hour time frame so families could drop in and do their own thing. I did show the examples from the original crafts the materials were intended for, but encouraged them to do their own thing.

I did have a few families come, but not as many as I'd hoped, and not the ones who keep asking for family, all-age programs. I don't know if it's the day of the week it's on or what, but for whatever reason people keep coming to the elementary program, that clearly specifies it is only for ages 6-10 due to demand and safety, and expecting it to accommodate the younger siblings as well. But one sweet little girl gave me a bracelet she made out of a pipe cleaner and cowrie shells, and it made my day 🥰.

Tween/Teen Light-Up Anglerfish

I had already had the idea of using paper circuits to create a picture of a deep-sea anglerfish with a lure that lit up, and then lucked into finding a template online from HP. The original printable was intended to make a small greeting card, and I had to scan it to a jpeg and manipulate it a bit to make it larger, and adapt to work with the little LED stickers rather than a regular LED bulb. Then once the kids had finished the anglerfish and kind of had the hang of how the paper circuits worked, they all designed their own original art, and figured out how to lay out the circuit in order to illuminate their art the way they wanted.

We had a small group of four, but they were all really great kids and fun to work with. They all really enjoyed being able to create and light up their own art. It's been so long since I've worked with older kids, I'd forgotten what a nice change it can be getting to do something a little more sophisticated with a smaller group, and no parents. This was probably one of the most enjoyable programs of the summer for me personally.

paper circuits, light-up angler fish

Other than my flub with the preschool/kindergarten storytime, it was a really good week. Only two more weeks to go!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

SRP Week 5 - Under the Sea

This week had a general ocean/fish theme, with some fun books and activities.

Toddler Time 

I started with the usual hello song, "The Creatures in the Sea Go...." to warm up, and "If You're Ready for a Story" to lead in to the first book, the classic The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hana. I started off by bringing out my plush Pout-Pout fish and pointing out how it has a smile, rather than a frown like on the book cover, and we would have to read the story to see how he got from a frowny face to a smiley face. I also told them I needed their help with saying all the 'blub...blub....blub's and we practiced it together first. At the end, when the Pout-Pout fish became a 'kiss-kiss' fish, I went around and had the plushie kiss each child on the cheek.

I followed that with a shaker egg song, a scarf song, and by request, the "Popcorn" scarf song as well, then read one more book, I Spy Ocean by Edward Gibbs. This is a great book for the younger kids, with it's peek-a-boo die cut circles, short text, and vibrant illustrations. It also gives the opportunity to practice counting and identifying colors and animals. Then we closed with bubbles. For the after storytime activities they had a choice of drawing/coloring, an 'I Spy' type counting activity, a Pout-Pout Fish memory game, and/or fishing in the sensory bin with the prompt of identifying the colors of the fish they caught. Of course, they all chose fishing as expected, and some took the other activities to do at home later.

Fish storytime, ocean storytime

Early Explorers
 (ages 3-6)

We started with the same beginning routine as the toddlers, and then I read a great new book, How to Hug a Pufferfish by Ellie Peterson. This book is as cute and funny as the title and cover lead you to expect, but it also incorporates an important message of consent and respecting others' personal boundaries and preferences, encouraging asking if it's okay to hug first and offering other alternatives to hugging. After this we danced along with Laurie Berkner's "Goldfish" song, and then did a counting down rhyme with fish using felt fish on the flannel board and our fingers.

Fish storytime, ocean storytime, under the sea storytime

For our second book I chose
I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry for its humor, variety of ocean creatures to identify (including a pufferfish), and vibrant illustrations. Then we ended with a closing song and moved on to the craft, which I had been looking forward to every since I first came across it in the spring, knowing I would pair it with How to Hug a Pufferfish which I had just bought. This was a fun painting activity, painting a pufferfish using the tines of a fork to get the spiny effect, and adding fins, googly eyes, a mouth, and any other desired ocean details in the background. They turned out so adorably! While their paintings dried they took a turn at the fishing hole, getting particularly excited when they caught a pufferfish.

pufferfish painting for kids, pufferfish storytime, fish storytime

This was probably the best and most satisfying/rewarding program I've done all summer. This group has been super quiet and reserved, and today they finally warmed up and started interacting and participating more actively, and were all talking to me and showing me their pictures and the fish they caught.

Elementary Explorers (ages 6-10)

First I gave the kids an opportunity to share about what they'd been reading, and only one or two wanted to today. I then book-talked a few ocean-related books in a range of reading levels and lengths: Daisy Meadows' Shannon the Ocean Fairy and Rihanna the Seahorse Fairy, Journey Under the Sea, a choose-your-own-adventure by R. A. Montgomery; and Dark Life by Kat Falls, a full-length middle-grade novel about a futuristic colony on the sea floor.

Then we made Ocean Slime, using the traditional Borax recipe with clear glue to look more watery. I provided blue and green food coloring, a large bottle of iridescent
 glitter, a large bottle of fine blue glitter, and then an assortment of small bottles of glitter in different shades of blue and teal, in both coarse and fine, to add in as they desired. I did caution them to add the smallest drop of coloring possible, but of course everyone added more and all of the kids' slime turned out much darker than mine. I also had tiny fish beads to add, but since they were kind of expensive I only had a limited amount. Rather than putting them out for the kids to help themselves, I went around and gave them out to be sure everyone got some, and roughly the same amount.

ocean slime

I had also planned on giving them an additional craft to do, but decided not to in the end as the slime took a little longer than expected, and they all seemed to be having fun playing with it and comparing each others', and we had some unexpected drama from an entitled patron who had a fit because I told her that her 3 year-old couldn't participate in making slime due to safety reasons. So I was ready to end a little early so I could fill my director in on the situation.

I had already explained the age restrictions for this program the week before when this person asked about her 3 year old participating, and the reasons why, and specifically said that for example, the next week we would be making slime using borax and it isn't safe for the younger kids and her 3 year old wouldn't be able to participate. But she came anyway and made a scene, expecting me to give in. My staff and I have had several other 'off' interactions with her, always pushing the limits, always trying to get more free stuff, always expecting special treatment. I knew if I gave into her on this, there would be no end to it, and though I will compromise on a lot of things, safety isn't one of them. I am not inclined to reward bad behavior, so don't generally give in to bullies or tantrums, whether from a four year-old or a forty year-old.

I understand not every library has age-restricted programs, but in my opinion some should be, and this is the only kids' program I do that is; they do have other options. I also understand that what they do at home is their business, and the parent can decide what level of risk they are comfortable with. However, when it's in my program and I am responsible for what happens in that room during the program, *I* get to decide how much risk and liability *I* am comfortable with, and considering my previous background in scientific research, working in labs, I feel I am better-qualified to judge the safety of science activities, and have done the research.

Family Movie Day

I only had two kids show up with their babysitter to watch "The Little Mermaid", and they left soon after it started because they assumed we were providing refreshments and I hadn't because our popcorn popper is broken, plus it's a paint to clean anyway and turnout for movies has been so low. In hindsight I could have provided individual bags of chips and water at least, but for some reason it just didn't occur to me. 

But, I think a big issue is that we don't have a theatre or even a projector and screen, only a large-screen TV. In reality, most people probably have a screen that big at home these days, and with all the streaming services, they can watch whatever they want, whenever they want. So coming to the library to watch an older movie on a TV screen just isn't that attractive. I am going to try one more movie day, this time showing a new release and providing snacks and water, and advertising it more (I had misunderstood the licensing restrictions and was not advertising the titles at all). If I still don't get a good turnout, then I will give up on movies as a programming option and try something else.

Teen Programs

My coworker offered a teen game day, with board games and the Switch, and a cupcake program. Unfortunately, the game day was not well-attended, only four kids showed up and they just played their own games on their own devices, and the cupcake program was cancelled due to lack of interest. Surprisingly only two kids signed up, and we decided it wasn't worth the expense and having a staff member coming on on a Saturday just for this program that we might not have anyone show up for. So we decided to just add a cupcake decorating activity to the end of the summer teen bash so those that did want to do it still have a chance.

Five weeks down, just three more to go! This next week is very busy, and I will be very glad when it's over. I'm really looking forward to the week after that, which will be Shark Week!