A few years ago, our library made a significant change in our summer programming offerings. We switched from focusing mainly on sustained, multi-day programs to single day standalone events. (We still have some of the multi-day programs and I plan to write about all the positive ways we’ve changed them!) We themed these days around familiar and popular characters that also had connections to books. It was a great change – it really allowed us to offer a larger variety of programs to that had wider appeal. It also helps us offer programs that are easier to just drop in on and less committed, which works well with summer schedules. For instance, grandparents with grandkids visiting for a week or two love this kind of programming. Another big bonus is that it helps us stay really current with trends. We might never have a Ninjago event again but we had one when it was THE thing our kids were talking about which earns us a ton of currency and cool points. These are the kind of programs kids talk about and easily recognize, we hear them begging their parents to come.
Over the past few years we’ve offered these single day programs themed around, among other things, Pinkalicious, Star Wars, superheroes, and robots. We love this kind of programming so much and it’s so popular with our patrons we even had similar programs during our Spring Break programming extravaganza (read about it here) we created Clifford and Amelia Bedelia programs.
In summer, these programs explode. We get attendance between 15-50 kids per event and, often, parents stay with them. (They’re open to all ages but if you’re under 6 a parent must stay with you. Let me also note that these are great school-age programs, when the theme is older, we get tons of school-age kids all the way up to 12.) This is a lot of return on time, which is great. And these are really well-loved programs – they produce great feedback and enthusiasm from patrons. In our messaging and publicity, staff tends to call them “celebrations” or “explorations” of certain characters/themes/books. But our patrons really do think of them as parties - that’s just the vibe they have. And you know? I’m OK with parents and kids thinking of the library as a place THAT fun.
Since our summer reading programming is only eight weeks long (only June and July) we sometimes end up doubling these programs up in one week. That’s rough, but it keeps momentum going. In a dream world, I’d stretch them out even more, not just for the break time in-between for staff but to give an even wider time window for participation. For the past few years we’ve had four of these programs, but I’ve been considering adding one or two more. (Shhh, don’t tell my staff!) Especially after this year we added a fifth, a Minecraft IRL Day, and it was a big hit that brought in a whole new demographic.
Interested in having events like this at your library? This week I’m going to tell you ALL ABOUT how we put ours on this year. Each day this week I’ll run you through one with specifics, pictures, costs, and links. The themes we chose this year were: Ninjago, Fancy Nancy, Magic Treehouse, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, and Minecraft IRL Day. I’m going to skip a lengthy explanation about How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? because we basically just lifted the program wholesale from the amazing and wonderful Brooke‘s fantastic Dinosaur Day and it was a huge hit. If you want to do a dinosaur event, use Brooke’s blog! It was simple, engaging, and fun and our kids LOVED it. Instead, I’ll be focusing on Ninjago, Fancy Nancy, Magic Treehouse, and Minecraft IRL.
We hosted three at the main library and two at our branch. The branch, as always, had much lower attendance but we were happy with each turnout. Overall attendance at each of these stand-alones was up from last year’s set.
Here’s the general outline of how we run these programs and what we’ve learned along the way.
We’ve established a simple formula for these programs: 15 minutes of story, 30 minutes of craft and activity, 15 minutes of snack and wrap-up. We’re pretty committed to bringing them in at exactly an hour (not counting prep time) after our first year of experimenting with a WAY TOO LONG time of two hours a piece. Again, this makes these events much more manageable for staff and patrons. Here’s how the hour breaks down.
We take about five minutes to get everyone welcomed and settled in. We include a short discussion about whatever theme we’re covering. Again, this usually takes no more than 5 minutes. (Again: we work to stay on schedule!)
Then it’s right into reading. We read from a book from the series or something thematically related. To me, the story, connecting why we’re having this event to a book, is the core of ALL of these programs – without this, you might as well be planning a event at Chuck E. Cheese. Even if the book is one of those not-exactly-Newbery worthy generic series titles I think it’s important for kids (and parents) to know that, yes, the library has books on pop culture stuff and yes, we encourage you to check them out for sheer pleasure reading for your child.
After the story we split into craft and activity stations. Let me stress the importance of having at least two stations. In fact, I think three stations is ideal. We spend about 30 minutes rotating through these crafts and activities. Kids work at their own pace, but we try to make it not SO complicated: we want them to actually have chance to finish/try everything. We try to make sure one station is an activity, something physical for them to both burn off energy and focus attention on if they’re not in a “make something” mood.
We wrap up with a snack. Now, sometimes we make this thematically connected but more often we just do cookies, grapes, and lemonade. We used to have them move through in a buffet line but it took forever and we had to gently suggest “Gee sweetie, maybe you don’t need 20 cookies!” So, at our biggest event (Fancy Nancy) we switched to cups: two-three cookies in one cup, a handful of grapes in another, and a glass of lemonade. This lets us limit the portion and makes distribution much easier! (We have reusable plastic cups so we don’t have to worry about wasting paper and washing them is a good job for volunteers.)
As we sit around and snack, we have time to either do some more reading (never enough promoting books!) or talk about what parts of the event the kids liked the most and what parts they might want to do again. This is good time to calm down AND gather feedback for the next event. This is also time to hand out any take-homes (coloring sheets, stickers, erasers) and point to all the books we have available for check-out. We give one last cheer/hooray and send everyone on their way.
All together (thanks to sticking to our schedule and adequate prep) the actual event takes about an hour. The prep does take a little longer, but since we’ve really nailed down the timeline of activity it’s helped narrow the prep focus: we no longer prepare needless activities and since we stick to our schedule it’s MUCH easier to know how much time the kids will be crafting and thus how prepared we need to have the projects. And we rely on our student workers and our volunteers to get a lot of prep work done. We’re also lucky enough to have a county-wide media services department and they take care of a lot of the printing for us.
But after that hour of actual programming the library turns into a hive of activity as parents and kids and siblings are hyped-up and feeling the library love. There’s a dramatic increase in traffic and a general change in the atmosphere in the library. It’s loud and exhausting (especially since we’ve just finished presenting an event) but I love this part! This is the point, of course, and what marks the program as a success! But make sure you have extra staff on hand to work the desk and attend to a wave of of summer reading activity.
That’s how we run the programs. Do any of you have similar single-day themed programs like this at your library? If so, how do you run yours? What are some of your popular themes? Do you think programs like this would fit in with your summer reading?
Now…onto the nitty-gritty and lessons learned about the actual programs.