Category Archives: programming

Program: Escape Room!

I had wanted to do an escape room at the library since last year and I’m glad I gave myself six months to figure it all out!

I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction the program would get so I was hesitant to request a kit from BreakoutEDU since they cost $125. My thinking was “Let’s do a test run and if anyone cares we can order this kit.”

Well…they cared!

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The interest was overwhelming! We did this the first week of August. We had it going for three days, four groups the first two days and then six groups the last one. I advertised the program for tweens and teens, but, as usual, people did not read the description and signed up some younger kids. But it all worked out.

Let me just say, designing this program from scratch was a challenge! If you want to do this for your library, crowd source! Email staff and ask for old lock boxes (with keys please), combination locks (with combination please!), diaries with keys, and any other trick item you could use as a puzzle. I asked my system and ended up with a nice collection and then some.

Also, you’re going to need to play test this so if you already have an established teen group or group that hangs out after school that you can lure into the meeting room for an afternoon of playing your game, DO IT. Also, have your staff do it. They will find all the flaws in our logic, the puzzles that were too easy, and the parts of the game that don’t quite flow. I did this and it was a life saver! I was able to tweak the program before my official day and it made the game a lot better and I already have ideas about how I will update it if I have another go round with this kit.

Though I have now put in an order for a BreakoutEDU kit so I might take the easy way out next time and download one of their programs!

Our theme was “The Mad Scientist” and I had a coworker make a video as the Mad Scientist and explain how he was hiding clues around the room that lead to his “treasure” (Hershey’s gold nuggets shhh).

I was sure to direct them to the first clue, a rebus on the chalk board, because otherwise they would just start wandering the room and it would throw off the flow of my puzzles.

I’ll see if you can figure out my rebus:

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I thought it was easy but quickly found out most teens are not familiar with the works of Stephen Hawking.

This lead to a hollowed out book (one girl exclaimed “OMG THEY CUT UP THE BOOK!” when she found it) with secret codes inside. This was another thing I would not do again or at least do more accurately. The little folder had holes in it and if you lined up the holes over the paragraph, you could find the clue. It is REALLY DIFFICULT to cut those holes out perfectly. I should have made a few of these but it took so long to get done, I ran out of steam. Just be aware if you try a cipher like this.

My one evil thing was hiding a key in the slime, which most of the kids were excited to look for though I heard a few “ew! gross!” as they stuck their hands in.

They key led to a lock box. The first go around I just had the box sitting out on the table and the kids were aware of it immediately, gesturing to it every time they passed the table. The second group, I casually laid a small strip of stickers over the lock and suddenly it was invisible! This amused me endlessly.

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Inside the lockbox was a photo of a little wooden brown box that a staff member gave me. It is a trick box and you just have to fiddle with it until you find where the secret compartment is. Inside that was the key to a diary, which was also just on a table, but I flipped it over so you couldn’t see the lock and just set a magnifying glass on top of it to obscure it.

This diary was from a dollar store, super cheap lock but it was So simple that people made it harder on themselves when trying to open it. I won’t lie, it took me several minutes to figure out how to trigger it and most of the teams struggled with it.

The diary had a little poem that gave them hints to the combination lock on the briefcase which was the final clue. It referred them to a calendar I had on the wall, but they didn’t need to check that to figure out the combo.

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I learned that next time I should go with more codes/ciphers and make sure that you really must solve the clues in order to get to the next one. I had a few too many things just lying around that were either too easy or too hard to spot.

But over all it went really well. They had 15 minutes to solve the puzzles and every group made it (though I had to throw a few hints at a few of them near the end). Everyone had a good time and parents were really happy because most of the Escape Rooms cost $25+ and are designed for adults so they loved being able to do this for free. We will be repeating the program as soon as the BreakoutEDU kit arrives!

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Library Program: Giant Size Candyland

WOW it has been awhile since I updated this blog! It’s been a busy year and I haven’t had a chance to share all of my success stories.

This is one I definitely want to shout about and encourage you to try at your library or community center or anywhere families need free activities.

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Giant Size Candyland!

Like all great library program ideas, I was inspired by Pinterest. One of the other libraries in our system also did the program but they have a backyard and could do it outside, a luxury my branch doesn’t have. BUT it did mean I was able to steal a lot of their props. Plan this program for November or January and find the person in your library system (there is always one!) who goes all out on their holiday decorations and has all the peppermint and gingerbread men decorations. Help them unpack early or encourage them to not put them away after the holidays.

Believe me, that’s how we got most of our supplies!

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The most time intensive part? Putting down the “squares” – I pretty much cleaned out our craft supply closet. All I did was use the good SCOTCH packing tape and tape them to the carpet. I was surprised how well they stood up to all the little feet walking on them for a few hours! I think I only had two that had to be replaced, but otherwise the kids tread lightly. But WOW it took awhile to get them all down on the floor – I think at least an hour, maybe two. We went around the meeting room, up the hallway and into the children’s area. Along the way we had lots of decorations and such that referred back to the game.

I printed out a color wheel spinner and just use brass brads and paper plates to create spinners. Then a very wise parent pointed out that we could just hand out the colored cards and have the kids randomly pick a card like they do in the games. BRILLIANT! Either way, everyone had fun.

We did the program on President’s Day because the kids were out of school and we knew families would be looking for something to do. We ran it for about two hours and it was busy the whole time. We had regular Candyland board games out for people to play while they waited for a free spinner/stack of cards or just to hang out. At the end, I used the sticker template provided one of the label companies to create round badges that said “I played Candyland at the Library 2017” so everyone got a sticker. I know some libraries like to hand out candy but with all the allergies and such out there, I didn’t want to do that. Everyone likes stickers.

This project was a lot of fun and while getting supplies together and creating the props took time, the day of the program was mostly just fun and watching everyone have a good time because everyone in the family could play Candyland since it is just about matching colors.

Here we are at the end of the day and we are still smiling!

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Up next: our home-made Escape Room!

Program inspiration: Art Workshops for Children

Just got this book at the library and it is filled with wonderful ideas that I really want to do yet know I can’t do because PAINT!

But I’m not going to give up. I think I can find some substitutes for the messy paint and perhaps just go with markers. Our meeting room/programming room is carpeted and getting it cleaned on a normal day is difficult so I can’t imagine what would happen if we got paint on it. I’m pretty sure our custodian would never forgive me.

Has anyone done an Art Workshop for kids at their library? I’m thinking this would require registration as it sounds like the kids will need lots of space to move around for some of these.

Posting this here so I can stumble upon it later and maybe plan a program for next year. ūüôā

Special Event: My Little Pony Party

I don’t know what I was thinking when I scheduled these past few months of my life. ¬†I bought a house, moved into the house, got married on top of working AND then decided I should do an Angry Birds program, Star Wars Reads Day, and My Little Pony Party on top of all the other things. ¬†So, needless to say, I didn’t do as much for these events as I wanted to but the attendees didn’t know that and they had a blast so yay for that!

Today was the My Little Pony Party. ¬†I scheduled it for a day our schools had an early dismissal because of a teacher in-service so it wasn’t connected to a holiday or anything, the kids just got out early and needed someplace to go. ¬†I made sure to REMIND parents of this anytime they mentioned the program’s 2pm start time.

I advertised the program for ages 5 and up and made sure to mention that it was for both bronies and pegasisters so everyone felt welcome.

It worked!  We had a great turn out, around 50 kids, and the age range was a lot of early elementary.  They all loved it!

Crafts included:

Make yourself as a pony (blank pony coloring sheet with crayons)
Make a pony bookmark (corner bookmarks + one of these ponies glued on top)
Make a “cupcake” (accu-cut cupcakes with some tissue paper for “extra frosting”)
Make a unicorn horn (found here)

(I have a Pinterest board full of brainstorming, if you’re curious)

And, of course, a Scavenger Hunt because I love sending the kids into the library and they seem to love it too.  I gave them a gem at the end because they were searching for Spike.

Here are a few photos of the cuteness.  BRACE YOURSELF:

Sugarcube Corner cupcake making was a bigger hit than I expected! Lots of fancy cupcakes, wish they had all been real! Would love to team up with a local bakery next time, maybe we could have a cake decorating class for kids.
Unicorn horns were a HUGE hit, though I miscalculated how much ribbon it would take to tie them to 50 little heads.
The entire back half of the meeting room was COVERED in glitter but it was worth it. The kids loved decorating their horns with glitter and shiny paper. I only wish I had more sturdy paper, basic cardstock barely cut it, especially if they slopped a lot of glue on it.
This guy had a blast! He was probably the oldest kid there but he had so much fun creating his very own pony (complete with game controller cutie mark and xbox headset) and a horn to match.

I got paid to Harry Potter today

Sorting hat #harrypotter #librarian #library

We had a “Science of Harry Potter” program this afternoon. I wasn’t in charge of it, my co-worker (who is far more hardcore into HP) was the planner. My involvement was today during the set-up and actual event.

The program was 2 hours long, though most people were there right at the start. We’re guessing we had over 150 people attend, maybe even 200. It was mass chaos when we opened the doors to the meeting room at 2pm because EVERYONE came right at 2pm and flooded the meeting room.

I ended up at the “sorting hat” table, which had a very short questionnaire for the kids to fill out and then I tallied the answers and told them what house they were sorted in to. This was so simple, something I know we have all done online many times, but OMG THEY LOVED IT! I guess because they are too young to hang out online and take these quizzes? I sorted entire families – kids dragged their parents over because they wanted to know which house they would be in. It was adorable.

We even had a few kids in Slytherin, which was hilarious. Usually it was little kids because, as we know, toddlers are evil.

Other tables included:

  • Herbology lessons — make a anti-nightmare sleep aid from a collection of herbs
  • Astronomy — make a star wheel
  • Enchanting — levitating tinsel on a balloon (which didn’t work well because the room was too humid and we couldn’t build up enough static)
  • Potions — invisible ink with lemon juice
  • Divination — tea leaves, palm reading, and tarot cards
  • Fantastic beasts — Owl origami
  • Hogwarts Library — scavenger hunt starting point, quizzes, and BOOKS!

HUGE HUGE hit, as anything with Harry Potter’s name attached to it usually is.

(I will poke my friend and see if she can post a proper blog about the program since it was her brainchild)

These kinds of family programs with brand names are always insane but so worth it.

Oh, and bonus, I posted the above photo on my tumblr and Library Journal reblogged it!  ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!

And now I’m going to pass out because what a day!!!!


Photo credit: @aacpl

World Puppetry Day program

I’m a fan of puppets. I grew up watching Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Muppet Show.

Oh who am I kidding, I STILL watch Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and The Muppet Show!

So when my friend mentioned World Puppetry Day, I jumped at the idea of having a program at the library to talk about the different kids of puppets.

Blatant self promotion #muppets #puppets @aacpl

Our program attendees tend to run on the younger side, so even though we promoted the event for school aged children, we tried to make sure we had enough crafts to work for all ages.

We started off the program with a short talk about the history of puppets and went over from puppet related vocabulary, defining each kind of puppet. We described each puppet and asked the kids if they could guess the name of the puppet based on the description (This puppet uses a rod to control it’s arm, what would you call it? A rod puppet! Correct!). We showed them examples of store bought puppets and then also an example of a simple puppet you could make at home.

After that, I played a few clips of famous puppets and puppeteers. I made a quick YouTube playlist with some favorite clips and asked the kids what kind of puppet was being used (I didn’t play any of the clips in their entirety).

Then it was craft and play time! We brought a few puppets down from our Storytime collection and set them up on a table with a sheet, creating a makeshift stage area. We had print outs of knock knock jokes and the kids used them as scripts as they played with the puppets (at least, initially, then they went off into their own little games).

For puppet crafts, we had three different activities ranging in difficulty. If you can get your hands on the awesome book 10-Minute Puppets by Noel MacNeal, it is a great resource with lots of printables and inspiration for a program like this.

For the older children, we had the parts for the Elephant Rod Puppet already cut out and with holes punched sitting on a table. We used a thick cardstock for this. You will also need some straws, tape, and the gromits for the moveable parts.

On another table, we had butterfly shadow puppets. We made lots of butterflies, cut out from many different colored construction paper. Scissors and hole punches were on the table so the kids could create holes in the butterfly and then some colored plastic sheets that they could use to cover the holes. They taped a straw to the back and created their little works of art!

Puppet program was very fun! More photos soon. #puppets #librarian

The last table had a craft for very little ones, a frog finger puppet that could be colored in. Two hole were cut into the bottom for “legs” created by the child’s fingers.

We set up the branch projector so the kids could test out their shadow puppets. They loved seeing the shadows on the wall (though don’t ask me why I went with Notepad instead of a blank PowerPoint slide…next time!)

While we only had 9 children show up they were VERY enthusiastic. They did all of the crafts, played with the puppets we brought down and talked to us about the puppets afterwards. One little boy wanted to create his own puppet (he wasn’t into the butterflies) and we gave him some plain white paper. He proceeded to draw a character from the Sonic the Hedgehog series and then he poked holes in him and used the colored plastic to create his own unique shadow puppet!

We’re already discussing next year. Of course, after we started to advertise the program we were approached by two different people asking about helping out with it. We are hoping they are still interested next year because we really didn’t have time to incorporate them into the event this time around. But we hope this can be an annual event, maybe even more elaborate each year with crafts and activities for older children and teens.

Shadow puppets! #puppets #librarian

Sam’s guide to Star Wars Reads Day @ Your Library #StarWarsReads

The official Star Wars Reads Day has come and gone for 2014, but hosting a Star Wars event at your library is always a sure-fire way to get tons of new visitors into your building. With unofficial days like May 4 (“May the 4th be with you”), the new Disney XD series “Rebels” on the small screen, and a new set of stories headed for the big screen in 2015, Star Wars’ popularity will not be going away any time soon.

The great thing about a Star Wars event is that it is for all ages. You will see entire families and they will travel from all over if you can get the publicity out there in your library’s paper calendar or online social sites.

First things first – go to the 501st Legion’s website and find out if you have a local garrison. Star Wars programs are huge hits when you can have these amazing costumed fans wandering around. They do not charge for their services (though they have never said no to the boxes of donuts and coffee I leave for them in the back room). With this in mind, you obviously want to avoid the end of October (Halloween and New York Comic Con) and July (San Diego Comic Con) and it might be wise to check to see if there are any other major Star Wars events coming up (like Celebration Anaheim, a huge Star Wars convention sure to attract many of these fans away from home).

Thank you to the 501st Legion Old Line Garrison for making #starwarsreads day a huge success!

Once you’ve found a date on your calendar, contact your local garrison and they will start looking for volunteers to help out. Because of how my library system works, I tend to contact them ASAP, sometimes six months in advance. This isn’t necessary but the more time they have to put it up on their forums, the more chance you have of getting a strong turnout.

Another thing worth searching for is a local R2-D2 Builders Club. I know Maryland has a very active group¬†and I’ve had their members stop by with amazing R2-D2s that thrilled everyone in the library. If you can connect with one of these awesome people, I highly recommend it.

Star Wars Reads Day 2013

And one more random group to reach out to — collectors! I am a member of the DC Star Wars Collector’s Club and I was able to get one of our members to bring his collection into the library for the day. Club members have also donated items to be used for prizes. Teaming up with groups like these can add that extra special something to your program.

Star Wars Reads Day 2013

Next, look at your space and thing about your community. If you have a meeting room and feel like it will be a small turn out, you could have it in there. But each year I have held the event, we have had over 100 people stop by, and our meeting room capacity is 160. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s fun by citing the Fire Code, so we have always held the event in the Children’s area of the library proper. Yes, it’s loud and crazy but it means that everyone can have a good time and have plenty of space.¬† And it gives the added bonus of people stumbling upon the event by chance and calling friends to visit. My program usually goes 2-3 hours, so plenty of time for people to show up.

Also keep in mind that people will want to get photographs with any droids or costumers that are there so think of a spot that would work well as a staging area. You can direct the 501st members to that spot and have your patrons form a line.

Now the part that you really need to plan out! Like I mentioned, you are going to have fans of ALL AGES attending your event. We’ve had everything from 30 – 300+ people so keep those crafts SIMPLE but fun.

A sure fire hit (and a book tie-in!) is Origami Yoda and the Fortune Wookiee. Author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda Tom Angleberger uploaded instructions to his blog to help young folders: The Simple 5-Fold Yoda and the pattern for the Fortune Wookiee. (I do recommend doing a few practice ones yourself so you’re ready to help the kids if they get stuck).

Another favorite (and easy) craft is to let the kids color a stormtrooper helmet, cut out the helmet, and then tape it to a stick, creating their own mask.  When I set up for this craft, my instructional poster includes photos of different variations of Star Wars stormtrooper cosplayers, to highlight that they can be more than just white helmets.

Star Wars Reads Day 2013

LEGO is always a hit with any age so the blank LEGO Minifigure coloring sheet works well here too. Again, when I make the poster with the instructions for the craft, I have a bunch of images of Star Wars Lego minifigures to help inspire.

Star Wars Reads Day 2013

There are lots of activity and coloring sheets in the Star Wars Reads Day packet. If you do decide to take part in this event, definitely register for the email list so you can find out about publisher giveaways. Posters and stickers can make for great prizes.

This year I did a scavenger hunt/raffle where the children had to follow hints around the library, finding a secret letter at each location to spell out the name of the planet where the Rebel base was located. I used these slips as a raffle for prizes, awarded the following week.  I had the contestants write down their name, age, and phone number so I could be sure to pick out appropriate prizes.

I also created a 10 question Trivia Challenge, also asking entrants for their name, age, and phone number. It had some tricky questions, but I had 5 people who managed to get most of them correct so they got nice prize packs as well – a mix of Star Wars items and library items.

It makes for a very busy, non-stop few hours, but it is a whole lot of fun.  I stay on my feet the entire time, checking on my special guests and checking on my patrons (and usually photocopying more of the crafts as things get low).

#swrd #starwarsreadsday #library

Please feel free to comment if you have any questions about this program. It really is one of my favorite events (even if I pass out afterwards).

Librarian Brainstorm: Adventure Time Program

It’s getting to be that time of year when I start having grand ideas of programs I want to do next year “when I have time.” This happens almost every year where I think up some really complex program for children/tweens/teens, get excited, book the date…then forget about it until the last minute.

BUT NOT THIS YEAR! Er, I mean next year. I think I want to do an Adventure Time program, I think it would be totally math and would appeal to a wide age group. I think it would be a great after school program, drop-in event.

party hard

I just spent the last hour gathering ideas off of Pinterest (check out the board I created here) and typing up a list of potential crafts/activities. This is what I have so far:

Gunther bowling
Finn from toilet paper roll
cardboard swords
Decorate a Crown (accu-cut) (have examples of princess and princes)
Princess Bubblegum’s Science Station (STEM)
Felt pins (hot glue, requires supervision)
Photo booth using iPad or make props OR BMO photo booth
Pin the backpack on Finn
Lady Rainicorn Puppet
Corner bookmarks

Anyone have any other suggestions? Have you hosted an Adventure Time program at your library? Please share!