Our Most Popular Event Sign, Ever

best event sign everNo, it’s not a sign that says “Free Cupcakes.”

Our most popular event sign, the sign that people were lining up to take pictures of, the sign that a middle school teacher took home, the sign that another teacher asked me to send her the copy for, was…wait for it…the “Jobs You Don’t Want” sign at a large-scale Robin Hood event my library hosted in 2012. Yes, the medieval equivalent of Dirty Jobs nearly stole the show.

The sign was displayed at the “Jobs You Don’t Want” table, which was hosted by the Princeton Tour Company. The folks at the Princeton Tour Company are always up for fun ways to connect kids to history, so when I pitched my idea about medieval occupational grossness, they barely flinched.

So, ready to read some truly awful job descriptions? Click here: Jobs You Don’t Want

At the event table, kids could try their hand at another classic medieval job – rat catching. To create the rat catching game, I scoured thrift stores for “garbage.” Among other things, I scored a couple old baskets, a tarnished metal tray, two dirty wooden bucket thingees, an extremely ancient leather slipper, wooden bowls, a metal tankard, a stained bolster, some gourds, and an old horseshoe. I also provided some paper crinkle to accentuate that “trash heap feeling.” Then we placed small plastic rats in various locations in the trash heap.

garbageKids attempted to “catch” a rat by using rat catching cages (i.e. plastic baskets strung on curtain rods). If you successfully lowered the cage over a rat, you got to keep it! You could play multiple times too, and therefore assemble quite a collection.

rat catchingAlso included at this event – professional stage fighters, archery, knights in armor, live period music, medieval fashions, a castle play area, siege engines, alchemy, illuminated letters, forest survival, stained glass, a kid-friendly alehouse, dragons, unicorns, live hawks, venison chili, a tax game (featured here in our sneaky math post), a pair of court jesters, and a food drive to benefit a local food bank. Check out the 2-page event map!

Sneaky Math

cloud diagramWant a side of math with that story time? From simple to semi-sophisticated, here are some ways I’ve worked math into my library programs!

COUNTING SUPPLIES

There are multiple steps in my story time projects, and some of those steps involve selecting certain amounts of art supplies. So we’ll count together. For example, if the kids need 2 pipe cleaners for their project, I’ll hold out a bunch of pipe cleaners and count aloud as each kids selects them, “One…two! Great!”

NUMBERED SUPPLY CONTAINERS

During projects, I’ll often put  a line of supplies on the windowsill, and kids walk down the line and select certain amounts of supplies from each container. I used to use post it notes to mark the number needed on each container…

post it notesBut then I found these little babies!

holder with numberThese are 8″ table card holders. I purchased mine from an online restaurant supply company (The Web Restaurant Store). Don’t they look snazzy?

card holdersDIAGRAMS

Sometimes, I’ll have a project that requires a diagram to demonstrates how much of something is needed. For example, this rainbow cloud project needed to be covered in cotton balls, so I drew a diagram showing how many balls needed to be attached, and how many cotton balls you’d need in total. Numbers, beautiful numbers.

cloud diagramI’ve also been known to sneak math into story time projects, like this lemonade stand that involves counting, sorting, and sequential thinking.

Now who’s up for something a little more…elaborate?

In 2012, my library hosted a large-scale Robin Hood event. I knew we just had to do something on taxes. But how were we going to design something that involved taxes, math, Medieval history, but was also simple enough for kids of various ages to grasp quickly? The answer came from my brilliant event assistant Katie. We would design a tax wheel game based on Hi Ho Cherry-O.  We called it “Your Tax Dollars at Work.”

tax wheelHi Ho Cherry-O is a classic early math game involving counting and numbers. The game is driven by a spinner that dictates whether you add or remove cherries from your basket during game play. But what if the spinner for our version pointed to various Medieval taxes, the game pieces were coins? We could even throw some Robin Hood characters on the wheel. Perfect.

We knew needed to go big and durable at such a large, crowded event. So I ordered a 36″ blank roulette wheel from Spinning Designs Incorporated. The company was very tickled by the novel use of the wheel. Perhaps that’s why they gave me a fantastic (and much appreciated) deal on a wheel that had “minor surface imperfections” (which I honestly could never find).

Then Katie and I researched the different types of taxes from Robin Hood’s day. There were a lot (honestly, who taxes you for churning your butter?). We also had to find a way to gain coins back during the game.

Ultimately, we came up with the following “Lose” and “Gain” categories.

Lose Coin

  • Travel tax
  • Churn your butter tax
  • Bake your bread tax
  • Pay your lord
  • Grind your grain tax
  • Sheriff steals
  • Prince John takes all
  • Land tax

Gain (or at least not lose) Coin

  • Harvest time
  • May Day
  • Good day at market
  • Robin Hood gives you coins

As you can see, there were more ways to lose your money than gain it. We intentionally designed the game that way. There were going to be so many people at the event (3,500 actually) we wanted the game play to average 3 minutes so lots of kids could have multiple turns. If you’re interested, here are the complete game instructions.

group of kidsIn addition to the wheel, there were game boards designed to look like Medieval money bags. You placed 5 coins in your “bag” at the start of the game, then added or removed coins as the wheel dictated. We used metal replicas of Medieval coins. Because we’re nerds like that.

game boardsWhen all your coins were gone, the game was over! As a “consolation” prize, kids got a chocolate foil-wrapped coin. Kids with food allergies or dietary restrictions got to take home one of the metal replica coins.

The “Your Tax Dollars at Work” wheel and game boards were drawn by Kemi Lin, an amazing Princeton University student artist. She did it all. By hand. With packs of Sharpies. After the event, the game was donated to the Somerset County library system. Long may it live!

Programs for Teens

teen programsLast month, I gave a keynote address at the NJ Library Association & NJ State Library Youth Services Forum. I always like to leave time at the end for questions, and here is one question I wish I could have answered better and more thoroughly. Hence, this post.

Q: What sorts of programs do you do for teens?

A: My library does have some opportunities for teens, but…

Most of my work is with preK – grade 8. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I’m a single staffer, so my program roster is limited to what I can manage by myself (currently, I’m juggling two weekly story times, a weekly classroom program, a bi-weekly children’s literary club, an author interview program, a publication, an annual writing contest, this blog, occasional weekend programs, the launch of a new program for underserved kids, and the development of new online middle school programs).

Secondly, I primarily read children’s chapter fiction. YA is not my territory (I also joked that YA is scary to me. I mean, do I really want to revisit all the pain and suffering I went through as a teen? Even if it does mean scoring an awesome sparkly vampire boyfriend?).

That said, my library does offer some opportunities for teens, and I thought I would share them here, along with some suggestions for developing teen programs. Here’s our current programming:

  1. Teens can submit writing pieces to the Picture Book Press, our children’s literary quarterly.  Click the title to read An Ode to the Radish, one of my favorite haiku poems of all time. It was submitted by a 17 year-old.
  2. Our annual writing contest, 350 for 50, has three age categories. The top age category is for 14 -16 year-olds. Click the title to read The Pit, last year’s winner in that category.
  3. Princyclopedia, our (former) massive annual event was for ages 4 -14. You can get a little taste of what Princyclopedia was like in the beginning of this post.
  4. Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary club, is all about books, writing, and doing unusual activities related to literacy. Initially, the club was for children ages 8 & up. So I worked with a number of 13 – 16 year-olds. Unfortunately, it was a difficult to develop content that was appropriate for such a wide age span, so the current age range for Cotsen Critix is 9 -12-year-olds.
  5. Cotsen sometimes offers specialized Saturday programs for teens such as Elvish 101, a 2-hour workshop devoted to learning to read, write, and speak Quenya, the high language of J.R. Tolkien’s elves. During a program break we sipped New Zealand spring water from crystal goblets and munched on lembas bread. Elen sila lûmenn’ omentielvo!

Presently, I’m developing some collections-based programs for middle school students, but someday…oh someday…I would love to do high school lectures based on Cotsen’s collections. Depictions of war in picture books, gender identity as evidenced in children’s magazines, analyzing the zeitgeist of period artwork…I’ll get there someday! By the way, if you’d like to learn a little more about Cotsen’s collections, click here to visit the curatorial blog).

In the meantime, here are my top four recommendations for developing teen programming.

  1. Offer Experts. Whenever possible, I staff my programs with specialists. Some are hired, and some are volunteers. A geologist at a Journey to the Center of the Earth event, a University lecturer at a Chemistry of Magic program, professional stage fighters at a Robin Hood event, a historical reenactor bringing a past century to life, a local artist or student poet leading a creative workshop. I try to create opportunities for teens to engage in a mature, intellectual dialogue that satisfies their curiosity and encouraged their interests.
  2. Collaborate. I like to work one-on-one with teens on creative projects. Currently I’m working with a high school junior to create a full-size Cinderella dress out of trash. We’ll feature it in the Picture Book Press and display it at princess program we’re developing for the spring. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic young mind, but I can offer her an opportunity to engage in a creative collaboration while still (and this is important) managing to meet deadlines.
  3. Ask. If you’re stumped, put together a teen focus group and ask them what they want, what they need, and if they could really use a particular program. With the investment of a little time (and possibly a couple pizzas) you could gain a treasure trove of information (or at the very least, some insight into the minds of your target group).
  4. Fun is good, but…it might be that the needs of your population are homework help, computer skills, English as a second language, or locating resources to get them through tough times. Movie screenings, trivia contests, and gaming conventions are great, but there’s nothing wrong with focusing your resources on the not-so-glamorous-but-very-much-needed programs. Especially if your time and budget are limited.