Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries

Is “New” Necessary? Ideas for Enhancing Your Existing Children’s Library Programs

When it comes to designing and developing children’s programs to run in the library, we are always on the lookout for something different or new or a way to put a unique spin on something we’ve done in the past. We don’t like reusing “old” programs and often will try just about anything to avoid repetition. But I question whether this is a sustainable model given that the number of programs offered in the past 5+ years has increased by over 17%.

How Often Is Too Often?

Maybe it’s time to reframe our thinking around programs. I recently saw a Facebook post asking the group how long they wait before repeating programs they have already done. The responses were varied and far-reaching. Some people suggested basing it on how popular the program was the first time (good point). Others said that for early learners, it’s key to offer repetition because that’s a big part of how they learn (another good point). At the end of the day, I think it is entirely up to you, as you know best what works with your patrons and what your limitations are.

When I used to run a weekly Spanish-English music-and-motion program, I had a few core books, songs, and finger plays that I could always fall back on if I ran out of time to pull something new together. I think many of us have those old standbys for story times, so what makes programming for older kids different? Why not have a few activities that you know your young patrons enjoy that you can pull out when you’re feeling stumped? Kids like familiarity, so let’s give them some every now and then.

But the thing I also try to keep in mind is that everyone learns a little differently and has different interests. Research by the Search Institute says that when kids identify what their passions or “sparks” are, 80% of them have interests in one more of the following four categories: creative arts, physical play, learning and technology, and reading. So, how can we make sure our programming includes elements of all of these?

Designing Enriching Programs for Kids

When I think about program design for school-age kids, I ask myself if I have incorporated aspects of at least two of those “learning pathways”. If I haven’t, I look for ways to modify my activity to include them. If I use that simple formula every time I redesign, or reuse a program, it becomes much easier to put a new spin on it. Here’s how I might modify some existing programs:

  1. Playing with clay
Clay dog sculpture against woods green screen background as an example to enhance programs
Clay dog sculpture against woods green screen background

Original: Kids make whatever characters they want out of clay.

Modified: To include some technology and science learning, I might show some photos I made of some figure on a crazy background, using a green screen app and then ask them what they notice about it and talk about how they think it was created. This opens a discussion about photos we might see on the internet and whether we can trust everything we see (media literacy). Then I could have them think about the kind of habitat their clay figure might live in and then use a green screen application to place their character there.

  1. Boat-Building Challenge
Boat hull shape drawings on a white board

Original: Using recycled/repurposed materials, challenge kids to make boats that will hold the most weight.

Modified: To include reading and art in this challenge and to elevate the science, I could have kids look up different styles and shapes of boats and talk together or share with each other what they learned about how fast they might go and their overall stability. [photo 74598; Caption “Boat hull shape drawings on a white board”] Then I could modify the challenge to see whose can move across the water the fastest using a fan, whose is the most stable in rough seas by shaking the tub of water, and whose has the most unique/beautiful design.

Boat in tub of water with fan blowing on it

By using this simple model for adapting programs, you can eliminate some of the time it will take to completely retool a program, as well as your frustration at having to come up with something new. While enhancing the learning opportunities, you’ll also be speaking to a wider variety of interests and finding ways to connect with more kids, which keeps them coming back for more programs in the future. It’s a win, win, WIN!

(All photos courtesy of guest blogger)


Search Institute. Igniting Sparks: Turning Young People’s Interests and Talents into Improved Life Outcomes. Search Institute Press. 2012.


Headshot of Erin Hoag Erin Hoag has a master’s in library and information studies with a focus on child and youth services. For over 10 years, she has worked in informal education, developing and running programs in museums, libraries, and community centers. Today she is a Learning Content Manager at Demco.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: Programming Skills.

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