Blogger School-Age Programs and Service Committee

Roll the Dice:  Get Outside Your Comfort Zone with School Aged Programs and Services!

masked middle school aged students at a table engaged in gameplay in the library
Students engaged in gameplay in the library

As librarians serving school-aged children, it can be easy to stick to our comfort zone with the tried and true programs that we have done in the past or with programs that are on topics that we personally know a lot about.  It is also tempting to stick with programs that have all the pieces in place to run smoothly instead of introducing new programs.  

I am here to encourage you to get outside your comfort zone with new programming, to stretch yourself into new areas, and to try an “everything is beta” approach to programming!  I will share about an after-school program that has caused me to stretch outside my comfort zone with my middle school students and offer some tips for making such programs work.

When I began working at my middle school, a small group of parents were running an afterschool program for Dungeons & Dragons players.  While this club met in the library, the library did not officially sponsor it.  The program went dormant when COVID hit, but when we returned to in-person school, students were champing at the bit to get back to gameplay.  The only problems?  The students whose parents ran the program had moved on to high school, and I know NOTHING about D&D!  My own kid is an avid D&D player, though, so how could I say no?

I decided to roll the dice and say hello to sponsoring Geeks & Gamers!  The G&G club meets weekly on Fridays after school.  Last year, we had over 60 students signed up.  This year, we are over 100!

an illustration of a multisided die, a video game controller, and a banner reading Geeks and Gamers
Our club logo, designed by member Avery Wueste

Hosting a program does not necessarily require knowledge of the program’s topic, I have learned.  As I enter my second year of sponsoring Geeks & Gamers, I can offer a few tips for creating a successful program when you aren’t familiar with the content:

  1. Leverage your students’ knowledge and skills.  Because many students were interested in this program, I tapped the students who were experienced players to lead and train others.  School-age kids are often quite eager to share what they know with others.  Students also provided helpful input on what supplies are needed to play D&D. 

    When we finished the school year, I surveyed students for their thoughts on G&G.  The responses were overwhelmingly positive (and heart-warming – I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that a tabletop gaming club provides a safe community for many students who otherwise feel isolated).  One thing the students asked for was more time each week.  We meet on Fridays, so I don’t want to push too late, but I did extend our meeting time by 15 minutes this year, which seems to satisfy our gamers’ needs.

    Last year, I struggled with getting students to clean up (and with frustration over having to clean up myself).  This year, each week I task the Dungeon Master (or DM, the person who leads the gameplay for the group playing) in each group to make sure clean-up is done.  Lesson learned!
  2. Bring in families and community.  While I don’t play D&D, it turns out I know plenty of other parents and caregivers who do.  This year, I have a solid core group of parents who show up most weeks to help students with gameplay.  One parent did a special training for students interested in serving as DMs at the start of the year.  Another is mentoring our new players as they explore the game.  Other parents created a sign-up for weekly snacks. 

    Members of the general community can also offer great support.  It turns out that we have a tabletop gaming store just about half a mile from our school (which in our urban area is very walkable).  A parent mentioned our program while there shopping, and the owner reached out to me.  He is now working to get his volunteer clearance and offers our club discounts on D&D books and supplies.

    As a librarian, you don’t have to know all the ins and outs of your topic!  Just bring in others who do!
  3. Be willing to learn and make mistakes.  One of my library mottos is “Everything is beta.”  By this, I mean that we are constantly testing ideas to see what works for our library program and what doesn’t.  When I started Geeks & Gamers last year, I basically invited the students in to start gaming.  I realized a few weeks in that I had made a mistake by not setting more clearly stated expectations and ground rules.  We did a soft reset, and then this year, I planned for a detailed introductory session setting out our community agreements.  This year, I realized that it would be really helpful to have an initial session solely for DMs, since they serve as de facto club leaders.  As a result, I have on my agenda for next year to have students interested in being DMs start a week before the other students.

I encourage you to stretch yourself by offering programming that meets a need in your community of school-aged children, even if that program is outside your comfort zone!  Leverage the knowledge of students, families, and communities, and give yourself room to learn and grow.  I can guarantee you won’t regret it!

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills

This blog post was written on behalf of the School-Age Programs and Services Committee by Sherry V. Neal. Sherry is the School Librarian at David T. Howard Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia.

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