One of my biggest goals as a children’s librarian is to make our library a destination, not an errand. Whether they are a stay-at-home parent who desperately needs to get out of the house for an hour, a child who needs a safe space after school, or a family that needs something to do on a rainy afternoon, I hope that our patrons see the library not only as a place where they want to go, but also as a place where they want to stay and spend time.
But I work at a small public library branch where we don’t have the space for a dedicated children’s play area. And as much as I love doing programs, I can only fit a limited number on the calendar while still getting the rest of my job done.
Passive programs to the rescue! Inspired by Paula Willey and Andria L. Amaral’s book, The Passive Programming Playbook: 101 Ways to Get Library Customers off the Sidelines (Libraries Unlimited, 2021), I’ve been setting up activities that children and families can do on their own while at the library—and they’ve been a big success.
The most popular passive programs at my library have been collaborative bulletin boards. I pick a theme and then put out materials for simple art projects that the kids can add to the board. The kids always get excited when they see the yellow bucket because they know that means there’s a project for them!
Collaborative bulletin boards are great for summer reading programs. They keep kids busy during the school break with much less effort than putting together a structured program. And they fit perfectly with this summer’s CSLP theme: All Together Now.
Last summer, I used the theme “Miss Lisa’s Garden.” Every two weeks, I put out a new project. We made strawberries from paper hearts, yarn-wrapped carrots, paper-plate watermelon slices, die-cut bumble bees and lady bugs, and more. By the end of the summer, the whole board was crowded with the kids’ projects.
More recently, I designed a jigsaw puzzle-themed board with the tagline: You are an important piece of the puzzle at the library! The kids loved decorating the pieces, and the board became a focal point for the whole library as everyone enjoyed seeing it gradually fill up.
Here’s step-by-step how to make your own:
- Decide how big you want your puzzle to be and how many pieces you want to make. The size and number of pieces will depend on how many kids come to your library, their ages, how long you want the board to stay up, and so on. I wanted the project to last for at least several weeks, but because we serve mostly very young children at my library, I didn’t want to make the pieces too small; I wound up with a 48-piece puzzle for a 4 ft x 4 ft board.
- Use an online puzzle generator to create the template. I used the one at https://puzzle.telegnom.org/, but you can find lots of others by searching for “jigsaw template generator.”
- After downloading your template, use it to create a slide in PowerPoint, Google Slides, or a similar program.
- Project the slide with the template onto a wall, using the zoom function to adjust the size as needed.
- Trace the template onto white butcher’s paper or poster board to hang on your bulletin board.
- Using poster board, trace the template again. This time, cut the template into individual pieces. Note: Before cutting, mark the back side of each piece. You may also want to mark the top of each piece so kids know which direction to orient it as they draw.
- Put out the puzzle pieces with art materials for the kids to decorate them. We used crayons, markers, washi tape, and various stickers—it was a great way to clear out some odds and ends from the craft closet! Encourage the kids to add their first name to the front of the piece; our kids enjoyed finding pieces that had been made by their friends.
- Add the decorated pieces to the board, using the outline you created in Step 5 as a guide for where to place them.
Be prepared to be flexible about where the pieces go on the board. Even with marking the backs of the individual pieces, I still had plenty of kids who decorated the “wrong” side, or the pieces were upside down or sideways. And because I never want to force a kid to turn over their artwork, I had to make some duplicates for pieces that walked out the door.
Enjoy a win-win this summer: An easy project that keeps children and families engaged with the library with a minimal time commitment from you—and get your decorating done for you!
Lisa Bintrim is a member of the ALSC School-age Programs and Services Committee. She’s the children’s librarian at the Canton branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills