Try It In the Library: Fun Activities for Kids After School

Well, my Outdoor Musical Storytime got rained out this week, so instead of a storytime post, I thought I’d write about a new program we are piloting in the San Mateo County Libraries called Power Up Afternoons.

One challenge our libraries encountered after the pandemic was getting school-aged kids back in the habit of visiting the library after school. Before the pandemic, our library offered an After School Hangout once a week on Wednesdays. Kids could drop in to enjoy a light snack, do their homework, try out a craft, play a board game, or play games on the Nintendo Switch (which we projected onto a screen). Although the Hangout required a tremendous amount of set-up and clean-up, it was so much fun to see middle school kids coaching elementary school students on how to play Super Smash Brothers, or families with kids of different ages all working on beaded bracelets to give to each other. Unfortunately, it was one of the first programs to get cancelled at the start of the pandemic, and many of those kids are now in high school, or have moved on to different routines after school.

Since fully reopening after COVID, we’ve tried a number of different programming approaches for kids and teens. For a while all of our libraries offered a monthly STEAM Team program, featuring a science or art-based activity, including bouncy balls and race cars. These were very popular, but usually only allowed for maximum of 20 kids. We also offered Take and Make bags each month, which included all of the supplies and instructions for kids to try making things like sunprints or paper flowers.

One of my favorite things we tried was the Passive Activity table, which offered a different craft or process art activity every few weeks for kids to do on their own in the library. The activities ranged from LED Lightsabers to Felt Trays. One of the simplest ones involved these adorable paper Bobbleheads from toplayishuman.com. Over the summer, I was showing my visiting niece and nephew (aged 4 and 8) around the library, and they were immediately drawn to the Bobblehead project, to the point that they and my own teenaged-kids sat happily cutting and gluing together for 45 minutes straight. The Passive Activity table also came in handy for parents who needed a way to keep their kids occupied while they used our public computers. We have recently discontinued the Passive Activity table, but all of our branches will soon offer an Art Table, which will include art supplies for all ages to enjoy.

A few weeks ago, we significantly beefed up our children’s programming, by offering something every day after school, Monday through Friday. Our admin has branded this initiative “Power Up Afternoons.” Some of the programs are traditional paid providers, like local magicians or nature groups. But most of them are simple staff-led activities, similar to the ones we offered in STEAM Team or on the Passive Activity table.

The activities were selected by a small group of staff members from different branches, who put together a menu of options with the instructions and supply list for each. In our library, we divvied up the weekly schedule, so one staff member always does the Monday program, and one does the Tuesday one, etc. Fridays are always “Board at the Library,” which is where we put out a selection of board games (I didn’t think that would be a big draw until I mentioned it to a class full of second graders, who all got really excited).

We’re only on our third week of Power Up Afternoons, but aside from the extra planning and prep involved, I’m enjoying the actual programs. The staff-led activities are designed so that kids can drop in anytime within a two hour period, say from 2:30pm to 4:30pm, and I like having the opportunity to work with different kids or families individually as they arrive. A few grown-ups have even stopped to do the project too.

These are some of the highlights of the projects we’ve done so far:

Foil Art:

This was the first activity I led, and also the most complicated one so far. I made a sheet of instructions to put on the tables, which you can download here:

There’s also a YouTube video by Kim Kaskey. Basically, you glue yarn into letters or shapes onto a piece of cardboard, then cover the yarn and cardboard with a sheet of aluminum foil, and gently press the foil around the yarn. After that, you can color the foil with Sharpies, brush pens, or other markers. The kids came up with really clever designs. A number of the older kids wrote their names or initials with the yarn.

Frankensporks:

This one was much more straight-forward, but also a lot of fun. We put out sporks, markers, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, yarn, gluesticks, foam pieces, and scissors, and the kids went wild making adorable sporky characters. I loved the lady spork pictured below with the golden crown, who came with her own book and pipe cleaner pumpkins. The sporks we provided came packaged with small plastic straws, which one kid turned into arms (see below).

Alma Thomas-Inspired Art

Alma Thomas was the first African American woman to have a work of art featured in the White House Collection. Her paintings often featured small bands of color arranged in intricate patterns and shapes. For our project, we had the kids create mosaics with torn pieces of colored paper and glue. We also put out two picture books about Alma Thomas: Ablaze with Color by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Loveis Wise and Alma’s Art by Roda Ahmed and Anita Cheung, along with some examples of her artwork.

We gave the kids strips of colored paper, and told them they could either cut or tear it into small pieces. Many of the parents (and grandparents!) enjoyed making their own artwork along with their kids.

Geometric Art:

Another really simple craft involving paint and removable tape. My coworker Cloud led this one. She gave each kid a canvas and some masking tape, along with tempera paint and paintbrushes. The basic idea is to lay the tape across the page, and then paint different patches of colors in between the strips of tape. When you peel the tape away, it leaves colored shapes with sharp lines. You can also do this project with cardstock and Scotch tape, as long as the tape is easily removed.

These are just a few of the activities we have done so far. It can be a little overwhelming keeping track of the supplies needed from day to day, but it helps that we have so many staff involved, so we each only have to worry about one program a week. And we’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of kids coming to the library after school. Today, for example, we’ve had a flurry of kids I haven’t seen since we fully reopened, many of whom have been coming to the desk to ask for replacement library cards.

What are your favorite crafts or activities you have done with kids? If you work in libraries, what programs for kids have been the most successful? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comments below.

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