I ran a no cost and extremely easy program last week that brought in 15 tweens for over an hour of easy fun that encouraged their creativity and imagination. You read the first part right: no cost. I called the program "beaded creations," and it involved nothing more than the craft supplies that took up shelf space in my office.
I cleaned my shelves and pulled out two boxes of beads. These included a huge tub of pony beads, as well as a number of smaller beads, fancy beads, alphabet beads, and crystal beads. I pulled out a few rolls of regular yarn, as well as fishing line thin string, some elastic, and some wire string. I still had a ton of safety pins left over from Canada Day and so I pulled those out, too. I also took out a couple tape rolls and a handful of scissors.
I put all of the non-bead supplies on one table, save for a few pairs of scissors. That table was at the front of the room so when the kids entered, they went there first.
I grabbed a pile of bowls from our staff lounge and put a few on each of the four tables in our programming room, dumping a mix of beads into each bowl. I'm not a purist by any means, and I know I like the idea of discovery, so I mixed all the different kinds of beads together. Pony beads were hanging out with the Fs and Hs, and the crystal beads mixed with the triangle-style beads.
Guess what? I had none. I didn't come up with any patterns, nor did I come up with any sort of jewelry for the kids to make. Instead, this was more of an open studio program, where the kids could make anything their minds could come up with. I find these programs work extremely well for this age group; they're so creative and during the school year, they're so regimented, they don't get the opportunity to just play like they need to. Yes, I said it: they need to play.
This program brought both boys and girls. The boys had just as much fun as the girls. The idea that jewelry is a girl thing isn't really common in this age group, honestly. They just want to have fun, and I'm all about encouraging it.
A couple of our boys made alphabet necklaces using all of the alphabet beads in a nonsensical way, and one of the boys found half beads he popped onto his pinkie fingers and played vikings with (then he made them party vikings by putting a ring on the fingers beneath the 'helmets'). Girls made necklaces, bracelets, and one girl used a ton of the pins to make a birthday necklace (then she gave me one of her creations to keep!).
This program was so easy and it was popular. The kids asked me to do it again, so it's one I'll definitely try out again in the spring.
Perhaps one thing I didn't think about was how much knot tying the kids would want me to do. I didn't mind it at all, but when they asked me to tie knots for their little rings, well, it was a test of my own finger dexterity (I have tiny hands, but not that tiny). I think if I do this again, I might splurge and buy actual fasteners for the jewelry so the kids could make longer lasting creations.
These sorts of programs are great for cleaning out your supplies and for encouraging creativity, and they work so well with the 8-12 year old set. You don't have to reinvent the wheel for successful programs, nor do you have to do a lot of planning or prep work. Sometimes keeping it as simple as possible is what you need to do: for the most part, these kids want a safe place to be that's not at home and they want to hang out with people their age, as well as adults who like spending time with them and laughing with them.