Thursday, August 1, 2013

Program Success: A Low-key Zombie Night

The last post I shared was one about how I wasn't having a successful summer program, and I went ahead and followed it up by doing a successful program. The wills and ways of working with teens in the library.

I held a zombie event, but unlike a lot of the zombie proms or other zombie events I've seen, I kept mine incredibly low-key. The real reason behind that was because the actual big event of the program was watching Warm Bodies. But let me back up before I get to that.

Earlier in the year, I asked my teens what they were into. Zombies. Zombies all the time. They love The Walking Dead and did they ever tell me how much they were excited to see Warm Bodies.

This is why you ask your teens these things because they will hand your programming over to you.

To end summer reading club, I wanted to do a big finale. Watching Warm Bodies was a given, since they were enthusiastic about it from the start. But I didn't want to do just that. And given that my time at the library is limited -- I'm part-time -- I didn't want to invest too much time or money developing a program that had the potential to bomb out anyway (and that's not to say I wanted to be lazy, but it's why I decided against doing zombie makeup or having the kids learn the Thriller dance or doing a lock in sort of event).

So I decided I'd do an hour of programming and then show the movie, making the event a sort of two-part deal. Teens could come at 4:30 and do some zombie stuff, and then any teens who just wanted to see the movie could come at 5:30 and do that.

Most showed up at 4:30, and the few who weren't interested in the activities went out into the library and came back at 5:30. Not a big deal! I even had a couple girls come in full-out zombie dress. They told me they spent 4 hours getting the look down, and we were able to use them as zombies for a library campaign we're launching in the fall. . .which is awesome.

What I did

I set up four stations. Knowing how much my teens loved decorating cupcakes (which was another successful program I ran following my last post), I knew I wanted to do something with food. So we made zombie marshmallows:

I bought 2 bags of those super-sized marshmallows, along with food coloring markers (Americolor gourmet writer brand which worked well), red and black decorating gel, and eye-shaped sprinkles at the craft store (Hobby Lobby if you're wanting specifics). I purchased lollipop sticks and put out a small plate of light corn syrup which was used to attach the sprinkles. Everything was completely edible and the teens got creative here.

It was about $30 for all of the supplies and the teens loved this. I would do an entire program of marshmallow decorating, in fact.

The second station we did involved zombifying famous works of art. I printed out five or six classic works of art that would look awesome as zombie art, and I provided crayons. This is what the goal was, and my kids were pretty awesome about it:

Obviously, that was my model.

Cost to do zombie art? A few minutes Google searching famous art coloring sheets and printing them out. In other words $0.

My third station was one that wasn't quite as successful as I hoped, but frankly, since the other two were so popular already, it didn't matter. I pulled out our library's Zombigami book and put out paper and scissors for teens to make zombie origami.

Total cost: $0. I used paper we had already.

The fourth and final station had nothing to do with zombies at all. My very first program for the summer program was a duct tape crafts event. Since it was attended by only four kids, I had plenty of left over supplies, and since so many kids kept asking me when the program was happening after it happened, I figured why not? So I had out the duct tape and the kids went to town. Most of them covered themselves in duct tape (some pretty nifty Angry Birds duct tape suspenders were made) but I told them as long as they didn't hurt themselves or others, they could have at it.

(Spoiler: you give your teens freedom and most of the time they do not exploit it. We had no injuries at all here).

Total cost: $0, since the supplies were all recycled.  And guess what? The teens do not care if these things don't fit your theme.

After an hour with the stations, I called in the handful of kids who I knew weren't in the room but wanted to see the movie. I told them get comfortable however they wanted -- a chair, hanging at the tables doing activities, sitting on the floor. When I hit play on Warm Bodies, I left the room in the hands of my summer page and my co-worker and I went to Little Caesar's and bought 11 pizzas to feed them all dinner.

If you aren't taking advantage of a Little Caesar's in your area, which charges only $5 for a pizza when you want it, you should. I had a couple teens tell me they walked across town to see the movie and have dinner. I do not work in a small town.

I brought the pizzas in when the movie was about half over, meaning the kids had to hang tight while I went to get it and they weren't just there for the free food.

Total cost for the pizzas? $58. On top of the $30 or so for other supplies, the program ran for under $100 and it reached 30 very happy, very well-fed teens. Worth mentioning: we had our movie covered under our license. At the beginning of summer, it was not and we thought it would be an additional $100 to get the license. But luck fell on the right side this time.

If I could change anything, I'd probably have erred on the side of getting more pepperoni pizza, since those went fast. I'd also maybe do a more involved station at the beginning of the program for the teens who didn't want to do the stuff we had (maybe some sort of game -- I'd eyed picking up Zombie Dice or Zombie Fluxx but didn't because of time issues).

When the teens left, they asked when we'd be doing this again, and they were thrilled to hear we'd be having a Hunger Games showing the night before Catching Fire hits the big screen.


  1. This is absolutely fantastic!!

  2. Hey Kelly, can I ask how old most of these teens were?

    1. Warm Bodies is PG-13, so they were all 13 and up. I had a couple of 12-year-olds who had permission slips from parents to see the film (I think there were 2). We had a younger sibling in for the pre-movie stuff, but we asked him to leave when the movie began, which wasn't a big deal.

      I actually had a few kids I recognized, but a lot of the faces were new to me. This hit a very different crowd of kids, for which I'm grateful. They were actually on the older side, too -- I had 17 and 18 year olds along with the 13 and 14 year olds. It was a really nice balance (I know most programs tend to go younger, but this one did not).

    2. I think that with a bit of tweaking here and there (like adding some writing skills onto it and what not), this could really work in my ESL classroom. I teach Year 9 and up, but I see this working with the Year 9 as an extra/bonus project.
      I definitely sounds great!

  3. So creative! Very impressed! Did you throw in the drinks as well?

    1. We have a stockpile of drinks in our programming room kitchenette -- gatorade, mt dew, and water. So we pulled out enough for each kid to have one. It's an extra cost in the programming, but I didn't include it because it's always in our room.