Friday, September 13, 2013

Caramel Apples: A Teen Programming Success

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My first fall program -- caramel apple making -- was a mega hit this week, despite a few hiccups on the planning side of things. This program was very easy, inexpensive, and more than worthwhile. I had 25 teens show up for the one hour evening event. 

I picked up supplies the day before the event, except for the apples, which I picked up the morning of the event. They are as follows:

-- 2 bags of apples. I picked up red and green varieties, and there were roughly 20 in each of the bags. I bought smaller apples, as opposed to bigger ones. Because we don't do signups, I didn't know how many kids would show up. I figured in the worst case, the kids would each be able to have two or three. And even with 25 teens, there were enough for many of them to have two apples. The cost for the two bags was about $12. 

-- 3 or 4 tubs of caramel dip. They make pre-made dips in the fruit section, and I picked up four tubs. For 25 kids, I only needed three because I also decided to pick up one tub of chocolate dip and one tub of vanilla cream cheese dip. My thought was some kids will want to come and they don't like caramel. So, for all six tubs of dip, it was roughly $4 each, or $24. 

-- Popsicle sticks. I bought the bigger ones you get in the craft section, and they were roughly $2. 

-- M&Ms. They make mini M&Ms, and I ended up buying three bags, which was a little much. I didn't realize how many M&Ms came in the bags of minis, and I only ended up using one bag. That was about $3 for each (so my total cost was $9 or so, but for 25 kids, one bag was plenty). 

-- Sprinkles. We had leftovers from summer programming, so this was no cost to me. But for someone wanting to replicate, it'd be very inexpensive. 

Total cost for supplies: under $50.

We have napkins, forks, and plates in our programming room, so those might be extra costs. We also keep a supply of drinks, but I could see purchasing a couple of gallons of apple juice or apple cider, as well, and still keeping the cost low.

The set up for the program was simple. I wiped down each of the apples and de-stemmed them prior to the program. All of the apples were in good shape. 

We had two tables: the first had the apples, plates, napkins, drinks, and popsicle sticks. The second table had forks, the dips, and the toppings. While it would have been ideal to have spoons, we were out of them, so I improvised with forks. As the teens came in, they each helped themselves to an apple, put the stick through it (which was their favorite part, to the surprise of exactly no one), and then they had the choice of using a fork to spread the dips over the apples or putting the apple in the dip and turning it. Since they hadn't touched the apples beyond putting the stick through the center, there weren't germ concerns. 

After they put the dip on the apples, they could then top with sprinkles or M&Ms over their own plates. Some teens put the toppings right on their plates, as well as some extra dip, for when they got to the middle of the apple.

This was a little messy at cleanup -- the dip and toppings table especially -- but for 25 kids it was more than well-worth it. As the teens finished eating, they just hung out around the room with each other. Some played games, some of the girls had a blanket and just chilled with one another. For me, that's the definition of a successful program: your kids don't come only for the food. They come to socialize with one another, too. 

I'd debated bringing other topping choices for the event, but I am glad I stuck to what I did. It was more than enough, and, as I noted above, there were too many bags of M&Ms. I kept this event nut-free because I know allergies are always something to keep in mind. I didn't even want to touch it. 

Many kids ended up eating a second apple, and when the program ended, I had 2 full bags of mini M&Ms left, as well as one tub of caramel dip. Everything else was gone. 

Though the program went smoothly inside the room, there were some challenges outside the program that I think are going to change how I do things a little bit. Our security monitor came in to show me that a number of popsicle sticks had been found broken around the library (some of the teens were playing with them and I didn't realize they'd taken them out of the room). But the real downer was that he also found a caramel apple in the water fountain. As in, someone took it out of the room and put it there. Not cool.

So in response, I think I'm going to have to rethink my stance on in-and-out privileges to programs. There is a bathroom immediately across the hall from the room, so that's not a big deal. But once a teen leaves, I think it'll have to be the case that they're done with the program then. I don't like having to make rules like that, but I also don't like making work for other members of staff -- not to mention how disrespectful leaving program materials around the library is. I can write it off as teens being teens, but I also think it's my responsibility to make them learn how to be more responsible. 

That said, I highly recommend a program like this. My food events always draw the teens, and they are always thrilled to be involved with them. Is there anything better than teens asking when the next program is because they had so much fun? 

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