Thursday, October 17, 2013

Revisiting and Revising a Teen Program: The Chocolate Wars

This week, I ran what was my most successful teen program event in my career. We had 40 teens show up on a Tuesday evening at the library. It was unbelievable. And awesome. And completely overwhelming and exhausting -- but in a good way.

I didn't do anything new to me for this event. Instead, I decided to rework an old program I did at a prior job a few years ago. You may remember my post about the chocolate olympics and death by chocolate. This time, I renamed it as "Chocolate Wars," and from my prior experience, as well as necessity due to program turnout, I made some modifications.

First, I should note that this is not an inexpensive program. We spent $100 on supplies. I had in my head that 25 kids would be a huge turn out, and I planned with that in mind. Fortunately, we did not lack for supplies at all. And in fact, when you break the cost down, it was quite an inexpensive program per attendee; I'd had in my mind that $4 a person for 25 teens would be a good average. Instead, the break down was just a little over $2 per attendee. Not too shabby.

So what did we do this time and how did we do it? First, I'll share the events we had, and then I'll share how we ran it. I use we because my coworker helped with the event, as did an intern who got her first taste of teen programming at the library.

What We Did

Chocolate Pictionary


- Construction paper
- A few packages of dark chocolate Hershey bars
- A list of pictionary words

This is pretty self-explanatory. The person in charge of drawing could only use the chocolate bar to do the drawing. The rest of the teens had to guess what they were drawing. The person who got it right was the next to draw.

Stack & Sort Races


- 3 large bags of regular M&Ms
- 4 Oreo packages
- Ziplock bags

For the "sorting" part, each teen got a bag of 75 M&Ms and they had to sort them by color. First to do it and put their hands up won the event.

For the "stacking" part, well. It was a bust. I had them work as partners to create Oreo towers, but they weren't interested in listening to directions (more to come on this). So essentially, it became four rounds of opening up an Oreo package and letting them grab and eat. Which was fine.

Chocolate Shuffleboard


- Masking tape
- One package of mini chocolate bars

I pushed two tables together and created a shuffle board out of the tables and masking tape. There was a starting line with the rules written on it -- the teens had 5 chances to earn 40 points. Some of the shuffleboard spaces were negative points. Some were 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, and 40. One was an automatic win.

Identify the Chocolate


- 10 to 15 different kinds of full-size chocolate bars
- Ziplock bags
- One half-sheet for teens to write their best guesses on

This was an overflow table and unstaffed. The teens would look at the bars and try to guess what it was they were.

Whopper Races


- Masking tape
- 2 boxes of Whoppers

Teens were split into four teams and had to race from one end of the room to the other pushing the Whopper with just their noses. Some teens were not into this idea AT ALL and chose to implement other means of getting the Whopper across the floor, including blowing on it. That was fine with me -- the key was the fact they had to crawl across the floor.

Hershey Kiss Races


- 2 bags of Hershey Kisses
- Masking tape
- A few pairs of oven mitts
- Plastic cups

Teens were split into four teams and had to walk from one end of the room to the other with their two kisses, then they had to unwrap them with the mitts on and place the unwrapped chocolate into one cup and the wrapper into another one. First team to complete won.

Worm Digging


- Pie crusts (graham cracker -- though we did frozen in a pinch)
- Chocolate pudding
- Gummy worms
- 2 plastic table cloths
- Plastic cups
- Napkins

We put together 11 chocolate pudding pies, each with 5 worms in them. Teens had to use only their mouths to dig out the worms from the chocolate pudding. They then deposited the worms into the plastic cups. The table cloths were used to cover the table and the floor. Let me tell you how easy cleanup was for that.

Miscellaneous supply need: Chocolate bars for prizes. We did the mini bars.

How We Did It

So the very first thing we did was wait 10 minutes before starting  the program. We scheduled it for 6, and we waited until 6:10. We made all of the kids sit on the floor -- at this point there were roughly 25 -- and we laid down hard and firm rules. You leave the room, you can't come back. You get too wild, we'll kick you out. Absolutely no chocolate leaves the room and enters the library, except at the very end when the teens could bring home their prizes.

In the past, I made all of these into station activities. But I knew it was not going to work this time. I decided instead to make the Whopper races and Hershey kiss races the first things we did, and we did them as a big group. We got the kids split into two teams, and then we were joined by 15 other kids. My coworker decided to take them out in the hall and give them the same speech we'd given to the kids already there, and she split them into teams for the second set of races.

This ended up working out okay. When the first round of teams were done doing the Kiss race (which we did first), they got a little antsy, but I kept them happy by giving them left over candy. We were then able to make the 40 kids get into 4 separate teams for the Whopper event.

After those two big team events concluded, we made all of the kids sit in the middle again for more instructions. We told them the rest of the program was fluid -- they could go between the Sort and Stack station, the Chocolate Shuffleboard, the Chocolate Guessing, and the Chocolate Pictionary events. And they did a great job of doing that. They listened and followed through. The problem came for me when they didn't want to listen to the instructions at the station I covered (the Sort and Stack) but I let it slide. I had to. Forty kids in one room is chaotic, and the kids had done a great job of listening over and over to new and changing instructions. I could let it go and I think they were happy for it. And so was I.

My coworker and I got worried about the Worm digging event since we only had 11 pies. We held off on figuring out a plan until the VERY end of the program, when our numbers dropped considerably. About 10 minutes before the end of the program -- which ran for an hour and a half -- we noticed we had roughly 20 kids left. So we told them they could do one last event, but only 11 could do it. We explained what it was and fortunately, ONLY 11 kids were interested (it's messy and kind of gross, so that made sense). We had them race in teams of 3 (and for the last one, 2). After they raced for the worms, we gave those kids spoons to eat the pudding if they wished to.

In the mean time, the other kids who didn't race? They had a BLAST taking photos and rooting for their friends. No one was bored.

Local Media Attention

Prior to the event, one of the newspapers got in touch with me to ask about the program. We got a really nice writeup about this event, as well as some of our forthcoming ones. I suspect that helped with some of the teens showing up.

But even better than that, a photographer came out the night of the event and shot pictures, too. Two of my teens got a nice picture in the print edition of the paper on Wednesday morning -- aside from being a nice boost to us, I suspect that will make them feel really good, too.

I took a lot of photos of the event, and I took a video of the Whopper race, and posted them on our teen Facebook page. The kids were talking about how they'd wanted to have some photos for their own Facebook pages, so I thought this would be a nice way for them to get them if they wanted.

Last Thoughts

I'd do this again, and I'd do it in a pretty similar fashion, but I would maybe have to do signups or limit the number of participants. I dislike doing that, but 40 kids, even with 3 adults, is a LOT of kids. It's a lot of hyper energy.

They did an excellent job of listening though, and when we said that if they left the room they were done and finished, they listened. They did not make a mess outside the programming room, and we only had to kick 2 kids out. They weren't being "bad," but they were being disruptive enough to merit the kicking out. Both were kicked out near the end of the event.

We had no leftover supplies, as the kids who stuck around were able to scoop up any remainders they wished to, including the chocolate guessing chocolates. We went over the answers to those in our final "sit on the floor and listen" session, prior to the worm digging event.

"Winners" for the stations, in theory, won a small chocolate bar. But because we were so busy, we never gave them to the kids. And you know . . . they never asked. They had plenty to eat and enjoy. All remaining Kisses and Whoppers were doled out as events ended, and we threw out the mini bars to the kids as we read the chocolate guessing answers.

Forty kids for me is amazing. We had a GREAT turnout at our zombie party this summer, but in no way did I expect this kind of turnout during the school year for an event. What a nice treat after feeling like I didn't know what I was doing with programming -- though it certainly has made me reconsider how to best approach programming again (in terms of numbers, cost, time budgeted to plan, and so forth -- I was lucky I'd done this before so the planning step wasn't too complicated).

I already had teens asking about what we were doing next.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

October Displays

I've got two big programs for teens in October -- I consider "Teen Read Week" to be a month-long celebration for a variety of time and energy related reasons -- and I'll write about them when they're over. But in the mean time, I thought I'd share the displays I've got in the teen department for October.

The last week of September, I put up my banned books week display. Except I don't like calling it banned books week, so I noted instead that reading these books was about celebrating the freedom to read them. Simon and Schuster sent me the poster I've got taped on the display cube, and they sent me an extra one, which I put on the teen department bulletin board.

I've refilled this guy once already, and since banned books week is over, chances are when the other books disappear, I'll swap it out for another display. I'll likely go with horror or zombies since both are perennial favorites.

This is one of the displays I've been eager to do for a while, and I finally got around to it -- these are all books by authors who have Wisconsin ties or they're books set in Wisconsin. Author Molly Backes is doing a program for our teens and adults later this month, and it tied in too perfectly. When I checked the display later, a large number of the books had disappeared. In fact, as soon as I'd gotten the display set up, people were looking at it.

My middle cube is devoted to a raffle for the teens. I was lucky enough to meet Veronica Roth this summer, who signed a copy of Insurgent for me, and because the third book in the series releases this month, I thought a perfect giveaway for teen read month would be the entire set of books, including the super special signed copy.