“Fun kits to check out”: Action packs in action

Last week, Matt Ball of Pace Academy sent a question out to our list about “Fun kits to check out.” Our library realized my dream of activity packs (named by my cooler colleagues: “Casti Library Action Packs,” or “CLAPs”) a few years back, and some back and forth on the thread suggested I should share some details here.

We find that the use of these packs fluctuates heavily in relationship to marketing and also school vacations, but we keep them going out of a commitment to outdoor and offline activities. I suspect that schools with elementary school students would have a much higher uptake.

My colleagues, Jole Seroff and Christina Appleberry, are spectacular at making things fun and engaging. I love the thematic papers they use! Students take a tag for the CLAP they want to check out and bring it to us at the circulation desk. We grab a pack for them.

We have five themes to our CLAPs at the moment, and the back of each check-out tag tells students what they will get with a given action pack:

In addition, these cards help everyone confirm that every item is there at both checkout and return.
Advancement gave us these cute knapsacks to hold our CLAPs. Each is tagged with a card showing the topic and a catalog bar code on one side.
Each CLAP tag again lists the items we can all expect to find in the bag. It helps us remember what is in the bag at checkout and return, and assists students as they prepare to return the bag to us. As a result, we have experienced very little loss of materials, making these packs a relatively inexpensive endeavor. Sometimes, there is an invitation to engage in a communal activity with the CLAP. (Note our inflatable pillow is a lice-proofable material…..)
The weaving and pompom kits include the choice of two colors of yarn. We bring students to this drawer to chose what they want. We have found our students to be responsible and return extra materials. In this drawer you can also see our extra looms, extra embroidery hoops, and the biggest investment from our CLAPs, Sashiko fabric with water soluble dots, by Olympus. Fun fact: you can also tell students are using these packs at school by the amount of artificial turf that has made its way into the yarn drawer!

While the CLAPs do not quite see the consistent use we would like, it gives us a lot of fun opportunities to connect with students, and also lets us extend active and passive programing (we had a stargazing event and we keep a simple loom warped and ready for us in the library) in a way that students can take with them.

Our larger loom, in between projects.
Examples of student watercolors of clouds. It took a while to get students to leave their images in, instead of ripping them out to hide them from others’ view, but we are starting developing a fun collection. Each one is dated, along with a location, type of cloud, and student name and grad year. It is really lovely to be building this visible history of relaxation within our community.
We also had a student design badges that students can collect as they complete each action pack. (We also love our button-maker!)

I know that other libraries are out there running similar programs. Please feel free to share in comments, and link to pictures or other information that you have. I still fantasize about putting together local literary outings (or even for other cities) — maybe walking tours of places that appear in MG and YA literature, or activities similar to those noted in books. I’d love to have Go-Passes, as well, that students could check out to attend different museums. Right now, we don’t have the traffic needed to justify those purchases, but I have my eye on the future!

Does your library offer something in this realm?

Contests, Part Two

Happy summer, everyone! Here is the second half of my article on the contests I run with my middle schoolers.

Fortune Writing Contest. In this contest, students must write a better fortune than the ones they find in traditional fortune cookies. This contest is more of a lift for me, as I need to buy fortune cookies, steam them soft in the microwave so I can extract the original fortune and insert a student-written fortune. It’s such fun, though, to watch kids open a cookie and find a student fortune!

2022 Winner: Look forward, don’t look back, unless you’re driving, then you want to look back when merging. —Mia, 6th

Photo Finish. Before this contest, I hold a lunchtime meeting in which students cut interesting photos out of magazines and catalogs. During the contest, they must choose three photos from among all the cut-out photos, then write a story (at least three sentences!) that incorporates those photos. It’s another colorful contest, with all of those stories posted around the library!

Scenes From a [Virtual] Hat. This pandemic contest came from a game in the TV show, Whose Line Is It, Anyway? With some help from colleagues and AISL, I devised a bunch of prompts, like “Most useless spell Harry Potter could learn,” “Things you don’t expect to hear when you put your ear to a seashell,” and “Scout badges we’ve never heard of.” I loaded them all into a wheel of choice widget that students could spin, and then they had to write a response to whichever prompt they got. This is another one I only ran once, though I would love to run it again!

2020 Winner: Failed ideas for Project Week: Axe throwing. –Hannah, 5th

Six Word Memoirs. This contest was inspired by a book: I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. After some confusion about what a memoir is, though, I retitled the contest; it’s now the “Your Life in a Six Word Sentence” contest, as I was tired of getting lists of words! This contest actually inspires students’ most thoughtful writing, and on occasion, has alerted me to something I think our counselors should look into. You never know what you’re going to get!

2022 Winner: A bit messy, a bit magical.   –Virginia, 7th

Story in a Tweet/Story in Twenty-Five Words. This contest began when tweets were fairly new, with the original length of 140 characters. When that changed, I adapted the contest to keep the challenge of squeezing a whole story into a few words.

2020 Winner: She walked inside the house admiring the furniture, taste-testing the food, and tried out the mattresses. Unfortunately for Goldilocks, she was not at IKEA.  –Emily, 8th

Two-Sentence Horror Stories. An SLJ article by Rozanna Baranets inspired this contest. I challenged students to write either a funny or scary two-sentence horror story. They excelled!

2022 Scary Story Winner: Everyone always asks how many trick or treaters I get. But no one asks how many leave.  –Savannah, 7th

2022 Funny Story Winner: Through the darkness, a silhouette emerged. I screamed in horror as it said: “I’m here to talk about your car’s extended warranty.” –Andrea, 7th

Unlikely Superheroes. This contest came from a game in the TV show, Whose Line Is It, Anyway? I challenge student to create an unlikely superhero with an unlikely power, and a ridiculous crisis for them to solve. Extra points if students write a short story showing how the superhero used their power to solve the crisis. This was a pandemic contest, and though it was a lot of fun, I didn’t get a ton of entries so have only run it once.

2020 Winner: Superhero: Taco Teen, who can create extra spicy tacos out of thin air. The tacos can dissolve enemies from their spicy salsa. Crisis: Two big cutting boards come alive and are trying to poke the city with the extra sharp knives! –Jon, 5th

World Book Contest. This contest requires a full set of World Book encyclopedias in print, with “World Book” written across the combined spines. The challenge is creating new words with the letters available.

Zip Code Poetry. A teacher alerted me to this NPR article about “Zip Odes” in Miami, and it seemed like a great idea for a contest. For this one, students chose a zip code connected with them (home, school, grandparents, etc.), wrote it vertically, and then penned a poem with the same number of words in a line as the corresponding number in the zip code. For zeroes, they could draw a picture or leave it blank. Obviously, this will work better in parts of the country without a lot of zeroes in the zip codes!

2023 Winner:

–Rylie, 7th