When I couldn’t get that jaunty little tune out of my head and everyone around me, from my preschooler to my mom were playing Angry Birds, I knew it was a program whose time had come. Pinterest, my go-to spot for browsing and brainstorming, had led me to a few different ways of incorporating Angry Birds into a library program. A crafty idea seemed like a good fit for the teens that have been frequenting my programs – mostly middle schoolers, mostly girls, mostly full of a fun energy and an interest in both making and doing things at the programs. But I thought it might not be quite enough, might not pack quite a big enough punch to draw in new teens and appeal to those guys that hang out every day after school but still avoid eye contact with me. Then I stumbled upon a very cool, very large scale live version and the wheels began to turn. I clearly couldn’t go that big in the library in the middle of January – we’re stuck in a basement meeting room after all – but holy cow – projectiles and semi controlled chaos? Those guys reading Thrasher in the corner would be all about that!
I requested $30 from the Friends of the Library for supplies, set a date for an afterschool time slot, and started planning. This program would also be doable without any funds at all, but it might take a bit more scavenging.
The bricks were the easy part. I brought cardboard blocks from home, but if you or your library don’t have any, you might solicit local preschools, or friends with young kids for a loan. And chances are, there’s someone in your area whose kids have outgrown them and would love to Freecycle them out of their basement. After a few experimental towers, I realized that though the cardboard blocks were handy, they didn’t quite pack the punch or have the right scale for a teenaged body. I brought in boxes in a variety of sizes and shapes, as well as some flat sheets of cardboard that could be used in the structures. As I gathered more boxes, I decided this is the perfect post-holiday program as everyone has gobs of boxes that they want out of the house, so cash in on that free source of “bricks” for your towers!
For the “birds”, I used a number of balls, all purchased at a toy store for under $12 total. If you have balls on hand – red playground style and blue racquetballs in particular – the cost of this program drops significantly! Green balloons would be the pigs, and the teens would decorate them with sharpies.
But the balls on their own weren’t complete until I used clear packing tape to attach faces from these printable templates. Just reduce the blue face down to the right size. I think I reduced mine by 50%. Standard packing tape is enough to secure the faces onto the balls for one afternoon.
At this point, I was stuck, like an angry little red bird that can’t quite hit her mark. How to fling the balls at the towers? Throwing just seemed too easy. Could I build a slingshot? A catapult? It seemed risky, and time consuming in those precious after work hours, and I have three year old TV to Netflix and brand new books to read! I needed something simpler. We experimented with a basket attached to an exercise band at home, but the results fell short – literally. The solution came to me while browsing www.RecordSetter.com, a crazy fun site that’s been an inspiration for past programs. There I spotted this video which provided the answer. The kids would work together to fling the balls using a beach towel held between two people. Teamwork FTW!
Now the event started shaping up. If two kids were the “flingers,” another could be a spotter/leader and a fourth could be the documenter and take photos or video of the event. So that accounts for ¼ of the kids registered. Huh.
I went back to my original inspiration and took some tips from a librarian who did a similar program recently and who kindly lent her advice after I found her event online. (Love those Evanced calendars for that handy contact link!) I decided to add the cute little yarn pom-pom Angry Birds back in. Thank goodness I still had a little money left for yarn and googley eyes.
I have found that the more structured the setup is when the kids walk into the room, the more control I later have over the event. If I provide instructions and everything they need all measured out and right where they are sitting, they tend to stick to the plan a little more closely than when I have a central table where they can grab what they need and get creative. My gingerbread house decorating program was a central table grab style program. This one? Where I’m encouraging projectiles and a wee bit of chaos? Structure.
Half of the room is open for the building and flinging, half had tables and chairs for the crafty portion. One table had paper cups, rubber bands, and craft sticks for building mini bird flinging structures. Each other table was set with four chairs and all of the supplies needed to make the pom-pom birds.
Here’s what was on the tables:
Four of each: Red and green yarn cut in 1-2 yard pieces
A cup with googley eyes
A bottle of Tacky Glue
Four pairs of scissors
Four 6” or so pieces of black yarn for eyebrows
Four small strips of orange paper for beaks
Four copies of page one of this pom-pom template
Four half sheets of cardstock
Four golf pencils
For the large scale birds, one table had balloons and markers for pig making and decorating, and the rest of the room was open, with the bricks stacked against the wall.
Each table of teens was a team, and one team at a time was given the “field” to build and bird bomb their structures. I had intended for them to rotate, one team building a structure and the next knocking it down, but things moved fast and they were more than happy to destroy what they had just created, so we went with the flow.
The teams that were not building hung out at their tables and made pom-pom birds. Even the table full of guys that had asked me, upon seeing the craft setup, “Aw, so do we have to make that before we can throw the balls?” got into it to the point of swapping tips on the best sized paper template rings to use to get the right shaped bird.
We had a great time! A reporter from the local newspaper came and took video, I had a chance to talk up some future programs, the teens had a chance to shake off some mid-winter cabin fever, and I finally got those Thrasher readers down into the meeting room.
Next time I would…
Pre-cut the pom-pom templates. Too much variation in sizes made it difficult for some teens to get their birds the right size and shape, and some simple mishaps forced some teens to start over completely.
Adjust the orientation of the towers. Most teams set it up like the game is played, but it was much more fun, with more dramatic results, when the tower was perpendicular to the throwing area.
Allow myself an extra 15 minutes for cleanup. The program ran from 3:30-5, but I really needed about 30 minutes to pick everything up and put away before heading for home.
Not stress so much! Sheesh, youd’ve thought I was staging a Civil War Reenactment. It was so much fun, and I should have trusted in the teens that they’d carry it through well.
I was struck by how much the teens enjoyed playing. They give us this oh-so-hip face as the walk past the desk, but given the right environment and the permission to let loose, the kids in these kids really shines through. At one point, I saw those Thrasher guys crawling into and hiding in the boxes --- exactly the way my 2 and 4 year old and their friends would have played! The interest in crafting still surprises me sometimes. That the guys liked that portion just as much as the girls has me rethinking my future crafty offerings. I think there is something really appealing about making something tangible and a little bit frivolous that crosses gender lines. Playing and creating are great examples of the way the Library can nurture the whole person. We can offer resources to help them succeed in school and excel at their hobbies, but we can also give them a space to let them breathe and be around friends, fiction that takes the away to another place, and opportunities that allow them to smile and relax and get in touch with their fun sides so that they can focus better on the heady task of growing up.
Get in touch with me if you do this program, or one similar to it. I’d love to hear how it goes for you!
Heather Booth is the (wicked cool) Teen Librarian at Thomas Ford Memorial Library. She is also the author of Serving Teens Through Reader's Advisory (ALA Editions, 2007). Heather also started the Teen Programming in Libraries (a collaborative board) on Pinterest. You'll want to check there for more great teen programming ideas.