Friday afternoon was just another afternoon at the library. You know how it is – spreading out sheets of coloured plastic, clipping them to chairs and reading books together under our makeshift tents by flashlight.
OK, maybe it wasn’t just another afternoon at the library! In fact, it was Family Fort Night! Family Fort Nights have taken place at all sorts of different public libraries: The Show Me Librarian has a great post on Family Fort Nights, as do Marge at Tiny Tips for Library Fun and Laura at Library Lalaland.
Family Fort Nights were held at branches across our library system as part of Family Literacy Day. Ours took place on a Friday afternoon, when we typically have a lot of kids packed into our tiny children’s area.
From the moment I brought out the tote of building supplies the kids in the branch were absolutely fascinated. They immediately caught on to what we were trying to do, and before I knew it I was surrounded by very enthusiastic budding engineers. The kids quickly took the reigns and worked together to create a very complex system of tents. Then, it was just a matter of picking a book (or 10, in the case of a few kids who were planning on settling in for a while!) and reading by the light of mini flashlights.
Working with children is all about expecting the unexpected. While the program was advertised as a family event, the majority of my participants were older school aged children who built tents and read by flashlight while their parents looked on with slightly bemused expressions. While many of us grew up building tents with sheets in our living rooms, this was an entirely new experience for many of the parents and children at the event. I spent a lot of time explaining to confused adults what we were doing, and why we were apparently destroying the children’s area! While I did have some parents enthusiastically embrace the idea and tell me how excited they were to try it out at home, others seemed dubious as to the educational benefit of clipping tarps to chairs.
It can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to reassure skeptical parents that children can learn in all sorts of different (and unconventional) ways, and that children can learn and have fun at the same time! Prior to being a librarian I was an ESL instructor, and I can remember the shocked and confused looks on my students’ faces when I brought games into the classroom – their experiences in previous education systems had emphasized rote memorization and strict discipline, and had had little time for fun and games. Rather than suggesting that one style of education is better than another, my role is to provide parents with information and support, and to provide them with opportunities to explore different experiences with their families. Experiences like family fort night! 🙂
The afternoon was a complete success – it might have taken a bit of a different form than other programs, but the children got a chance to work collaboratively while enjoying reading, and I got an chance to interact with parents. It was also a lot of fun!