Origami Madness, or, Why It’s OK to Suck

I facilitated an origami program as part of the spring break programming at my branch this week. Let me tell you, in no uncertain terms – when it comes to paper folding, I am the absolute worst. I am too clumsy, too impatient, too easily frustrated, not nearly detail-oriented enough, and far too easily distracted to be able to master something as fiddly as origami.

In the weeks before the program I was sweating. I looked at every origami book I could find, watched all sorts of Youtube tutorials, and scoured Pinterest trying to hone my paper folding craft.

In the end I managed to make a rather spiffy miniature Samurai helmet.

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And that was it.

When my origami program finally rolled around, things went from bad to worse. Not only was I still unable to fold anything other than Samurai helmets, there wasn’t a single child in the branch over the age of 9. Most of the kids in my program were 6-7 years old, with manual dexterity skills and attention spans to match. One instructor and a group of eager but impatient little kids. Not the ideal origami program scenario.

But you know what?

It all turned out alright in the end.

Sometimes, being absolutely rubbish at an activity can actually make you the best person to teach other people how to do it. You know that old saying, “those who can’t do, teach”? Turns out there’s some sense to it after all.

When something comes easily and naturally, it can be difficult to understand why other people find it so difficult or incomprehensible.

Because I found origami so difficult, I could empathize with the struggles of my participants. I focused on simple projects with limited steps – if I could do it, an impatient six-year-old could likely do it. No one felt stupid or unaccomplished at my program, or struggled to keep up with the instructor. Everyone worked at their own speed and at their own level, and everything any child made was a real accomplishment.

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Everything that’s not a samurai helmet was made by our librarian technician, Marianne. I can claim no credit for this adorable whale.

The children got to work with a grown-up who accepted her limitations with a smile and a complete lack of embarrassment. If I screwed up a project, I laughed, unfolded the paper, and started again. We learned to follow the different steps together.  I freely admitted that I wasn’t naturally talented, and made sure that everyone saw my many failures – failures are just a part of the learning process, after all! It was a fun afternoon, and I felt like a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was OK to suck at something after all.

So, whether it’s singing, coding, crafting, paper folding, or any other kind of activity, don’t worry too much about your natural ability or skill – being rubbish at something can actually be a blessing in disguise, allowing you to mentor your participants, empathize with their struggles, revel in their successes, and reinforce the importance of not taking life too seriously, and being able to laugh at yourself.

Learning to let go and go with the flow – with LEGO

The title’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? But it really does sum up what I learned while hosting a spring break LEGO event. The program is pretty simple: bring in a big tub of miscellaneous LEGO pieces, put out some LEGO books as inspiration, and let kids have at it.

Of course, things are never quite as simple as that.

“What am I supposed to build?”

“Am I doing this right?”

“Is my building good enough?”

Or, from a concerned parent, “am I allowed to help my child with their building?”

It’s easy to assume that all children will instinctively know what to do when presented with an open-ended project, whether it involves LEGO pieces, beads, plasticine or crayons and paper.

The reality, though, is that children (and their parents!) can sometimes struggle with the idea of undertaking of project with no specified outcome, and for which there is no correct answer. The idea of just making something for fun, without worrying about whether it’s “good enough” can be quite an unsettling experience.

What worked best for my group, I found, was leading by example. I dove into the tub of LEGO, pulled out pieces of different sizes and colours, and started to stick them together. First I built a little house. Then I took it all apart and just put pieces together at random, mixing colours and sizes to create a little abstract art installation. I smiled. I had fun.

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At first the children watched with some confusion, not quite sure what I was doing. Slowly, hesitantly, they ventured in to the tub of LEGO and started fishing out different pieces of their own, tentatively sticking them together on a LEGO board.

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Eventually the flood gates of inspiration opened, and I saw some beautiful and highly creative sculptures come to life all around me. I did still get the occasional question about the quality of a creation, but that’s natural – not everyone is a naturally confident creator. Still, my dubious kids had become a group of eager architects, working in hushed silence on their masterpieces.

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I guess all I’m trying to say is that you have to always be flexible when working with people, and be open to having your assumptions challenged and your expectations overturned. Be patient, and have fun. Your program might not run the way you expected, but with a smile and some understanding, you’ll get there in the end.

I Love Books Scavenger Hunt

I have a number of Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes coming into the library in the next few weeks, so I whipped up a simple scavenger hunt activity to use as an introduction to the children’s area.

These adorable animals will be hidden in different sections of the children’s area – picture books, graphics, DVDs, Chinese, etc.

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Each child will get a worksheet where they can copy the corresponding letters as they find them, and decipher the secret message.

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Once we’ve found all the animals, we can talk about the section in which each animal was hiding, and take a look at what kinds of materials live in the different section of the children’s area.

Just a sweet, simple little activity for little library patrons. 🙂

I Survived Raspberry Pi

Learn how to code and build software with Raspberry Pi Microcomputers. Suitable for beginners. For ages 8-12.

Being a 21st century public librarian means being well-versed in modern technology, and our library system in particular is committed to bridging the “digital divide” that can exist in many parts of our city, and to supporting children’s development of digital literacy.

Microprogramming with Raspberry Pi is a fairly new library program that introduces children to basic programming concepts through games and interactive activities. We use Kano computer kits, which come with almost everything you need to make a mini computer – just add your own screen and connector cables, plug it in to a power source, and you’re ready to go.

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Intended to be “as easy and fun as LEGO” and marketed to kids as young as 6, Kano uses simple, popular games like Pong, Snake and Minecraft to introduce children to programming commands, and challenges help make coding exciting.

HEED MY WARNINGS, ALL YEE WHO COME BEFORE ME

Here are a few things to consider if you want to host a microprogramming program at your school / library:

More adults = better program

  • Coding programs work best when kids can get lots of one-to-one, hands-on support. Kids will likely come with varying levels of experience and confidence, and some will need more hand-holding than others.
  • Also – COMPUTERS CAN BE EVIL. Programs will crash, screens will go black, games will freeze. Trying to solve a hardware problem while explaining the next part of the program to the rest of the group and helping two other kids get up to speed is a nightmare, and can impact everyone’s enjoyment of the event (not to mention dent your sanity).

Give yourself more time to set up than you think you could possibly need

  • Because you’ll need it. Cords are fiddly. Outlets need extension cords. Desks need to be rearranged. Monitors are heavy. If you end up not needing all the set up time you set aside, you can use that extra time to prepare yourself.

You don’t have to be a coding guru, but do take the time to familiarize yourself with the activities

  • Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning again, because you really can’t fudge your way through a coding program. Make sure you take the time to familiarize yourself with the hardware and the software, especially if you’re getting the kids to assemble the computer kits themselves. Kids can smell fear, so make sure you go into the program with your head held high and an understanding of the programs in your pocket.

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Keep the program small

  • Less kids = more individualized attention = happier coders

Divide up your audience

  • If you run a computer programming program on your own, consider offering separate programs for kids 7-9 and/or 10-12. Regardless of their technical prowess, kids’ maturity levels and attention spans tend to differ at different ages. Younger children might need more hand-holding and more help staying focused on a task, which can make it difficult to ensure that older children get enough support as well.

Teach Like a Grandma

  • Education researcher Sugata Mitra  talks about teaching using “the method of the grandmother” – encouraging children to persevere through obstacles and solve challenges themselves. You will inevitably hear a chorus of “my computer’s not working!”, and many of these issues can be solved by walking through the manual and examining the situation for clues. Encourage children to investigate and experiment, rather than simply solving their problems for them – children’s programs are as much about personal skills development as they are about literacy development, and self-sufficiency and self-confidence are very powerful skills for any child to possess.

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Have fun!

  • Learning a new skill can be intimidating – I’m the first to admit I’m not a natural when it come to computers. But a laugh and a smile will get you through a lot of catastrophes, especially if you’re willing to laugh at yourself!

 

Family Fort Night

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Let’s Chesterize!

Here’s a fun and simple kids’ activity that also helps give new life to books destined for the recycle – Chesterizing!

In Melanie Watt’s picture book Chester, Chester the cat hijacks a story about a mouse, using a red pen to change it into a story about Chester instead.

 In this activity, kids can “chesterize” discarded library books, creating their own alternate stories.

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All you need are marker pens and discarded books, and you’re ready to go! It’s almost embarrassing how easy this activity is. Lots of fun, easy to set up,  very little mess, and practically free, it’s definitely my kind of kids’ activity…. 🙂

Winter Craft – Snow Globes

Sometimes an activity works out so well that you just have to shout about it from the rooftops, so that all might share in your joy.

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I shared this craft with a group of kids aged 6-9, and it was a major hit. One of the group leaders commented that she’d never seen the kids as quiet and involved in a project before (keep in mind that I was doing this activity on Christmas Eve, no less. I would’ve been satisfied just to get the kids to stop bouncing off the walls for a moment or two….)

All of the supplies can be purchased at a dollar store, and there’s very little mess, making this a quick and easy craft to whip up. It’s also a good craft for a mixed-age group, as kids can do as little or as much decorating as they’d like.

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There are a number of different paper plate snow globe crafts out there – some use paper plates and plastic sheets, while others use plastic plates and construction paper. I took this popular craft idea and put my own little spin on it (of course!) to make it even easier for both kids and facilitators (I’m nothing if not practical).

Supplies:

1 plastic plate and 1 paper plate (of similar size) per child

Coloring and decorating supplies

Scotch tape

Mini marshmallows and/or small candies for snow!

  1. Decorate the paper plate
  2. Place mini marshmallows on the paper plate (delicious, edible snow!)
  3. Tape a plastic plate on top of the paper plate
  4. Stand back and admire your creation!

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Using tape to attach the two plates together means no waiting for glue to dry, and no sticky, messy glue on fingers and desks. Using mini marshmallows and small candies for snow means excited, sugar-fueled kids. 🙂 You don’t need to use scissors, either, which means you can easily do this activity with toddlers or preschoolers, though you can make the activity more challenging by encouraging older children to draw more detailed or specific scenes on their plates.

Quick, easy, relatively inexpensive and edible, this is definitely an activity to add to your craft arsenal, and because it’s a winter craft, rather than a Christmas craft, you can pull out it anywhere from November-March, depending on where you live. 🙂

Enjoy!

Builderfest!

I’m going back into the vaults a bit for this post – last month I led a kids after school program, called Builder Fest. Kids used their imaginations to turn simple household objects into wonderful feats of architecture.

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What always inspires me is how kids can find excitement in even the simplest activities, especially if they’re presented in an engaging manner – all too often we hear that “kids today” are only interested in high-tech gadgets and expensive, fancy toys. The kids in this program were so excited to build with the plastic cups that we had to practically kick them out when the program ended! The imagination is a powerful force that needs only a bit of encouragement to turn plastic cups into towering castles, and marshmallows into geometric wonders.

Parents’ Night Out – Five Little Pumpkins

Last week I hosted a “parents night out” program at the library – an evening of crafts, songs, rhymes and snacks for parents of young children in the community. Because Halloween is just around the corner, we made our own versions of , “5 Little Pumpkins”!

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We provided templates and craft materials, but parents were encouraged to use their imaginations and not feel constrained by the evening’s theme. One mother made five little strawberries with scraps of red felt, another made a cute little pumpkin couple. We had a family of veggies and some colourful ghosts, too!

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I made a little handout with song lyrics, rhymes, and seasonal book suggestions, we sang some songs together and practiced using our new felt stories. We of course also had plenty of cookies to keep our energy levels high!

It was a fun, relaxed evening activity that gave parents a chance to meet other parents in their community, and to ask a librarian questions about early literacy.

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Low-key events like this are great community builders, and allow librarians to connect with caregivers in a friendly, natural way. Plus, everybody likes to indulge their inner child and play with craft materials every once in a while! 😉

Early Readers Book Club – “Elephant and Piggie”

This week we celebrated the awesomeness that is Mo Willems and his “Elephant and Piggie” series of readers. The children picked their favourite Elephant and Piggie title to read – we had plenty to choose from!

As a craft, we made Elephant and Piggie paper bag puppets, using this template. The kids coloured in their Elephants and Piggies, cut them out and pasted them onto paper bags for an easy and cost-effective craft that worked on a number of different skills. Colouring and cutting help children develop their fine motor skills, and are a lot of fun.

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Once our puppets were complete we took turns acting out some of the different E&P stories! The kids really got into their roles, putting on different voices for the different characters.

Only one more book club session to go! 😦