I'm going to quote from the notes she typed up for me here:
... the opportunity to be part of a group.
... the opportunity to perform, demonstrate, or present what they have learned.
... the opportunity to discuss and learn from their peers.
... the opportunity to receive awards or other academic commendations.
... the opportunity to expand their horizons past their teachers.
... the know-how to become a self-learner.
Previously, we had offered a very top-down program, if you will. Librarians decided on a topic, planned stories and activities, and presented the program to the group. It was fine, but the biggest problem is that it was hard to engage kids across the age ranges. We'd most often have early elementary age children showing up, but it was inevitable that when we started to gear the program towards that age I would get questions from parents of older children asking what their homeschooling children could participate in.
We also were not incredibly organized about it and we'd announce the topics and activities on our program calendar, just weeks or maybe a month before the program was to happen. Our homeschooling mom reminded us that if we gave homeschoolers more notice about what our topics would be, homeschoolers would be more likely to incorporate our programs into their lesson plans.
With these suggestions in mind, we redesigned the program. Instead of having a librarian present a traditional library program, we decided that we would ask the homeschoolers to present to each other!
Each month, librarians select a topic (we've gotten input from our homeschooling parents about this, too!) and we ask the children to read a book and do a project on that theme. We provide a list of recommended books and a list of project ideas, but we stress that kids are NOT limited to something from the list. We also encourage them to take the project ideas and change them to fit their needs.
When the group gathers each month, I ask for volunteers to present. Kids come up and talk about the book they read and show or present about the project they did. I don't require anyone to present (although sometimes their parents insist that they at least try it!). If they'd rather come and listen to the other presentations, that's fine with me.
I was a little afraid of how things would go if we changed it up, but it's actually been going really well. The program is much, MUCH less work for us to do and the families have been very into it. Kids have done presentations about Mexican immigration to the U.S., survival on different planets from the Star Wars universe, and Christian symbols in Harry Potter. I've had kids dress up as characters from books and tell us about the story. I've had kids draw comic books or make posters about a special book party they had at home. I notice some of the shy children starting to come out of their shell a little bit. And since families can customize the projects any way they want, it allows for children of many ages to participate and creates a space for children who are reading above or below grade level.
I try to have a little something each month to share with the kids or talk about with them. For example, when we did "Survival" as our theme in November, I put together a short Prezi about Hurricane Sandy, showing some photos of the damage, telling them some facts about hurricanes, and giving them some tips about how to stay safe in a hurricane (didn't want to scare anyone, though we very rarely have hurricanes in Southern Indiana). When we did "Mystery" in October, I read one of my favorite mysteries, Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard.
Deciding on themes and getting book and project lists done way ahead of time makes the program super easy for us to run. Here are the themes we've done or are planning to do:
- September: Latino History Month
- October: Mystery
- November: Survival
- December: Fantasy
- January: Award Winners
- February: Black History Month
- March: Sports & Games
- April: Around the World
- May: End of the Year Party!
I'm planning on throwing a reception in May and recognizing the children and parents who have been coming throughout the year. I'm planning to make participation certificates and we'll probably have some tables set up with crafts, games, and snacks so that the kids can spend some time socializing. I might do some booktalks, too, since Summer Reading Club will be right around the corner.
I printed up brochures that explain about our program and list the themes for the semester and we have those out at the desk along with the upcoming month's book and project lists. At each program, I put out a book display for the next month's theme so that families can get a start on it if they want to. I also have the sign-up sheet for the next month ready to go and I take the opportunity to promote any of our other upcoming programs that fit the age range.
One thing I haven't done yet that I would like to do is to grab the library's display cases and invite homeschoolers to display their projects there. I would also like to get all our book and project lists on our website (waiting for a website redesign for that one).
So far, it's been less work for us and I think our patrons are getting more out of it (at least attendance continues to be good... knock on wood!).