Last week, we tried a new program that we've never done before: a library family "camp out"! I got the idea for this program from the inimitable Marge Loch-Waters (see her post about it here) and Amy Koester (see her post about it here). It was so valuable to see how two librarians at different libraries had structured their programs, and I wanted to share how ours went!
The program was held at the library after hours. Our building is kind of convoluted and large, so we closed to the public first and cleared the building, set up for the program, and then reopened just for families attending this program. Our library closes at 5:30 on Friday nights and we scheduled the program for 6:30, manning the doors from 6:15 - 6:35. After that time, I had a phone number folks could call if they arrived late (our Children's Room and Teen Scene are down the hall, not within sight lines of the doors).
I let people in at the doors and sent them down the hall to the Children's Room where my lovely Ms. Teresa was there to do storytelling. We provided "walking s'mores" for families to munch on as they gathered in our program room and listened to stories.
For the s'mores, I mixed up two boxes of Golden Grahams cereal, one large bag of mini marshmallows, and two bags of milk chocolate chips. We portioned them out in small cups about half full and we got about 70 cups out of that amount of supplies. Since we were not requiring preregistration, I had no idea how many people would show up, so we were way over-prepared. I could have gotten away with half of what we had, but this way everyone could snack to their stomach's content. ;)
At about 6:30, Teresa started the storytelling in our program room. She constructed a "campfire" from an electric fan, colored lights, crepe paper, and brown bulletin board paper:
She turned the lights down low in the room and encouraged kids to spread out on their blankets and pillows as she told stories. We kept the storytime portion pretty short to allow lots of time for families to build forts and read together. Here's what she shared:
Story: Epossumondas (from the picture book by Colleen Salley)
Song: The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Story: Moira's Birthday (from the picture book by Robert Munsch)
Song: Sleeping Bunnies
The storytime lasted about 15-20 minutes, and then she turned it over to me to explain our rules. Families were encouraged to move chairs and tables around and set up their forts anywhere in the Children's Room or teen area. We had set up a display of some of our favorite books for reading together, but families were also welcome to look through the stacks and find other books to enjoy.
I had extra blankets and sheets (brought from home by me and some of our other librarians) in case anyone didn't bring fort-building supplies or wanted extra to cozy up their forts. We had a few families that used these, so I was glad I had them available.
We had closed down all our computers for the night except the catalog search computers and a couple of computers where families could sign up for the Summer Reading Club. We left out the toys in our room, like the Lego table and the science table. This was good to entertain the younger kids who got restless after sitting for storytime, although it was maybe a little distracting for some of the other kids.
We opened the program to children ages 0-11 with an adult caregiver and said that siblings were welcome. The program was maybe not the very most engaging for those really little ones, but they still had fun playing with our toys in the room. I think opening it up to all child ages encouraged the entire family to attend, so when we do this program again, I will probably keep it that way.
Families had about half an hour to build forts and read together in their forts. I think this was a good amount of time. Certainly some of our families with older children could have stayed longer, but by 7:20 the families with younger children were pretty distracted. I made announcements that it was time to start cleaning up and that if anyone wanted to check out books tonight they could bring them to us at the Children's Desk.
Lots of families checked out at least one book and a few families signed up for Summer Reading Club. I was pleasantly surprised that most of our families took the initiative to put chairs away for us, which made the cleanup super easy afterwards! Hooray, families!
We got everyone checked out and had the building cleared out by about 7:40 and then Teresa and I finished cleaning up and putting away our display tables, etc.
I wasn't sure how the attendance was going to go, but we ended up having 22 children and 21 adults, which is less than I was hoping for (given how our performers have been getting SUPER HUGE crowds this summer), but I think a fine turnout. We had some really great comments from our families and I think everyone had a really fun time. I am thinking we will turn this into a tradition and use it next summer to kick off our Summer Reading Club. It's way less expensive than hiring a performer and more fun and easier for staff. Plus, it really reinforces our mission of creating young readers and it encourages families to have fun together, screen-free.
All in all, this was a really fun and easy program and I would encourage any librarian to try it out!