Dino Mania! A Spring Break Program

School Age


The month of March was hectic for me at work. I had so many programs and collaborations going on that I didn’t get a whole of time to plan and prepare for any of them. Never good! Luckily I planned this program to be pretty simple. It was Spring Break, and that meant families would be looking for easy ways to spend quality time together. Since I was going for easy for me, too, I decided to make it a family movie day with some activities to extend on the experience.

I showed The Good Dinosaur, which was a new release, and created a few stations and activities to explore before the movie. Here are my stations.


Dino Excavation Station

I found some dinosaur figures in the party favor section of my local Wal-Mart and bought a few packs. I buried each pack in a bowl of chocolate pudding with a marshmallow surface. There were wipes at each bowl to allow kids to wipe off the dinos before they took them to a table to identify them.

dino ID

Dino Safari


For this station, kids donned a mask, picked up their search sheet, and went searching around the library for those dinosaurs. Since this program was in the council chambers that’s connected to this library, the safari was a tricky way to get them into the library to look around and count them in our door count.

Kids got to keep their masks, which were also found in the party favor section at Wal-Mart. (Bookmarks above them are dinosaur-shaped and leftover from another program.)

Cave Painting


I set up a few tables in the room and draped them with black tablecloths to create “caves.” I explained that our movie would have a cave man and that humans used to make paintings as a way to tell stories. I asked them to create their own stories inside the caves.

These activities took around 20 minutes for most families to complete and when I saw that everyone was finishing up, I started our movie.


As the opening credits were playing, I pointed out exits and explained that no one’s feelings would be hurt should anyone choose to leave early. There were some preschoolers in my crowd and I said this to make them feel a little more empowered if (and when) those children got bored and disruptive.

The Good Dinosaur is not the most exciting kids’ movie I’ve ever seen. I watched it the weekend before the program and considered choosing another movie instead, but thought that since I’d advertised for this one already, I’d better stick with it. My advice would be to pass on this one as a program pick.

Did this post help you? It took around 2 hours of my personal time to share with you. If you would like to send me a dollar for my time, I would not be opposed. 


John Henry and the Railroad Race (and reflections on difficult content)

School Age


Last year I talked a little about how I was asked for a Black History Month program and how my response proved to me that I wasn’t being the kind of ally I needed to be. I learned a lot from the experience of designing and facilitating a program on freedom quilts, but this year, I wanted to do something that wasn’t tied to slavery. I wanted a fun program with popular features that would be attractive to anyone, but just so happened to deal with a Black hero or African American history.

In my pre-planning stage of gathering ideas, I remembered that Pixar has a new short film about John Henry. As I thought about it, it seemed like a program that could be based off a 10 minute, super fun video AND incorporating railroad/train activities could only be a hit for preschool and elementary-aged library users.

The video is vibrant, acknowledges slavery and honors quilting traditions, and really does justice to the folk song, though the lyrics aren’t at all the same. It was written and produced by the same man who made Mulan, if that gives you any ideas. You can find it on this DVD:

short films


So I started piecing together ideas for more content for the program and came across this book:



After reading the description, I decided that I could fold in some of the findings from the book. I DID NOT read the book before I committed to doing the program. The description that I sent ahead for publishing in our newsletter mentioned that we would talk about some theories on the real person behind the tale.

So, if you have read this book, you probably feel a hole forming in the pit of your stomach. If you haven’t, let me just tell you, it gets dark really quickly. More on that in a minute.

I’m pretty busy all the time, so I plan my programs in stages. After the middle of every month, I do some very basic planning for what I’ll do the next month and I send a little description for the newsletter. A couple weeks before the program, I do the deep planning and buying of any materials I need.

This time, I started planning way ahead because I needed to do research. I checked out books with several versions of the tale from nearby libraries, I read Ain’t Nothing But a Man, examined different versions of the folk song, researched the kinds of tools railroad workers used in the antebellum period, found folk music that reflected what railroad workers would have sung, and put everything into a presentation.

Things got really difficult after I read Ain’t Nothing But a Man. You may have guessed this if you know anything about the John Henry tale, but the life of a former slave in the antebellum period was almost never good. In the book, we learn that the man who was most likely the real John Henry was a teenager (probably no older than 15) when he was arrested a year after the Emancipation Proclamation for stealing from a grocery store. He received 10 years in prison as his sentence. While he was there, the warden made the decision to rent out the prisoners to railroad construction companies for working in the most difficult areas. John was sent to the Lewis Tunnel in northwestern Virginia, where the men were known to have actually raced a steam drill and won. However, it’s also recorded that more than 300 men died in making the tunnel, most from injuries and Black Lung. Our researcher found that John Henry disappears from work records after just a few years of working there and that the bodies of around 300 men were excavated from a mass grave in front of the old Virginia State Penitentiary.

Well, &*@$. That’s a WHOLE lot to unpack.

At first, I was almost ready to throw out the whole concept of talking about this book. How on earth could I make that appropriate for children?

Then, I talked with a friend of mine, who happens to be Black. I confided in her that I was really wrestling with this material and was thinking about leaving out all the information from Ain’t Nothing But a Man and focusing on the hardships of railroad workers in general. She encouraged me to work through it. She gently reminded me that without people like me to help interpret this information for children, they would never, ever hear it. She asked me to think about what I learned in history class and what I’ve read in history books aimed at children. How many times did I see stories that handled the nuances of history from the perspective of the oppressed? I thought back and couldn’t think of one time in school when I had learned about the lives of slaves in any detail whatsoever. I’d never learned details of the civil rights movement or heard the names of any who died for basic rights, other than Martin Luther King, Jr. All of that happened much later, when I became an educator. Most children and teens will not learn these stories in school.

So, I did it. I wrestled, and wrestled, and designed something that I could feel comfortable presenting to kids. Here is the outline of my plan:

  1. Start with watching the video
  2. Introduce the material by talking about how great the video is and how we’re going to learn more about the lives of railroad workers.
  3. Go through the presentation, pausing to listen to real music like what railroad workers would have sung, to look at some lyrics from different versions of the John Henry song, and to play a game where they’d make their own railroad.
  4. After the game, we’d dive into what I learned from Ain’t Nothing But a Man. Gently, skimming over the material and sticking to basic facts from the book, not the deeper social context. We’d see pictures of steam drills and I’d give a brief description of what we know about the life of the real John Henry without any graphic horror.
  5. We’d pause to reflect on that and to think about how different it is from the songs we heard and the video we watched. We could say how we felt about it.
  6. I’d wrap it up with my thoughts on why the folk tales, song, and even our video are still important.
  7. We’d end by doing a craft with 3-D paper trains and more fun music.

Now, I live in the rural South and the populations I served are extremely White. I’ve observed racism in my communities firsthand, and I was still willing to grapple with this. However, I knew that the really hard stuff was going to depend on the audience I got. If most of the kids were preschoolers, than talking about dying probably wasn’t an option, but Parts 1-3 of my plan would still be fine. If I had mostly a crowd of kids ages 7 and up, I felt good about doing the whole thing.

If you live in a more diverse community or your population is more liberal than mine, you may not have an issue with doing the whole thing with whatever audience you get.

I got no one. No one came and all the preparation felt a little wasted. I’m still so happy I did it, though. I grew so much in the process.

Here is my presentation, ready to steal. My notes are beneath the slides.

Here are the pictures of my set-up:




This is the game for making the railroad. It’s a big line of packing paper, taped down at each end. The rails are pipe insulation that could be lined up, carefully made straight, and taped down by a team of kids. The area with the chairs is a tunnel for them to build in. If you think you’ll have a lot of kids, you could set up two of these in rows and have them race each other while you play a modern version of the John Henry song.




I flagged a stack of books to share pictures during the presentation.




What you can’t see here is that I also had giant post-it’s on the wall, where I’d written some of the lyrics from different versions of the song to share and to show how it changed over time.


Here’s a folk song that you can let kids listen to and hear how railroad workers would have sung.



Goosebumps Party!


School Age


It feels like it’s been forever since I wrote up a good school-age program. This year, my local school systems only have six teacher workdays. Couple that with a lack of space in one of my branches, and I’m just not doing as many as I usually do. Finally we had a workday roll around, though, so I’m back to one of my passions this week with a school-age program on Goosebumps!

If you’re moving away from doing Halloween-specific programming, you might find that Goosebumps is a cheater’s road to avoiding a holiday program. Or, you know, just do it whenever you want like I did. It amazes me that this series has stood the test of time and it’s popular with so many ages. I have adults who check them out and love them! For this program, we only had a few in attendance but it attracted two 6th graders and one intrepid 3 year old.

Here goes the plan.

Item one: Mummy dance!

If we’d had more attendance, I would have started off by having everyone wrap themselves like a mummy in toilet paper and dancing to Monster Mash. Unfortunately, it’s just not that fun with three people. *shrug*

Item two: Spider on a straw relay

I still started off with this one, though it would have been way better with a few more people.



One player ran to a chair at the end of the line, holding a straw in his mouth. My three year old assistant then added a plastic spider ring to his straw. He ran back to his teammate who also had a straw in her mouth and he slid the spider ring from his straw to hers without using his hands. After a couple times going back and forth, they decided it was too easy and he tried getting two spiders at a time. After taking turns, this ate up around 15 mins.

Item Three: Eye Socket Blow

Here players raced to blow their hollow, plastic eye into a cup taped to the end of the table. They used two paper towel rolls to direct the eye as they walked or ran around the table to keep it on track. They loved this game and probably played it the most.




Item Four: Making Slime

I chose a glow in the dark slime recipe, found here, and walked the kids through making it. With the older kids, I had them read out the instructions and measure everything while I just directed. With our youngest attendee, I helped mom add ingredients while little one stirred.

slime table


I poured a little borax in a paper cup and put warm water in an insulated coffee pot on the table. Slime went home in snack-sized sandwich bags. Not surprisingly, it was the big draw to come to the program.

This is actually a pretty clean craft as long as it’s properly supervised and you have the ingredients in child-friendly containers. The slime isn’t very messy once you handle it a little.

Item Five: Feed the Blob

I used vanilla pudding with a little green food coloring to make a blobby mixture in a couple big bowls. (It actually looks a lot like boogers.) While the kids were making slime, I set the bowls on a pad (you could use a table cloth) in case it splashed out of the bowls. The kids stood back and tried throwing the eyes into the bowls. Incredibly, they all came up with a dozen ways to play this game. The older kids tried bouncing it between the lines from our relay or throwing it under a leg. Our littlest player tried a scattershot approach and threw a whole cup of eyes in the general direction of the bowls. She was surprisingly good.



Kids just had to wipe off the eyes before playing again so that they wouldn’t drip.


There it is! It’s really simple and something that you can do with low prep time, low budget, and minimal space. I think I spent about $30, but I had some items like food coloring, tableclothes, cups, and glue.

Did this post help you? It took around 2 hours of my personal time to share with you. If you would like to send me a dollar for my time, I would not be opposed. 


Magic Tree House Music Collaboration

School Age


Two years ago, on the first day of my job as a librarian, I met four of my local media specialists at a Battle of the Books practice event. One in particular was very eager to work with me. She, too, had just started a new job at an elementary school and confided in me that she could use all the help she could get. Her school system had shifted her there from a middle school and those teens were really everything to her. As our relationship grew, I also learned that on her first day, she came in to find a destroyed library. Over the winter break and during the transition period between media specialists, a flood put the entire media center under two feet of water. She lost hundreds of books.

I started building up our partnership, first by listening to what she struggled with and then providing resources to help. She needed more books, so I came to her with every suitable donated book and every weeded title that was still in good shape and interesting. She also needed help in connecting to her youngest kids, so I came in to do storytimes with kindergarten and first grade. Over time, it became a beneficial thing for me, as well. I have a standing invitation to come to staff meetings and parent nights, and I’ve provided training on using our digital resources to staff and students.

This year, the school became interested in pushing our partnership further. The principal and media specialist pulled me aside to discuss coming up with a project that they may be able to present at our state’s school library conference. They saw it as a way to set an example for the other schools in our state. We thought briefly on what we could do specifically for second graders to help them engage with this year’s grade level read, A Good Night for Ghosts from the Magic Tree House series. At first, we didn’t come up with much, so we decided to stew on it.

I had a very busy fall so my stewing went on for a few months before I came up with something very spectacular and sparkly to me. The Magic Tree House books take place in countries all over the world and during lots of periods of history so there are a hundred different directions you could go. The first thing that came to mind was history, but that’s not so sparkly to second graders. You need something else to jazz it up. The second thing that came to mind was cultural foods, but that would be a disaster when you’re talking 80 kids. The third thing was music.

Duh! Music! The main character in A Good Night for Ghosts is Louis Armstrong (or Dipper in the book). It was there for me the whole time.

I pitched my idea to the school administration first. “Hey guys, what if I brought in live performers to play music from the time periods and countries featured in three of the books? We’ll do jazz first to go with your grade level read, then African drumming, and then Irish music.” They fell all over themselves for it.

So I started sourcing performers. The most trusted place in town was a music factory that puts on lots of live events and also mentors youth. They also loved the idea, but when they provided me with the costs, I got very worried. It was much more than I’d hoped. I asked my director if there was anything we could do and she immediately responded that she’d cover it. Hooray for administrative support!

We all coordinated our schedules, settled on some dates, and then we divided our parts. I would do a little dramatic reading from the book first, their media specialist would talk about the history of New Orleans and introduce jazz, and then the performer would speak more on the history of jazz and play some songs for us.

We did our first in the series last week and it was perfect! The kids were so interested in the book afterward and couldn’t wait to get their own copy. Each of them will receive one from the school system to keep in the coming weeks. It couldn’t have worked out any better.




I’ll be back with more on this series after our African drumming program.


Did this post help you? It took around 2 hours of my personal time to share with you. If you would like to send me a dollar for my time, I would not be opposed. 


Fall Passive Programs

I really like to have passive craft activities in my library and fall is my favorite season for this! Here are a couple crafts that are easy to set up as passive programs.

Sticker pumpkins!

sticker pumpkin

So you don’t want pumpkin guts all over the library or stab wounds from carving mishaps? Try this activity instead. It’s perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, but older children can get really creative, too.

Just set out some adhesive foam sheets, some pre-made parts, and ideas to get kids going. Scissors are required for optimal creativity, but you can also just create a whole lot of pre-made pieces if you’re feeling cautious.

Watercolor pumpkins!


For this, kids need to scribble all over coffee filters, spray them with a little water, pat them dry, and then glue them to a pumpkin outline. It’s easiest if you leave the pumpkin outline on a whole sheet instead of pre-cutting them, because then you can trim off the excess coffee filter that will otherwise stick out behind your outline. You can hold on to a water bottle at the desk and even help young kids squirt their creations.

These activities were big hits on Halloween, but pumpkins easily flow into November.

From Lisa Shaia at Thrive After Three

Here’s a fabulous pumpkin game! And if you’re coming up on some cold weather (I still have another month or two), try her snowman scavenger hunt, too! Her book character scavenger hunts are my favorites.

From Sturdy For Common Things

Please check out this amazing series of storywalks! Doing one inside the library just makes so much sense, and this team even created extension activities for the stories. It would be easy to do one with stories about being thankful or pumpkins in the coming months.

From Hafuboti

If I live 100 years, I will never forget DINOVEMBER! I can’t even…

Okay, world! Go try some things!