Life-Sized Plants vs. Zombies

This summer, I really tried to come up with activities that could work with big groups at a low cost. I’ve always loved Life-Sized games because they’re generally cheap and once they’re set up, you can run it almost as a passive program. In looking through examples that others tried and blogged about, I didn’t see much that could allow lots of kids to play at once. So I whipped this up.

Life-Sized Plants vs. Zombies

Plants vs. Zombies is a pretty difficult came to re-create in real life. There are lots of different plants that you can use to attack zombies and they all work in different ways. Plus, they can be placed all over the play area and that gets sticky. Another problem is that in the game, zombies are pretty boring because they really just walk into plant territory, delivering hits to plants until they die/disappear.

So, in thinking up this game, I really built off the core concept of the game. There are two sides, plants and zombies, and the plants attack the zombies with a combination of offensive and defensive characters. I ran with that and created a game where the zombies fight back in the same way that the plants do. To attack the other side, kids tossed paper balls at each other. (Don’t worry. There’s no way this can hurt when you put at least four or five feet of space between the sides.) They did this in rounds of three minutes and the side with the most balls on their side at the end of the game lost. This makes it a lot like a game kids play in PE called Garbage or Yard Wars or…Google it. It has lots of names.

So here’s the layout of the room.


Step one: Set up the playing area.

You need three rows on each side. The back row is for your catapults, the middle is for offense, and the front is for defense. I used painter’s tape to make my rows.


I made some catapults by taping ladles to yard sticks. Jealous?


The offensive line did nothing but throw and kick balls to the other side.

The defense blocked incoming balls with their shields, which were made from cake rounds and duct tape. They could also help kick balls across.


Step Two: Manage the daylights out of big groups.

I played this game with three groups; two had 40 kids, and one had 12. 40 kids with summer camp instructors was bonkers. 40 kids with parents was just fine and really fun. 12 kids with parents was also perfect. So really, the key to having kids play well is having witnesses who care, but here are some rules that really help.

One: Make it known from the beginning that they cannot just hang on to the balls the whole game and toss them over at the last second. This does not make for fun gameplay.

Two: Also make it known that when you countdown and it’s time to stop, they need to sit down with their hands in their laps. If you don’t have parents there, you may need to say that if you catch them cheating–sitting on the balls or kicking them over when your back is turned–they’ll have to sit out the next game.

Three: Everyone needs to stay in their row. The catapults can move only to reach the balls, but then they need to back up so they can lob them over. This is to keep them from accidentally whacking anyone with the stick.

Step three: Find a referee to help you count and collect the balls at the end of the game. You may also want to kick balls back into the gameplay area if and when they’re tossed out.

Other than that, let them go wild. My summer camp kids got pretty loud, but the groups with parents kept a respectful volume. There’s really no way they can destroy something with a paper ball, either, so you don’t have to worry about damaging the room.

This is fun, easy, and the kids LOVE it. It’s a far cry from the actual game, but when it’s explained, the kids do get it.


Super-Mobile Race Track

Have you all seen Lisa Mulvenna’s Car Day? When I read this months ago, I immediately flagged it as something that would be perfect for my library, and this summer brought just the right opportunity. I had less than .50 cent for each child each week this summer, so this program was perfect. With a little help, I procured 70 big boxes for free and then just bought some painter’s tape, paper plates, brads, and dollar store duct tape. Even sharing supplies between three programs at two branches, I was well under budget.

So here’s what you need:

Either masking tape or painter’s tape

Big boxes

Supplies for decorating

For decorating, I put out lots of sheets of colored paper (found unused in office) for covering boxes, markers, crayons, duct tape for making stripes, glue bottles, paper plates for wheels, and brads for putting them on.

In one branch, I had plenty of space for creating supply stations around the track, but in the other, the track took up almost the whole room, so I only had space for a few stations on the floor. I had room for a table there, so here’s what the set-up looked like.


As kids came in, they picked up a box and I showed them the example. Then they moved on to the table where they could pick up some supplies to get them started.

super station

They could then find some space on the floor to start working on their cars. Here are a couple of the areas I made on the floor.

floor supplies

In my smaller branch, the decorating was a little bit precarious because we wound up having around 35 kids in the room that was already a little too small. This made getting to the stations and supplies harder, but everyone really worked together and helped each other. One grandmother was completely overwhelmed and seemed to shut down, not able to help her two grandkids, but the family next to her just chipped in and helped the kids. It was really nice to watch families interact with each other and build on each other’s ideas.

I let them decorate for about 30 mins and then instructed everyone to help me clear the track for racing. Kids stood inside their big boxes, picked them up, and held them as they ran around the track. Older kids weren’t so interested in this part, but they still loved making the car. Lots of kids drove them right out of the library that night.

supertrackOverall, it was great fun. My bigger branch had no problems at all and they loved the program. Families at the smaller one thanked me for the quality time with their kids and helping them mingle with other kids over the summer. So if you need a cheap program, get thyself some tape and boxes.

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. 


Jungle Campout: A Night with Jane Goodall

You know how every year, we get the CLSP manual and heave a collective sigh because there are so few great ideas in it? Well, this is actually a program idea that came from the manual and it was so fun! I merged the idea to do a program about Jane Goodall with the grand tradition of camping in the library started by Marge and Amy and added a scavenger hunt and craft. Here we go.

So first, I read The Watcher, which also comes in wonderful DVD form, too. (I decided to have both handy, but really, I’m not sure what circumstances would cause me to go with the DVD. Losing my voice suddenly?)


Then we made our craft–a pair of binoculars! For these you just need one paper towel roll cut in half (or two TP rolls), a rubber band, and a strip of paper to decorate and go around the rubber band. Pinterest can tell you all about this craft and its variations, if you’d like to investigate further.


With our binoculars now in our hands, we were ready to search for hidden chimps in the library using a sheet of clues. While I was writing this, it occurred to me that this sheet could be another opportunity to expose some kids to new, jungle-fied vocabulary. So I made a conscious effort to beef up the wording here and I knew I was successful when I heard parents explaining what brush means.


Our chimps were pictures and stuffed animals, hidden throughout the library.


After our search came to an end, I told everyone it was time to camp for the night. Adults broke out the sheets and blankets and pulled some chairs together to form their tents/forts. I dimmed the lights and played some jungle sounds that I found on Youtube while adults read with kiddos for 15 mins.

This was a fun and easy program to put on for a crowd of around 20 and another crowd of around 15. I would think it wise to limit the size of the group so you don’t get too many kids trying to make forts in limited space. I think it’s best for ages 4-9ish, too.

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. 


Fancy Nancy Soiree

Last month, on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, I threw a Fancy Nancy Soiree. I’d been looking forward to it for months because, a) I love the books, and b) HOW COULD IT NOT BE THE MOST FUN EVER?! In the fall, I threw a My Little Pony Party and I anticipated this program appealing to many of the same kids. The MLP party was probably my favorite program all year, so I plotted and plotted, hoping this would be just as great.

I sort of themed the event around Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly.

In it, there’s dancing, fancy treats, a spa day at the hotel, and of course, butterflies. So our day started with reading the book, then freestyle dancing to the Frozen soundtrack, and then we ended with time for crafts and snacks.

My local Wal-Mart always has cookies and cupcakes that are peanut free, so I picked up a couple varieties of pretty cookies and some lemon cakes that were a little more sophisticated for adults. (It was Mother’s Day weekend, after all.)

dessertsI mostly had gender-neutral crafts available, but the manicures station was definitely the most girly. All the moms and girls really enjoyed this part and a few asked me where I found such perfect polish for little girls. In case you’re curious, too, you can probably find the same pack I purchased in the party section of Wal-Mart. It’s sort of a rubbery finish that peels right off, but that’s fine (and maybe better) for young kids.

nailsNext was the crown station, which I think was the favorite craft of the day. I made it easy with bulletin board liner and tape. The stickers were self-adhesive, so feathers were the only decorations that needed to be taped. Around halfway through the program, a couple boys joined us and spent about 30 mins decking out of their crowns and getting them just right. (I recently saw one of these boys at his school and he asked me when we were doing it again. See? Boys can have a good time at a FN party, too.)

crownsThen I had a station for making wands and ties. I pre-cut the ribbons for the wands and made an example for each to show how to make one. I made this easy, too, with everything being taped instead of glue.

tieswands Finally, there was also a station for making glasses. I used a printable pattern and cut out the lenses with a box cutter.  This station had some glue for attaching sequins and gems, so it took the most time.

glassesBecause it was a Saturday, we only had 10 kids come, but we had a GREAT time. The dancing was so cute and moms (and one dad) really enjoyed the quality time with their kids. Of course, the wands were my favorite.

And here’s my costume!

costumeI had ladybug wings, a polka dot dress, red tights, and sparkly shoes. I was LEGIT.


How I Partner with Schools

Having now worked in four different libraries and for five different communities, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that school partnerships can really be difficult to obtain. Currently, I’m very lucky to work for two communities that have really opened up to me without much arm twisting or teeth pulling angst. I have great relationships with four schools at this point and have been working with each of them in some capacity for the last year. I know how rare it is to have such luck with schools, so I wanted to just share the one thing that’s really made all the difference for me.

For me (and again, I know it’s not always this way for everyone), it’s been simple.


I just find ways to be around.

I started my position in the middle of the 2013-2014 school year. My predecessor had already done a great job of reaching out to local schools and hosting Battle of the Books practice competetions. This is a great program to offer, if you’re up for it. Personally, I recoiled from the idea of carrying on that tradition because, while I don’t mind being the center of attention for a storytime or other fun, energetic activities, I could not get into standing in front of an audience, reading and repeating questions and enforcing rules.

(And on a tangential note: If you don’t feel excited about a successful program that someone before you hosted, I think you should forgive yourself a little and let it go. If you don’t love it, you’re not going to do it with the same energy and joy and you’re going to miss out on sharing something that you love. It’s better to pass on your passion for a program to 10 kids rather than your ambivalence to 100.)

When the 2014-2015 year rolled around, I was determined to go out and meet some local school librarians. The week before school started, when teachers and faculty are getting set up, I visited 6 schools and simply introduced myself to their media specialists. I chatted with them about their media centers, how much I loved what they were doing, got excited with them about our common geekery, and I made sure to tell them that I would be thrilled to help with any projects they might be undertaking. I didn’t push any information on them. I just wanted to share a fun moment.

Almost every month afterward, I targeted a school and I would just drop by with some quarter sheets advertising our programs and I’d do the same thing as the first time.

Within a few months, a couple people started asking for help with things. For instance, one school librarian asked me to collect donations for her makerspace. Others just wanted some information like resources for new songs and fingerplays or help with finding performers to bring in. I’ve arranged for them to borrow iPads from our tech lab and installed apps they need.

After several months of literally just showing up unannounced and being happy to help, I’ve seen some great progress. Going into the summer, I’m speaking to every student in those four schools I mentioned. I’ll be meeting their classes, telling them about summer reading, and sending them home with a library card application and schedule of events. Before school dismisses for the summer, I’ll be picking up any card applications they’ve been able to collect and then I’ll have library accounts prepared for them when they visit us. I’m also invited to the open house for one of these schools and I attend staff meetings at another. One school (within walking distance of the library) plans to bring all their grades to our branch once a month next year. I mean, how cool are school librarians?


(If you’re looking for some read alouds for your class visits, here’s a stack that’s worked wonders for me.)

And if you’re thinking you might not have time for this, believe me, I understand. I have a hard time making it work myself, but the rewards for those 30 minutes I take to stop by a school are amazing. Let me leave you with one last story.

One particular school librarian was clearly just humoring me when I would stop by. At one point, she told me that, “unlike the public library” her job was “different everyday” and she frequently referred to me as an “adult librarian.” After helping her with a couple projects through the year, she contacted me in the spring to talk about the possibility of combining our summer reading programs. Despite the icky feeling I had about her perception of my job, I really admired her work and thought she had an incredible summer reading program, which was typically a lot more popular than ours. She hosted weekly family nights at her media center and even drove a bookmobile to trailer parks and low-income housing. This year, her funding was stripped, but she knew exactly what to do. She asked me to provide the programs and space with her staff to help.

We made plans to keep my smaller branch open later to accommodate more kids, brought in newer, bigger shelves to store more books, worked with the City to provide more space for us, and I’ll be training her volunteer staff to use our software and help close the branch. We’ve worked hard to make sure that every student in her school has a library card and we’ve brought every class on a walking field trip to the library for a tour and a talk about summer reading. After a month of tours and watching me interact with the kids, I overheard her tell a child that I was the “children’s librarian.”

I silently walked to the back and did a wild victory dance.

Channeling my Beyonce.

Channeling my Beyonce.

To date, we’ve added 56 new kids to the public library and the applications continue to roll in. We’re so excited to keep up the momentum, and another elementary school heard about this and is considering doing the same next year.

Guys, take 30 minutes and just be around.