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After School Programs

boy with book and girl laughing Lets be Honest

School age children (from kindergarten on and up) are a challenging audience to capture.  Many have little free time due to the demands of school, extracurricular activities, and, for the much older ones, after-school jobs, Because of this, libraries frequently focus on younger children (infant, toddlers, preschooler) during the school year and older ones during the summer.

For the purpose of programming, school age children can be divided into four categories:

  • Kindergarten through Second
  • Third through Fifth
  • Sixth through Eighth
  • Ninth through Twelfth

The last two categories are generally thought of as “Young Adults,” so they will not be discussed here.

Bear in mind that in “real life” most children cannot be divided neatly into these age groups because of their varying development levels.  You may find fourth graders who are ready to move up to the “young adult” level or sixth graders who would be better off in a program with the third through fifth graders.  A challenge.  Sometimes you have to aim for the middle of the road.  And sometimes you may not want to hold rigidly to an age level.  If the child is interested in coming to the program, welcome him/her.  You can enlist the older children to help the younger ones.

Too Cool

At the beginning of the school year, children in kindergarten through second grade might still enjoy a program similar to a preschool storytime.  By the end of the year, however, the second graders are “almost” third graders and may have matured (or think they have matured) beyond what they call “little kid” programs.  Some third graders still enjoy the storytime format and would probably enjoy coming to a family storytime that encourages parents and children of all ages to attend.

The Sky’s the Limit

Programming options for school age children are unlimited. You could read mature preschool books, do booktalks, invite someone in to do a program for you, plan an author talk and autograph signing, play games, learn magic, put on a puppet show, do crafts — you name it.

Just remember that you are providing a library program and make sure to tie it in with books and reading in some way.  An outside presenter may understand that libraries like to have books and reading promoted and will do so without being prompted.  At the very least, have a display of books on the topic of the program and encourage the children to look at them and check some out to take home.

To Pay or Not to Pay

That’s a good question. Whether or not you hire a professional performer or speaker will depend upon whether or not you have programming money in your budget or want to take time to find a donor.  That is a decision made by each library system.  Frequently, programming money is reserved for activities during times when school is not in session.

Your community will undoubtedly have excellent amateur performers or services with outreach programs of their own that would do free programs you for the exposure in the community.  Ask around.  Most people know someone or know someone who knows someone.  Your local school system may have a list of program resources that they use in their Arts in School activities.  Some of them may offer free or affordable programs.  Put up a poster in your library asking for talented people to step forward and show you what they can do.

Getting It All Together

There is on particular format for a school age program.  The outline you follow will depend in the activities you plan to do and h ow they will best work together to make a smooth-flowing, unified program.  Will there be an outside presenter?  Will you do  it all.

Do not wait until the day of the program to pull everything together.  You may find that an essential element of your program is not possible or feasible and you will be scrabbling to find a fill-in.  Check on your supplies well enough in advance that you will have time to get more if you need it.

Consider the time it will take to do each activity and the complexity.  Should part of it be done outside at the very end?  Will some activities run smoother if you have other adults to help?  Does your special presenter need you to provide extension cords, a microphone, tables for display, etc.?  Do you need to prepare materials in advance of the activity?

Did make an outline to follow, especially if you are presenting the entire program.  It will keep you on track and help you remember what you want to do and when.  Your reward will be a program that progresses smoothly.

These are some ideas for performers or services that may be a source of free programs.

  • 4-H
  • Recycling Center
  • Humane Society
  • Music student or ensembles
  • Beginning Storytellers
  • Amateur magicians
  • Gas Company
  • Electric Company
  • Hospital or Wellness Center
  • Fitness Center
  • Agricultural Extension Service
  • Forestry Service
  • Fire Department
  • Police Department
  • Self-published Authors or Illustrators
  • Red Cross

If your library prefers presenting it own programs, try some of these.  Most of these ideas can be expanded and adapted for different age groups.

Crafts only (Instructions for variations of most of these ideas can be found in books)

  • Holiday ornaments or symbols (Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year)
  • Earth Day (craft from natural objects or recycled”trash”)
  • Jewelry-making (anything from “friendship bracelets” to necklaces or bracelets made from glass or plastic beads or beads made from rolled up pieces of paper)
  • Book-making (simple corrugated fronts and backs covered with butcher or bulletin board paper decorated by the children)
  • Bookmark-making (paper cut in bookmark shapes and sizes, decorated, laminated with contact paper, yarn tassel through hole punched in one end.)
  • Pop-up Cards (works well for programs around holidays or special events like Mother’s or Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day)

Mixed Activities:

Codes (Read a short fiction book and/or booktalk non-fiction, prepare codes for children to solve, let them make coded message or make a bookmark with their names written in code)

Science (Decide on an activity such as making “slime” then read a short fiction book and booktalk titles that relate to the activity; or do several science-magic “experiments”)

Magic (Read a short fiction books and/or booktalk non-fiction, show children different easy magic tricks found in books you already have, let them make a bag or box of magic trick props to take home.)

Puppet-making (Let children make several different kinds of puppets and put on a very basic show for each other; or if older children, put on a show for younger ones.)

Treasure Hunt (Give the children a bandana and eye patch, them give them a map with things they have to find in the library.

Origami (Read a short fiction books and/or booktalk nonfiction, let children make an assortment of origami objects starting with very easy instructions and providing some more challenging ones, as well)

What If Nobody Ever Show?

Another form of programming that works well for school age children is “passive programming.”  Since it is sometimes difficult to get a group together in the same place at the same time for traditional programming, make available activities that cane be done at any time on site or take home to complete.  Make sure you keep instructions and supplies handy and be available to lend a hand if necessary.

All the crafts above, except for book-making and pop-up cards, work well handled in this way.  Origami has been done this way successfully for children up through middle school age; and even the treasure hunt is a good candidate for self-directed activity.  Obviously, there are many other choices.

Taken from
Children’s and Youth Services Staff Handbook et al Elaine M. McCraken published by Georgia Public Library Service in 2002.  Used with permission

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