Tween Programming–Escape Room in the Library

Library Escape Rooms are really big right now, so I tried to design this program so that any library can try to duplicate it.  Because making something like this is kinda daunting–where do you even start?  From what I’ve read, starting at the end is the best way to do it.

I didn’t want to my kids to actually “break out” of our room; I thought that would end badly.  So I thought that the end would be unlocking a suitcase that had candy bars.

So then I had to figure out where to put the key to unlock the suitcase.  So I got an idea from a library call number scavenger hunt.  I hid the key in a hollowed out book.  These are easy enough to make, and there’s probably a million pins about it already on the Pinned-Interest.


Next, I made a fake call number for the book and stuck it out in the stacks in our nonfiction section.  The call number was “J 793.735 DOY.”  793.735 is the Dewey call number for “riddles.”  Pretty cool, right?


So the final puzzle was actually NOT in the escape room, but I made sure to tell kids that the key to the suitcase was hidden somewhere in the library, and they had to solve the puzzles to find out where.

Still working backwards, I figured that now that each puzzle that was solved would now unlock a part of the call number.  Miss Gloria thought it would be a good idea to do only three puzzles, so I broke the call number into three chunks for the three different puzzles we would have.  Each chuck is color-coded, and matches the color on the sign where that number would go in the call number.  This was to try to make it easier on the kids.

Dewey Sign.JPG

Going off of the book idea, I figured our room’s theme would be “Crazy Librarian’s Office.”  That way, we don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of props, we can just use what we have lying around.  So we brought up an extra desk and furniture from the basement, and dressed it all with office supplies and junk to make it look busy.  Then we just hid all of our clues.

I decided that the office belonged to Miss Petra.  She’s an old and mean librarian–and of course she loves cats.  Because she kinda has to, right?


Still working backwards, Miss Gloria and I came up with the three puzzles that would unlock the three chunks of the call number.  I mapped out the plan like this; the end is at the top:

Escape Room Layout

Miss Gloria wanted to do one that number related and one that was word related, so we came up with using different kind of locks for different puzzles.

Puzzle 1

The “79” of the call number was locked in a box with a number combination.  The combination would be the numbers of a broken clock–from what I’ve heard this is used a lot but your kids won’t know that.


To know that, we would have the kids use a UV light to search the room.  If they looked at the portrait of Miss Petra on the wall, they would see “Time is the Key = Clock”  written in invisible ink around the frame.  We hid the UV light in a desk drawer with a clue attached to it that said “Use me to see in the DARK” so kids knew that it was important.


Puzzle 2

The “3.7” of the call number was locked in a box with a letter combination lock.  The answer was “BOOK.”  To figure that out, they would have to put together a puzzle that said the word “BOOK” on it.  For this we got a blank puzzle, wrote on it, and then hid them around the room.  It was just more stuff to find!!


Puzzle 3

The “35” of the call number was locked in a box with a padlock.  The key to that was hidden under Miss Petra’s chair with duct tape, so if they got this clue they could figure it out:

Goldilocks Puzzle.jpg

Goldi-LOCKS!  So to get that clue, they had to open a separate box with a separate key.  We hid that key in a dragon puppet, way back in the mouth so you would probably miss it if you were just searching really quick.


So in order to figure that out they had to find one of these bookmarks, which had “DRAGON” spelled out in sign language.  I hid three around the room in different spots.  And once they found the Sign Language Chart, they’d be all set.IMG_7886

If you take a look at the poster I made for the event, you’ll see that I basically GAVE my kids all the clues they needed right away.  WHAT?!  M. Night Shyamalan moment!!

Escape Poster

So that’s it.  Really low cost, the only thing we really bought was the letter lock, the LED UV flaghlight, the blank puzzle, and the invisible ink pens.  Everything else we had lying around.  So it’s a cheap and fun program to do.

Storytime–Transportation Stories

Kids love trucks.  Shocking right??  In other breaking news, the sky is blue and pie is delicious.  So when I do storytime, I usually devote at least one week to the subject of transportation, because of the high interest and the huge amount of great material out there.

My storytime has a wide age gap, anywhere from 6 month-5 years.  So I always plan on only two stories, one geared for the younger kids that’s simpler and one geared for the older kids, usually with some sort of movement involved to keep younger kids engaged.  Then we usually do three rhymes or songs, and then an activity at the end.

First here’s the best books I’ve been run across:

Books with SoundsSound Cars

Sound recognition is important but also just fun to do.  These books also work for younger ages, so that’s a plus.  Steve Light’s “Go” series does a great job talking about more obscure vehicles and the sounds they make.   “Toot Toot Beep Beep” makes for an easy flannelboard.  And “Moo!” is the best, it’s just one word said a bunch of different ways, so it’s a good book for emotions too.

Books with ActionsAction Cars.jpg

I try to make my books as interactive as possible for those kids that don’t want to sit still.  “In the Driver’s Seat” is especially good at this.  The audience has to constantly turn left and right while reading; it’s currently out of print but it’s always been a hit for my Pre-K school visits.  “Old MacDonald had a Truck” and “Tip Tip Dig Dig” are also really interactive, kids can just do the actions that the trucks are doing.

Other Great BooksCar Stories.jpg

“Tiny Toad Mows Tiny Island” is good because it talks about basically every type of transportation.  “Fire Engine No. 9” is a fast, energetic story that can have some interactive elements in it.  “Freight Train” is a classic and makes for an easy flannelboard AND it’s available in big book.  But my kids just want NOTHING to do with this one.  “Race Car Count” is colorful and includes counting; I was able to find all the cars online, laminate them, and then stick them up on my flannelboard, so we were able to count them all.  But one of my favorites to do is “Let’s Go for a Drive.”  Most of the Elephant and Piggies are really hard to do, but this one only requires a few props, the biggest is the sail for their pirate ship, which was easy enough for me to make out of an old map:


Songs and Rhymes

Ahhh Jbrary.  You make life so much easier.  I’ve used both of these for transportation storytime and kids have loved them.

We’ve also have sung “Wheels on the Bus” but instead of doing wipers and things like that, we let animals on the bus.  I’ve always asked kids which animal should be on the bus, and every once and awhile you get something funny like a giraffe or a unicorn; then we have to quickly figure out what they say on the bus!!  After we sing about that animal we let that animal off the bus, by making the doors go open and shut.  So we then we sing that and put a different animal on the bus.  We do this a few times, and then we have to race back to the library by singing “Wheels on the Bus” as fast as we can.  Kids love that part.


We usually end on a simple activity that often promotes some sort of sensory awareness.  Most of the times when I do transportation storytime, we’ve ended by doing a car wash.

It’s just a bunch of wash tubs filled with warm water, some cheap matchbox cars, and some sponges.  There’s some basic sensory awareness going on, but it also promotes sharing.  Giving a car back is asking a lot of some kids; to help them out, we tell them to “park it” back in the box.


But I borrowed our latest activity from STEM in Libraries.  Their “STEAM Storytime” had kids repairing broken paper plates by taping them back together.  That’s such a great idea that I repurposed it to fit a transportation theme.

So I started by printing out a bunch of coloring sheets, cutting them up into simple evenish squares, and then putting each broken truck into individual baggies.  After storytime I told my kids that we’ll be coloring fire trucks, but that the trucks are a little broken.  So they’ll have to first put them back together and then color them.  Miss Gloria thought it would be much easier if the kids used gluesticks instead of tape, and that seemed to work great.


I did this activity for a Pre-K school visit, and the kids really liked it.  But what I learned is to not make it too hard (I might have made a kid cry) and to walk them through the activity really quick, by saying, “What does a fire truck have on the bottom?” Tires!  “Right and they go on the bottom!  And what does a fire truck have on the top?” A ladder!  “Right and that goes on the top!”  There were still kids that needed help, but most of them figured it out.  Sharp cookies!!



Kids Programming–Dr. Seuss Birthday Party

A Dr. Seuss party is a great way to bring families into the library.  We break our event into two parts–a 30 minute story time, and a one hour playtime with crafts and games.  And cake…people will always come if there’s cake.


But first…

The Story Time

Dr. Seuss stories are amazing…but they are SUPER long.  So when doing a story time, it’s important to do stories that are short and engaging.  Me and Mr. Mark, our storyteller, always do three stories for this part, trying to add a new story every single time.  Here’s a list of the best ones to do for a story time.

“Green Eggs and Ham”

We’ve done this one for three years, and it’s a hit every time.  And it’s great for a two person story time.


The way to make it really entertaining is by making it kinda slap sticky.  Like, when I ask Mr. Mark if he’ll eat green eggs and ham in the rain, I spray him with squirt guns.  Kids lose it EVERY TIME!!  Or when I ask him if he’ll eat them on a boat, I put a giant inner tube on him.

“Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You??”

Really simple to do, and it’s interactive so kids can help out.  Also goes pretty quick.


“I Am Not Going to Get up Today”

We recently discovered this one–great to do live.  We got an air mattress out, and Mr. Mark just read the story laying down.  Then I would do the actions to try and get him out of bed.  Really slapsticky again, which the kids always love.


Those would be my Top 3 suggestions, but we’ve done a few others.  Last year we did “Sneetches” which was fun to do but it REALLY went over the kids’ heads, even though we shortened it.


But our Sneetch machine turned out amazing, thanks to our circ assistant Joel.

Sneetch Machine.jpg

We’ve also done “I’ll Lick 30 Tigers Today.”  I hung 30 big tiger cutouts on a board, and as Mr. Mark read the story, I would take off more tigers!  It went well, but tell kids ahead of time what the word “lick” means, otherwise kids will think you’re actually licking tigers.  Maybe get some boxing gloves, maybe your high school has some.


And we’ve also done “The Zax,” which went okay but again kids didn’t really get it.  But our bridge turned out amazing, thanks to Joel again.


After that, we clean up really quick and move on to the party.


While Mr. Mark cuts the cake, I go around and explain the different stations that we have set up.

“One Fish, Two Fish” Fish Pond

Easy to set up and make.  All I did was trace out a fish, cut out both sides, and glue it together with a large paperclip by the nose.  Add some white for the eye and use a black marker around the edges and you got some fishies.

Fish Pond

You can give out prizes if they catch one, but kids just like playing with it regardless.  I always tell my kids it’s catch and release.  Here’s my template if you want to steal that:


“Cat in the Hat” Ball Toss

Easy if you have some Cat in the Hat hats lying around like we do.  If not, you can probably make some easy enough with coffee cans.  We stuck some pails in there and kids had fun tossing balls into the hats.  Maybe have a volunteer here because some kids REALLY love to throw them.

Hat Toss

Pin the Heart on the Grinch

Miss Gloria made this.  It’s awesome.  We laminated it to make it last longer.


Crafts with Old Books (Great for Buttons, Coasters, or just Decorations!)

First save all of your old copies Seuss discards and razor out the pages.  There’s SO many things you can do with them.  If you have a button maker, it works great for that.  You can get some bathroom tiles and make them into coasters, though that craft is a bit more complicated.  But kids also just like sticking it on the back of some cardstock and taking it home.

Seuss Crafts.jpg

BUT I ALWAYS tell my kids that we should NEVER cut out pages from books, but since these were well-loved, it’s okay and we are recycling.


Make Your Own Hat or Lorax Mustache

Kids can cut these out and color them any way they want.  Here’s my templates:



Great for photo ops!!

Mustache Girl.jpg

“Wocket in my Pocket”

Print this out on green paper or cardstock.  These didn’t go as fast as the other items but it’s still great to have.


Extra Stuff

There’s plenty of great craft ideas on Pinterest, so you should have no shorage of funderful ideas.  Check out Target or Party City, since they usually have Seuss stickers, pencils, and bookmarks to give away.

“I am what I am, that’s a great thing to be.
If I say so myself, happy birthday to ME!”

Tween Programming–Star Wars Party

Our Star Wars parties always drew a HUGE crowd, so it’s a great way to bring people into the library.  Miss Gloria and I planned one for the past two years.  They’re fun but can be a lot of work…and can get out of hand.  Learn from our mistakes and our triumphs, young Padawan.

Our program ran for one hour; the idea was for it to be a Jedi Training Academy.  So we we ran a bunch of small activity stations, with one big activity at the beginning to kick it off.  Our kickoff activity was a Death Star pinata!!


The pinata itself was easy enough to make.  Find the largest and cheapest beach ball or inflatable ball you can find.  Then cover it was paper mache, as many layers as possible.  Cut out a small circular hole, pop your ball, and scoop it out.  Fill it up with candy, take the part you cut out, and put it back upside down to create the dimple, then mache over it.  Miss Gloria made ours super cool by painting it gray, used painter’s tape to make the lines, then painted over it with darker gray to create the different segments.

Soooo the idea of a pinata is wonderful, candy and smashing things is a winning combination!!  The practicality of a pinata is another thing entirely.  It takes a lot of work to make, and you’ll probably either make it too strong or too weak.  And doing a pinata INSIDE is usually not a good idea.  Our first year with a pinata was fine, kids lined up and listened with no incident.  Our second year kids were more…free form about what the idea of a “line” meant.  So after that, we decided to not do a pinata again–so make sure your execution is well thought out if you decide to do this one.  Tape out a line ahead of time!!

After that, we walked our kids through all of our stations.  Kids are going to want to try things right away, but I made sure that all of my explanations were done before we set our kids loose.

Lightsaber Training

These were just pool noodles, silver duct tape, and black electrical tape that Miss Gloria used for the detail work.  And of course I had to make Rylo Ken’s crossguard lightsaber. Pretty cheap!!


Kids at this station had to keep a balloon or two in the air for as long as possible.


It’s probably good to have a volunteer stationed here.  Because as soon as you turn your back, lightsaber duels WILL break out.  That’s to be expected, but it can get really distracting if they go on for too long.

Trash Compactor Dive

In this station, kids had to go through a bunch of shredded paper to look for mini cardboard cutouts of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo.


If they found them all, they got a prize, which was usually a Star Wars sticker or pencil (check Party City or Target for what they have.)Compactor.JPG

This was also a lot of fun, but got kinda messy.  A volunteer or staff member basically needs to reset it every single time.  Also it’s a good idea to have TWO copies of each character in the garbage dump to make it go faster.

Target Practice

This was simply kids shooting at cardboard cutouts of stormtroopers.  I asked staff to bring in any Nerf guns that they had lying around.


Last year, we had a lot of younger kids that had trouble cocking the guns, thinking that they were broken, so might need to have a volunteer here too.

Death Star Trench Run

This one was pretty easy to make and set up.  Take a big sturdy piece of cardboard and make it into a Death Star, and cut out the laser hole.  Then make some mini-paper airplanes.


Have the kids stand and try to fly their planes through the hole and blow up the Death Star.  Just make sure your planes are actually capable of flying through the hole.  Otherwise this activity basically runs itself.

Yoda Ears and Leia Buns

Some kids came in costume, but this is a great way to get everyone looking the part.  Just some big brown circles and yarn for the Leia buns, and some green ears and cotton balls for the hair for the Yoda ears.  Parents were great with helping their kids on this one.  Here’s the template for the ear I made if you want to steal that.


Great for photo ops!



Another easy one to set up.  Cut out some droid templates from cardstock.  Then cut out some different shapes and colors to stick on your droid.  Make sure you have orange for BB-8 and blue for R2-D2, but have other colors too.


Here’s the droid template I made if you want to steal that too, you should be able to get four to a sheet:

BB Template
R2D2 Template

Extra Stuff

In the center of the room we had a bean bag toss game, that was kinda like a space battle.  Kids could try to sink each other’s ships!!  Our shelver Shauna was kind enough to draw this for us and we were able to slap it right on top our bean bag toss, but I’m sure you could just print out some pictures of ships and use that for the same effect.


We also had a quote quiz and some Star Wars coloring sheets for kids that got bored.  I made the quiz, and yes you can steal it:


We also did some food, but nothing too fancy.  We had VaderAde, which was just lemonade, and Ewok Treats, which were just teddy grams.  Having the Star Wars soundtrack playing in the background is also a nice touch.

THAT’S IT!!  Lots of work but lots of fun!!


Tween Programming–Spy Camp

Everyone wants to be a spy, so Miss Gloria and I did a program a few years back where are kids could learn how to become a secret agent.  It was a lot of fun and pretty low cost.

We started by having the kids line up outside the Community Room (our activity room) and in order to get in and get past us, they had to know the password.  Oh yeah, and the password changes EVERY SINGLE TIME!


So in order to get a password, kids would have to do a task like dance like a chicken or do the robot.  It’s an idea we took from the “Safe House” a restaurant in the Milwaukee and Chicago area.  If they completed the task we gave them a password and they could walk into the room.  We had a James Bond compilation CD playing in the background for added effect.

Once everyone was inside and we explained the few simple rules, we started learning how to become a spy.  We started with something simple, writing a letter in invisible ink.  We had the kids write in lemon juice and Q-tips on computer paper.


In order to see the message, you have to apply heat.  Our samples didn’t work the best, so maybe there’s a better way to do this.  Anyway, we wrote our names on them in pencil, set our papers dry out, moved the tables, and got ready for the obstacle course!

The obstacle course was clearly the hit of the party.  We even let it go on for longer than planned because kids kept wanting to do it multiple times.  Here’s some of the obstacles we planned:

Mine Field


We got a kiddie pool and some CHEAP balloons (because they are more likely to pop) and had the kids try not to set off any mines.  We explained to NOT set them off on purpose, otherwise that wouldn’t be fair for everyone else.  This one was pretty easy so maybe in the future get a 2nd pool and fill it up.  Also, when you’re done, PUT THE BALLOONS AWAY or else kids will purposely pop them.

Laser Field


You’ve seen this on Pinterest I’m sure, but kids were repeatedly going through this one.  We explained again that kids could NOT just run through it, or else it wouldn’t be fair to everyone.  Painters Tape works great because it’s sticky enough to stay but sensitive enough to rip easy.  If one got ripped, I would crawl in, tape a patch between the two ends real quick, and have the kids keep going through.  We’re lucky enough that we have a little hallway in our room, but you could easily do this between your library shelves.

Jetpack Jump

unnamed (5).jpg

This one was really popular too.  We made about 6 jetpacks.  They’re just soda bottles spray painted gray, silver duct tape to connect them, with two straps taped in.  Miss Gloria mad the flames out of felt.  We taped some lines on the floor, and kids had to run and jump between them.

Shooting Gallery


Simply squirt guns, ping pong balls, golf tees, and something to put your tees into.  Really simple and a lot of fun.  We had a volunteer refilling the guns and making sure that no squirt gun fights happened.

After the obstacle course, we did a round of 20 Questions:


One kid would be asked to come up and sit in the chair, and we could get assign a famous person that kids would know.  The other kids could only ask 20 questions to guess who the kid was.  This was a great idea in practice, but most of the kids we had were too young and weren’t asking the best questions.  So maybe replace this idea for next time.

Our last activity was making disguises:


Kids were given a mustache or two to cut out, color, and put on a popsicle stick.  Simple put the kids liked it.  On the way out, we gave them a sheet about Morse Code and a secret message that they had to decipher.


That was basically it!  A big success with little prep and hardly any money.  Let me know how it works out for you.

Tween Programming–Are You Smarter than a Librarian? Trivia Night

So this is a summer program we’ve been hosting for 4 years now.  I’m extra proud of this one because it’s the first program I came up with that I didn’t first steal from Pinterest 🙂

I’ve always saved this one for the week of 4th of July–the idea being I don’t put too much work into this one, so if not that many kids show up it’s okay.  But it’s also interesting enough that we’ve always gotten a pretty good crowd anyway.  We even have parents that want to stick around and watch this one.

It’s a really cheap and simple program to host.  All you need is some willing librarians to help you out!!  Your job as the host will be to ask questions and keep score!!

So here’s the setup, first I set up 3 or 4 tables with chairs, depending on how many kids I get.  Each table works as a team.  One table will be for the librarians, we’ve always had two librarians at this table; having just one librarian there would get boring for them, so I think two is the way to go.  The other tables will be for your kids.


I usually divide the hour into a few different rounds to keep it interesting.  The first round is a brain teaser round to try and get the different teams to start working together:



The answers are “They all have FEET” and “They all have TEETH.”  Wah wah wahhh.

After that I do a round of basic trivia questions.  We don’t have buzzers like on a game show, so I just ask each table a separate question and go from there.  I also try to make it fair for both the kids AND the librarians, so I ask the kids questions I think they should know, and I ask the librarians things they DEFINITELY don’t (librarians don’t know a lot about boy bands it turns out.)

After a few minutes of that, we usually do another picture round.  Then we go back to basic trivia.  We have a few special categories like “Which Came First?”  The team must answer which came first out of two options.


Which came first: The zipper or velcro??  The answer is the zipper (invented in 1893, velcro was invented 1956.)

Which came first: Backstreet Boys or N’Sync??  The answer is Backstreet Boys (album released 1996, N’Snyc was released in 1998

A great place to find questions for this is in a book like “Smithsonian Visual Timeline of Inventions.”  It spells out when nearly every invention was created and in what year.

Another special round we do is “Guess How Much?”  In this round, you ask a question like “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?”  Then each table gets to submit one answer; the one closet to the actual answer gets the point.  I try to spice it up with a few weirder questions like:

How many pages in all 7 Harry Potter books?  (4,224 pages)

How many times is the phrase “Shake it Off” said in the Taylor Swift song of the same name? (36 times)

About how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie roll center of a Tootsie pop, according to a recent study? (1000 licks)

So just keep alternating between trivia and picture rounds to spice things up.  The summer reading theme a few years back was superheroes, so we did a superhero logo picture round:


The final round is usually a BIG picture round.  This is what I did my first year:


Here they have to write down both the book title and the author based on the movie.  FUN!!  The last event is always worth the most points.  After that, tally up your points and announce who wins.

Our librarians have won the past THREE years, but it’s always been pretty close.  One of the librarians wanted a championship belt, so Miss Gloria made this for the event:


As prizes, we give out candy bars to all the kids that participate.

THAT’S IT!!  Really simple–the hardest part is finding questions to ask the kids.  I’ve found some pretty cheap trivia books meant for kids and just used those.  Easy enough!