Over the years I have learned to "loosen up" about [summer] story time. We make it very simple and not too many "rules". First off all, it makes it easier for the staff. When there is only one person on duty at a time during the rest of the week it can get stressful if the staff has to keep track of a bunch of details and steps. We have volunteers who take over during program days, freeing up the staff member to concentrate on the other library services. We made the reading slips/reward very simple to deal with. We have timed slips-each a different color. It doesn't matter if the child does it in a day or a week or more. When they turn in that slip, we have a box with a same colored slip attached to it and that is the reward for that reading slip. We have a counter in the back of the circ desk where the different boxes for each reward are lined up so the staff member can easily know which reward to give out. I have also learned to do very general themed story times so I am not too locked in to a theme that finds you obsessing over trying to find an activity to fit into the theme. It's amazing how many 5 letter words can be found to set to the song BINGO so you can easily have a song for a theme. ( last week's H-E-A-R-T - for Valentines day for example or P-I-Z-Z-A is a food I like to eat-save a bite for me) I also feel that when we went to timed reading it was better for the kids- after a school year of "having to read a particular thing" it is great that with timed reading we give the kids a chance to read what they want to read- we can help develop the fun of reading that way.
In Wisconsin, our Department of Public Instruction consultant is trying to emphasis that we shouldn't put all of our eggs in one basket for the summer library program which typically runs 8-12 weeks. She likes to ask, "What about the rest of the year?" Some of our librarians are considering ditching the cheap summer reading prizes and just going with a book for a prize at the end of summer reading. I am still trying to figure out why we put all of this pressure on ourselves to put on a show every summer? Who is demanding this? Does our community even notice?
Over the past few years we simplified record keeping of books read or minutes read, that was one stress reliever. We make it fun for the younger kids to track their reading success by using die cuts and having them decorate the library with die cuts for each book or for every 5 books read. They love to do this and helps in keeping the library fun and decorated throughout the summer months.
I have also gone to more of the DIY programs for families. Our summer school schedule for our district has under gone several changes, the biggest one is this years summer school schedule. So it is easier to plan one or two scheduled events and then having several DIY programs throughout the summer for families to participate in on a given day throughout the day. Some of the programs we have set up for DIY are Minecraft day, Digital Photography Scavenger Hunt, Loom bracelets, art activities, and Lego builds.
ONE DAY OFF
I will always plan one day during the week of Summer Reading with NOTHING to do--no programs, no entertainers--nothing. This day is usually Friday. We run two sessions per day, Monday - Thursday for different age groups to check-in, listen to a story or two and complete a craft. These days might also include a special program in the evening. Fridays are for de-stressing, straightening the department to re-connect with our collection, and if needed, prep for the next week. It is so nice to have this day to look forward to!
We also bring in teen volunteers to help with our weekly sessions. They help with check-in, playing games, and helping hand out/clean up craft supplies. It is a huge help to have the extra set of hands!
...something I am doing that hasn't been done so much in the past is incorporating outside community help. Nothing is set in stone yet since it's only February, but I've been making connections and talking to some community members in the school about them possibly helping me do programming this summer. I don't have many volunteers and our staff is always very busy with their own duties. I've spoken to the guidance counselor at our elementary school about offering free yoga sessions for kids this summer, to a local therapy dog owner about bringing her dog in for the kids to read to, to the middle school media specialist about doing some sort of two session program, and some of my teen advisory board members about running programs that they're interested in, like Pokemon. Not only would this keep the weeks filled with fun and interesting things, it would also help keep the pressure off me to facilitate all of these activities. Yes, I need to make the initial contact, but once the semantics are figured out, it's up to them. I am loving this so far because I moved to a small town of 2,900 people and knew no one, and this is giving me an opportunity to make connections with others in the community who serve children. I also think this will be a great stepping stone for collaborating with the schools so they'd be more open to letting me come visit classes or advertise our programs.
GET A GRIP
In previous years, the children's librarian ran herself ragged trying to make sure all the kids have events each week and this and that and on and on. This year will be my first summer reading programming. I don't want to be stressed out. I don't handle stress well. I have one to two programs a week planned. I only have 2 paid performances that will happen and there is only one project for each age group that I will be putting together completely by myself. We are not doing weekly prizes this year. One because they are a pain and two because they are generally cheap prizes that either get broken or lost. Instead, we are saving that money for incredible end prizes.
I have to say, my director has pretty well given me free reign to operate any way I want as long as I have a well thought out plan. She hasn't said no to a single idea yet. And I think that the less we overplan and stress out, the better a program runs anyways. We can tell when the host is a mess. It's not fun for the kids when programs are like that. So we are doing all a favor by calming down and just having some fun instead of spending so much without really having it to spend or driving ourselves crazy.