Robot Obstacle Course

I’ve been meeting so many new people on Instagram lately. Annamarie Carlson is one of them! When I saw her post about a robot obstacle course, I knew it was something to blog about. So today, Annamarie has written all about how she runs her robot obstacle course for kids ages 8 – 12. Take it away, Annamarie!

At my library, combining technology and kids always results in a program win. Since receiving a state LSTA grant in 2017, I’ve run monthly introductory technology programs for ages 8-12 using Dash and Dot robots, SPRK+ robots, 3Doodlers, green screens, Bloxels, Google Cardboard, Makey Makeys, and more. These programs provide school-age kids with an opportunity to learn about something new, delve into their creative interests, and have some hands-on time with technology they may not otherwise be able to access. One of my favorite programs in my technology series is Robot Obstacle Courses, which engages attendees in technology and engineering concepts.

Supplies Needed

This program can be adapted to work with whatever robots your library has available. I used four Dash robots (by Wonder Workshop) and four SPRK+ robots (by Sphero) because those are the robots my library owns. Any robot that has a free drive or simple coding feature would work well for this program.

Materials List:

  • Space (the more room kids have to build in, the more elaborate obstacle courses can become)
  • Masking Tape
  • Robots (enough to allow for groups no larger than 2-3 people)
  • Obstacle Course Building Supplies
  • Countdown Timer

How It Worked

At Robot Obstacle Courses, 16 kids were divided into groups of 2-3, assigned a taped off area of the room, and given just 10 minutes to create any kind of obstacle course with just the materials available in their space. Each group had access to the robot that would be navigating their course, but obstacle course creators could not test out their own course during their 10-minute building time.

After 10 minutes, it was hands-off the obstacle course materials. Each group of students moved to a new station and tested a different group’s course. I distributed iPads with the appropriate robot app to each group, and they had 10 minutes to test this new course and make tweaks (or massive repairs) as needed. By having the kids test out and improve another group’s course, the attitude in the room was much more teamwork-focused than competitive.

Groups rotated through each created obstacle course, receiving shorter adjustment and testing times as they went. About 20 minutes later, kids returned to their original group and were able to see what their original course had become and how well it had worked.

Since I was using two different robots (Dash and SPRK+), groups then demolished their original obstacle course before swapping halves of the room to try again with the other robot.


This program focused on engineering and teamwork skills over coding skills. Due to the limited time frame and that I used two different robots to accommodate more participants, most groups free drove the robots through the obstacle courses instead of coding the robots to complete each course. I explained some of the basics of block-based coding during the program for my more experienced program participants, but by not requiring coding knowledge, I was able to accommodate many new participants to this program who had not used a robot before.

Kids left the program talking about angles, speed, and support structures, plus ideas for how they could combine multiple courses into one giant course at a future event. While dragging all the obstacle course supplies back to our storage area wasn’t my favorite activity, this program was a ton of fun and well-loved by our program attendees.

About Annamarie Carlson

Annamarie Carlson is a Youth Librarian at Westerville Public Library in Westerville, Ohio. She focuses on technology programs for ages 8-12, literacy and play programs for ages 0-2, and large-scale events such as the Wizards & Wands Festival that brought 2300 visitors to her library. If you’re interested in learning more about this program, please reach out at Annamarie can also be found on Instagram at 2annamarie.carlson or via her website at

Have you ever done a robot obstacle course at your library? Any questions for Annamarie about this program? Leave a comment below!

Spring Bunny Scavenger Hunt Update

Four years ago I shared the Spring Bunny Scavenger Hunt I created as a passive spring break program. It features 9 book character bunnies you can hide around your library for kids to search and find.

Since it’s been four years and the kids at my library have seen these bunnies already, I enlisted the help of my lovely co-worker Laura F. to create 6 new bunnies we could swap in. Thank you, Laura, for your amazing artistic skills!

The scavenger hunt sheet and original files can all be downloaded in the first post. You can download the new bunnies here.

Children’s Librarian Christine McManus from the London Public Library in London, Ontario created two more bunnies that she has graciously agreed to share. Check out Paddington and Pippi!

If you are looking for more scavenger hunt ideas, check out my Book Character Silhouette Scavenger Hunt too.


Book Character Silhouette Scavenger Hunt

Spring break is right around the corner in these here parts.  I think the kids have seen my Spring Bunny Scavenger Hunt for the past two years so this year I wanted something new.  Then I saw this tweet from elementary school librarian Carter Higgins and I was set.

It reminded me of the Guess Who Book Character display I did last fall. When I emailed Carter she generously shared her files with me and allowed me to revise them for my library.  She has also given me permission to share original files here!  So you get two versions for the price of one, haha! Choose which one works best for you!

This is Carter’s version. You have to add a letter to each character when your print them out. Then hide them around and have the kids unscramble the letters to form the secret phrase “Reading Rocks.” Unfortunately I don’t have access to an editable version of this one. But here are the files for the document and all the images:

This is my version. I put the characters in order as I think the unscrambling part will be too tricky for some of my younger patrons.  My Word document or PDF document both have the scavenger hunt sheet as well as all the characters with their corresponding letters.  Print, hide, and let the kids hunt!

Do you have any spring break activities your community loves? Let me know in the comments!

Guest Post: School-Age Filler Activities

Today I am excited to share another guest post!  We are accepting guest post submissions on an on-going basis so feel free to contact us if you’d like to share something related to youth services. We are open to ideas! This week our guest poster is all the way from Australia. Welcome Kristy Baker who is sharing ideas for filler activities for school-age kids.  For the past ten years Kristy has been working in a variety of learning environments in a variety of roles with young people. More recently, she worked as a Teacher Librarian before moving to the public library sector and is currently working in a public library in a rural part of north-west New South Wales, Australia. She can be found from time to time on Twitter at @kristybaker663.

I have been programming and facilitating two face-to-face Junior Book Clubs since the beginning of 2016. The programs are under development and include various activities aimed at promoting a love of reading, literature, and public libraries in young people and their families. The participants create and contribute in their public library by building displays or writing pieces for the eNewsletter. We used to facilitate a Maker Space and have run creative writing workshops in the school holidays – a lot of the ideas for book clubs crossover. One club is aimed at young people in kindergarten or prep – grade 2, and the other club is aimed at young people in grades 3-6. The younger club meets weekly, and the other meets fortnightly; both for one hour each. The need for a suitable activity spontaneously comes up during the meetings and I have found that planning meaningful activities for these instances can be just as useful as planning the main body of the meeting.

Fillers are activities that are implemented ‘on the spot’ in a moment when you have time to spare (such as waiting for a clip to load, everyone finishes the main activity with a lot of time remaining, waiting for everyone to arrive).

Hot Seat

Hot seat is a drama game that can be really effective and lots of fun. One participant takes on the role of a character that the audience is familiar with, and sits in the Hot Seat as questions are asked of them. The answers may not always be obvious and the aim is for the person in the Hot Seat to really consider the point of view of the character based on their knowledge of the story or character. Answers should be longer than ‘yes’ or ‘no’! Depending on when this filler comes up, you could use a character from a story shared in that session, or choose a well-known character.

Library Charades

This is a fun one that you can personalise to reflect your library space or activities. It is based on traditional charades with the element of mime, however all of the topics are about the library. For our Library Charades we take photos of the book club participants doing various library ‘things’ – activities or using particular equipment or within specific spaces – and the photos are used as prompts for the charade. Things like:

  • reading the blurb
  • browsing
  • using the OPAC
  • researching on a computer
  • walking up the stairs to the meeting room.

As we come across new topics or activities, or things change at the library, we can add new photos.

The game does take a bit of practice and demonstrating of clear actions! Participants take 3 guesses from the audience before volunteering clues. We have some really tricky ones that the participants wanted to include – such as book titles, and even verso page – for these ones we give some verbal clues up front! Participants, one at a time, select a piece of paper with a photo and act out the content. I play the game in this format with the younger club and I quietly double check with the person doing the actions if they understand what the topic is first. I’ve found it’s highly necessary for me to know what will be acted out too because sometimes the participants misunderstand or may not see the connection between a guess and the topic.

Activities for Early Finishers
Not every child will finish an activity, such as craft, at the same time. (If this is your goal, using timers – such as sand timers – can be really useful). There are some simple activities that can be employed for individual early finishers that won’t take your time away from the whole group. The first example, below (Story Tree) is specific to one of the Book Clubs I run and relates to a broader idea.

Story Tree

We have been ‘growing’ the Story Tree as a part of the younger Book Club since the club commenced. All of the leaves feature the title and author of the stories we read each session. (Participants can also add a pear to the tree. Pears feature a text a child has read outside of Book Club & has shared with the club). A child can colour a leaf for the Story Tree for a book read in that session (the leaf can have the title and author/illustrator details written by you, or the child) and stick it on the tree. If you don’t have wall space available to display something like this, you could possibly make a scrapbook. Older children could do something asking for more detail about the text, as well as choose their own display theme.


As a part of being in Book Club, participants are the first to preview new items from the Junior collections. Early Finishers can browse these items, with or without some targeted direction such as – who would you recommend the items for, how would you describe the style, what’s your favourite part – depending on the text type and length. Again, sand timers as a time management tool can be useful so kids know how long they’ve got with the activity.

Why plan fillers and early finisher activities when you may not need them?

  • You will end up needing them, at some point!
  • They can become regular, or routine, activities that participants get to know and can either run themselves or are just very seamless to employ – not taking much time or preparation.
  • They are activities that you can add to your repertoire!

What activities do you employ for early finishers or as time fillers?

Guess Who Book Character Silhouette Display

Anyone have a ton of display space at their library and constantly looking for display ideas? *raises hand*

Having a lot of display space is a blessing and a curse. It’s a great chance to make the children’s area an inviting, exciting spot to stay and play. Sometimes you can make the display interactive or informative. But it’s also a lot of work, especially if design is not your strong suit.  I have two giant corkboards above the picture book area in my library. Once the Summer Reading Club ended and I had to take down all the kids’ nametags, I knew I needed to think up something for the fall. After browsing Pinterest for display ideas, I found something that would be perfect: a guess who game using character silhouettes.

I searched and searched and searched but couldn’t find anyone who’s done this type of display and had any sort of file to share. You know, something someone else could print and go. I learned that most people make these silhouettes using a die cut machine (i.e. a Cricut) or by tracing the outline of a character onto black paper after projecting it onto a wall.  I don’t have a die cut machine and the latter seemed too time consuming. So I made my own files!

I stuck with book characters, but you could easily branch into popular characters from other children’s media. Once I found a PNG image of the character, I copied it into PowerPoint and then changed the brightness level to -%100.  That creates the silhouette. I then copied that image into a Word document which had been set to 11 x 17. That way I could make the image as large as possible. You’ll notice in the files that some of the images have blurry edges. Never fear! Just cut off the blurry edge when you are cutting out each picture and kids will never know.

Here are the files for anyone wanting them! I had to split them into a few different parts.

The first two files have the actual silhouettes. Those you can cut out and adhere to any display board. Some of them are tricky to cut – Fancy Nancy will take some scissor skills! The third file is the answer sheet I printed, glued to a piece of red paper, folded in half, and put on the bottom left of the first board. You can kind of see it in the picture above. It says, “Answers” on the top. That way kids and caregivers can check their answers on their own.

If anyone has any other display ideas that work for large areas, please let me know in the comments! I’m especially interested in interactive displays or displays that serve a purpose such as reader’s advisory. If you try this one out, I’d love to know how it goes.

Guest Post: Readers’ Choice Award Program

Hey remember when I put a call out for guest posts? Well I am delighted that some of you have taken me up on my offer! I’m here today to feature another wonderful guest post by Anne Pott.  Anne is a Library Assistant II in the Youth Services Department at Herrick District Library in Holland, Michigan.  She’s written about her Readers’ Choice Award Program. If you’re interested in knowing more about this program or would like her to share files, feel free to email her at  She’s also sporadically found on twitter at @LadybugsLilAnne. Take it away Anne!


As professionals in the library world, I think most of us enjoy speculating over, discussing, and celebrating literary awards. The reality for most people, however, is that we don’t have any say in which books receive these awards. In fall of 2016, I decided to try a new program giving our young patrons the chance to make their voices heard. Thus, the Herrick District Library Readers’ Choice Award was born. I have to give credit where credit is due, however. This whole program was inspired by Orion Township Public Library’s Dragon Award. I loved the idea of giving kids a little extra ownership of the library. I also think it highlights the importance of participating in the democratic process and what a privilege it is to have the right to vote.

I’d originally intended to pilot the program with kids in 3rd-5th grades with the hope of expanding once we’d worked any bugs out. However, as things sometimes do, the idea caught fire and spiraled until suddenly, we were planning for participation for everyone from kids in Kindergarten all the way through adults!

Artwork by HJM Rantz

How it worked:

Last year, we took nominations from patrons for “candidates”. Kind of like primary elections. In retrospect, we felt that this wound up dragging the program out too long and that it lost momentum. This year, we’re planning to announce candidates based off of last year’s circulation stats.

Kids and teens had five candidates in each of the following categories: K-2nd grade, 3rd-5th grade, 6th-8th grade, and 9th-12th grade. Adults had four candidates in each of the following genres: non-fiction, fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, and graphic novels.

We had paper ballots in the various departments in the library as well as online voting through our website. In the kid’s department, we have an area that usually has some sort of passive program going on, so we set up voting booths for the kids. It was pretty adorable. One of the things I loved the most, though, was the number of conversations I overheard with caregivers explaining to kids that “this is kind of what it looks when I go and vote for the president”, etc. It was great to see that engagement! We also let kids take “I Voted” stickers. Because stickers. Amiright?

How it went:

We had our candidates, our ballots, and our voting booths. We hung up posters at the library, and emailed local schools hoping they would encourage their students to make their voices heard. Then we crossed our fingers. I was absolutely blown away…we wound up with nearly 1,100 votes! Were some of them duplicates? Probably. However, we decided that our main goal was community engagement. We weren’t going to try to monitor for voter fraud. It really was just for fun.

The recipients of the first-ever HDL Readers’ Choice Award were as follows:

Grades K-2: Magic Tree House: Tonight on the Titanic by Mary Pope Osborne
Grades 3-5: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney
Grades 6-8: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Grades 9-12: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Adult Nonfiction: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown
Adult Fiction: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Adult Mystery: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Adult Sci-fi/Fantasy: A Game of Thones by George R.R. Martin
Adult Graphic Novels: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North

After we announced the winners on our website and social media platforms, we made seals using a custom embosser with our library’s logo and award title on it. We stickered the books, purchased additional copies where needed, and released them into the wild where they’ve been happily circulating since! Our Collection and Digital Resources team was even good enough to alter the records in our catalog so the winners will be searchable.

We also decided to donate copies of the winning books to each of our local schools. Thanks in large part to Scholastic’s pricing, we found it was within our budget to do this. To help save on cost, we didn’t donate all 4 to all of the schools, but just the books that were most applicable to the ages of the students each school serves. They were VERY excited to receive them! We put the award seals on them, of course, and our Community Relations Department made up “Donated by Herrick District Library” labels for us to put inside each of the books. And we know they’re getting love because one of our staff members recently let us know that her son had checked out a book from school with a Readers’ Choice Award seal on it!

As you can tell, this really became a library-wide affair. Nearly every department helped out in some way to make this happen. We’re certainly making some tweaks, but over all felt that it was a successful enough program to plan to continue with it indefinitely. I’m particularly interested in continuing a voting program because I feel that especially now, it’s more important than ever to engage kids in understanding the democratic process.

Does your library provide voting programs for your young patrons? Do you have patrons’ choice awards of some sort? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

May the 4th Be With You 2017: Star Wars Library Program

Last year I wrote about the Star Wars Day program I held on May the 4th.  It’s been such a popular post that I thought I’d share some new activities I tried this year.   But first I’d like to give a shout out to the the youth services community on Twitter.  You all rock my world and give me so many ideas when my brain is tired and Google is either overwhelming or not cutting it.  This one’s for you.

My program last year was craft heavy.  This year I’m at a new branch with a big meeting room. Plenty of space to move around. So I incorporated some activities that make good use of the space.  Here’s what we got up to:

Star Wars Name Generator


I kept this activity from last year. This year though I did have name tags they could wear around too!

Fighter Pilot Training

My friend Kim who blogs at Literary Commentary shared this idea with me.  It was so easy and so fun! Get a hula hoop, cover it with silver wrapping, cut out a hole in the corner, then decorate it to look like the death star.  I used sharpies and paint. Hang the death star using a piece of string and have kids try to fly paper airplanes through the hole.  I put lines on the floor using tape with an easy, medium, and difficult distance away from the death star.

Star Wars Bookmarks

A Portuguese kid on YouTube taught me how to make these. I love the internet. You can watch his video here. In the description box below the video there is a link to the templates for each of these characters: Chewbacca, Yoda, Princess Leia, and Kylo Ren. You start with a super simple base.  The kids were able to pick this up quick. Then colour the other pieces and glue them on.  For this activity you will need the templates, scissors, coloured pencils, and glue sticks.  I also had some green paper for kids to make Origami Yodas.

Lightsaber Battle

Anyone else have to program on a tight budget?  I would have loved to send every kid home with their own pool noodle lightsaber, but I can’t with the money I’ve got. This idea came from the brilliant Karissa who blogs at Ontarian Librarian.  I bought two pool noodles, cut them in half and created four lightsabers using duct tape and black sharpies.  In the meeting room I made two large circles with masking tape. In one circle, two kids a time faced off to see how many bubbles they can pop using the lightsabers. You can have another kid blowing the bubbles or use a bubble machine if you already have one. Have a big group? Assign some kids to be bubble counters as the duelers pop them. In the other circle each kid picked a balloon. On the count of three I threw their balloons in the air and they had to try to knock their opponent’s balloon out of the circle using their lightsaber. You can do multiple rounds for this one.

Design a Jedi Ship

Put up a sign. Put out some LEGO. Have kids show off their creations at the end of the program. Easy peasy. Shout out to Kary who shared this idea with me!

Star Wars Scavenger Hunt

In the children’s area I also put out the scavenger hunt I used last year.  You can find the printable template in my other post. I kept this out all week next to our May the 4th Be With You book display to promote the program.

Other ideas I didn’t do but am saving for next year are a Stormtrooper egg relay race (just Google it), a Force experiment, and a Jedi Mind test (put a bunch of objects out, have kids try to memorize them, cover them up, and see which ones they remember).

Happy Star Wars Day, everyone!

May the 4th Be With You: Star Wars Library Program

Will Star Wars ever go out of style? Unlikely.  This year I decided to put on a May the 4th Be With program for school-age kids partly because I thought it might draw in some new faces and partly to promote all the different Star Wars materials we have in our collection.  I kept it pretty simple – 3 activity stations, a scavenger hunt, and a book display.  There are a million different ideas online for a Star Wars program, but I went with cheap activities that kept the focus on play, storytelling, and getting to know our collection.  Here’s what I did!

Star Wars Name Generator

Your Star Wars First Name:

1.  Take the first 3 letters of your last name.
2.  Add to that, the first 2 letters of your first name.

Your Star Wars Last Name:

1.  Take the first 2 letters of your mother’s maiden name.
2.  Add the first 3 letters of the name of the town in which you were born.

When kids first came in they immediately wrote their Star Wars name on a giant poster I had hanging on the wall. I used the formula above.  They LOVED this activity. It’s so simple, but it really got them talking and laughing.  Kind of wish I had made name tags instead for them to wear around and take home. Next year!

Chewbacca Puppets

Supplies Needed:

  • paper bags
  • brown paint
  • paintbrushes
  • cups/bowls for the paint
  • white paper
  • black paper
  • scissors
  • glue
  • googly eyes (optional)

chewy puppet

I got this idea from this blog post.  Kids painted their paper bags first and then went to a different station while they dried or worked on cutting out the eyes, teeth, or sash.  I also made two posters with Chewbacca sounds so we could practice together.  This was the first time I’ve ever used in paint in a children’s program! I covered the tables with newspaper first and had a designated drying spot for the paper bags which helped immensely. If you can get the kids to only paint a thin layer they dry much faster.

chewbacca sounds

Yoda Ears and Princess Leia Buns

Supplies Needed:

  • green paper
  • white paper
  • brown paper
  • black markers
  • staplers
  • brown yarn
  • cotton balls
  • odds and ends for decorating (sequins/feathers/jewels)
  • glue

yoda ears
My adorable co-workers, Karen and Katherine, who let me take photos of them and post them to my blog

I could not find a Yoda ear pattern I liked online so my co-worker free handed this one. We made the Leia buns by tracing a cup.  To save time, we pre-cut the Yoda ears, Leai buns, and strips of white and green paper. The kids got to put them together and decorate them however they liked.  Some had feathers and beads glued on all over the place.

Droid Cubecrafts

Supplies Needed:

  • patterns printed on cardstock
  • scissors
  • glue or tape

droid cubecraft

This was definitely the more challenging station, and I had to help kids figure out how to fold and adhere the paper.  I used the C-3PO and R2-D2 patterns from this website.  After we made the cubecrafts I encouraged the kids to tell me (and each other) stories about their droids.  I think this activity could be turned into a storytelling program for older school-age kids.  Many kids went home with the patterns to make additional characters.

Scavenger Hunt

My co-worker had already made a Star Wars themed scavenger hunt so I adapted it to my branch and had it out during the program.  Kids had to hunt around the children’s area using the clues on the scavenger sheet to find the hidden characters. The hints were about where to find certain types of material, so kids learned where the planet books are located, where we store the music CDs, and things like that.  Each character had a letter which they used to fill in the secret phrase, “Read You Must.”  Completed sheets could be submitted for a prize.  It was nice to have this passive activity out so that kids could complete it while their Chewy puppets dried.  After many requests, you can now download the scavenger hunt file!

Book Display

star wars book display

A week before the program I put holds on a ton of Star Wars books and had a nice display for the kids to browse before, during, and after the program.

And that’s it. Easy peasy!  If you’ve done a similar program, I’d love to hear what worked for you.