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Meet at the Lodge: A Mini-Camp for Kids

August 25, 2016
Children / Family
Short Title
Meet at the Lodge: A Mini-Camp for Kids

Skokie (Ill.) Public Library built upon their free summer lunch program with a variety of kids' programs.

This summer the Skokie Public Library offered a drop-in program entitled Meet at the Lodge every weekday for youth entering grades 3 through 5. Meet at the Lodge was timed to be in conjunction with the free summer lunch program we offer through the federally funded summer lunch program; our goal was to offer a convenient and free opportunity for kids to have a mini-camp experience from 12 to 2:30 p.m. every day (lunch lasted 60 minutes, Meet at the Lodge lasted 90). Since we allow third-graders to be at the library on their own, these kids were able to participate regardless of whether parents were with them at the library.children participating in Meet at the Lodge at the Skokie Public Library

To streamline the planning process — after all, 10 weeks with 5 programs per week is a lot of programs! — we loosely structured each day of the week around a broad theme:

  • Mystery Mondays (a hodge podge of program ideas)
  • Tuesday Crafternoons
  • How-To Wednesdays
  • Thursday Game Days
  • Science Fridays

To fill out the program slate, we implemented a rotating schedule of children's and other programming staff to lead many of the events. We also supplemented these staff-led activities with some paid professionals and community volunteers, mainly for the How-To Wednesdays.

One of the challenges of offering this new type of drop-in program was that we never knew how many kids would show up or when they would show up. We planned for a variety of kids and did ice-breakers for the first 15 minutes every afternoon to accommodate a range of arrival times. On any given day, we had a range of 5 to 48 kids participating, with June and early July being our busiest times. All in all, Science Fridays were consistently the best attended, with activities ranging from building parachutes and other flying machines to experimenting with forces using equipment on loan from Fermilab. Our How-To Wednesdays gave kids opportunities to learn to draw, drum, make balloon animals, paint faces and more.

For me, the highlight event was the Rescue Challenge we designed for one of our Mystery Mondays. As a starting premise, a librarian had been kidnapped (!!!) and the kids had to complete a number of challenges to rescue her. We divided the 15 attending kids into three teams: police officers, detectives and forensics experts. For each challenge the kids completed, they got pieces of a big floor puzzle that, when the groups assembled their pieces together at the end, provided a final clue.

Our first challenge was to create a name badge, with each team having a different color name badge. We used our button maker for this activity, but labels, or even paper and tape, would be fine too.

Our next activity was a team-building challenge that required kids to communicate and replicate a structure. We had prepared a structure assembled with toothpicks and marshmallows, and it was the job of the first group to look at the structure and describe it to the second group. The second group then relayed that message to the third group, whose task it was to rebuild the structure according to the instructions they received.

Children create structures as part of the Rescue ChallengeAdditional challenges included a word search challenge; a tongue twister challenge; a challenge that involved finding books in the nonfiction section; and a challenge involving programming our Ozobots for a specific task. Aside from the Ozobots (which we already had in our programming aresnal), the Rescue Challenge was a very low-cost program — all the materials were on hand at the library or freely accessible through library resources.

Staff time went into planning these challenges, and for libraries looking to replicate this type of program, my advice is to start ahead of time and crowd-source for challenge ideas. With time and creativity, you can easily create challenges using materials you've got available. This program can also be easily replicated with different scenarios, challenges and age groups — a lower-stakes twist on escape rooms.

Have more questions about our program? Feel free to contact me at for more details.

Rescue Challenge was developed and led by Shelley Sutherland. Sutherland is the youth services manager at Skokie Public Library, where she also selects picture books for youth.

Children participating in the Rescue Challenge
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Children / Family
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