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The Programs They Are A-Changin’: Socially Distanced Summer Programs for All Ages

May 3, 2021
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Social-distancing programs
Coloring, Crafts & Hands-on
Children / Family
Short Title
The Programs They Are A-Changin’

For most of us, our 2021 programming is going to look a whole lot different, and that’s OK.

Remember summer reading as it used to be? When your library was packed to the gills with kids clamoring to see a magician? Or your book clubs, ca. 2019, when everyone shared food and gossip and germs, all stuffed inside your tiny meeting space?

It seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? For most of us, our 2021 programming is going to look a whole lot different, and that’s OK. It’s not forever, and if you’re as tired of virtual programming as most of us are, there are plenty of ideas for distanced or outdoor in-person programs as well. Here are a few that I've been thinking about.

Note: Everyone’s idea of “safe” in-person programs will vary, and every state and library is different. Some libraries will choose to have no in-person programs at all this year, while others will continue business as usual. These are examples of programs that I would personally feel comfortable having in my community this summer if things continue as they have been in my area.

Outdoor programsA girl in a pink dress standing among a group of kids sitting on the sidewalk making slime

Story time is easy to transition outdoors, and the new and different location might even bring in attendees you haven’t seen before. Try all different times of day to see what works best for your community and climate (what about a nighttime spooooky story time?!), and experiment with your locations; parks, splash pads, swimming pools and farmers' markets are all tried-and-true settings for a successful story time. If you’re not using props like shaker eggs or scarves, look into getting a bubble machine for some added, germ-free fun! The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has some helpful ideas for planning outdoor story times.

Walking clubs are always a hit with adults, and getting your book club on the move might be just the thing to spice it up a bit — discuss your latest read while getting those steps in and enjoying the outdoors. StoryWalks have also had a resurgence during the pandemic, especially when most libraries were closed to the public. Abby the Librarian has had several StoryWalks at her library (including a winter walk with hot chocolate), and she cleverly uses the frames to promote other library services as well. 

One of my library's most successful youth programs was an outdoor messy art day. We made giant vats of slime and did some gravity painting using watered-down paint in squirt guns. This year, we will be adding some paint-filled water balloons! If you’re getting messy anyway, you may as well incorporate water if it’s a hot day; Teen Services Underground just shared some fun water-related ideas and Minute to Win It games.

Appointment-only programs

Allowing multiple families inside my tiny library building at one time is just not going to happen this summer. Instead, we're planning a few indoor, appointment-only programs that will allow one family or small group in at a time. We will sanitize everything between appointments and require masks indoors. Doing programs this way will definitely have an impact on attendance, but again, it’s not forever — just for a while.

The first program we’re considering is a cat café! Porous surfaces like fur are pretty low-risk when it comes to transmitting the virus (in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now say that surfaces in general provide a low risk). And who wouldn’t love hanging out in a room full of kitties for a while? We will host several adoptable kittens or cats in our meeting space and allow families to sign up for 15-minute time slots to spend time playing with the kitties. (We’re still debating serving snacks/coffee.) Of course, we will have a stack of adoption and volunteer applications from the local humane society for attendees to fill out. Similarly, you could host a Reading with Rover program with a therapy dog and let each family read and socialize with the pup one at a time. Rebecca from the Hafuboti blog has had several kitty cafes and shares her advice here.

If you keep it relatively simple, an escape room is something you can sanitize between groups, and there are many ideas out there for escape rooms for all ages. Solving puzzles and finding clues is a great way to keep your brain working. I don’t know about you, but my brain has been feeling rather foggy for about a year now! I shared details about our library’s Stranger Things escape room a while back, and I love this School Library Journal article about a Doctor Who-themed room.

Mini golf at the library is a cheap and easy idea that is fun for all ages, and you can create obstacles using things you already have. Golf clubs and balls are quick to sanitize between groups. With this program, the more space you have, the better, but even the tiniest of libraries can set up at least a few challenging holes! This post from Library Maura is an oldie, but a goodie, and it’s full of great obstacle ideas for your course.

What is your library planning for programs this summer? Share in the comments!

Photograph of kids painting outside.
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Popular Topics
Social-distancing programs
Coloring, Crafts & Hands-on
Children / Family
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