Library staff see a diverse crowd of students after classes end each school day. There are over-worked students looking for a place to unwind or cram in homework before after-school activities and jobs. There are also wandering bands of restless teens who don’t seem to have anything in particular to do but make all the noises that weren’t allowed during the day. We don’t want to contribute to students’ stress by piling on more work, but do want to provide them with a productive outlet for all that pent up energy.
Free-form DIY projects can provide an experience that many teens need. Happily, a self-directed (a.k.a passive) afterschool craft program can also be pulled off with no advance preparation, simply by putting out a bucket of craft supplies and a pile of leftover paper with no instructions but to do with them whatever they want. This frees up library staff to work with other teens who need/want your attention. With some prep-work (such as buying a few basic supplies for the DIY school supply program pictured in this blog post) a simple theme can take shape.
Whether you choose the no-prep or just-a-little-prep route, these very loosely-structured programs provide teens a break from classwork and assignments, an opportunity to express their creativity & think flexibly, and also build social & communication skills. For other examples of learning outcomes that these types of programs support, check out the ACT Skills framework. It’s key is to let the teens decide how they want to use the supplies you provide. No lesson is necessary; instead they are allowed to learn by making.
The furniture arrangement and placement of materials in your space can have a positive effect on how the teens interact with each other. Is there a large table (or small tables that can be moved together) where you can dump all the supplies? Can you arrange the chairs so that the teens sit together? Hopefully necessary interactions (passing the scissors, divvying the duct tape) will blossom into larger conversations. Coming together as an informal group can be especially beneficial for new students, students who haven’t found a comfortable niche, and students going through a period of social upheaval.
The colorful pictures you take during these programs are also great marketing tools. Share them online through your website and social media. Include them in monthly reports. They highlight the teens doing things, and demonstrate how the library serves as a cultural public space.
There are a lot places to look online for crafty ideas should you need them: pinterest, instructables, craftsy, and snapguide are just a few. You can also consult the teens themselves: ask them what skills they’d like to learn if they had the time, what materials they’d like to test out if they had access, and what themes might interest them. Create a straw poll online or in your space (or both), or simply ask the teens in person.