When I started working at Library #2, (of my two current part-time library jobs), the only program I could get kids to come to was my Lego Challenge. I can’t remember if I came up with the idea on my own or if my boss asked me to start doing it. Regardless, I didn’t have much to go on so I made up most of it as I went.
First thing to do: get some Legos. We were lucky, my boss took a bunch from home (when her husband and son weren’t looking) and we have been getting a TON of donations in too. I recommend cleaning any new Legos coming in. Thoroughly.
And guess what? This is just one of two bins that we have now. The second bin of Legos is BIGGER.
Wait. Legos? Lego? LEGOs? What’s the plural?
The second thing to do is take out any giant platforms and minifigs (which I learned later on are what Lego people are called.) Why do I do this? Because kids are lazy punks. No matter what theme you have, they are probably going to build a spaceship and/or robot dinosaur with lasers and chainsaws. I wanted them to really be creative so I take away bases, which make it easy to just build giant building/scenes on, and the people, which automatically make everything a spaceship. (It must be said though, when I do give in and make the theme “spaceships” or “dungeons/haunted castles” they go nuts. Kids have some great ideas on how to build murder traps. INCLUDING, if not especially, the girls.)
Now for the format.
I set up tables in a huge “U” shape. I had the Lego bin on a cart (as seen above).
1) You have one hour to complete your creation.
2) You can trade pieces with each other.
3) If you absolutely can’t do anything with the pieces you have, raise you hand or yell out scoop/shuffle/whatever. Then I would come by, take a scoop of their Legos, pour them back into the bin, and then dig out a new scoop for them. They could do this as many times as possible. Yeah, this became an issue. I spent my entire time running up and down the rows of tables giving kids new Legos and I was exhausted by the end.
4) After an hour comes the voting. It was needlessly complicated, done by staff, and I won’t even give details because the new version is WAY BETTER.
Which brings us to
I spent some time refining the rules, first with the “shuffles”. I limited it to 5, then 3. AND THEN THINGS GOT A LITTLE CRAZY.
Start with two scoops that I dish out, as usual.
1) Still an hour to finish.
2) Trading pieces is still OK.
3) But then I got some new cups, those clear plastic ones. Now participants GET THEIR OWN NEW SCOOPS. And they can do it as many times as they want. I still make them return a scoop of their own Legos before getting new ones. When I had the idea to turn it into self-serve, I expected the worst. But, while results may vary, my kids are extremely civil about it. No chaos ensued so far.
4) Voting! Spurned on by the success of self-serve Legos, I now have the kids vote on themselves too. To simplify things, whenever a kid sits down I put a piece of tape in front of them and write a letter. For voting, kids get a piece of scrap paper and vote ONCE for their favorite by writing down the letter (they can’t vote for themselves of course). This too, has worked wonderfully. If there is ever a tie I make an executive decision.
Besides making it easier for me, I like having the kids vote themselves because, besides my boss and I, most of my coworkers are not very Lego savvy. They would vote on some dumb stuff while ignoring WAY AWESOMER builds. Kids know Legos the best, so they are the best judges.
Prizes! I give prizes to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. I take a small selection of books from the rows of donations and SRP book prizes in our basement. More recently I’ve taken the jar of minifigs and made taking one of those guys an option too. But I need to adjust rules on that because I’ve had winners spend ten minutes or more digging through the jar and putting someone together.
Here’s some upsides and downsides.
The old way, I got a lot more interaction with the kids. It was a lot of work but I had fun talking to them and helping them cheat (cough cough). The new way I am kind of relegated to a supervisor. There’s nothing for me to do but sit in a corner and maybe work on some program planning, making sure to remind the kids how much time is left. So if you prefer working with the kids more, try a variant of Version 1.
Why am I so happy with version 2? It’s not just that I have a minimal amount of work and setup for it. I LOVE letting the kids have a chance to manage themselves. Kids aren’t given that amount of trust very often. They are pretty much running the program at this point and nothing has gone wrong yet.
I also love seeing what the kids come up with. Like I said, most of the time it’s all about guns and lasers, but more often than not they can really surprise me. What themes do I do? Usually whatever pops into my head the minute before. There are basics like ships, robots and cars but I’ve also enjoyed doing odder things like mountains, city buildings and even flowers. Flowers was a great theme, even though they all groaned when I told them.
OH YEAH. Don’t forget! Ask them what they built. Before official voting I go around and ask the kids to tell us a little about what they built (I do remember clearly that this was my boss’s idea.). Some of the stories are even better than the Lego creation itself.
If you have any questions or ideas, let me know! Lately, my turnout for this program has been less and less. We’ll see if it has a resurgence this summer. If not I might have to retool it or abandon it. But for the past two years it has been consistently the only successful program I’ve run, and sometimes the only thing I enjoy about working at Library#2.