You Will Have Fun In This Room!

Since Maker Jawn programming happens at 6 different neighborhood libraries across North Philadelphia, each program space is very different and comes with its own perks and challenges. At Widener library, programming takes place twice a week in a windowed room that hosts a variety of other programs and meetings each day. Because we share this space, all of our supplies and equipment must be housed in a closet. We pull out everything we need at the start of each day and put it back once programming ends.

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Because all participants have access to the closet during the course of the program, it can get a bit chaotic. Every 6 months or so we have to go back through and reorganize. Program participants work together on this task, hanging up each others projects for display and labeling bins so that everything can be easily found.

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The fact that we have our own room helps give participants some real ownership of the space. As Sari talks about in her recent post about the challenges of doing programming with energetic youth in the library context, having to compromise with other patrons and staff on the floor can be really tricky. We don’t have to navigate this as much in our space – we can be a little messy, a little loud, listen to music, and really spread out as long as we manage to tidy up by the time the library is ready to close. Because everyone gets to decide what they want to work on, the room gets very multipurpose.

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The above photo is from Wednesday programming, which is for kids and teens over 10 years old. In the foreground you can see two participants borrowing our headphone splitter to do a homework project on a tablet. Behind them you can see one participant directing another in an alien video shoot in front of the green screen. The alien’s mask was made by kids in the program a couple months ago, and inspired this video when we rediscovered it in the back of our closet during a clean through.

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Looks like the participant in the striped dress is working on some kind of a construction project that requires a glue gun, and the participant next to her is testing out newly learned soldering skills to attach wires to the leads from a toothbrush motor.

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This participant then went on to build a battery holder to run the motor because we were all out of the store bought ones that day!

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This particular day had an optimal number of participants for one mentor – I was able to spend some in depth time with everyone as they developed their ideas or learned new skills. Fridays are our all ages day, and when we have more like 15 or 20 participants, some of whom are as young as 6, things get a little more rough. It gets tricky to balance providing individualized attention to everyone who wants it – sometimes kids can get frustrated or stuck, and that’s when conflict can arise. On these days I try to set up a few suggested activities or stations to channel the interests and energies of the kids who might not already have a self-directed project they know they want to work on.

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Another thing I try to do is make an order for who I will work with and when, based on the order in which each person asked for assistance. This gives the kids some sense of how long it will be before I’m able to get to their question or problem. When everyone’s calling my name from every direction I’ll say, “right now I’m working with A, after that I’m going to go over to B, and then I’ll get to C but I bet many of you can figure out what you need to yourselves, you are very capable!”

Nothing helps as much as having other mentors on deck whenever possible, but even if I am working alone and having a program day that feels chaotic and loud (our room is very echoey), I remain committed to the idea of self-direction. I love it when kids come in and say “today I want to fix a hole in my backpack/record a song/build a model airplane out of paper/plant some seeds” or whatever, even if none of those things are what I had planned to introduce or do that day. The sense of ownership that the kids take of our space and program feels very special and positive. It seems well encapsulated in this sign that one participant made and taped to the door of our room:

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