Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer School-Age Activity #1: All About String

When I first started at my previous library, I was put in charge of the young adult summer reading program. I didn't really get many teens, but I had, at times, as many as 40 tweens (ages 8 to 12 or so) attending my programs. I really miss those programs, so this summer, in addition to all that we do for our huge groups of babies and toddlers, I'm offering a school-age program once a week, on Mondays at 2:00. Today was the first one, and I have to admit that I am quite surprised by how well it went.

Things started off rocky. I found out early in the day that I'd be working alone in children's all day, because one person got sick and another had the day off. Then the camp group I was expecting called to cancel, just after I'd finished setting up the room for 40 kids. 2:00 arrived, and no one was here. I figured all my planning had gone to complete waste.

But at 2:10, suddenly, I had four kids in the room with me. By the end, there were at least ten in all.

Here are the activities we did, all about string.

The first thing we did, to break the ice, and get settled, was make string pictures. I put out a small basket of different lengths of yarn, some scissors, and some Scotch tape, and had the kids create whatever they wanted on a piece of manila cardstock. I offered this activity mainly because I was worried that Cat's Cradle and string figures, the main advertised focus of the program would be too difficult. I was right - and when preschoolers and toddlers wandered in, I was even more thankful. (My string picture, of a clown, is shown above. I made this at the same time the kids made theirs, rather than as an example ahead of time.)

When the kids were mostly done, I read a book about the origin and uses of string (A Piece of String is a Wonderful Thing by Judy Hindley (1993)). It was not a great book, and I was sorry that I didn't look for a better one from another branch, but even with its shortcomings, the older kids - ages 7 and up - really seemed interested in it, and kept moving closer to see the illustrations. It was kind of a bummer that the smaller kids couldn't sit quietly for the book, because I think that took away from the older kids' enjoyment, but it also could have been worse.

After the book, I told two string stories, one of which worked, and one of which didn't. The first was a story about a farmer and his yam harvest. The string was meant to come completely off my fingers at the end, but despite lots of practice it did not. The other was about an old woman and a bothersome mosquito. That one worked, but the kids didn't seem to get it. Both stories came from  this excellent resource, which I found by accident on Google.

A couple of the kids seemed really into the concept, but they soon got more interested in playing the game of Cat's Cradle. Thankfully, one of the oldest girls in the group (she was probably 10) already knew how to do it, so she showed half the group, while I helped the other half. While we found it pretty much impossible to get past that very first figure, the cat's cradle itself, we had fun trying to get that part just right. Then I taught all of the kids to make a figure called The Witch's Broom. (I learned Witch's Broom as a child, from the Klutz Cat's Cradle book. My library doesn't have it, but yours might!) Some of the kids got really frustrated and gave up right away, but others stuck with it and by the end, could do the entire thing in no time at all.

The string I used came from Michael's. It's a thick, soft string, and I prefer it over yarn or embroidery floss, which would have frayed too easily.  I (actually my husband) cut each string to be 58" long, which is apparently the standard length for a Cat's Cradle string.  When I did this same program at my previous library, I purchased the Cat's Cradle strings from Klutz, which cost $4.95 per package of three. I think buying them from Klutz is a better way to go, since they have the perfect size and texture, and they don't come untied, but I wouldn't do that unless I was expecting a very small group and had a very big craft budget! One of the kids complained some of the tricks weren't working because the string I gave them was too slippery, but I don't think that was actually the case. I think we all just needed more practice.

I was really nervous about this program, but I'm so thrilled at what a success it turned out to be. Cat's Cradle is one of those things that clicks better with some kids than others, so I was glad I had the alternate activity with the string pictures. I also think the structure of this program - an activity, a book, and then a different, related, activity worked nicely. The whole thing took about an hour, and kids all had a great time, even if they didn't quite get the hang of Witch's Broom. I'm looking forward to the rest of our scheduled activities, and I hope I'll learn some good approaches for school-age programs this Fall.


  1. Thanks for sharing this program Katie. I'm inspired to have a go myself(maybe next summer), it is so difficult to find good activities with a small budget!

    1. You're welcome. If you decide to do it, I hope you'll let me know how it goes!


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