Channeling the Enthusiasm

My Advisory Board is mainly middle schoolers, mostly 6th and 7th with a smattering of 5th, 8th and 10th. I have my meetings once a month for an hour and late enough after school I might have expected them to have already let off some steam. Not so. Despite giving them some time to chat while eating (I am lucky enough to be able to serve pizza), sometimes maintaining their focus is really hard. But a lot of the time, that focus is still on the library, but either off the current topic (often going back like 3 topics) or just plain too loud or asking me questions that cause me to invoke what we’ve named “The Insurance Rule” (if you have to ask if we have insurance for it to a viable idea, it is NOT a viable idea) and are so impractical they should know better.

How do you channel that to something more productive? To be honest, I’m still working on that. I’ve found a couple things that seem to be making it slowly better:

Weirdly, the Insurance Rule has worked really well. I get a lot of the same kids every month and now they all know the rule so will self-police each other and it always makes them all laugh. It has cut down on the number of over the top suggestions immensely. Hand in hand with that is the fact that I’ve become better at taking an outlandish idea and distilling down into something that is possible, which gets them as excited as if I’d really told them we could do whatever their original idea was.

I’ve also found that I do sometimes have to get stern and remind them we’ve only got 45 minutes to get through a lot of stuff, even with an acceptable amount of side conversation. I try not to instate raising of hands because they get that enough at school, but sometimes we have a stuffed animal from our storytimes that we’ll pass around, which keeps it from being strange but also makes them all laugh.

Also, letting them have ownership in things help. When they told me they wanted to have a Haunted House for the other middle schoolers, I turned it around on them, saying we could totally do a Haunted House (they now want to make it a yearly event) but that it had to be for the elementary school kids. While this was the first big project we ran, they did a surprisingly good job with it and want to do one every month.

What sort of things have worked for you as far as channeling the enthusiasm into something useful? Both in Advisory Boards and also during programs when they want to hang out as much as do the program you’re offering (and sometimes more).

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