A favorite program of my tweens, teens, and young adults has always been gift making programs. We’ve done bath salts, edible mixes, cocoa gifts, recipe starters and so forth, and they’ve loved not only that it’s customized for whomever they are making it, but also that they’re making it rather than getting it pre-made from a store. It doesn’t seem to matter when during the year I have it, they’re always needing a gift for SOMEONE and they’re always short on money. I always try to get my staff and coworkers to bring me various types of clean glass jars (spaghetti sauce jars, ice cream topping jars, etc.) so that we can use them for these and other types of programs. They’re extremely staff-friendly, extremely patron-friendly, and a great way to socialize as well. Put on a movie and go to town.
Containers: Like I said above, I always asked my coworkers and staff to bring in clean glass jars to use for these types of programs. I’ve also asked patrons for donations closer to time and never ran out. You could certainly purchase jars, or use other types of containers- just make sure that they’re airtight.
Sanitation: I’m a stickler for being clean. Any time we do a program like this, I make sure that we have plenty of plastic spoons for each container, and that they’re labeled for each ingredient so that they don’t go into a different bowl. If something comes in a bag instead of a tub or hard container, I will repackage it into a large zip-top bag and then place that into a hard container to make it easier to work with. I have the participants wash hands to start, and then EVERYONE wears plastic gloves- no exceptions. You sneeze, you start over with new gloves. We also put plastic tableclothes on the tables for easy clean up.
Decoration: On a separate table away from the ingredients I set up a decoration station. Once someone has a jar filled, they screw on their lid, and then move on to the decoration table. I have paint pens, sharpies, ribbon, scissors, stickers, paint glitter, and everything else you can think of that will work come out of the craft closet. Card stock comes out as well so that they can make a gift tag to go with it, and mock-up templates are on display. I also like to have a laptop or other device out and connected to the internet set up there so that they can look up phrases or ideas for designs.
Staples that I’ve used repeatedly in programs and have had good luck getting donated from grocery stores and big box stores include:
- mini marshmallows
- chocolate chips
- butterscotch chips
- graham crackers
- hard shell chocolate candies
- fish-shaped crackers
- dried fruit
- epsom salts
These are what I’ve used previously in programs to give you inspiration. Tastes may vary, so please use your own recipes if you have better! What I’ve done for those with specific recipes is have template cards that tweens and teens can either attach to the jar with their own note, or copy in their own handwriting to add their own flair. Most of the libraries I’ve worked in had a staff member with severe nut allergies so I never used them in programs, but I do know others who used them for trail mix jars with success- they just posted that nuts would be used in the program. There are tons of ideas online, take a look and see.
You know your teens. On any given afternoon those same teens can be completely different. I have had teens that I would trust to follow instructions and we’ve made variations of cookie recipe jars all afternoon without incident, as well as an afternoon creating different bath salts. Two days later, the same teens couldn’t follow instructions to calm down so I shut down a movie program. The level of complexity of what you do is up to you. The easiest might be having a variety of ingredients on hand to make snack mix, while the hardest options move into cookies and cakes.
Cocoa Jars: 6 tablespoons powdered creamer, 6 tablespoons powdered milk, 6 tablespoons powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons milk chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons candy canes (chopped into small pieces),½ cup mini marshmallows. To serve: Remove marshmallows, then mix ingredients together. Add 1/2 cup of mix to 1 cup of boiling water. Top with marshmallows!
Black and White Snack Mix: White Chocolate covered pretzels, dark chocolate chips, milk chocolate stars, yogurt covered raisins.
Fishy Sweet Snack Mix: Graham cracker flavored fish-shaped crackers, mini marshmallows, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, hard coated chocolate candies.
Cinnamon Oatmeal Mix: 2 Cups steel-cut oats, 1 cup of apple chips (broken to smithereens), 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon. To Serve: Mix 1/2 cup of oatmeal mix with 1 cup of water. Microwave for 3-5 minutes until they reach the desired texture. Let cool. Add sweetness if needed.
A word from experience:
You know who tends to come to your programs. If you are throwing this as a program for your TAG or a group that you know well, make it as complex as you want; maybe do a complex recipe that needs flours, salt, baking soda and sugar, or different bath salts and let them control the oils. If you’re going to throw caution to the wind, however, then limit the damage that can be done by controlling the variables a bit. If you decide to do bath salts, make up the types ahead of time and you be in control of the oils. Instead of making cookie mix, have a variety of snack mix ingredients that they can throw together instead. It will save you a headache and save the recipient some puzzlement later (and possibly prevent a stomach ache).