Cheap and Easy Summer Programming: Self Directed Style



This is the the time of year that I start buying chocolate in bulk- all my kids are in the middle of testing and freaking out, my staff is gearing up for summer reading, and it seems like nothing will pull together, but still everything must run smoothly. Every once in a while you just need some easy programs to pull out, whether it’s because a performer didn’t show up, a group of teens need something to do, or someone called in sick and you cannot find where they put their program notes and supplies.

Fear not, for Teen Services Underground is here with some cheap and easy self-directed programming ideas to make your life easier!


I am a huge fan of self-directed programs- for one, a lot of times, I am tied up with other things, especially during the summer, and I cannot break away to do a fun on program. Second, often my tweens and teens do not want or need another structured thing in their lives during the last month of school, and just want something they can hang with, and choose whether or not to do; self-directed programs give them that freedom without the pressure of feeling that they have to participate.

A lot of libraries tend to call these passive programs, which I think is a real misnomer that does a disservice to the program and the professional who is putting together the program. Passive is defined as “accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance.” While there isn’t a professional actually putting ON a program, someone took the time (at least an hour, maybe more) to pull the program together, and someone is overseeing the end result, so there is staff involvement from beginning to end. And trust me, if your tweens and teens are like mine, their engagement in these programs is far from passive.

  • Scavenger hunts: think of a theme that will work with what you’re doing that week with your summer reading theme (most teen service professionals I’ve talked to are either using iRead or CRSP, either of which can be used for amazing scavenger hunts). Start off with a display in the teen or tween area with the rules and scavenger sheet with clues, and hide hints around the library. They can be as easy as laminated characters hidden around the library, or as challenging as having tweens and teens explore the collections to find specific areas. Once completed, they turn in their completed sheets to the tween/teen desk or another designated spot for a prize- either additional time on a computer, a coupon or trinket, or other set incentive. COST: paper and printing for the scavenger sheet, pencils for tweens and teens to use, clue displays or laminate clues, incentive prize if necessary. STAFF TIME: 2 hours prep, depending on intensity of scavenger hunt; 1 hour set up.
  • Are your tweens and teens tech savvy? Take your scavenger hunt and turn it into a QR Code hunt like the Daring LibrarianCOST: paper and printing for the scavenger sheet, pencils for tweens and teens to use, clue displays or laminate clues, incentive prize if necessary. STAFF TIME: 2 hours prep, depending on intensity of scavenger hunt and tech savvy; 1 hour set up.
  • I SPY: I cannot keep the I SPY books on my shelves, and it’s not just the elementary kids that are checking them out. Take advantage of the summer reading themes and create I SPY bottles around Every Hero Has a Story or Read to the Rhythm by taking a spin off of the directions from Glimmer Twin Fan over on Hub Pages.  COST: 2 liter bottle, rice, trinkets to put in the bottle, printing, incentive prize if necessary. STAFF TIME: 3 hours prep, including trinket shopping; 1 hour set up with display.
  • Take some butcher paper and draw out a random design in sharpie, then lay out washable markers or chalk and let your tweens and teens get their art on. COST: butcher paper, chalk or washable markers. STAFF TIME: 1 hour prep, 1 hour set up with display.

    South Salem High School Art Department, October 2009
    South Salem High School Art Department, October 2009
  • Color pages: My teens and tweens go crazy for coloring pages like they are going to go away tomorrow- it doesn’t matter if they’re Hello Kitty, Disney, Ninja Turtles, or leftovers from some random storytime, if you can color it, they want it. Why not turn them loose on the more ‘grown-up’ color pages that have become the rage?  Free pages are available from Dover and other sites with a search of free adult (or teen) coloring pages, and by just running them off the printer or copier, you have a stack of pages that will keep them occupied for hours. Surround the table with books on drawing, inking, and artist biographies, and who knows what will develop. COST: printing, washable markers or colored pencils, crayons. STAFF TIME: 2 hours prep with online research and copying, 1 hour set up with display.
  • Guessing Jars: For the cost of a jar or shadow box, something to fill it with, and entry forms, you will keep your tweens and teens guessing how many “whatevers” are in a jar every week/month, and apply STEM principals to do it.  I’ve done this monthly for over a year, and we have consistently had over 50 different tweens and teens guess what was in the frame, from the number of LEGOs to the number of Peeps, M&Ms, or Skittles. They would get online to figure out how many Peeps were in a bag, then try to figure out how many bags I used, the volume of the frame or jar, the measurements- anything they could figure in order to get the closest without going over. Winner would get new candies, or a LEGO book, or something tied to the theme of what was in the jar or frame. COST: Jar or shadow box (one time expense), printing, fillers (monthly), pencils for tweens/teens to fill out forms. STAFF TIME: 3 hour prep with shopping, 1.5 hour prep with display.
  • Black Out Poetry: Ever wonder what to do with those books that are falling apart so badly that even the Friends of the Library booksale won’t take them? Save some of the pages and use them for a Black Out Poetry day! Cover a table with a cheap $1 table cloth so the Sharpies won’t bleed through, have out some examples for the teens, and leave out pages that they can color on and make patters with poetry! COST: Sharpies, table cloth. STAFF TIME: 3 hour prep with tearing apart pages and making display piece; 1.5 hour prep with display.

    From via Pinterest

What easy programs do you have in place for summer? Share with us!


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