I’ve been known to be a bit over-the-top with my programming. I’m lucky in that I work for a very supportive manager, at a branch with a big program space and a healthy budget. So when I saw Kim Alberts’ post over on the ALSC blog about her Baby Prom program, I thought oh heck yes. Babies in pearls and tuxedos, crafts and a dance floor – what could go wrong?
I was not prepared for my community’s response.
Why are we doing this?
Why is Baby Prom a good library program? Here’s some reasons it worked for us:
- A free, no-registration event like this brings new families into the library. We can get them cards and books and answer their questions while they’re taking adorable photos and having some snacks.
- Dancing, singing, and playing are all part of Every Child Ready To Reads 5 Best Practices for early literacy skills, so we’re providing caregivers an opportunity to do these three things in the library.
- A program like this can accommodate a large number of people. We struggle with high-demand at my library, with often 200+ attending basic storytimes. A drop-in program like this one meant that we could provide something special at a low-cost for our community.
- Good will. Never pass up an opportunity to earn the good will of your community. Many caregivers worry that their young children won’t be accepted at the library, because they’re too noisy or too rambunctious. We had a lot of patrons who were very happy that we had simply made room for them. Plus, I had many opportunities throughout the program to talk to families, meet their kiddos, and generally make myself more recognizable as That Library Lady, which is invaluable when you’re working on earning the community’s trust.
- Motor skills! Drawing in a craft helps toddlers build their pincher grip. Busting a move to Baby Shark improves their whole-body coordination.
- Social skills! Negotiating a turn with a puppet, some space at the craft table, or a turn in front of the balloon arch all helps our young kiddos practice sharing space in their world.
- Babies in tuxedos. Need I say more?
- Balloon arch photo spot
- Bubble wrap dance floor
- Paper plate maraca craft
- Refreshments table
- Baby limo
- Sensory play spot
- Prom dates
- Procure a balloon arch kit and many balloons. I grabbed a tabletop one off of Amazon, but there are a lot of options. Be sure yours comes with a balloon pump, because you do not want to blow up 100 balloons with your own flesh-lungs. It took me 2+ hours to build this balloon arch, so budget your time accordingly.
- Ask your co-workers to save their bubblewrap for you. I collected over a couple of months. Then, spread this out across your dance floor for some stomping good times!
- Get your craft supplies ready. For paper plate maracas, we needed paper plates, dry beans, crayons, staplers, extra staples, and various decorative biddly-bobs like streamers and stickers, plus various bins, cups, and boxes to spread out supplies across the tables.
- No prom is without refreshments. We had Cutie oranges, goldfish crackers, animal crackers, and our fancy water pitcher.
- You’ve got to ride in style to Baby Prom. I borrowed a “baby limo” aka a push-car.
- Babies need sensory play! I put out baskets of our shaker eggs, scarves, and extra streamers left-over from our decor.
- No one likes to come to prom alone. I put out all our various puppets and stuffed animals in a corner with a sign encouraging everybody who came stag to find a stuffed friend for the morning.
- Far away from your refreshments and your bubble-wrap floor, set up your bubble corner. I put out our bubble machine, but some simple bubble wands would be good, too.
- Make a playlist. I went for tunes that would appeal to grown-ups (everything from the Beatles to Beyonce to Janelle Monae) while still being kid-friendly, with a sprinkling in of some kids’ music favorites like Laurie Berkner and the ABC Rockers.
- Plan the rest of your decor. Signs? Streamers? Sparkly things hanging from the ceiling? You are your own prom committee – unless you get some caregiver volunteers to be your prom committee, which I am seriously considering for next time!
- Plan your own outfit. You can’t expect the patrons to dress up if you aren’t game!
We hosted Baby Prom on a Thursday morning in May, from 10:00 am – 11:30 am (though really I was still shooing people towards the door by noon). We had a staggering crowd of over 350 patrons, which blew away my expectations.
I had an enormously positive response, with some families staying the entire hour and a half. “I never thought he’d wear his ring-bearer suit again!” one mom told me. I spent about $250 all told, which came out to less than a dollar a patron, (with some things, like the balloon arch, that I can reuse at other programs). Food was one of my main costs, and if I needed to spend less, it’s the first place I would cut.
I also immediately started taking notes for next time.
What would I do differently?
- Improve the sound system. My bluetooth speaker could not hold up to crowds of 350. Next year, I’m going to need some serious bounce so that the music can be heard over the patrons.
- Pick a tidier craft. I chose paper plate maracas because I felt like it went with the music and dance theme, and I liked the simplicity of the instructions. You have not truly seen a mess, however, until you have seen 200 toddlers make a craft out of dried beans. It’s three months later and I’m still finding beans in the seat cushions.
- Designate a staff member to play photographer. For about half the program, I was the only staff member in the room, and I was too busy darting around, filling supplies and answering questions, to help patrons take pictures in front of the balloon arch. Part of the appeal for patrons is to get a nice picture of themselves and their kids all gussied up, so next time I want to meet that need.
- Try different scheduling. I had a lot of working parents ask for a program like this on a Saturday, so that they could attend. This worries me, however, because it will definitely increase attendance, and add big kids to the mix, since they won’t be in school. I’m honestly not sure we can handle that! If we did move to a Saturday, we’d need to schedule multiple sessions, and put a limit on how many people could attend.