Clara's Light up cards program in Cambridge, MA

On Feb 13th, I had the pleasure of helping out at @clarahendricks Clara’s light-up Valentine’s card library program, in Cambridge, MA! It was a weird day in the city, with schools and universities closing for a snow emergency that ended up not happening.

Space setup: the programming space is 4 square tables, each with a chair on each side of the table. It’s situated right next to the stacks, and across from the circulation desk.

Material setup: Clara placed a set of materials at the center of each table. LEDs went into little cups, based on their voltages. (Red + yellow were together, and white + blue + green were together). She had light-up card examples and very simple examples that show only the steps for making a paper circuit. There were also mini take-home kits prepared. The “extra fun” materials were set aside for later, so they don’t distract from the paper circuit.

Participants: Clara said that one amazing thing about her library patrons is that they tend to show up on time for programs. There were 6 kids (two were Clara’s), and 3 parents. I believe the youngest may have been 3 or 4 years old, and the oldest maybe 9?

Getting started: While waiting for others to show up, Clara invited kids to go ahead and start playing with the paper. (One parent asked her kids to wait for the activity explanation first. I encouraged them to start playing while they wait.) Once others joined, Clara demonstrated with her arms what a circuit is, that it’s a “circle” and needs to be closed. She engaged the kids by asking questions. She also asked them to notice the very small difference in the short and long legs of the lightbulb, and pointed out that if the light’s always on, the battery runs out.


Some things I noticed:

  • a young kid, maybe 4 years old was able to easily light up an LED with a battery.
  • The role of parents in the library program is really important, they are co-facilitating for their children. Clara was often explaining to parents how paper circuits works, with the connection and orientation of LED.
  • Troubleshooting was challenging. Kids were looking to parents for help, and parents were looking to Clara and me for help.
  • One parent was doing the circuit for her kid, but others only helped when the kids asked for help with specific things like holding down the LED while they put tape on it. This made me think of a conversation I had with Melissa about how she is also teaching the parent how to parent.
  • The kids frequently want to have multiple LEDs on their card. While it’s important for them to figure it out with some guiding questions, seeing their frustrations in real time helped me understand why adults would want to intervene and fix it for them.

Facilitation tips Clara used:

  • Save the distracting craft materials for later, so the young learners can focus on the circuitry first. This included googly eyes and pretty doilies!
  • Staying calm in the chaos. How does she do it?!
  • Demonstrating how circuits work with her arms!
  • Asking simple questions that taps into what kids may have already learned at that age (names of shapes).
  • Save the cleaning up for after. This was something less explicit that I noticed for myself. As much as I wanted to pickup the fallen bits of paper on the floor and keep things tidy, I realized that it was more important to be available and present for the learners.

Clara’s step-by-step examples

Clara in action:

Clara’s example of a parallel circuit (multiple LEDs)

A project that a young learner was working on. it later did not light up.

Another kid referring to Clara’s example.

Another project:

Clara’s light-up card example, with a photo of her and her partner:

Other projects created by young learners.

Mini take-home kits prepared by Clara:

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Thanks to Ada for documenting! My biggest takeaway is that in hindsight it was not such a great idea to invite my kids at the last minute, as I felt torn between my role as the facilitator and my role as a parent, trying to help my 6 year old! It is an interesting thing to consider, how much the parents should step in to help their kids.

Like Ada said, attendance was a bit unusual because of the “snow.” We had a lot of registrants cancel at the last minute. Still, I was so impressed by how quickly many of the kids picked up the idea of the project. I think we made room for low floors and high ceilings, including if kids just wanted to use the bulbs and tape as decorations, instead of functional components. Another staff member and I also spent some time one-on-one with a young patron later in the evening, using one of the take-home kits to create 3 light-up cards, one of which she gave to the Library :heart:


I love hearing all of these reflections–It’s helpful to hear what went well and things you would do differently and how you adapted based on the audience!

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