Homemade Tinker Toys

image of homemade tinker toys

Homemade Tinker Toys

It’s the first day of school for most of the kids and teens here in Homer. In anticipation of the buzzing afterschool energy level we see each Fall, I’m back to featuring passive programs kids can try out. The STEAM activities are meant to get even older kids (7-12) playing, tinkering, fiddling on their own terms while at the same time addressing the mischief that sometimes arises when kids hangout at the library for long periods of time while they wait for their working parents and caregivers. Each program or activity is low cost and requires minimal effort and time. Most activities are set out for 1-2 weeks depending on the activity.

This week’s passive program features Homemade Tinker Toys! I got the idea here, although I am using some different materials.

Cost: $4

Straws cut into varying lengths (20 whole straws- purchased, but you may have on hand)
Toilet roll tubes (about 35- I had on hand)
Plastic tub to hold tubes

I punched 4 holes in each side of each tube. The holes are evenly spaced and symmetrical around each end of the tube as far from opening as standard hole-punch will reach. I also used scissors to cut two slits in the openings of the tubes (see image below). Some tubes have 2 slits on each opening and on others I only cut slits on one side. The slits allow the tubes to be stacked. I then cut straws in 2 different lengths- some straws I cut in half and others I cut in thirds. I organized the straws by size in two different cups. That’s it for prep!

I placed a tub of the prepared tubes and cut straws on a table with building space so curious kids could build right where they see the activity and so others could get inspired by what others have built before them.

Update: Kids from ages 2-12 have built with these tubes and loved them. I’ll definitely be leaving this out for a 2nd week.

Homemade Tinker Toys with slits cut in sides

Here is an image of the slits cut into one end. The slits let builders stack the tubes and build more elaborate structures.

Homemade Tinker Toys Stacked

This image shows how the tinker toys stack on top of each other.

I am Thankful for…


After the Snowflake Studio passive program success, I decided to introduce the Thankful Tree. I first shared it with families at storytime and then left it and the materials to create thankful messages in the kids library for anyone to add to. It’s filling up fast as adults and kids share the idea of gratitude (and strengthen early literacy skills!). I think of it as a cross-cultural way to celebrate the human spirit, remember our connection to each other, and reflect on what we value. We’ll leave the tree up for awhile and see what happens.


After 1 day, more than 20 messages have been added.


  • Cottonwood branches (from my yard) in various lengths to form a tree (Tallest is 4 1/2ft tall.)
  • Tall vase filled with sand and a large rock for stability
  • Cardstock or other paper cut into 4″ x 3″ or 4″ pieces
  • Markers and crayons
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Ribbon or string for attaching the messages to the tree

Here are a few gems from the preschoolers…






Passive Maker Programming

DIY Project BoxesI’ve been reading posts and discussions about passive programming- self-directed activities without a leader or instructor- for awhile now and found them very inspiring! Although I offer maker programs throughout the summer and as often as possible during the school year, I hadn’t given much thought to passive maker programming until about a year ago. Frankly, it seemed too easy. I know, I know. That’s crazy! I orchestrated a StoryWalk at our library during two summer programs, but I hadn’t considered in-library passive programming.

This past summer, though, I gave it a try and brought DIY Project Boxes to our library. I created three low tech boxes: DIY: Origami, DIY: Duct Tape and DIY: Rainbow Loom. They are still getting used six months later. No need to host a Rainbow Loom program! Kids (along with some dads!) use the DIY: Rainbow Loom Project Box almost everyday after school.

To use one of the DIY Project Boxes, kids bring a library card to the front desk and then we give them the box. We hold on to their card while they have the box, mostly for ceremonial purposes. We’ve never had issues with the boxes and fill up supplies as needed.

DIY: Rainbow Loom Project Box

DIY: Rainbow Loom Project Box Contents of DIY: Rainbow Loom Project Box includes laminated instructions for various projects, rubber bands, weaving tools, 2 looms.

DIY: Rainbow Loom Project Box

Snowflake Studio
Our most recent passive programming idea came during storytime last week. And when I say during storytime, I mean literally in the middle of it as I was talking about the craft for the post-story activity time. I was demonstrating how to make snowflakes out of paper during a generally unremarkable storytime and then I casually mentioned that kids could take the snowflakes they made home or leave them with me… I would hang them up in the windows that separate the kids’ library from the rest of the library. I definitely paused for a split second as I decided this mid-sentence. I was trying to decide if the snowflakes would block the view from the circulation desk into the kids room, a major factor for staff at the desk who help keep the ruckus during the day to a dull roar. (Our kids’ library is not staffed during all hours of the day, but is well-used.)

Snowflake StudioNo one made much noise about the snowflake craft and I didn’t think much of it until suddenly I started getting snowflakes given to me. And it wasn’t just the kids! Ever since storytime last week, kids and adults have been cutting out beautiful snowflakes and we’ve been decorating the glass with them. Everyday a few more snowflakes are delivered to the desk for me to hang up. At least seventy five have been hung and we’ll keep the “snowflake studio” up for another week or so to see what will happen.

Snowflake Studio Materials:
white printer/copier paper
tape (for hanging snowflakes)

Library Snowflake 1Library Snowflake 2Library Snowflake 3Update: Click on the Passive Programming tag to see other ideas!

Summer Reading Program 2013: part 1

Despite today’s snow and cold temperatures, summer is on its way. How do I know? My summer reading program planning is well underway! Local schools finish up in two months and we’ll be ready to share some summer fun!

New pieces we have in store for the program (so far):

Maker Mondays: Each Monday we’ll feature an opportunity for kids and teens, ages 9 and up, to create. Programs will include low tech and high tech options. On any given Monday you might see us creating art from beach debris, making video with LEGOs, fashioning duct tape into must have wares, etc.dig into reading

STEAM-y Storytimes: Our weekly storytimes will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math (STEAM) in addition to the fun stories that exemplify this summer’s Dig Into Reading theme. For some of the programming, I’ll be partnering with some local environmental educators which we do regularly. It’ a great collaboration.  We’ll include stations that can be enjoyed by kids ages 6 and under because our audience tends to grow when siblings tag along in the summer.

Other programs we’ll also include in 2013 will be puppet shows, musician visits, and a heavy equipment show and tell.

Popular pieces we’ll be repeating this year:

StoryWalk®– We created a StoryWalk® on our library’s walking trail last year and we’ll add another once the snow is gone and the ground has thawed. We line a our trail with laminated pages from a selected picture book and families read the story as they walk. The idea was started by the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition. We include an outside reading element to our reading logs so this is beneaththesurfaceanother way to support our community’s love of reading and highlights a great picture book or two.

Nationwide Teen Library Lock-in– In a webinar last Spring I found out that a group of librarians around the US were going to connect teens online during an after hours library event for the 2nd year. What a great idea! I signed up to participate in the event and then planned our first “lock-in” to celebrate the end of the summer program. We sat in on a author visit via Skype, made FrankenToys for a Zombie themed contest, and connected with other teens in online games between libraries. We chose from multiple activities planned by the participating libraries (a la carte style) and then added other activities to our event at the local level. Libraries can do as much or as little as they want.

The planning for this year’s collaboration is now underway. Are you interested in having your library participate? Contact me or click  here to find out more.

Adult Program– We started a summer program for adults two years ago which features online record groundbreaking readskeeping (along with the teens) and a prize. We surveyed adults last year and found that the Alaskan Summers keep folks too busy for more programs and they are happy reading as part of the bigger program. We save the adult events for Wintertime.

Online reading logs for adults and teens– Two years ago we used Survey Monkey to create an archaic online reading log for participants ages 12 and up. This year we are looking at Engaged Patrons for a reading log and social space for library specific readers. Friends at the another library in the state used it last year and recommended it. What do you use for teen and adult reading logs?