My first one-off program of the school year was Cupcake Wars. Honestly, I couldn't give you a very good reason as to why I chose this one - I thought the allure of free food and a little competition would bring in some good numbers. Here's what we did.
I only planned on making 48 cupcakes because that's a lot of cupcakes for one person to make, especially considering I have one cupcake tin. This meant that I could have no more than 48 kids attend the program, to ensure that everyone got a cupcake to decorate. If I had less than that (which is what I expected), I'd play it by ear as to how many cupcakes kids could decorate. Since I had originally only planned on having the kids decorate one cupcake and I didn't think that would fill 45 minutes, I started the program with a 15-minute planning period. I had the tables set up with markers and blank cupcake templates so that the kids could plan out what they wanted their cupcakes to look like. This allowed them to visualize their design (their goal was something Willy Wonka would enjoy, since we were celebrating Roald Dahl month) as well as allow for a few mistakes - there would be no do-overs once they got to the real cupcakes.
After the planning period was over, it was time for the real cupcakes. Since I had fewer than 10 kids, I decided to give them each three cupcakes, with the stipulation that they could only submit their one favorite for judging. More than three cupcakes seemed too much for a half hour. Before the program, I had mixed up vanilla frosting with a variety of food coloring to make some beautiful frosting colors (I was pretty impressed with the colors I was able to create). I also had chocolate frosting in case anyone wanted it. Library staff had raided their pantries and donated their surplus and unused sprinkles, icing pens, and sanding sugar. I also had mini marshmallows, dry spaghetti (in case someone wanted to build a structure), and a variety of small candies like Nerds, Bottle Caps, and Laffy Taffy. I have been consistently impressed with the creativity of the kids who show up at my programs, so I was expecting them to do great things with the supplies at hand. Kids had about 30 minutes, maybe a little longer, to decorate their cupcakes.
When time was up, each tween chose their favorite design and submitted it to our esteemed judging panel. I recruited library staff to serve as judges - our teen librarian, one of the adult librarians, and the library director. They took their job very seriously and spent about 10 minutes deliberating before choosing a winner and a runner-up. The winner received a gift certificate to a local cupcake shop and a free book (from my stash of ARCs) and the runner-up took home a free book as well.
Some thoughts on the program: this was probably one of the quietest programs our department has ever seen, especially for a program with the word "war" in the title. From the minute they sat down, these kids were completely focused on the task at hand. They took every stage of the program as seriously as the next and were meticulous. Each kid worked diligently during the planning and when it was finally time for the real cupcakes, many took their time looking over all the available supplies before deciding which colors and candies they wanted to utilize. They were so focused and creative - it was awesome to see. I thought the promise of free cupcakes would bring a bigger number of kids to the program, but I guess you never know. Holding programs on Wednesdays afterschool maybe isn't the best time - it's the middle of the week and kids have homework and other activities to worry about. I'll have to try and see if changing programming days or times would attract more kids. Overall, though, the kids who came had a good time and really showcased their creativity. Not a bad start to the school-year programming!