Our local food pantry badly needed something fun (and quiet and still) for kiddos to do while their parents shopped for groceries.
For a Girl Scout project, my own kiddos decided to build the pantry an Early Literacy Center, a high-falutin’ term for a bookshelf, donated books, homemade crayons, and plenty of paper.
We parents helped, and the entire project came together over a couple of weeks. Here’s how we did it:
1. Propose the project. After the kids had the idea, I helped them flesh it out (“What would you need to buy to build this?” “Where would you get the books?” “How will you supply it with paper and crayons?”), then had them write up their project proposal as an email, which I sent to the food pantry’s Youth Outreach Coordinator. We met with the coordinator so that she and I could talk measurements and develop a time frame, and she gave the kids the okay to get started.
2. Build a bookshelf. We contemplated sourcing a donated bookshelf, but because space is tight in the food pantry, we needed such specific dimensions that we decided to just build the shelf from scratch. We cobbled together the wood and screws from our own stash, the Restore, and our local hardware store, and ended up spending about $30 for all the supplies.
Woodworking is excellent hands-on math enrichment for kids, and building the bookshelf was a fun parent/kid project that took less than a day of work (off and on, depending on kids’ attention spans) to complete.
3. Decoupage the bookshelf. We left the shelves themselves plain wood, but I wanted the ends of the bookshelf, one of which would probably face out into the pantry, to be more decorative, so I gave the kids a stack of old, ripped-and-beaten-up children’s encyclopedias, scissors, Mod Podge, and paintbrushes, and they cut out illustrations that they liked and decoupaged them to the shelf ends (decoupage is a pretty standard furniture makeover strategy). The kids wanted to use comic books like we did with their decoupaged building blocks, but I was worried that comic book images would be scary to some of the littler kids; the beat-up vintage children’s encyclopedia was neutral ground.
When they had done all the decoupage that they were going to do, I filled in all the gaps with tissue paper, then we, over the course of another weekend, all took turns adding several more layers of Mod Podge to seal it well.
4. Solicit book donations. The kids composed an email explaining their project and asking for donations of children’s books, and I spread the message out to friends and family. Within the week, we had plenty of donations come in from parents in our homeschool playgroup and friends all over. I also tried to get the kids to edit their own ridiculously humongous book collection by sorting out some for donation, but they were basically having none of that–to be fair, I’ll just tell you that they do come by that book hoarding honestly. Ahem.
5. Install the shelf. One cloudy, rainy day (because anytime I want to take lots of photos of something, the lighting is required to be crap), on the way to our regular weekly volunteer gig at the food pantry, the kids helped me load up and haul their bookshelf and all the donated books. We cleared a space, set it up, and it looks just lovely in its new home.
Unexpectedly, once others saw that there was a bookshelf with children’s books in the food pantry, they started bringing in books, too, and now we have a great collection! We added paper and homemade crayons, and we were all set.
Now, while kids are chilling out waiting for their parents to shop, they can look at books or color. There’s everything from board books to chapter books on the shelves, with more coming in whenever we can score them, and fresh crayons made-to-order whenever the supply runs low.
And when my kids aren’t helping stock granola bars or loading apples onto the produce cart, their very own “Early Literacy Center” is definitely where you’ll find them, reading and drawing and enjoying their space.