Programs for Middle Schoolers: Afterhours Laser Tag

The program I get most questions about from fellow library professionals is laser tag. This is by far my most well-attended program; I had 40 kids plus 10 on a wait list in 2016, and I had 55 in 2017. I continue to hear about it and get questions about when we’re doing it next all year long.

I’ve done this program twice, in February 2016 and February 2017. I chose February because it’s an indoor event that releases pent-up energy, so ideal for winter. Both times were for grades 6-8, and included four supervising adults. Parents were required to sign waivers.

What I share here will be a conflation of the two programs, taking the most effective parts of each. I’ll also mention some things I suggest not doing.

Convincing Administration

If you want to have this program, your first task will be to get permission. Here are some talking points you might use.

  • It generates a lot of hype, which improves the image of the Library to kids in the community. It also challenges the common misconception that the Library is boring and only for studying.
  • It attracts non-users, and once they visit the Library once they are more likely to come back.
  • It is an opportunity for supervised fun, socialization, and healthy competition.
  • It helps kids get to know what is in the Library and how to find it. (More on that below.)

I was encouraged by my administration to use the word “tagger” instead of “gun,” “tagged” instead of “shot,” and “disengaged” instead of “killed” or “dead.” This got me some weird looks from the kids, and sometimes I had to say those words anyway just to clarify. (And I won’t say I didn’t slip up a few times.) I’ll use the PC terms in this post, too.

The Flow of the Game

2016

The program ran from 6:30 to 9. We got a package that included 20 taggers and a staff member from a laser tag company. (More on acquiring taggers below.) Because the company sent along a staff member to keep tabs on things, they also sent their fancier style of taggers.  We allowed 40 kids to participate.

We split the kids into two groups of 20. Each group of 20 was then divided into two teams of 10 (red team and blue team), which competed against one another in the games.

First, the first 20 (Group 1) played a 20-minute game on the lower level. Group 2 stayed in the meeting room and ate pizza. Then, the two groups switched: Group 2 played, and Group 1 ate pizza. After that, Group 1 played a second 20-minute game on the upper level while Group 2 hung out in the meeting room some more and ate more pizza. Then, the two groups switched again. (Nobody was allowed on stairs or the elevator while playing, so we stayed on one floor for each game.)

2017

We’d had a long waiting list in 2016. We wanted to let more kids play, and figured we could save time and expense by not having the downtime or the pizza. So, we got 20 taggers and opened up three sessions to 20 kids each: a 6:30, a 7:30, and an 8:30 session. Once again, each group got to play two 20-minute games; one on the top floor, then one on the bottom floor.

Putting other factors aside, I think the 2017 structure was a more efficient use of time and energy for us. The kids didn’t seem to have a preference for either structure, though, so go for whichever sounds more doable for you.

Where to Get Taggers

This is really going to depend on where you are and what resources you have. I have heard that if you want to purchase your own taggers, these are a good option.

We rented ours from a company called Battle Royale, which operates in the Chicago area. In 2016 we had an excellent experience using one of their Non-Profit Packages. This came with equipment and a staff member to lead the games. They also offer rentals where you can get cheaper equipment and no staff member, but I do not recommend this; we have issues with both equipment and service. (Here’s the link though, if you want it.)

How to Play

We had a red team and a blue team, with ten players each. Each team had a base. The taggers were designed so that when a player was tagged a certain number of times, their equipment stopped working. To get it working again, players had to go back to their base and hit a button, then wait for the equipment to restart.

Our director was concerned that community members might feel this program didn’t meet the Library’s mission, so we added an educational component. The idea was to test the kids’ knowledge of where to find things in the Library. I created little squares of paper I called “tokens.” They contained images of icons such as the ones here. In each round, 10 tokens were hidden in the play area. Each player received a clue sheet with hints about where to find the tokens. (Here are the answers, which are all locations in my library.) Each player had to get one of as many type of token as they could back to their base.

The way I did this was, I gave each person a color. I made tokens of each color, and put them in the hiding spots. Each kid had to try to get all the tokens of their color. The team with the most tokens won the game. Kids were allowed to share the locations of tokens with teammates, but not to grab anyone else’s color token.

I put several of each color token in each spot, in case someone decided to hide them or scatter them, or accidentally took someone else’s token. This worked fine when kids were honest and listening to the rules. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.

For those who weren’t listening to the rules and ended up grabbing all the tokens of their color, it was OK because I could disregard all but one when counting tokens at the end of the round. It did cause some confusion and extra work, however.

The trickier part was that unless I saw them take them, I had no way of knowing if kids were grabbing other kids’ tokens, and not everyone was interested in being honest. I’m still trying to figure out how to solve this problem for next year. Maybe instead of having them take something from the hiding spot, I will have them leave something there, such as putting their signature on a piece of paper, or their token in a locked box.

In 2016 I also included a research component, which involved using our databases to solve clues. This was a good concept, but didn’t execute well. Most of the kids were too hyped-up to research, and they ended up dumping all the work on a few hapless teammates.

Rules

Besides the rules for how to play, I had a number of rules for safety and to protect Library property.

-Be good sports. No trash-talking others.

-No violent talk or mimicking real-life violence. (I allowed them to say “gun,” “shot”, “die,” and “kill” in a video game-type sense, but not in a way that sounded like it referred to real life, and no threats.)

-No climbing on things. (Crawling on the floor is OK.)

-No diving or sliding on the floor.

-No going on the stairs or in the elevator.

-No moving furniture.

-No going into staff rooms (“Do not enter” signs were on doors)

-No touching computers, technology, or taking books off the shelf while playing.

For first offenses or small offenses, rule-breakers were made to sit out for the remainder of the round. Anyone could be permanently ejected from the game for disobeying the rules by any adult supervisor.

Other Considerations

Let kids be on a team with friends if you can, but avoid letting it turn into boys vs. girls. In my experience, boys and girls had different play styles, and this led to arguments.

There will probably be a lot of excitement among the kids, and some will have trouble listening. For me, they mostly found the safety and sportsmanship rules intuitive, but many didn’t listen well enough to grasp how the tokens worked. I explained a a few times, but there came a point when we had to get going, and those who hadn’t been listening just had to deal with it. Next year, I hope to have a simpler and more intuitive system than the tokens.

Have a first-aid kit handy, just in case.

I do not recommend allowing middle schoolers to play with elementary schoolers or high schoolers, since the game can get a little physical and the skill levels of each age group with be significantly different, making for an unbalanced game.

Final Thoughts

This program gets more buzz and higher attendance than anything else I do all year, and it brings in a lot of kids I’ve never seen before. Just that makes it a huge success, in my opinion. The more kids who get the idea that the Library is a fun place, the more likely they are to support it and take advantage of what it has to offer now and when they are older. This program is set to become a yearly event, and we’re considering buying our own laser tag equipment, since it would save money in the long run if we did this a lot.

If you have any questions or want to talk to me about laser tag, feel free to leave a comment or email flashlightchronicles@gmail.com.

-Kylie Peters

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