February 17, 2018

Keep ’em Coming Back for S’mores | Programs That Pop


  • Small pizza boxes
  • Foil
  • Cling wrap
  • Black paper
  • Tape
  • Dowel rods (probably optional; many teens didn’t use them)
  • Baggies
  • Graham crackers
  • Chocolate
  • Marshmallows

This year, Miriam Wallen, the teen librarian at Lawrence Public Library (LPL), KS, reached out to her sister Anne Wallen, the Honors Program coordinator at the University of Kansas (UK), and asked if any student groups would be interested in helping to facilitate programs for teens at the library. Anne recommended the Environmental Studies Student Ambassadors. While LPL organizes numerous staff-led programs each month, bringing in outside experts helps free up staff time for other long-term projects and allows teens to interact with positive adult role models. In this case, teens got to interact with college students just a few years older than they are who are pursuing their passions.

Every teen librarian knows programs that offer snacks are usually a hit and can even entice teens reluctant to join in the fun. With that in mind, we offer many teen programs that include snacks, from Chocolate Fest to Pizza Gardening. When the Student Ambassadors proposed making a solar-powered s’mores oven for an Earth Day activity, we knew it would be a hit.

Simple, scalable, and STEM

Even libraries that can’t partner with a university student group can still offer this inexpensive program. All supplies for 15–20 participants can be purchased for about $25. The “ovens” can be built with small groups but wouldn’t be an unmanageable activity for larger ones. The science is basic enough that librarians who aren’t science whizzes will feel comfortable presenting the program and explaining the concepts. This is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program that libraries without access to expensive technology or staff dedicated to developing these types of learning opportunities can offer, and teens will still see science in action and have fun (and get a tasty snack) while they’re at it.

Since we weren’t the main presenters, other than shopping for s’mores supplies, which can all be purchased at a grocery store, there wasn’t a big time commitment on our end. Miriam ­Wallen portioned the marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers into plastic bags for each teen. The UK students asked a local pizzeria to donate the boxes that house the oven and precut the flap in the lid. If we’d had to present this ourselves, it would have taken an hour at most to put together the science-related questions and cut the boxes.

ljx150602webProgramsPop2A surefire recipe

The program began with a short lesson on renewable energy and solar power. Then the teens covered the flap in the pizza boxes’ lid with foil, being sure to put it shiny side out, since it’s more reflective (see photos above). They then taped the black paper to the bottom of the box and affixed the cling wrap underneath the foil flap. Along with the UK ambassadors, I assisted teens with taping in place the foil, paper, and cling wrap. (Cling wrap is especially tricky and usually requires one person to hold it tightly and another to tape the sides.)

Next, it was time to take our s’mores ingredients and head outside to see if the solar-powered ovens worked. Teens built their s’mores and closed them up in the oven. The dowel rod was placed between the top and bottom of the box to prop the flap at the optimal angle and direction in order to maximize the power of the sun, reflect the sunlight off the foil, and direct it down through the cling wrap to “bake” the marshmallow and melt the chocolate. Many teens found they didn’t need the dowels—the cardboard in the box would stand on its own.

After several minutes, the teens each had ooey, gooey s’mores that, while not toasted as they would had they been over an open fire, were still messy and ­delicious!

This was one of our most successful recent one-time activities. Obviously, dietary concerns are an issue for some teens, and teens with allergies might not be able to participate. However, the difficulty level is just right. Kids weren’t bored, but it wasn’t so challenging that they got frustrated and wanted to give up. They learned, they worked together, and they had fun.

Molly Wetta is a Collection Development Librarian, Lawrence Public Library, KS, where she selects teen materials, graphic novels, and media and occasionally helps with teen programming. Find her on twitter @molly_wetta or her blog, wrappedupinbooks.org

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. How hot/sunny of a day does it have to be to work?
    Did you have a backup plan in case of inclement weather?