A family working on Gravity Maze challenge cards.

Have you noticed the escape room trend popping up in library programming? We decided to jump on that bandwagon and framed our latest STEAM family challenge program around the escape room trend, incorporating logic and teamwork around a series of puzzles. I’ve mentioned Mission: BOOMbox in a previous post about architecture themed programming; the program lasts one hour and is intended for youth in kindergarten through 5th grade with their adult caregiver. This iteration of the program was themed around what makes us human, a general theme aligned with two spaces in our library: the Exploring Human Origins Traveling Exhibit from ALA and The Smithsonian, and the BOOMbox experiential learning space.

Two library staff members facilitated this program in our main multipurpose room, which has a gallery space that we turned into a holding area. Everyone met outside the room and once all participants were ready, we introduced ourselves as the Key Keeper and Escape Room Manager. We then shared the program challenge and outlined expectations: participants had to complete five out of ten puzzles of their choice, as a family team, in 35 minutes. For each solved or completed puzzle, participants received a piece of a paper key from the Key Keeper. Each key was in five pieces, thus the five puzzles each family needed to complete. With the five completed key pieces taped together, participants were able to escape the library.

A participant with his family’s finished key.

Explaining this premise before we all entered the room helped create a sense of excitement among the participants. Family members told each other they had to work together even before hearing the challenges.

We then listed all ten challenges, providing a few hints or tips when applicable. We explained that the challenges were of varying degrees of difficulty and that it didn’t matter which five the participants chose–but challenges could not be repeated. Once we opened the doors, families set to the task at hand, demonstrating respect of others but also a lot of internal competition.

A family working on the robot paper circuit challenge.

These are the puzzles/challenge stations we featured:

• 1 side of a 2×2 or 3×3 Rubik’s cube
• Robot paper circuit challenge
• 1 Soma Cube puzzle
• 1 Gravity Maze challenge of choice (the game comes with challenge cards)
• 1 Seeing card (3 options)
• 1 Ozobot bowling challenge with markers
• Reverse alphabet test using index cards
• Connect the Dots challenge sheet
• Coordination challenge (pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time for 10 seconds)
• KEVA Plank stacking challenge (15 planks, free standing for 10 seconds)

We chose what challenges and puzzles to offer based on the resources currently available in the library and the intended grade range of youth attendees. That’s right–we used all materials we already had on hand, which means this program cost us zero dollars. Each station had a sign with the BOOMbox logo and the name of the challenge, including a brief teaser line.

When the event was over, we had positive responses from the families–and thankfully, everyone escaped the room! Adults were as equally, if not more, determined as the kids to complete all the puzzles and challenge stations. This iteration of Mission: BOOMbox really seemed to emphasize our main goal for this recurring program: families exploring and learning together.