Program or Pass: Perler Beads

It’s time to kick off my first blog meme: Program or Pass! Each month I will feature a library program idea I have and my findings. If you would like to do it with me, use the #programorpass, title your post as such, and share your link in my comments. Feedback is always welcome!

Perler Beads are my current obsession. Also known as “hama” or “fuse” beads, these little guys are full of programing potential. Many of you might have done these as a kid, but let me tell you, they are still cool! I found out about their revival while scouting Pinterest for ideas, and wanted to see if they could be a library program.

Here’s what I’ve learned…

What is it and what does it offer? 

Perlers are tiny plastic beads that you place on “pegboards” to form a design. Once you have what you like, you iron those bad boys to fuse them together creating awesome plastic goodness for all to enjoy. You can literally make ANYTHING! If you want an idea of all the awesome things you can make, check out my perler bead board on Pinterest.

While the craft is cool, the best part about perlers is that the patrons are learning without realizing it. You have to follow a pattern chart, which is a great activity to springboard them into more complicated things like cross stitch or knitting. They are also working on their fine motor skills, because it takes patience and precision to get the beads on the board. You might think that your patrons have already mastered these skills, but many do not have an opportunity to “craft”. It is harder for them than you’d think, and they really do have to slow down and concentrate on their actions. However, it isn’t boring and it offers a relatively quick reward, so they will stick with it.

Cost and supplies?

  • Parchment Paper – $3 and one roll is all you will need if you don’t have any at home.
  • Perler Beads – $19 for a jumbo bucket of 22,000 mixed colored beads
  • Pegboards – $10 for a pack of 4 of the clear, square boards
  • Iron and Ironing Board or Mat
  • Printed Patterns – You can easily find ideas on the internet and print off the charts
  • Toothpicks – one box will do
  • Small buckets or bowls for the beads

Time and Staff? 

  • Learning to work with perlers is super simple. The beads come with directions that lay it all out for you, and as long as you test out your iron and fuse them slowly (by keeping your iron moving around the piece rather than just sitting it down and leaving it) you’re golden. Set up and breakdown is about 10 minutes tops.
  • I find that an hour is a pretty good about of time to let them create. Most will make either one detailed item, or a few little  / simpler ones. However, you can easily go for longer
  • While I have done this as a one woman show, having help does make it easier. Stocking your program with a few volunteers is always a great idea.

Tips and tricks?

  • The initial startup of a peeler program can be a little pricey. I run my program with 20 attendees, so I need 20 pegboards and a lot of beads, particularly black and white. Extra bags of those will run you $12 each for a bag of 6,000, but you will only need one of each. The good part is the tone you have the boards, you have them forever. The program is highly repeatable and the beads do go a long way.
  • If you are short on funds there are a few things you can do: 
    • Craft stores usually have them on sale for 1/2 off or offer coupons which can save you a ton!
    • Check thrift stores for pegboards.
    • Ask your community or staff members if they have any you can have. Chances are they do, and will gladly donate them to their friendly neighborhood librarian for a program. Reaching our to local businesses for support can also work for some libraries.
  • Have lots of patterns. I printed up a bunch of patterns to chose form. It helps them brainstorm, but I also had a few who busted out their phones to find things they wanted.
  • Have a theme and visuals. Sometimes a program’s essence is hard to promote. They might see a tiny bead and gloss over it, missing out on all the fun. For my first program I did a Minecraft theme. I made demos of Minecraft items they could make, and made a little display. I had a poster and fliers with examples. I even used Steve’s character and his supply gathering from the game as a way to explain to the tweens  how they would be sorting and building just like he does. It got them in and got them jazzed. Mission accomplished.
  • Use Toothpicks. It can be tricky to get the beads where you want them, but if you use a toothpick to pick them up and place them, it’s a lot easier and cheaper than tweezers!
  • Have an extra iron. It takes a few minutes to fuse the beads and you have to let them cool  before handing them back to the patrons. If you have two irons, you can get a little assembly line going and cut down your time.
  •  Have staff do all the ironing. Safety is always a concern, and I will warn you, these beads are pretty toasty when you fuse them. To keep everyone safe, I had the patrons give me their pegboards for me to iron and sent them off to build on a new one. This way, I could have an assembly line of drop-off/ pick-up. It keeps them from hovering and they get to keep creating. Win! The rule they followed was “if it’s still in the parchment paper, it’s still cooking”. Once the pieces were cool, I removed them from the parchment set them on another table for them to grab.
  • Have fun! I like to put on some music, give them the supplies, and turn them loose. Crafting such as this is all about being creative and making new connections, both intellectually and socially. I always make sure to let them know that they have the freedom to make things that suit their individual tastes and that it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Final Verdict: Programable! 

I have hosted this program with both tweens (8-12) and teens (13-18), and they all loved it! When I did it with the tweens, there were even a few parents that wanted to get in on the action too, so it has that highly coveted “family programing” element. I loved doing this with my library (and at home) and I hope this inspires you to give it a go! If you have any questions, feel free to pop them in the comments and I will gladly answer them. 🙂

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