Sunday, March 24, 2024

A Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

This was a busy day with two programs, an interview, business lunch, and management meeting! There's really no such thing as a "typical" day as every day is a little bit different, which is one of the things I love about working in public libraries.

  • 9:00am - Arrive at work, clock in, check e-mail, check desk schedules. Drop by assistant director's office to pick up interview questions for later. Post storytime reminder on Facebook.
  • 9:20-10:30am - Prep for storytime. Set up chairs, got out bubbles, shaker eggs, and speaker. Filled sensory bin with water (along with frogs, fish, ducks and lily pads). Select toys for playtime after storytime. Filled water bottle and made quick trip to restroom.
  • 10:30-11:00am - Toddler Storytime! (co-worker stepped in for playtime so I could go to interview.)
  • 11:00am-12:00pm - Participated in interviewing of candidate for adult services librarian position.
  • 12:00-1:00pm - Took candidate out to lunch with rest of interview panel
  • 1:00-3:00pm - Covered service desk in youth services, during which I checked & responded to e-mail, began selecting books on requested themes to take to daycare later in week, and checked in with staff.
  • 3:00-3:45pm - Met with rest of management team to discuss the candidate we interviewed earlier, and other personnel matters.
  • 3:45-4:00pm - Opened up room and set up for Pokémon Club, walked through library informing potential attendees of location (a change from previous month)
  • 4:00-5:00pm - Pokémon Club
  • 5:00-5:15pm - Cleared out and locked up meeting room, recorded attendance, checked e-mail, and checked in with assistant director before leaving for the day.
And as always, I'm sure there are several quick tasks and short conversations with various staff and/or patrons that I've forgotten to include. 

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Evidence-Based Summer Reading Program Design

The Inconvenient Truth of Incentivized Reading Programs, Part 2

Image by freepik at

In Part 1 of this series I discussed how summer reading evolved to become the heavily incentivized programs that are so commonplace today, despite the fact that research does not support the effectiveness of using rewards to promote long-term reading habits or gains, and suggests that extrinsic rewards are not only ineffective, but can actually reduce the desired behavior. I also posed some of the beliefs, attitudes, and conflicting priorities that have led to this research being largely ignored as an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth. So, where do we go from here?

The first thing we have to do is start talking about it! Yes, it is very uncomfortable to challenge long-held beliefs and traditions, to question the status quo, and it takes a lot of time to dig into the research to educate ourselves and others (which is why I've shared an annotated bibliography). But if our mission is truly to encourage life-long reading, then we can no longer bury our heads in the sand and fall into the trap of "that's how it's always been done". We need to educate ourselves and have the difficult conversations, look at reading programs through a critical, evidence-based lens. And yes, convincing the powers-that-be will likely be a challenge, but the sooner we start having those conversations and presenting evidence, the sooner we can effect positive change. 

So, lets start with the assumption that our goal really is to promote reading and life-long reading habits. If the typical incentivized reading program doesn't really support that, what do we do? Fortunately, we can also turn to the literature for guidance as to what factors do positively affect reading habits and ability, which generally fall into three categories: (1) self-direction & autonomy, (2) ease of access to, and ease of finding, materials they want to read; and (3) social interaction and collaboration:

  • Choice - The importance of empowering kids with the freedom to make their own reading choices is mentioned repeatedly in the literature. Let them choose what they want to read, validate and show interest in their choices, let them set their own reading goals, let them decide when and how they like to read. Some may like to read a little every day, others may only read 2-3 days a week, but sit and read an entire book, or several books, at one time; reading is not a "one size fits all" practice!
  • Non-Competitive - Reading programs should not be competitive, or have a competitive feel. This may attract your competitive, high-achieving skilled readers (who are going to read regardless), but will alienate those who are not competitive, those who read more slowly, struggling readers, and reluctant readers.
  • Book-Rich Environment - This is mentioned in the literature more in regards to the classroom and home as obviously the library is a book-rich environment. But we need to be sure we are making everyone feel welcome and offering well-curated collections that will attract readers and make it easier to find books they want to read. Also, are there ways we can support book-rich environments at school and at home? Outreach, bookmobiles, etc.
  • Variety - Offer a variety of reading levels, formats, and materials in a variety of genres and topics. Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, magazines, audiobooks, digital materials, print materials, etc. This also will make it more likely kids can find something they enjoy reading, are willing to try, and will continue reading. Any and all reading "counts"! Don't limit your reading program to only include certain types of reading material, and don't limit it to only library books! I know we want the circs, but odds are most of the books they read will be library books anyway, so why set a limitation that may make it difficult for some to participate? My first manager used to tell kids they could read the back of cereal boxes if they wanted. Reading is reading! Tracking time rather than books, titles, or page numbers allows for this.
  • Make it Social - Book clubs, group reading times, book-themed programs, lunch bunch, author talks....give kids the chance to see other kids reading and to talk with other kids about their reading.
  • Set an Example - Seeing adults reading and hearing adults talking about their reading and sharing their love of reading.
  • Remove Barriers to Access - Re-examine library policies and procedures to make it easier for kids to have access. Fine forgiveness programs or going fine-free all together, temporarily overriding blocked juvenile/teen accounts for the summer, a "community shelf" of donated books kids without cards can take, making it easier for kids to get library cards, partnering with the schools to issue all kids library cards, bookmobiles and other outreach programs to bring the library to those who can't get to the library, etc. 
  • Remove Barriers to Participation - Re-evaluate your reading program to make it easier for all kids and types of readers to participate. Allow any and all types of reading and reading materials to count. Don't limit reading to library books, don't require a library card to participate or attend programs. Don't require specific titles, formats, or reading every day. If you must track, track by time rather than books, titles, pages, or days of reading. This levels the playing field among ages and abilities, allows for any and all types of reading, and validates all reading choices and habits.
  • Reading-Related Prizes - If you must offer rewards, make them related to reading (or supportive of early literacy skills with young children), no big, expensive flashy grand prizes. Books, bookmarks, e-readers, etc. 
  • Read to Them - Older kids still like to be read to! Be sure to read a variety of materials, genres, fiction, and non-fiction. Incorporate reading aloud to older kids in your programming, and encourage parents to continue reading aloud to older kids.
  • Help Them Find Books They Will Enjoy - Margaret Mackey (2014) asserts that one key difference between successful and unsuccessful readers is the ability to find and select books that they will like, a skill that is not taught in school and only innate to some. Providing finding aids such as shelf labels and signage, themed bibliographies, displays, book reviews, book talks, and instruction on using the online catalog are all ways to make it more likely kids can find books that will interest them.
  • Make Reading Relevant - Tie reading to real life experiences, current trends and interests, and engaging programs and activities that will stimulate curiosity.
  • Creating a Welcoming Environment - Make sure kids, families, and teens feel welcome in your library. Create play areas, cozy seating for families to read together, comfy seating or reading nooks for solitary reading, activities to do while at the library, displays that invite browsing, staff that are welcoming and provide excellent customer service and reader's advisory. The more welcome people are, the more often they will come to the library, the more time they will spend in the library, and the more books they will read in the library and checkout to read at home.
  • Market Collections & Programs - We try, yet it still seems that so many people are unaware of all the library has to offer. Partner with schools, other civic organizations, non-profits, and businesses to get the word out! What works for you will depend on your community. 

What might this look like? There is no "one size fits all", but I will describe the compromise I have come up with that satisfies my need to at least attempt to incorporate what the literature is telling me, and still satisfy the [former] director's need for stats to present to the board and resistance to new ideas (hopefully the next one will be more receptive to trying new things and thinking out of the box).

To start with, since I arrived at this library I have worked to create a welcoming, inviting environment, and I try to create fun, interesting programs for all ages with lots of hands-on, experiential learning to help draw people in, and of course the programming is increased during the summer with a combination of mostly in-house programs with some outside presenters and paid performers. I have displays, try to tie books to programming, starting each elementary program by inviting kids to share about what they had been reading and booktalking 3 new books, or books that relate to the activity we are about to do. And yes, I will bend the rules a bit if that means sending a kid home with a book they wanted.

For the reading challenge, instead of logging minutes, pages, books, or days, I created what I hoped would be more relaxed, fun, non-competitive "Bookopoly" board, with each square containing a prompt for reading or a learning activity that supported program attendance, interacting with library staff, family reading, or early literacy skills (there were also opportunities for free choice). This was for all ages, birth through adult. Participants were encouraged to set their own goals, though I did ask that at least 5 squares be completed (out of a total of 40). They did not have to go in any direction or order, and could pick and choose which squares to do. Every child/kid/teen that signed up got to pick a prize book! What better way to encourage reading that to start them off with a book of their own choosing to keep? When they turned it back in at the end, they got another book, and an entry into a prize drawing. I don't really like prize drawings to be honest, but I felt they were expected. My compromise was to keep them modest ($20-$30 value) and reading or learning related.

I pushed that this was leisure reading and meant to be FUN, not a competition or a chore, and that ALL genres and formats were valid, and that kids should be allowed to choose what they wanted to read. There was no requirement to read only library books or to have a library card to participate. The only stipulation was that grand prizes were limited to those in our service area (our county and surrounding counties) and must be picked up in person (sorry, Aaron), and the child had to be present to pick their own prize book (to encourage free choice, and be sure the child existed). I got a lot of positive feedback, though not as many were turned back in at the end as I'd hoped. I'm basically doing things the same this year, but maybe doing a finale event to encourage returned reading logs. So that's what I am actually doing, for now. 

But, what would I do if I could *really* do whatever I wanted, and had the staff and funding to do so? First off, I would ditch the whole formal reading challenge and reading logs! Are you clutching your pearls? I know it sounds like blasphemy, but I just think they are largely ineffective, people are over them, and no matter how fun and easy we try to make it, it still feels too much like homework when it's required (I would still put out various reading challenges as purely optional activities for those who enjoy them). 

Instead, I would just give books away! No strings attached. Not only at the kickoff at the library, but also at various locations around town where families or kids who might not typically come to the library might be. The park, the splash pad, the health department, the farmers market, low-income housing complexes, community centers (if we had one), etc. I would also like to see a significant summer outreach program in addition to our in-house programs.

If your library has successfully moved away from incentivized reading programs, please share in the comments, or by e-mail at I'd really love to hear what others are doing instead, and how they were able to convince the powers-that-be to try something totally different. Did they give up their focus on stats, or just shift to focusing on other stats, like program attendance? How did staff and the community respond?

Let's make summer reading less about numbers and prizes, and more about kids and reading!

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The Inconvenient Truth of Incentivized Reading Programs

So, I've been working on that deeper dive into incentivized reading I kept saying I was going to do, and I have found that there is a plethora of literature on incentivizing desired behaviors and extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivations in general and specifically in regards to reading, and even some about summer reading programs in particular. In fact, there is so much research on extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation I could work on this for years and not get through it all, but I now feel like I've read more than enough to draw and support informed conclusions about summer reading programs (see Annotated Bibliography).

*Spoiler Alert* - We're doing it wrong

Let me qualify that....we're doing it wrong IF our goal is to encourage reading, and especially if our goal is to create life-long readers. Moreover, this is not new information. Not only does research regarding extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation go back several decades, I discovered that an article reviewing the existing research and making evidence-based recommendations for summer reading program design was published in the top journal for children's librarianship seven years ago, and an opinion piece cautioning against incentivized reading supported with references appeared in the same journal FIFTEEN years ago! And apparently ignored, likely because they didn't fit the narrative librarians want to believe or meet the demand for statistics by administrators and politicians. It is, as Al Gore would say, an inconvenient truth.

Let's back up for a minute... So, just what is our goal for summer reading and other reading programs? Summer reading programs date back as far as 1896, but they rapidly expanded and gained importance after early research seemed to confirm the idea of summer learning loss, often referred to as the "summer slide", and show it was responsible for the increasing achievement gaps between students from upper and lower socioeconomic households (more recent research casting doubts on this notwithstanding). Summer reading programs then gained a sense of urgency and evolved from relatively simple, laid-back programs to be a major focus of public libraries. 

Then the perfect storm of recession, reduced funding, the advent of the internet, and development of new digital media threw public libraries into a fight to continuously prove their relevance, and administrators and bureaucrats relied heavily on statistics to do this. This emphasis on stats is where summer reading programs began to go off the rails, in my opinion. The focus changed from children to numbers as staff became pressured to increase their stats year after year. More programs, more people attending, more kids participating in summer reading....more, more, more. Summer reading became a stressful, exhausting circus and the original goals of fighting the alleged "summer slide", encouraging reading, and creating a life-long love of reading fell by the wayside in the pursuit of numbers.

This focus on numbers over children led to the incentivized reading programs that are the standard today. In order to get kids to participate, prizes were given. To get even more kids participating the next year more prizes were given, then chances at raffles for increasingly expensive, flashy prizes: bicycles, videogames, iPads, e-readers (at least those are related to reading), gift cards, elaborate themed gift or "experience" packages, and more. I once worked for a library that literally paid kids to check out books! In the late 1970s-early 1980s my siblings and I were happy to get a coupon for a free DQ ice cream cone; now some kids are walking away with prizes valued at hundreds of dollars. 

So, what's wrong with this? Anyone who has had basic psychology (or heard enough pop psychology) is familiar with the Skinnerian theory that giving rewards increases a desired behavior, right? It's such a widely held belief that most people take it as fact rather than theory, but the truth is that it's not quite that simple. Yes, rewards may increase the desired behavior---in the short term. But once the reward is removed, the behavior decreases. In order to make long-term, lasting changes in behavior, you have to have a carefully designed, long-term behavior modification program that is designed to gradually transfer extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. And that's not going to happen in an 8-week summer program.

There is an abundance of research going back decades that supports this, but much like the research showing the necessity of phonics instruction was ignored for decades by the educational system, this research has also largely been ignored. To be fair, all research has to be looked at with a critical eye, many are very small studies and there is research that suggests otherwise, but what I've read so far, combined with my own training in behavior modification and observations from a decade of summer reading programs, has me convinced that the typical incentivized summer reading program is not very effective in developing life-long readers. Big flashy prizes and cash payouts motivate more cheating rather than more reading, in my observations.

And what about the articles claiming successful incentivized summer reading programs? That brings us back to the question of what the goal of summer reading really is, what behaviors are we actually wanting to increase? What are we measuring? If the goal is simply a short-term increase in circulation and "participation" stats by getting people to check out books and complete reading logs, then incentives work. But if the goal is to actually increase reading, and *especially* if the goal is for that increase to be long-term, then typical incentivized summer reading programs aren't going to do that. Even more concerning is research that suggests that incentivizing something the person previously did on their own, without incentives, can actually cause the desired behavior to decrease​. The mere offering of a reward for a behavior may lead the subject to infer that the desired behavior must be unpleasant if they need to be bribed to do it. So not only are we NOT really creating a bunch of new lifelong readers, we could be hurting kids that are already readers!

So if there is so much research suggesting short-term, incentivized reading programs are not in the best interest of encouraging life-long reading, why are we still doing them? For many reasons it is not only an inconvenient truth, but an uncomfortable one that many of us, and most of our bosses, just don't want to talk about: 

  1. We've fallen into the trap of "that's the way it's always been done"; we've drunk the Kool-Aid.
  2. Denial - it's not just a river in Egypt. People don't want to know or believe the truth because they don't want to admit what we've always done isn't working, feel powerless to change it, don't want to have to make changes, or don't know how to change; so they'd rather just ignore it.
  3. We tend to create emotional narratives to rationalize it, because we so badly WANT it to work, "if incentives motivate them to even pick up a book, then hopefully something will catch their attention and they will start reading", sounds good, tugs at the heartstrings, but is this really happening enough to warrant continuing the status quo? Do they really keep reading after the summer is over and rewards are gone? Could there not be better ways to facilitate this scenario than flashy prizes?
  4. Admin and stakeholders like numbers, and are VERY resistant to giving up anything that generates statistics! Stats can be useful and have their place, but do not tell the whole story. This is where children's librarians and library administrations can be at odds; we tend to focus on the kids, they tend to focus on the numbers. And I won't lie, I also like numbers and data because they are a concrete way to show the powers-that-be (who generally don't really understand my job and have different priorities) that I'm doing a good job.
  5. It's not really possible to do controlled, long-term studies of reading habits in relation to library summer reading programs to clearly show what works and doesn't work; but measuring short-term concrete behavior such as completion of reading logs is easy
  6. Front-line librarians often don't have a voice in the design of summer reading or authority to make radical changes; these decisions are often far-removed from those who have the most knowledge and expertise, and actually work with the kids.
  7. FEAR! The fear of change, the fear of questioning the status quo, the fear of not having convenient stats to demonstrate our worth, the fear of going against the grain, the fear of less participation. But consider this quote from Suzanne Stauffer in her 2009 article in Children and Libraries (the peer-reviewed ALSC journal):

"If you find yourself thinking, 'If I don't give incentives, no one will come [participate],' ask yourself what that says about the children's real motivation and the program's real effect."

If our goal is truly to promote reading and life-long reading habits, and the typical incentivized reading program doesn't really support that, what do we do? That's a very good question, and one I will attempt to explore in my next postIn the meantime, please see my annotated bibliography (link below) for supporting references:

Thursday, March 7, 2024

A Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian


This was a Monday. I generally do not do programs on Mondays and use them for planning and prep, and easing into the week.

Today we were short-staffed so I covered the service desk in the children's department most of the morning, from 9:30a-1pm. During this time I also:

  • did a walk-thru to be sure shelves were tidy & face-outs on the shelves
  • changed out the weekly scavenger hunt
  • changed out a display
  • took up/down pictures of animals off the floor and wall and the jumping distance labels left from Leap Day
  • set up a table with info for our Peeps diorama contest, with signage and décor to attract attention
  • checked for new purchase requests
  • left the desk for a brief meeting with the director and assistant director
  • looked at a new Indiana Jones version of Monopoly I had just purchased to serve as inspiration for this summer's "Bookopoly" reading challenge (it will go into our circulating collection of games at the end of the summer)
  • checked in with another staff member to see if they could cover the playtime after storytime the next day as I was needed to help interview a candidate for our open adult services librarian position.
  • and probably a few other little things I've forgotten
Lunch roughly from 1:00p-2:00p. 

In the afternoon from 2-5pm:
  • touched base with both part-time teen/tween programmers about their upcoming programs, how things were going, and assigned tasks for the afternoon.
  • emailed daycares to confirm visits for later this week
  • planned the next day's storytime and printed programs
  • discussed candidates we would be interviewing with AD, and likelihood of having to modify the position and re-post 
  • informed AD that one of the daycares had responded that they no longer wanted visits, with no explanation, and discussed how to respond.
Left shortly after 5:00pm. 

I'm sure I've forgotten various minor tasks, brief conversations with staff about various things, time here and there looking up ideas, but that is a "typical" day in a nutshell. I put "typical" in quotes, because there really is no such thing as typical; every day is different! That's one of the things I have always like about working in public libraries; every day is a little bit different.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Supporting STEM Learning in Young Children - Embracing a STEM Mindset


STEM learning for preschoolers and toddlers
Images from freepik at

As many of us know, "STEM" programming for school-aged kids and teens spread from the educational system to libraries a decade or so ago (although science and nature programs have been a part of library program for longer than that), and it should be no surprise that now it has trickled down into programming for preschoolers, toddlers, and even babies!

But, does this mean we are having toddlers do full-on chemistry experiments and microscopy as the images above might suggest? Absolutely not! For one, there is the obvious safety issues, for another many advanced STEM activities are not developmentally appropriate for younger children for other reasons. In fact, you do not have to have separate, official "STEM" programs at all in order to support STEM learning in young children! Many of the things we already do in storytime or other programs for the very young support STEM learning; we may just need to be more intentional about it and adjust our mindset.

STEM for the very young is all about the mindset and approach, and the good news is that children are born scientists! Babies and toddlers are already hard-wired to explore the world around them, to be curious, and to experiment. When a toddler stacks blocks, they are learning about spatial relationships; when they knock them down they are learning about cause and effect. A baby explores their environment using all their senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell. Unfortunately, this natural sense of curiosity and wonder is often stifled rather than encouraged once they start school, where they are expected to conform, play is discouraged, experiential learning is less available, teachers are forced to "teach to the test", and science education often falls by the wayside, which is why it's so important to encourage it now.

Embracing a STEM Mindset

A "STEM mindset" is a growth mindset. It is all about being curious and open to learning. By embracing and modeling a STEM mindset in our approach we are not only supporting and encouraging children's natural sense of wonder and desire to explore, but also *empowering the caregiver* to do so at home. Some characteristics of a STEM mindset are:
  • It's the PROCESS, not the product! Repeat this often, as many caregivers become focused on the product and things turning out or looking "right".
  • "Failure" is an opportunity for learning through critical thinking and problem solving! As Pete the Cat says, "there are no failures, only lessons". Repeat this often as well.
  • Encourage and model curiosity, wonder, and exploration.
  • Question everything! Model asking and exploring What? How? Why? Where? When? questions
  • Let kids do as much themselves as possible! Another mantra to repeat often as caregivers tend to take over in their focus on doing things "right".
  • Make sure you are presenting scientifically accurate information, no matter what kind of program or activity. So no 4- or 8- pointed snowflakes; no polar bears hanging out with penguins!
  • Model making observations and noticing details, colors, shapes, patterns, etc.
  • Activities for young children should be play-based. Play is how young children learn!

STEM elements that can be incorporated into storytime or any other programs, and for any age (also see my previous article specifically on incorporating math literacy):
  • Counting up & down
  • Sorting & grouping
  • Shapes
  • Measuring (rulers, tape measure, measuring cups & spoons)
  • Estimating
  • Graphing
  • Making observations
  • Making predictions
  • Including factual information, introducing non-fiction
  • Asking questions
  • Finding or figuring out the answers
  • Point out scientific process in art, cooking, other activities
  • Stacking, building
    • Blocks; foam, wooden, cardboard
    • Magnatiles
    • Bristle blocks
    • Star builders
    • Bricks
    • Stacking cups
    • Many others
  • Sensory exploration
    • Sensory toys
    • Sand/water tables & toys
    • Sensory bin
    • Nature
  • Open-ended activities
    • Process art
    • Small parts play
  • Incorporate at least one STEM activity into multi-station or "party" programs
  • Include STEM careers in "community helper" days, career fairs

And a few tips for STEM programming in general:
  • Be sure you are highlighting and explaining the STEM principles involved
  • Research in advance to be sure you understand and can present accurate information and explanations
  • Test all activities in advance to be sure they work, look for difficult steps, safety concerns, etc.
  • Basic science is the easiest, most budget friendly, and IMO the most fun.
  • Invest in basic equipment and multi-use items
  • Vinegar & baking soda are your friends!
  • Only change one variable at a time
  • Do your research before buying expensive gadgets, be sure they're appropriate for the intended age & goals, try to share with other libraries or schools
  • Technology is often over-emphasized at the expense of the other three areas, and often most expensive (for more about this, see "STEM is a Four-Letter Word").

Here are a few resources for embracing a STEM mindset and STEM activities specifically in regards to younger children (see part 2 of my "STEM is a Four-Letter Word" series for more STEM resources):
  • Let’s Talk, Read and Sing about STEM! Tips for Infant/Toddler Teachers & Providers, great for tips to pass on to caregivers
  • S.T.E.A.M. for Infants & Toddlers!?! Slide show with info on development & several activities
  • Baby Steps to STEM: Infant and Toddler Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Activities - I HIGHLY recommend this book! Especially good if you do not have a strong background in child development. It provides a solid foundation in understanding learning and brain development, and how to support it with STEM concepts in mind, lists of supplies and materials, advice on modeling wonder, curiosity, & exploration, and more.

    This is followed by many activities, with clearly outlined concepts, learning outcomes, tips, materials, steps, questions to ask/model, vocabulary, ways to expand the activity, and children's books that relate to the activity/concepts. Though it focuses on babies and toddlers, many of the concepts and activities are good (maybe even better) for preschool and primary grades.

I hope this article helps you to be more comfortable and confident with your ability to support STEM learning in general and specifically with young children. I also hope that it empowers you to be able to demonstrate to your superiors, admin, community stakeholders, and caregivers how you already are supporting and will support STEM concepts and learning within the framework of storytime and other programs you already offer so you hopefully will not be pressured to spread yourself even thinner by adding yet another program to your roster! 
[Of course, if you have the time, desire, energy, staffing, and funding to add the occasional preschool STEM play program, go right ahead! Just know that it is not a necessity, and STEM can be supported within existing programs.]

And to close I will quote someone who truly embraces the STEM mindset, followed by photos of young children engaged in developmentally appropriate STEM activities:

"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" - Ms. Frizzle


STEM activities for young children, STEM for preschool and toddlers
Images by (l to r) freepik, prostooleh, and freepik at

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Babies - Toddler Storytime

Another recent toddler storytime...

A couple of weeks ago I happened across a couple cute books about babies while straightening up the shelves, so decided on that for that week's storytime theme, since several of our attendees either are babies, have baby siblings, or are about to have new babies.

As always, we started with our "Hello" song: 

Hello, my friends, hello.
Hello, my friends, hello.
Hello my friends at storytime,
Hello, my friends, hello.

I introduced myself, then welcomed all of the children by name, and quickly went over expectations (this is toddler storytime, geared for ages 1-3, but all ages are welcome; toddlers are not expected to be able to sit and listen quietly, so it's okay if they are milling around but please keep them in this general area, not behind me, not racing around the room; feel free to step out if they get too restless and rejoin when they calm down or for the activities afterward).

Our warm-up song for the month was "The Wheels on The Bus", followed by two egg-shaker
 songs (I usually alternate scarves one month and egg shakers the next, because I found it didn't make for smooth transitions trying to do one song with each all the time). First I tell them to make sure their egg shakers work! Then I run thru shaking various ways and stopping on cue prior to doing our songs:

Shake Your Shakers

Shake your shakers way up high, 
way up high, way up high.
Shake your shakers way up high,
Shake your shakers.

(way down low, over here, over there, fast fast fast, slow slow slow)

Primary Colors Egg Shaker Song
(Nancy Stewart)

Once they'd had plenty of movement to get their wiggles out, I lead into reading the book I'd selected with a song that I've used for years, "If You're Ready for a Story". I like it because I can do as many verses as needed, and adapt it to the energy level. 

For our book I chose Karen Katz's Ten Tiny Babies. Karen Katz is one of my go-to authors for toddlers and babies because she keeps the text short and simple, with content little ones can relate to, and they typically can be made fairly interactive. I particularly like this book because of the diversity (babies represent different ethnicities/skin tones, and adults appear to be an interracial couple) and all the actions the kids can do along with the babies in the story, such as running, jumping, and wiggling. And as a bonus it helps us practice counting from 1 to 10.

We concluded with bubbles, while singing "Ten Little Bubbles", counting up and back down.

One little, two little, three little bubbles;
Four little, five little, six little bubbles;
Seven little, eight little, nine little bubbles;
Ten little bubbles go POP!

Pop, pop, pop go all the bubbles.
Pop, pop, pop go all the bubbles.
Pop, pop, pop go all the bubbles;
All the little bubbles go POP!

Ten little, nine little, eight little bubbles;
Seven little, six little, five little bubbles;
Four little, three little, two little bubbles;
One little bubble goes POP!

Then I announced that was the end of the storytime portion, and that we did have activities afterward, but we would go ahead and sing our "Good-Bye" song in case we didn't get to say good-bye to all of our friends later.

Storytime is over, wave good-bye.
Storytime is over, wave good-bye.
Storytime is done, and I know that we had fun.
Storytime is over, wave good-bye.

This week I didn't really have any activities that related to the book, but of course the kids don't really care. I just pulled out a variety of things:
  • Foam blocks
  • Sensory tubes
  • Sensory balls
  • Stacking cups
  • Bunny builders
  • Sensory bin (sand with animal & castle molds)
  • Paper & crayons

How It Went
Though the kids were not necessarily as interested in the subject of babies as I thought they'd be, they did enjoy doing all the actions along with the babies in the book. As always, there was lot of excitement when I pulled out the bubbles! Bubbles are not only fun, but great for tracking and encouraging reaching across the midline. Even babies too young to chase and pop them love watching them. I had a slightly smaller crowd that usual, 12 kids and associated grown-ups, but still a decent crowd. 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Year of the Dragon - Toddler Storytime

Image by Freepik

I realized after I posted my general toddler storytime plan that I did not have any posts of actual storytimes I had done since I developed that plan. So, here is an example of one of my typical toddler storytimes from this week....

Since Lunar New Year was this week and it is the Year of the Dragon I decided on a "Dragon" theme for this week's storytimes, although the toddler storytime really doesn't have a strong theme as we use the same songs/rhymes for a month and the activities may or may not have a strong connection to the book.

We started with our "Hello" song: 

Hello, my friends, hello.
Hello, my friends, hello.
Hello my friends at storytime,
Hello, my friends, hello.

I introduced myself, then welcomed all of the children by name, and quickly went over expectations (this is toddler storytime, geared for ages 1-3, but all ages are welcome; toddlers are not expected to be able to sit and listen quietly, so it's okay if they are milling around but please keep them in this general area, not behind me, not racing around the room; feel free to step out if they get too restless and rejoin when they calm down or for the activities afterward).

Our warm-up song this month is "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes". We start out slowly, then faster, and faster (for the preschoolers I also add doing it backwards).

Next we did two scarf songs (I usually alternate scarves one month and egg shakers the next, because I found it didn't make for smooth transitions trying to do one song with each all the time). First I prompted them to save their scarves up high, down low, twirl in a circle, scrunch into a ball, etc., then did the songs:

Painting Rainbows

Painting rainbows, painting rainbows
Way up high, in the sky.
Pretty, pretty rainbows; pretty, pretty rainbows
Way up high, in the sky.

First comes red, then comes orange,
then yellow, then yellow,
Next comes green, then comes blue,
And purple, too; and purple, too.

(repeat first verse)


Popcorn kernels, popcorn kernels,
In the pot, In the pot.
Shake them, shake them, shake them.
Until they POP, until they POP!

Both of these are to the tune "Frere Jacques", but the tempo is slightly different. The first song is a little slower, softer, more melodic; the second is a bit faster, more energy and excitement. "Popcorn" is is a big favorite here, so we usually do it 3x.

Now that they've had plenty of movement to get their wiggles out, I lead into reading the book I've selected with a song that I've used for years, "If You're Ready for a Story". I like it because I can do as many verses as needed, and adapt it to the energy level. 

I briefly introduced the idea of Lunar New Year and it being the year of the dragon with a non-fiction book (didn't read it, just showed a couple of pictures), and then read Tom Fletcher's "There's a Dragon in Your Book!". I love this whole series, but especially this one. They are cute, not too much text, simple, adorable illustrations, and very interactive.

Generally I use the same songs/rhymes all month in toddler storytime, but every now and then I will add one that goes along with the theme of the book, and this was one such occasion. A simple rhyme patterned after "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear" that gave them a chance to pretend to be dragons.

Dragon, Dragon

Dragon, dragon turn around.
Dragon, dragon touch the ground.
Dragon, dragon fly up high.
Dragon, dragon touch the sky!

Dragon, dragon swing your tail.
Dragon, dragon shake your scales.
Dragon, dragon give a "Roar!"
Dragon, dragon sit on the floor.

We concluded with bubbles, while singing "Ten Little Bubbles", counting up and back down.

One little, two little, three little bubbles;
Four little, five little, six little bubbles;
Seven little, eight little, nine little bubbles;
Ten little bubbles go POP!

Pop, pop, pop go all the bubbles.
Pop, pop, pop go all the bubbles.
Pop, pop, pop go all the bubbles;
All the little bubbles go POP!

Ten little, nine little, eight little bubbles;
Seven little, six little, five little bubbles;
Four little, three little, two little bubbles;
One little bubble goes POP!

Then I announced that was the end of the storytime portion, and that we did have activities afterward, but we would go ahead and sing our "Good-Bye" song in case we didn't get to say good-bye to all of our friends later.

Storytime is over, wave good-bye.
Storytime is over, wave good-bye.
Storytime is done, and I know that we had fun.
Storytime is over, wave good-bye.

  • Q-tip Dot-Painting Dragon - I found a template online, and gave them red, green, and purple paint. This provides fine-motor practice and lets them play with colors.
  • Sensory Bin - The sensory bin was currently filled with sand, along with some shells and molds. To tie with the dragon theme, I buried some dragon treasure (gold foil coins and plastic jewels) in the sand.
  • Foam Blocks - the kids love these! I end up putting them out almost every week
  • Alphabet Dinosaurs - Dinos are kinda like dragons, right? They're both reptiles, and the closest thing I had to a dragon toy. Each one is made of two pieces that fit together, and one half has the uppercase letter, and the other half has the lowercase of the letter.

How It Went 

I had a big crowd; twenty-five kids and twenty-three adults! Usually my toddler storytime averages 12-16 kids, but maybe 3-4 times a year the planets align and I get a big crowd. A couple of the kids (and some adults!) seemed slightly overwhelmed, and it was a bit loud for one little boy who kept putting his hands over his ears. But it went pretty well, and I think everyone had a good time. Some of the kids were more engaged than others, but that's pretty typical with this age and a crowd that large.

Ideally, I'd rather keep it a little smaller, but this big of a turnout is pretty atypical and it's usually just about right. If it ever becomes more consistently that large, I will probably divide it somehow; either a second session or add a baby storytime. However, I really need more staff before I add an additional storytime. There are also several 3 year olds, and even a couple over 3, that I may need to very gently encourage to move on up to the preschool storytime.

Friday, January 19, 2024

My Basic Toddler Storytime Plan

Toddler storytimes are a relatively new thing for me. Previously, I almost exclusively did preschool storytimes, though I did sub a few times for toddler storytime. In my current position, when I first started in-person storytimes back up in 2022 I was only doing 1 family storytime per week, but then starting that summer I divided it into 1 toddler storytime and 1 preschool storytime. The toddler storytime is planned for ages 1-3, with the preschool storytime being for ages 3-5. However, those ages aren't strictly enforced, though I'm thinking of changing the toddler age range to 1-2 because I'm starting to get a lot of 3 year olds, which is taking away from the true toddlers, and many of them are ready for the preschool storytime.

I've played around with the format, and have finally settled on one that seems to be working pretty well for us, for now. There are some key differences between the toddler and preschool storytimes:

  • Shorter
  • More songs, fewer stories
  • More movement
  • Use shaker eggs, movement scarves, bells, or other "instrument" every time
  • More repetition - use all the same songs & rhymes for 4-6 weeks (I do occasionally add a new one that ties into the book), in addition to the welcome and ending songs being the same all of the time
  • Usually only 1 book
  • Very short, simple books, preferably with bold illustrations, interactive, and a really good rhythm
  • Always end with bubbles (before good-bye song and activities)
  • Activities afterward, some overlap with preschool storytime as I always have at least 1 or two older kids, but I always put out the foam blocks, sensory tubes, sensory balls, and stacking cups for the younger ones.

Basic Toddler Storytime Plan:  

  1. Open room and announce it's time for storytime (I found if I let them in early, they would get too restless and start running around and getting into stuff, better to let them stay in the play area and let entering the room signal it's time to settle down.).
  2. Greet families as they enter and hand them program sheet.
  3. Shut door after everyone is in to prevent escapees.
  4. Greet and welcome the group, briefly go over expectations.
  5. Sing short "Hello" song, then introduce myself and say hello to all the kids by name (I generally average 5-10, rarely more than 12.  I would not try that with a large group.)
  6. Warm-Up Song - Something with a little movement.
  7. Shaker Eggs/Scarves - With 2 songs or rhymes. I alternate; eggs one month, scarves the next usually. If doing scarves, I have them pick one up as they enter, if doing eggs I pass those out when we're ready to use them. I take things up afterward, before moving on, but I also tell parents it's not worth causing a meltdown if their child really doesn't want to part with them.
  8. Lead-in song - I use "If You're Ready for a Story"
  9. Read book - very short and simple!
  10. Song/rhyme
  11. On a very rare occasion, might attempt a second, very short book here
  12. Bubbles! Sing "Ten Little Bubbles" count up, then blow bubbles to pop, then sing again counting down. Bubbles are not only fun, but encourage tracking and reaching across midline. (Letting kids blow bubbles also works their oral musculature for speech, but that's best left as a home activity. I use a bubble machine or gun; no blowing in a group to reduce germ spread.)
  13. Good-bye song - first explain that there are optional activities after, but we're going to go ahead and sing our "Good-bye" song in case we don't get a chance to say good-bye to all of our friends later.
  14. Activities - usually  2 or 3 plus other toys, if larger group add more. I try to keep them developmentally appropriate, play-centered, and working on some developmental skill. Sometimes do a craft, but not often for this age as it isn't developmentally appropriate. Some examples:
    • Sensory bin, they LOVE this! I use a base such as water, sand, kinetic sand, shredded paper, rice, or water beads with manipulatives added (plastic animals, gold coins & jewels, figures, boats, ducks, measuring cups & spoons, fishing set, etc.)
    • Sensory tubes & balls (always put these out)
    • Paper & crayons
    • Play dough - great pre-writing activity! Rolling and smooshing dough strengthens little hands and fingers.
    • Dot painting - they loved these at first, but have gotten a little bored with it, so use infrequently
    • Play food
    • Counting & Sorting manipulatives
    • Building sets (foam blocks, star builders, bristle blocks, etc)
    • Toy cars & construction vehicles with activity mats
    • Flannel sets on large flannel board
    • Magnetic gears
    • Magnetic letters
    • Plastic animals
    • Puppets & Finger puppets
    The storytime part lasts about 20-25 minutes, and I do sometimes deviate from the above plan by throwing in an extra short song or rhyme or on rare occasions getting in a second book, and sometimes cutting it short. Some of the songs that I use can be found on the "Repeating Songs" tab above (even some possibly cringe-worthy videos of me singing them), or in the thematic storytime write-ups listed in the right-hand column. is a great source for songs and rhymes, with videos so you can hear the tunes and see the motions.

    The activities portion lasts anywhere from 15-30 minutes, depending on how many kids show up, their ages, and the activities. Occasionally I'll have a couple of families linger, but at 20-30 minutes I'll go ahead and put away anything they aren't using and go on out to the children's department, leaving the door open so I can keep an eye on things to be sure the room doesn't get wrecked and things don't "walk away" (sad, but true). Most families hang around in the children's department playing, socializing, and picking out books for a little while after storytime.

    *Note for Outreach Storytimes - When I do classroom visits to daycares and preschools, I do not do crafts or activities, just the basic storytime. When I first start with a new client, or at the beginning of the school year, I usually shorten it a bit the first time or two. but I generally find I can do 2 books easily with toddlers in this setting as circle time is part of their daily routine. I currently am only able make visits once per month due to lack of staff and all the demands on my time, but my preference would be to visit every other week.

    I'll add this plan to the "Storytime Plans" link above. If you'd like more detailed discussions of specific elements of storytime planning, check out all my posts tagged "Storytime Planning".

    What does your Toddler Storytime look like?