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Friday, June 11, 2021

Movement Family Storytime - IRL!

This week was a momentous occasion - after more than 15 months, I was finally able to do a real storytime, in person, with REAL LIVE KIDS! 

My last regular storytime was on February 22, 2020. That seems like a lifetime ago, so much has changed since then. It was a Yeti-themed storytime that included a hunt to find little stuffed yetis and was so much fun. Little did we know that day how our world was about to change. Within 3 weeks the library shut down and didn't reopen for several months, during which time I finished my MLIS but lost my job, along with 100 other part-time employees. My life was turned upside down as I was forced into a desperate job hunt, resulting in relocating across the country where I had to quickly adapt to a new world of virtual programming, take-home kits, and curbside service.

Though caregivers and kids really liked the take-home kits, and I was proud of what I was able to come up with and put together, I found them incredibly time-consuming and expensive, much more so than in-person programming. I found virtual programming to be very unsatisfying without the face-to-face interactions, and with little to no engagement in the virtual environment it didn't seem as if anyone was really watching and felt rather pointless. But, I figured doing virtual storytimes at least kept me in practice.

Finally, this summer I felt like it was time to start transitioning back to normal programming. I had been vaccinated, state and local restrictions were lifted, and the library I worked for dropped all restrictions as well, including masks. But, since children still cannot get the vaccine I was not quite ready to have them crowded together in a closed room and opted to plan on having storytime outdoors. We have a nice greenspace in front of the library with large shade trees that makes a very nice spot for storytime, aside from some road noise.

Since it would be the first storytime in a very long time for some, and the first ever for others, and no one would be used to sitting and listening quietly I decided an active storytime would be best for the first one and focused on books that would lots of opportunities for kids to move around and act things out.

I started by introducing myself and thanking them for coming and telling them how happy I was that we were finally able to start having storytime together again. We sang a quick "Hello" song, followed by a warm-up song that had some actions and identifying body parts ("Hello Everybody"), then led to the first book by singing "If You're Ready for a Story".

Movement storytime
For the first book I chose one of my favorite movement books, Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas. Though the adults might get a little annoyed by all the stand up-sit down silliness as the lady bug leads the audience in a game of pretending, the kids always love it. This story has wiggling, dancing, pretending, and more. 

I also love Jan Thomas's illustration style. Her illustrations are simple, big, bold, and bright with heavy black outlines that work really well for storytime and for younger kids in general.

I followed that with a nice wiggly bug/animal themed song:

Can You Move Like Me?

Can you wiggle like a worm?
Can you squiggle can you squirm?

Can you flutter, can you fly,
Like a gentle butterfly?

Can you crawl upon the ground,
Like a beetle that is round?
Can you move like me?

Can you flip? Can you flop?
Can you give a little hop?

Can you slither like a snake?
Can you give a little shake?

Can you dance like a bee
That is buzzing 'round a tree?

Can you move like me?

Movement storytime
Next was another favorite movement book, Everybunny Dance by Ellie Sandall. This is such a fun book that allows the kids to dance, play pretend instruments, and sing along with all the bunnies, until a fox shows up and the bunnies have to run and hide. 

But, as it turns out, the fox enjoys dancing, singing, and making music as much as the bunnies, but he is very lonely. In the end they all dance and play together, with one group of bunnies forming a line and presumably doing the "Bunny Hop" dance.

Of course after that we had to dance the Bunny Hop ourselves!

I finished with a quieter activity, a bunny counting rhyme accompanied by a flannel board:

Five Little Bunnies

One little bunny, wondering what to do,
another bunny came along, then there were two.

Two little bunnies, hopping like me (Hop)
Another bunny came along, then there were three.

Three little bunnies, jumping around outdoors,
Another bunny joined them and then there were four.

Four little bunnies, so fluffy and alive,
Another bunny joined them, then there were five.

Five little bunnies, ready for some fun,
Hopped away in the warm, spring sun.

I decided to leave it at two books for the first storytime. Always better to leave them wanting more, right? I thanked them for coming, passed out a take-home "craft" packet with a printable on cardstock to color and cut out to make a bunny ear headband, a fox and bunny coloring sheet, and a ladybug counting activity sheet, then we sang a good-bye song.

How It Went

I had four families show up, for a total of 4 moms and 6 kids ranging in age from 2 to 6, which I was very happy with after being afraid no one would show. I'm hoping it will grow a little over time; I think 12-15 kids is about the perfect size.

Everything went well, and all the kids participated and seemed to have a good time, and I can't wait for the next one! I know the take-home craft was a bit lame, but I wanted to keep it simple since I had no idea how many kids to expect and I had no time due to being understaffed and overwhelmed with the beginning of a chaotic summer reading program (that I had no part in planning). 

Also, I must admit, I don't care for storytime crafts. It's so hard to come up with something simple enough for the younger kids to do in a relatively short time that isn't totally lame, the parents often take over, and they typically involve little creativity. I'd prefer just to have an after-storytime activity or play time and save arts and crafts for a separate program, but this community seems to really want crafts. I hope I can slowly wean them away from them.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

True Confessions...


So, I have something to confess that might be shocking to some, though I am sure there are those who are secretly in agreement with me. Now hold on to your cardigans folks, but the truth is.... I hate summer reading! 

I know that must seem downright blasphemous coming from a children's librarian who is dedicated to promoting literacy and lifelong reading, but it's true. Ok, maybe not 100% true; I guess it's really more of a love-hate relationship. I do love seeing all the kids and families in the library more often during the summer, catching up with former storytime regulars who are now in elementary school, talking books with teens, and doing fun programs, and I am very passionate about promoting reading and lifelong learning. However, that mission seems to have gotten lost in the stressful circus that summer reading programs have become, and that is what I truly hate. 

Summer reading programs were started in order to fight the supposed "summer slide". Aside from recent studies and re-examination of the original research casting doubt on whether the summer slide actually exists, promoting reading as mental exercise to keep the brain active over the summer is certainly a laudable goal. However, we seem to have completely lost sight of that original goal. I fondly remember the summer reading program at my local library. We made a weekly trip to the library where I checked out a huge stack of books that wouldn't quite last me until the next trip. I faithfully recorded the titles I read, and at the end exchanged my list for a coupon for a free ice cream cone from Dairy Queen and I was happy. It was simple, low-key, and effective. The focus was on celebrating the joy of reading; the worlds, adventures, and information we could find in a book, not prizes, not numbers, not publicity.

These days the mission of promoting reading has been lost in the pursuit of numbers. Every year we push for greater numbers, which we hope to get by being bigger and better than the year before. More programs, more publicity, more prizes, more money.....more, more, more. I've seen this lead to very un-healthy competition among staff as administration subtly pitted locations against each other, trying to outdo each other for numbers of participants. Those in the branches with extremely high numbers often patted themselves on the back and looked down at other locations, forgetting that much of their "success" was simply due to the different demographics of the respective locations. But yet, these numbers led to prejudices that extended well-beyond a little "friendly" summer competition and affected hiring decisions and career advancement for many staff.

In the endless chase for ever increasing numbers, staff are frequently pushed to the breaking point by the push for more programs, bigger programs, flashier, sexier programs, without the needed staffing and budgets to do so. This is simply not sustainable and leads to excess stress, anxiety, and ultimately, burnout; every year people leave youth services or public librarianship altogether for this reason. In our never-ending pursuit of ever increasing numbers we offer bigger and bigger prizes, everything from tablets, e-readers, and gift cards to cold hard cash. While this may lead to more "participation" in terms of signing up or turning in reading logs, does it actually lead to more reading? Or just more cheating? I have definitely observed the latter. And more importantly, does it really do anything to promote lifelong reading? There is research that suggests incentivized reading does not promote lifelong reading, and may in fact be counter-productive, and I believe this is true based on my own observations. 

So what would I do for summer reading if it were completely up to me, no worrying about numbers and focusing only on the kids and the mission to promote lifelong reading? Here are my "Do's and Don'ts" for an ideal summer reading program:

  • DO put as many books into the hands of as many kids as possible! Give books away for them to keep, make it as easy as possible to check out materials by removing barriers.
  • DO outreach and more outreach! Visit day camps and daycares, especially those with children who are less likely to ever visit the library. Give away books, talk about books, do fun programs with them. 
  • DO fun programs for all ages, but a reasonable amount relative to staffing, and keep most of them relatively simple.
  • DO have your summer program designed by librarians, with input from ALL staff that will be responsible for implementing it.
  • DO stay focused on the mission of promoting reading.
  • DO encourage free-choice and making reading FUN!
  • DO be clear on your goals and how success will be measured.
  • DO have a clear plan in place, with clear procedures and rules, well in advance and stick to it. Give staff plenty of time to ask questions and understand everything about the plan.

  • DON'T let your program be designed by politicians, marketing people, business people or others who are not professionally trained in child development, literacy, and reading motivation.
  • DON'T lose sight of the mission in the chase for numbers, publicity, or personal ambitions.
  • DON'T push so much programming that it becomes a circus and no one can keep up with what's going on and everyone becomes completely exhausted and burned out.
  • DON'T ignore valid concerns from your staff, then leave them to deal with the mess.
  • DON'T literally pay kids for checking out books and tell them it's their "summer job". SRP is supposed to promote the idea that reading is fun, enjoyable, and useful, not reinforce the idea that it's a chore.
  • DON'T make it up as you go along. Have a clear mission, a well-thought out plan for execution, and clear rules/criteria for participation and "winning" well in advance, and don't change the rules once the program has already started.

Now, I am a realist and I do understand that numbers are an easy, convenient, and tangible way to show board members and taxpayers what we do; I love data and stats as much as the next person, probably more if truth be told. But numbers are only part of the story, they aren't everything, and by becoming so obsessed with numbers we have crept further and further away from our mission and created miserable conditions for the front-line staff. I think it's time to say enough is enough, and re-focus our attentions on the mission of promoting literacy and learning, and allow staff to have less stress, more job satisfaction, and a reasonable work-life balance. 

Unfortunately, until library boards and administrations start to value and appreciate staff, recognize their experience and expertise, and seek and consider their input, change will be difficult at best. But we can try! Summer reading should be enjoyable for everyone, not something to be dreaded and suffered through. In the meantime, I will try to focus on the positive, that more families are coming in to the library so I'll at least have a chance to engage them, promote reading, and develop relationships.

Anyone else feel the same? Care to try to convince me the circus is necessary or at all beneficial? Anyone have a different experience? Please share in the comments below!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Cryptography - Hybrid STEM Program

STEM programs for kids, cryptography for kids

For May's STEM program I decided to repeat a program I'd previously done in-person ("Spy School") with some tweaking to adapt it to a take-home kit plus video format, focusing only on the hidden and coded messages part and re-branding it as a Cryptography program. I chose this program because I knew it would be a little easier and less time-consuming to prep and a fairly short and quick video to record since I was going to be gone a week for vacation, and preparing for the summer was going to be hectic.

This program was intended for ages 6-12, and as the other STEM programs I've done lately was a hybrid program, with a take-home kit of supplies coupled with a video presentation. 

Materials Provided In Kit

  • instructional brochure with general info, how to access the video, brief instructions for the activities, thought questions, where to find more info, and book suggestions.
  • white crayon
  • baking soda
  • grape juice
  • dixie cups
  • cotton swabs
  • DIY decoder
  • brad fastener
  • invisible ink pen
  • substitution code practice sheets
  • Pigpen Cipher practice sheet
  • Greek square practice sheet
  • final challenge worksheet

Additional Materials Needed

  • watercolor paints or washable marker (provided in supplemental, one-time family craft supply kit if needed)
  • paper
  • water
  • paintbrushes
  • milk
  • hot iron (must have adult assistance)
  • ironing board

Activity #1 - Hidden Messages
  1. Wax Resist - write a message with a white crayon, then color over it with watercolor paint or a water-soluble marker to reveal the message due to the hydrophobic properties of wax.

    hidden messages, cryptography, STEM programs for kids, hidden message with was resistance

  2. Baking Soda - mix a tablespoon of baking soda with 1 to 2 tablespoons of warm water to make a saturated slurry. Use a cotton swab to write a message with this solution. Let dry, then reveal the hidden message by painting over with grape juice, which is acidic. The pigment in grape juice in pH sensitive and changes color in the presence of the baking soda.

    Hidden messages for kids, cryptography for kids, STEM activities for kids, hidden message with baking soda

  3. Milk - Write a message with a swab dipped in milk and let dry. Have an adult iron it with a very hot, dry iron to reveal the message using heat. This scorches the sugars and protein in the milk, turning the message tan-brown so it is visible. [The clich├ęd movie trick of using lemon juice and heating over a light bulb or simply by breathing on it does NOT work!]

    Hidden messages for kids, cryptography for kids, STEM activities for kids, hidden message with milk

  4. Invisible UV Reflective Ink - I splurged a little and bought these cool "spy pens" that have a UV-reflective ink that is completely invisible in normal light. The pens come with a tiny UV light to reveal the message.

Activity #2 - Secret Codes 

For each code I gave them a sheet that explained how the code works and gave a one or two word example. Then they were asked to encode a few different words as practice, and decode a short message.
  1. Simple Substitution - This can be done several ways, but I gave them the simplest way as an example, numbering the letters of the alphabet starting with A as 1. Then you substitute the corresponding numbers for the letters, then vice versa to decode. I also showed how a number substitution would allow messaged to be hidden as math homework.

  2. DIY Decoder - I borrowed this simple DIY decoder wheel activity from "All for the Boys". I furnished it printed on cardstock, and they would simply have to cut out the three circles and assemble them centered on top of each other, and fasten with the included brad. This provides a quick and easy way to do multiple alphabet substitution codes.

  3. Greek Square Code - This is a more complicated number substitution code that assigns a 2-digit number to each letter of the alphabet using a 5x5 chart ("I" and "J" share a spot). The letters are then indicated by a pair of number coordinates, the number of the row first, then the number of the column. So the letter "A" is indicated by the number 11 (1st row, 1st column), and the letter "Z" is indicated by the number 55 (5th row, 5th column).

  4. Pigpen Cipher - This is my favorite, but a little tricky at first, and reportedly dates back to the Crusades. The letters are placed into a series of grids, with and without dots, and it is the lines of the grid around each letter that is used to substitute for the letter. The resulting coded messages make me think of alien hieroglyphics.

Activity #3 - Ultimate Challenge 

For the challenge, I gave them a coded message that when decoded would tell them how to reveal the hidden message, which would also have to be decoded.

These were all done using codes and techniques covered, so they had everything needed to complete the challenge. I wrote the first message with an alphabet substitution code using the DIY decoder wheel, and gave them the hint that "A=D". When decoded, the first message says "ultraviolet light". This lets them know to use the UV light on their spy pens to reveal the hidden message I had written in UV reflective invisible ink using one of the pens. The hidden message was encoded using the Pigpen Cipher, and when decoded says "summer reading starts June first".

Hidden messages for kids, cryptography for kids, STEM activities for kids
(From left, under normal lighting, normal lighting plus UV light, and UV light only)

I closed by encouraging the audience to further explore the subjects of cryptography and espionage, and showed of few book suggestions, including an excellent book on the subject of codes and cyphers that I used in preparing for this program originally, 
Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing by Paul B. Janecszko (2004), as well as a book about Sioux code-talkers from WWII, a non-fiction book about the tools and techniques of espionage, the biography of a spy, and a fiction series (there was a more complete list in the included instructional brochure, as well).

How It Went

This worked really well for take & make kit, and was really inexpensive except for the spy pens. I wish I'd had the time and creative energy to make the messages they decoded a little more fun and somehow build on each other, but I was really pressed for time.

I was tempted to make one of the messages say "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine", but I figured few people would get the reference to poor Ralphie's disappointing coded message from the Little Orphan Annie radio show in the classic film A Christmas Story.

This will likely be the last take-home kit I do, at least for a while. The youth services department at the main library is doing centralized programming for the summer that will include a weekly animal program that is more "science-y" (as well as weekly storytime craft kits), so I am taking a break from planning take-home kits and focusing on outdoor, in-person programming for the summer, with the hope we will be able to return to normal indoor programming in the fall. 

I may still occasionally do a take-home kit, or package any leftover supplies from in-person programs as take-home kits, but they won't be as elaborate as what I've done during the pandemic. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Frogs - Virtual Storytime

Today is National Frog Jumping Day! And it has a literary connection, being named in honor of all the frog-jumping contests spawned by Mark Twain's short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (originally published as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog")I've always found frogs to be a fun storytime theme, so decided this was a good reason to do it again.

I was joined by my frog puppet friend Freddy as I greeted viewers, sang a hello song, and introduced the topic. Then I brought out a non-fiction book, explaining that non-fiction books were full of information and interesting facts rather than stories, and were a great way to learn new words and more about the world, and that the more words they know and the more they know about the world, the easier it will be to learn to read later.

I used the book to briefly explain how frogs undergo metamorphosis, and showed the photos illustrating how the frog goes from egg, to a water-breathing tadpole with gills, to a tadpole sprouting back legs, then front legs, and finally to an air-breathing adult with 4 legs, no tail, and lungs. I also explained that frogs were amphibians, which means they live in water for part of their life cycle, and on land for part of their life cycle (but generally stay near water).

frog storytime
After a lead-in song I read an older-but-new-to-me frog counting book, One Frog Sang by Shirley Parenteau and Cynthia Jabar. I really liked this because it shows how there are many different kinds of frogs of different sizes, colors, and patterns, and that they make very different sounds and don't all say "ribbit". 

The various sounds are of course fun for the kids to say, and we know making animal sounds is great for phonologic awareness. The various frog sounds are also emphasized with a larger font which contributes to print awareness and letter knowledge.

I followed that with the classic and fun "Five Green & Speckled Frogs" using my magnetic board and set cut from craft foam (for more ideas for this song, see my "Five Green & Speckled Frogs, Five Ways" post).

Five Green and Speckled Frogs

Five Green & Speckled Frogs

Five green and speckled frogs,
Sitting on a speckled log,
Eating the most delicious bugs - YUM, YUM!

One jumped into the pool - SPLASH!
Where it was nice and cool.
Now there are four green speckled frogs - RIBBIT, RIBBIT!

(continue counting down until there are no green speckled frogs)

I didn't have room on my small board for the pool, so I showed it to the camera and then put it on top of the table below.

frog storytime
For the second book I choose one I've used before. The Frog With the Big Mouth by Teresa Bateman and Will Terry is a re-telling of an old folktale, with this version being set in South America. 

Though it doesn't have cool pop-up's like Faulkner and Lambert's more well-known version, I really like the alternative setting that introduces children to several animals they may not have heard of before, like the toucan, coati, and capybara. It is also fun to read aloud as the little frog brags about eating an enormous fly over and over, trying to find someone who will be impressed.

frog storytime craft
I closed with reminding them of this month's early literacy kit, which contains the words to "Five Green & Speckled Frogs", five die-cut frogs with dot stickers to speckle them with, and the bouncy frog craft pictured, among other things. 

I also reminded them of the following 3-week break from storytime, after which we would return to in-person storytimes outside on the lawn. Then Freddy and I sang a goodbye song and waved good-bye.

How It Went 

This was a really fun storytime, at least for me, though it ran way too long for a virtual storytime. But, it would be great for an in-person preschool or kindergarten storytime. I am hoping this will be my last virtual storytime, as I am transitioning to in-person outdoor storytimes for the summer, and hopefully to regular in-person programming in the fall.

I have to confess, I do not enjoy virtual programming at all. Between the technical challenges and limitations and the lack of interaction, I find it very unsatisfying and sometimes I wonder if it's just a waste of time. But at the very least it has kept me in practice somewhat. I so look forward to seeing some kiddos and families in person!