Sunday, October 21, 2018

Family Storytime - Pumpkins!

While I did holiday storytimes in my previous outreach position, the branch I am at now doesn't do holiday themes for regular weekly storytimes, but only as separate programs. At first I was going to do "Monsters" or a generally "Spooky" storytime without any mention of Halloween, but I've done those before and wanted to do something new. I thought a general "Pumpkin" theme would be more appropriate for my crowd that typically skews younger.

pumpkin storytimeWe started with our welcome song and introductions, then I introduced the topic with a really nice non-fiction book, Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin Pie by Jill Esbaum. (I didn't read it word-for-word, but paraphrased and skipped around a little as it is a bit long.)

This National Geographic book tells it all, showing all stages of growth including seed, sprout, vine, flowering, pollination, immature green pumpkin and mature pumpkin. It explains that pumpkins are a type of squash and shows lots of different varieties and colors of both, and various uses. The photographs are clear, bold, and colorful.

Pumpkin storytime
We followed that with our story song and then read a great book for the younger kids in the crowd, Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills. Duck and Goose want to find a nice pumpkin like their friend Thistle has, but are a bit misguided in their search, looking in a hollow log, in an apple tree, and in the pond. Finally Thistle clues them in about the pumpkin patch. 

Short, simple text and easily understood humor, plus a lovely fall color palette in the illustrations. This was the only one I could find that didn't show jack-o'lanterns or mention Halloween.

We followed that with everyone's favorite pumpkin fingerplay, then repeated it using the non-dominant hand:

Five Little Pumpkins

Five little pumpkins, sitting on a gate.
(hold up 5 fingers)
The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late!"
(hold up 1 finger, point to wrist)
The second one said, "There are bats in the air."
(hold up 2 fingers, flap arms)
The third one said, "But we don't care!"
(hold up 3 fingers, shake head)
The fourth one said, "Let's run and run and run!"
(hold up 4 fingers, run in place)
The fifth one said, "I'm ready to have some fun!"
(hold up 5 fingers)

Then WHOOOOSH went the wind, 
(make wind sounds)
And OUT went the light.
(clap hands together loudly)
And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight!
(hold up 5 fingers, roll arms)

Pumpkin StorytimeOur second story, The Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin by Mary Serfoza and Valeria Patrone, was a bit of a tongue-twister and also showed someone selecting a pumpkin. Peter Tiger is looking for just the right pumpkin. Not too short, not too tall, not lopsided or bumpy. What is Peter going to do with his perfect pumpkin?

Short, simple text and bold illustrations make this perfect for the younger kids. The audience can guess what he's going to do with his pumpkin, and comment on the various possibilities presented.

We followed that with a song that also talks about various sizes and shapes of pumpkins:

Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin?
(to the tune of "Have You Ever Seen a Lassie?")

Have you ever seen a pumpkin, a pumpkin, a pumpkin?
(show pumpkin)

Have you ever seen a pumpkin that grows on a vine?
(show pumpkin, twirl finger like vine)

Short ones and tall ones and big ones and small ones.
(hold hand down low, up higher, hold arms in big circle, hands in small circle)

Have you ever seen a pumpkin that grows on a vine?
(show pumpkin, twirl finger like vine)

Five Little Pumpkins, pumpkin storytime

I added a second verse using the printable pumpkin faces above that I got from Sunflower Storytime, and cut out, laminated, and glued on craft sticks. First we went through the faces and identified what emotion they showed, and upon singing the second verse, we substituted feelings for sizes in the 3rd line, with me holding up the corresponding face.

Pumpkin storytime
Our third and final story was Little Boo by Stephen Wunderli, which is the story of a little pumpkin seed who really wants to scare everyone, but he's so little and cute, no one is afraid. The wind tells him to be patient and wait, and someday he will be able to scare. 

Kids can relate to being too small/young to do what they want, and being impatient to grow up. They will have fun saying "Boo!" along with the story, and Tim Zeltner's folkart illustrations are absolutely wonderful. Who knew a pumpkin seed could be so adorable?

We finished things up with a closing song, and I put out materials and instructions for making a 3D pumpkin out of paper strips for those who wanted to do a craft.

Pumpkin craft, pumpkin storytime

This required very little prep, just cutting strips of orange paper and squares of brown and green paper with the paper cutter. You could punch holes in the middle and ends of each strip and use brad fasteners, but we didn't have any so I used used glue sticks. For this one, the strips were each 12"x1" and the final pumpkin was about the size of a softball. For a larger one, use longer strips and more strips. The stems and leaves were cut free-hand, and after it was completely dry, most of the base can be cut away, leaving a small circle at the bottom for a little weight and stability.

How It Went

I haven't quite hit my stride with this storytime. This is only my second time, and doing it only once a month without a consistent audience makes it more difficult. I never know how many or what ages to expect, and I don't feel quite as connected with the audience as I did with some of my outreach storytimes where I really got to know the kids. I still feel just a little awkward as it's so different from my previous outreach storytimes in a classroom with 4 year-olds, but it's just a matter of time. I remember initially feeling disconnected when I first started my previous job, too.

I started out with a fairly good number, but lost a few early on, while presenting the non-fiction book in the introduction. While this always worked well in the past, I can see it won't work here and I'll need to do more songs and simple books, and go much easier on the non-fiction. As good as the book was, it just didn't engage the younger ones. I also think I'm running into some cultural differences in expectations with my diverse audience. 

But the ones who stuck it out seemed to really enjoy it, and most of the parents did participate, though I had to encourage the audience to move a little closer and sit in front of me. I think the Duck & Goose book was probably their favorite; they loved laughing at all the silly places they looked for a pumpkin, especially the apple tree! They all knew you got apples from an apple tree and went to the pumpkin patch for pumpkins. We also talked about all the foods you can make with pumpkin, like pie, bread, muffins, and soup; though when I mentioned pumpkin ravioli I heard someone say "yuck".😆

The ones who chose to do the craft really seemed to like it; I just left the supplies out and let whoever wanted to make one do so until everything was used up.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Programming - How Much Prep Is Too Much?

Are We Depriving Participants of the Chance to Practice Developmentally Appropriate Skills?

This is a subject I've thought about off and on over the years, but something I have been really struggling with lately in my own program planning. 

We all want our programs to go smoothly, and we all know that the best way to ensure that is with plenty of planning and preparation. We scour Pinterest, blogs, Facebook groups, and more looking for ideas. We test things out in advance to see if it really works, how long it takes, what steps might be troublesome. We buy supplies and prepare things in advance to save time and make things easier.

I've seen many arts and crafts programs where participants are given a bunch of pre-cut things, and they just have to glue them on a piece of paper. Sometimes participants were handed pre-assembled little "kits" in zip-lock bags so they not only didn't have to cut anything out, but didn't have to think about what pieces they needed and how many of each and count them out. Cooking and STEM programs involve mixing things together with an expected and observable result, and often all the ingredients are pre-measured into little cups so all participants have to do is combine them. I've taken these time-saving steps myself; I'm sure most of us have at some time or another.

There is no question all the advanced prep saves time, frustration, minimizes the mess, and leads to a better finished product or expected outcome. But is it really what we should be doing? To answer that, we must first really think about and clarify what our goals and purpose are for said program. What do we want participants to gain from the program? Is it about the product, or the process?? Are we depriving them of opportunities to practice developmentally-appropriate skills and gain confidence and independence? I just can't stop thinking about a meme I saw last week, which said:
"Draw it for me...Cut it for me...Paste it for me...Put it together for me. 
All I learn is that you do it better than me."
I know some people really want the kids to have something cute to take home, but that is not as important to me. I'm more interested in them learning or experiencing something, and though I like it when that also results in creating something they can take home, I don't feel like that is a requirement. Kindergarten teachers are reporting that kids are starting school with more poorly developed fine motor skills in general than in the past, and more specifically, they don't know how to use scissors. Kids really need to practice scissor skills, and anything else that uses their hands. They need to cut, twist, squeeze, and smash things; they need to pick up and manipulate small things. The more we can let them do these things in library programs, while educating their caregivers on why they need to do them, the better!

All this is certainly not meant to criticize how anyone conducts their programs, but should be taken as me "thinking out loud" as I'm figuring out how to handle my next STEAM program, as well as storytime crafts. If you've read many of my storytime planning posts, you know I'm all about finding your own style, trying new things, and avoiding absolute thinking (as in  "everybody should do this", "no one should ever do that", "I have to do this"...). So sometimes it might be more about the final product, and that's okay (sometimes). Sometimes there are good reasons not to have participants measure every single ingredient or cut out every piece on their own. So we can compromise; have some things pre-measured/cut/whatever, but let the kids do some on their own, too.

And this brings me to my current dilemma. I'm planning a "Spooky Science" program for later this month, and I'm trying to figure out exactly how I want to handle the measuring of ingredients, and what supplies I need in regard to that. I know it's easier to pre-measure everything and dispense it, and that also leads to more consistent results, but the science teacher in me is screaming that (1) measurement is a critical skill in science, so they need to learn it, and (2) if it doesn't turn out right, that just creates an excellent opportunity for critical thinking and problem solving as they try to figure out why. I'm still not sure *exactly* how I'm going to handle it, but I will definitely have the kids measuring at least some of the ingredients themselves.

I've been think a lot about how important an understanding of child development is for working in youth services lately, so it might be a recurring theme in future posts.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Family Storytime - Unicorns

Unicorn storytime

Today was my first storytime in my new position, AND my first storytime with parents present. Even though I've done hundreds of storytimes, they were all outreach storytimes at daycares and preschools, rather than in the library with parents and caregivers, and I was just a little nervous about that.

I had trouble deciding what to do, and felt more pressure than usual since it was my first one here, and I only get to do one a month. I wanted to do something new, but had no idea what and kept hoping for inspiration. Then one day a young patron asked for unicorn books, and in the process of looking them up for her, I realized there were several more unicorn picture books out than the last time I was looking for them, so decided to use that for my theme.

I started by announcing it was time for storytime, and gave families a couple of minutes to get settled, and passed out programs with all the songs and books we might use (I always plan extra). Then we started with the welcome song I've always used, and I introduced myself, and briefly explained how I do things and expectations, then gave clues for the kids to guess the theme. 

unicorn storytimeAfter that we sang my "Story Song" to lead into the first book, Today I'll Be a Unicorn by  Dana Simpson, a board book that stars the characters from the graphic novel series Phoebe and Her Unicorn

Since this is family storytime, I tried to choose a range of books, and I selected this one for the younger end of the spectrum. I liked that it had short, simple text and could be very interactive and add movement by acting out pretending to be a unicorn along with Phoebe: trotting, swishing our tails, putting on tiaras, etc.

We continued pretending to be unicorns with this fun song:

If You're A Unicorn....

If you're a unicorn and you know it, shake your horn.
If you're a unicorn and you know it, shake your horn.
If you're a unicorn and you know it, then your magic will surely show it.
If you're a unicorn and you know it, shake your horn.

...stamp your hooves...toss your mane...twitch your tail...prance around...

unicorn storytime
For our second book I read A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young. Lucy dreams of having a beautiful pale blue unicorn with pink mane and tail, that will let her ride him and go to show-and-tell. When she finally gets one, it turns out to be VERY different that what she expected, and she is angry and disappointed. Will she send him back? 

A funny book, but also a great lesson that even though things may not turn out the way you expected, they can still be pretty special. Really cute, but a little on the long side. (There is also a sequel called A New Friend for Sparkle and a Christmas special just released this month.)

After that we talked about whether it would be fun to ride a unicorn, then pretended to with this fun little song:

(to "The William Tell Overture" aka the Lone Ranger theme)

Start clapping hands agains legs in rhythm, to simulate galloping, then sing:

Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!

(repeat several times, getting faster each time)

unicorn storytimeI wasn't sure they'd be able to handle a third book after the longer second one, but they were doing such a great job listening I decided to take a chance. 

You Don't Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman and Liz Climo is a funny book that shows the darker side of having a unicorn. After a little boy wishes for one in a wishing fountain, he ends up with 5 unicorns and lots of problems! After he realizes he must say goodbye and wishes them all back, he thinks of a new pet to wish for.

After that we sang a new closing song (I was tired of the old one, and other people in my department also use this one):

Storytime Is Over...

Storytime is over, clap your hands.
Storytime is over, clap your hands.
Storytime is done, and I hope that you had fun.
Storytime is over, clap your hands.

(I'm not sure I like the "clap your hands" because we shouldn't be glad storytime is over, right? But I don't want to use wave or say 'good-bye' because we do a craft afterward and like to encourage everyone to stick around. I'm going to have to think on this one.)


unicorn storytime craft
I picked what I thought was a simple craft, but it took more time to prep than I expected. I pre-cut the letter U's, heads, and legs from a few different colors. Then I provided 1" wide strips of paper in many different colors and scissors so the kids could work on the scissor skills cutting the small pieces for the horn, mane, and tail, and use their pincher grasp to pick up and place the small pieces. I explained to the adults that using scissors helps with hand strength and both help with fine motor skills, which would help with writing later on.

I purposefully made my example to be imperfect so they (hopefully) wouldn't worry about making it "right" and focus on the process (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it)  and I did see at least some parents letting the child do the cutting.

How It Went

Despite being just a bit nervous and concerned about whether I'd have any kids and what ages they'd be, it went really well! Most of the parents did sit on the floor in front of me, rather than on the built-in benches around the perimeter of the room, and even though it did end up being a young crowd and two of the books were longer than I'd typically choose for that age, all the kids did a great job listening and only 1 got restless.

I ended up with about 11 kids (plus a couple of infant siblings) and 10 adults, and I'd say they were almost all older 2's and young 3's, with maybe one 1-year old and a couple of kids that might have been 4-5. They seemed to like everything; I don't recall a stronger reaction to any particular book or activity.

This was also my first time doing a craft, and I definitely want to do something different in the future. For one thing, since I'm only part-time and have no time off the service desk, I had a really hard time getting things planned and prepped. Second, those attending didn't seem to have much interest in the craft, either. Only half of them stayed around for the craft, if that, and I could see some got frustrated or impatient with it. So I'll have to experiment with different activities, and maybe the occasional very simple craft.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Picture Book Reviews!

Finally, new picture books!

So things have finally slowed down a bit after the busy summer and then being very short-staffed, and I've been able to start paying more attention to the picture books that come through. In the last week three new ones caught my eye and made an impression.

The Stuff of Stars review
The Stuff of Stars, Sept 4, 2018
Written by Marion Dane Bauer
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press, 40 pages, ages 4-8

I cannot adequately describe the beautiful artwork in this book! 

The birth of the universe leading to the birth of a child are described in brief, lyrical text complemented by Holmes' gorgeous abstract collages made with marbled paper.

I rarely try to make award predictions, and am usually wrong when I do, but I'm sure there will be buzz about this one and I would not be surprised if it gets at least a Caldecott honor for the amazing illustrations. Here are a couple of the spreads; I wish I could show more! 

The Stuff of Stars reveiw
(click on any image for full-size view)
The Stuff of Stars reveiw


Water Land Review
Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World, May 22, 2018
Christy Hale, author & illustrator
Roaring Book Press, 32 pages, ages 3-8

This is a really neat little book for teaching a number of geographical terms, focusing on land areas and bodies of water. 

The pages feature cutouts, initially showing a body of water, for example the lake in the spread below. But when when the page is turned, the cutout becomes a land feature instead.

At the end of the book is a page summarizing all the features depicted, which then folds out to give even more definitions, and further unfolds into a world map with geographical features labeled.

Land and Water Forms Around the World review
(click on any image for full-size view)
Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World review


Cookiesaurus Christmas review, Cookiesaurus RexCookiesaurus Christmas, Sept 4, 2018
Amy Fellner Dominy & Nate Evans, authors
A.G. Ford, illustrator
Disney-Hyperion, 40 pages, ages 3-8

One of my favorite picture book from last year, Cookiesaurus Rex, gets a sequel! Like the first, it combines two of my favorite things, cookies and dinosaurs! What could be better?

This time it is Christmas, and Cookiesaurus rex has the holiday spirit and really, really, really, wants to be the cookie on Santa's plate. Predictably, he gets an attitude when he is not chosen and decides to take matters into his own hands. Though not quite as funny as the original, it's still cute and worth a look. 

Cookiesaurus Christmas review, Cookiesaurus Rex
(click on any image for full-size view)

So what new picture books have caught your eye lately? I'm still on the look out for some really good new storytime reads....

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Slime & The Brouhaha Over Borax - STEAM Programming

*Updated with additional links to research

Borax safety, using borax in slime, is borax safe

So I'm a little late getting into the slime game since I spent the last three years almost exclusively doing early literacy outreach, but in my new position I will be doing a school-age STEAM program once a month. I was looking ahead to October and trying to come up with "spooky science" activities, and a colleague suggested slime made with clear glue to be ghost ectoplasm, a la Ghostbusters:

So I began researching Slime recipes. Now people have been making Slime with the tried and true Borax recipe with white glue for YEARS with no apparent issues, but being aware of the recent concerns about safety due to a widely circulated story of a girl who allegedly got chemical burns on her hands from making Slime which were assumed to be from the Borax, I first tried a different recipe that uses contact solution and baking soda.

But the funny thing is, guess what the ingredients in the "saline" contact solution are that make it work?? Boric acid and sodium borate! So basically, it's the same thing, though already in a dilute solution. But it makes people feel safer, so I tried it first. The problem is, that this recipe requires a boost from the addition of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to raise the pH so the borate can bond with the glue, and I found that (1) the reaction with the baking soda produces lots of tiny bubbles, making the slime opaque rather than clear, and (2) even with playing around with the amounts of soda and/or contact solution I couldn't get the right consistency for a nice ectoplasm-like Slime.

So I said the heck with it, I'm going to try the original Borax recipe. And guess what, I got excellent results! The result was clear "ectoplasmic" slime that was only slightly sticky, and perfectly stretchy, gooey, and oozey (and stickiness could be eliminated by just a few drops more Borax solution, but it would be firmer and less stretchy). It was lovely! And it was still perfect the next day, whereas the contact solution/baking soda recipe became extremely firm, and dry and crumbly on the surface.

Clear slime, ectoplasm, borax safety, borax slime recipe

So then I started looking into the safety concerns. Having a scientific background and having worked with many laboratory chemicals in the past, I knew the place to look was NOT in news reports or social media, but the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that OSHA requires all chemicals to have. And guess what, as long as you don't eat, inhale, or get it in your eyes, there are really are no major safety concerns. The MSDS shows it has a hazard rating of 1, the same as baking soda or salt.

The powder does not cause irritation on intact skin (though washing and rinsing well after use are recommended), and gloves are only required for repeated or prolonged exposure. I also looked up the MSDS for Borax in solution, and at 1% it may cause mild skin irritation (again, handwashing after contact should prevent this), but the solution I used was only 0.88%, and the concentration in the final product is only about 0.4-0.5%, AND it is bonded to the polymer matrix, not free to react. So then I looked up the MSDS for the glue, and it also suggests washing hands after contact. (Incidentally, after spending 3 days in a row making and playing with slime, I have had no issues even though my skin tends to be somewhat sensitive.)

So what does all this mean?? Basically, if you use a little common sense, the traditional Borax recipe should be about as safe as the newer contact solution recipe, and neither are likely to cause any ill effects. That being said, I would not let kids handle the pure powder, but have an adult prepare the solution in advance, I would have everyone wash their hands well immediately after making or playing with Slime of any kind, I would not let kids make it frequently over a prolonged time, and I would not use it with younger children or anyone who is likely to put any of the materials or finished product in their mouths. Of course, this does not preclude the possibility that there could be individuals that have an atypical sensitivity to either the Borax or the glue, or could develop a sensitivity to either after prolonged or repeated exposure (as with anything else).

Ectoplasm slime, clear slime, borax safety in slime, borax

Now, what is my take on the original story that sparked the Borax hysteria? 

I am certain there is more to the story than what has been reported. From my research, it seems extremely unlikely one could get burns like that from the traditional slime recipe, and frankly, I find the whole story slightly suspicious. She claimed to wear gloves with making the slime, and only using bare hands to play with the finished slime, where the borax is all bound up in the polymer matrix, not free to react. She had been making slime repeatedly for weeks with no irritation. And, the burns showed up while she was at a sleepover. So my theory is she was exposed to something else entirely that had nothing to do with the slime, or was using higher concentrations and/or additional ingredients and did not wash her hands.

So if you're more comfortable using a different recipe that is safe and works for you, by all means use it. But I do believe the Borax recipe can be used safely with supervision and common sense precautions I would use with any experiment, and may actually be safer than some of the alternative recipes I've seen. Of course this is only my educated but non-expert opinion and everyone must make their own informed decision, but it would seem two PhD-level chemists, one specializing in Boron chemistry, agree with me, and there are research studies to back it up. 

Check out the following scientific articles and research papers that basically all say there is no risk in simply handling Borax or being around it (just don't eat it large quantities on a regular basis): 
 And here is what science educator and performer Stever Spangler has to say about it:

Please share your experiences and favorite Slime recipes in the comments!