Monday, April 5, 2021

Early Literacy To Go - April


This month I again looked to lists of holidays and observances to inspire storytime themes, settling on Be Kind to Spiders Week, Spring, Velociraptor Appreciation Day, Superhero Day, and Poetry Month (incorporating poetry throughout the month rather than a specific poetry-themed storytime). Though these kits are designed to stand alone and provide early literacy support to those who cannot access virtual programming or have kids who just can't engage with that format, they also complement the virtual storytimes.

My planning process is to first choose my storytime themes for the month, then plan the included crafts/activities and order supplies, then write the newsletter. For book suggestions I try to select books that we have multiple copies of in the system, and several that we have both in print and digital; I also include a counting book and an alphabet book each month. 

Assembling everything is a rather time-consuming process that I try to pair with watching webinars and virtual conferences to make best use of my time, and having something to do with my hands seems to help me pay attention better as well!

This month's kit contained the following:

  • Newsletter with all the suggested activities on the front; songs/fingerplays/action rhymes and instructions for included craft/activities on the back, along with a reminder about the weekly virtual storytime on the branch Facebook page and YouTube channel.
  • Activities - easy, everyday activities categorized by the ECRR2 five practices
    • Talk - about the changes you observe with the arrival of Spring, favorite dinosaurs, favorite superheroes. Make up a story about them..
    • Play - encourage dramatic play, pretend to be a superhero, what would your powers be; play hide-and-seek outdoors, poetry activity
    • Write - scribbling, coloring, and drawing; picking up small objects, scissor skills, threading beads and lacing all work fine motor skills.
    • Sing - different types of songs, from traditional children's songs to contemporary; songs and fingerplays on back
    • Read - together and independently
  • Book Suggestions:
    • Animals, Animals by Eric Carle
    • I'm Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton
    • Itsy Bitsy Spider by Joe Rhatigan
    • A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (print & digital)
    • Velociraptor: A Speedy Tale by Fran Bromage (print & digital)
    • Dinosaurs! by Jill McDonald (boardbook)
    • Abracadabra, It's Spring by Ashley Sibley O'Brien
    • Shake a Leg, Egg by Kurt Cyrus
    • Sweet Dreams, Supergirl by Michael Dahl (print & digital)
    • 1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book by Juana Medina (print & digital)
    • Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod
  • Songs/Rhymes/Fingerplays (linked to previous posts with full lyrics):
    • "Five Little Bugs" (counting fingerplay)
    • "The Dinosaurs Go..." (song with large body movement and/or animal sounds)
    • "Shake Your Eggs" (egg shaker song)
    • "I Know a Chicken" by Laurie Berkner (best egg shaker song ever!)
  • Included Craft - Spider (pincer grasp, color identification, counting), pictured below
    • 1 large and 1 small pom-pom
    • googly eyes
    • 2 pipe cleaners
    • beads
    • glue
    • cotton swabs (for applying glue)
  • Included Craft - Alphabet Spider Web (fine motor skills, letter recognition), pictured below
    • paper plate with center cut out & 26 holes punched around perimeter labeled with randomized alphabet
    • 13 feet of yarn, tape wrapped around one end
  • Included Activity - DIY Shaker Eggs
    • plastic Easter egg
    • assorted beads
    • 8" piece of narrow duct tape (wound around segment of plastic straw)
  • Activity sheets
    • Spring coloring page
    • Spider maze
    • Velociraptor coloring & word tracing sheet
    • Superhero coloring page
    • Create a Superhero activity sheet
  • Die cut letter "V" (for "velociraptor")
  • Die cut dinosaur
The crafts turned out super cute, and incorporated several different skills. My prototype spider is absolutely adorable, if I do say so myself. I labeled the holes with the letters of the alphabet in somewhat randomized order with the idea that you would string the yarn in alphabetical order, kind of like the old dot-to-dot pictures, which works on letter recognition and order, and assures they get a nice result for their web. 

Although I'm proud of these kits and making the effort to come up with something accessible that supports early literacy development, being very intentional in designing them and the crafts I choose, I will be glad when they are no longer necessary! For one, I really miss in-person programming, but also because they are incredibly time-consuming to plan and put together. I'm hoping for in-person programs starting in the fall, but we shall see....

While these kits have proven to be popular and several patrons have expressed appreciation, I still suspect many people are not really using them as I'd hope, and for the most part are just handing the coloring/activity sheets and crafts to the kids to do, and not really embracing the intended caregiver/child interactions and early literacy component as I don't really see the suggested books being checked out, but hopefully they are getting something out of it even if they aren't getting the maximum benefit.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Awesome New Books - Virtual Storytime

March 10th is the "
International Day of Awesomeness", which I decided to use as a segue to introduce some awesome new picture books. (In reality they weren't brand new, both having been published in 2020, but with the pandemic shutdowns and changing jobs I didn't see them until the end of the year, and hadn't had a chance to use them until now.)

As always, I started off with a hello song, and introduction, and a lead-in song before reading the first book, Bunny Overboard by Claudia Rueda. This is the third book in her series of interactive "Bunny" books, and I love using these kind of interactive books in storytime where the narrator of the story directs the reader to do things to help move the story along. 

In this story, bunny is going out for a day of sailing, and the audience is directed to do things like blow to make wind for the sails and rock the book to make waves. It's not only fun, but also introduces some nautical vocabulary, like bow & stern and port & starboard. I do wish the colors in the illustrations were a little more saturated; I don't feel the softened, almost pastel, tones work as well for a group read-aloud.

I followed that with a flannel board counting rhyme using bunnies:

Five Little Bunnies

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

Two little bunnies, hopping like me,
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 then had the bunnies hop away one by one in order to provide the opportunity for counting down as well, and then did the rhyme one more time.

The second book, The Button Book by Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin, is another great interactive book that presents different colored and shaped buttons that will prompt different actions from the audience, such as beeping, clapping, singing, bouncing, and hugging.

This would be great for a movement storytime, or anytime you have a group with some wiggles to work out, or a sluggish group that needs waking up. I also like the addition of color and shape concepts.
I then ended with closing announcements and reminders of the next week's storytime, other youth programs, and to pick up early literacy kits, followed with a good-bye song.

How It Went 

I did get some views, but no likes or comments from anyone other than staff, so as I always I'm left wondering if anyone is really watching and feeling a bit of a let-down. It is hard to stay enthusiastic and motivated for these virtual programs when there is no interaction and no feedback from viewers. I know this would've been a great storytime if it had been in-person, as these were both really good storytime books. I will likely repeat a lot of the virtual storytimes once we are able to do in-person programming again, because I know they would be so much fun.

Friday, March 12, 2021



A year. Twelve months. Three-hundred and sixty-five days. It sounds like such a long time, but it feels like it was just the other day. 

That's how long it's been since I worked what would turn out to be my last shift at a job I loved. I can't really say it was my last day in normal times, because we had realized the week prior that the pandemic was coming, then found out it was already here with the announcement of the first case in our state at the end of that first week of March. Things rapidly changed over the following week, starting with canceling all in-person programming for the next month, implementing frequent sanitizing of high-touch surfaces, removing some toys from the children's area and frequently cleaning what remained. I spent my last shift removing the last of the toys we had kept out, cleaning them, and putting them away. I knew a closure was imminent, though it had not been announced yet.

I was off the next day when the library announced it was closing for the next three weeks at the governor's request; most of the schools had already announced they were closing for the next 2-3 weeks, and the rest of the schools and most public libraries soon followed suit. Most people really expected that was going to be it, a brief shutdown, the pandemic would blow over quickly and life would get back to normal relatively soon. I knew better. As a former research microbiologist, I knew we would be dealing with this for at least a year, likely two, though nobody wanted to hear it.

But even I couldn't have predicted how bad it was going to be, how ridiculously politicized it would become, how much willful ignorance there would be, how selfish so many people are, how badly some organizations and governments would handle it, or how it would turn my life upside down. Instead of being closed for 3 weeks, the library remained closed for 3 months, during which time I finished my MLIS, but without the graduation I had been looking forward to attending. I expected this, but I did not expect what would happen next. In July, the library announced the beginning of curbside service at most locations, and in the same breath also announced the permanent layoff of all 101 part-time staff, which included me. I never had any warning this was coming, expected gradual layoffs and furloughs, but never this. I was devastated.

I keep thinking about if I had only known my last weeks were going to be my last weeks. I would have crammed in more programs, I would have spent more time talking to patrons, I would have had the chance to say good-bye to the families and coworkers I had built relationships with. I would have applied for the full-time children's librarian position in a neighboring county that I had passed on because of the long commute, knowing that one of our children's librarians was set to retire at the end of March and thinking I had a decent shot at that position. Or I would have applied to the one in an area my husband and I were thinking of retiring to, but I wasn't quite ready to make that leap just yet. If I had only known what was coming...

Instead, I missed those opportunities and later had to jump into a desperate job search in an already difficult job market that the pandemic had now made absolutely abysmal. I had to make very difficult decisions and choices in order to do what was best for my family's long-term financial stability, which resulted in my taking a job out of state, and moving there by myself until we could get everything else in order. I know on many levels I was one of the lucky ones. I got interviews from at least half of the jobs I applied to, and within just two months had gotten a good offer, less than five months after completing my MLIS. But though I've been in my new position for almost 6 months now, I'm having trouble letting go of the past and moving on.

I still grieve for my old job everyday. It was a nearly ideal situation that really allowed me to thrive and grow, and I truly loved being at work. I had great coworkers, a wonderfully diverse community with a strong reading culture that loved and supported their library, a large diverse collection, and lots of programming opportunities. I miss my kiddos, my coworkers, the collection. The library I am at now is very different. Not bad, just very different in almost every way, and I'm having trouble adjusting my expectations. I can't stop comparing it to my old one. I feel so homesick for my old job, even though I know that reality doesn't exist anymore, and even if I were still there, it would nothing like it was before. And I know that even without the pandemic, most likely I would have had to leave to find a full-time professional position anyway. 

Maybe if the end hadn't been so unexpected and traumatic and handled so callously, maybe if I had left on my own terms, maybe if I'd had time to mentally prepare myself and say my good-byes, maybe if I hadn't been forced to make such drastic changes and disrupt my whole life, maybe then it would be easier to let go and move on. 

Maybe I just need more time... 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Early Literacy To Go - March


Early literacy take-home kit for March

This month I looked over a few lists of various holidays and observances in March for a little inspiration in planning my storytimes for this month. Although these kits are designed to stand alone, I also design them to complement my virtual storytimes, so that's where my planning process starts: first I plan my storytime themes, then I decide what crafts/activities I want to provide so I can order materials if needed, then I come up with all the other suggestions, songs/fingerplays, and tips. The themes I decided to use are: World Wildlife Day, International Day of Awesomeness (awesome new books), St. Patrick's Day, Folktales and Fables Week, and National Crayon Day. 

Each kit contained the following:

  • Sheet with all the suggested activities on the front; songs/fingerplays/action rhymes and instructions for included craft/activities on the back, along with a reminder about the weekly virtual storytime on the branch Facebook page and YouTube channel.
  • Activities - easy, everyday activities categorized by the ECRR2 five practices
    • Talk - play "Would You Rather" and pick different animals you would like to be and why, discuss what you would do if you found a pot of gold.
    • Play - act our your favorite folk/fairy tales, and give them a new twist
    • Write - scribbling, coloring, and drawing; make a squishy bag
    • Sing - songs based on traditional nursery rhymes and folk tales, songs and fingerplays on back
    • Read - together and independently
  • Book Suggestions:
    • Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle
    • Wild About Us by Karen Beaumont
    • Over and Under the Rainforest by Kate Messner (print & digital)
    • Pete the Cat: The Great Leprechaun Chase by James Dean (print & digital)
    • Mary Englebreit's Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection (print & digital)
    • Folk and Fairy Tale Easy Readers- 15 Stories by Scholastic
    • Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall (print, Vox, & digital)
    • The Day the Crayon's Quit and The Day the Crayon's Came Back by Drew Daywalt
    • Baby Bear Counts One by Ashley Wolff
    • Animal ABC by Marcus Pfister
  • Songs/Rhymes/Fingerplays (linked to previous posts with full lyrics):
    • "March Comes In Like a Lion"
    • "The Animals In The Jungle"
    • "Five Little Shamrocks"
    • "Five Little Crayons"
  • Included Craft - Rainbow & Pot of Gold (pincer grasp, color identification, counting)
    • paper with leprechaun and pot
    • round stickers in gold, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & violet

  • Included STEAM Activity - Jack and the Beanstalk 
    • Jack and the Beanstalk story booklet to color & read (from
    • lima bean seeds
    • paper towels
    • clear plastic cup

  • Additional Craft - Crayon Shaving Suncatcher
    • crayons
    • waxed paper squares

  • Coloring sheets
    • African wildlife
    • Wildlife native to our state
    • St. Patrick's Day
  • Counting Activity
    • leprechaun pot cards numbered 0 to 10
    • 1/2" round gold stickers

  • Die cut letter "A" (for "animal")
  • Die cut 4-leaf clover
So as it turned out I really struggled with these this month, both in planning and preparing. First, as I am often guilty of doing, I way over-planned and just tried to include way too much and some things took much longer to prep than I realized. Second, I am starting to run out of ideas; I really wish I had someone else to work on these with, or at least bounce ideas off of, but we are a small library with a very small staff and I am the only one with early literacy experience and expertise. Third, it is sometimes difficult to come up with the book suggestions because our system frequently only has one copy of a given title and I'd rather pick something readily available, and there is an over-reliance on digital formats, even though children and youth do not use them. Ideally, I try to choose titles that are available in both print and digital, but that is getting harder to find. Then finally, I lost a lot of work time to snow delays and closures for plumbing problems and staff day.

I also realized I have gradually skewed a little bit to activities that are more appropriate for kids at the older end of age range, and not enough for the lower end. So I am going to have to scale back and simplify, and re-focus on activities more appropriate for the 2-3 year olds. The kits have proven to be very popular, and after 5 months people are aware of them and are now requesting them by name. Initially, 35 kits would last almost until the end of the month, but last month they were all gone by the middle. I made 40 for this month, and if I can rein it in and keep them a little more simple I can probably do more. But hopefully by fall we will be back to in-person storytimes.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Snowflake Science & Frosty Experiments - STEAM Program

This month, I decided on a wintery theme, adapting a couple of activities from a previous program and adding some new ones to give it a snowflake science focus. Most supplies were provided in a take-home kit they could pick up from the library, which also had basic instructions and QR links to the Facebook page and YouTube channel where the video presentation could be found that would have a lot more information and where they could see me demonstrate the activities. 

Materials Provided In the Kit:

  • Snowflake Science Take & Make Kit, Snowflake Science program
    metal can
  • salt (about 1/4-1/3 cup)
  • cotton swabs (30-50)
  • school glue (in a little paint pot cut from a strip of 6)
  • blue card stock - 2 sheets
  • white crayon
  • white paper - 2 sheets
  • watercolor palette
  • cotton string
  • instruction booklet
Additional Materials Needed from Home:
  • bowl
  • water
  • ice cubes
  • crushed ice (optional)
  • spoon
Snowflake Science

I shared my screen to show them an absolutely phenomenal site about snowflakes, This site belongs to Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist and department chair at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Dr. Libbrecht's specialty is the molecular dynamics of crystal formation and growth, particularly ice crystals. So essentially, he is a snowflake scientist. I have followed his site for several years, and it contains a wealth of information, and he continues to add to it and update it. There are dozens of absolutely beautiful photographs of snowflakes, videos of snow crystals forming and growing into snowflakes, and lots of information on the science of snowflakes. In addition to this site, he has published many lovely books on the subject, and I'd bet you have at least one in your library.

I didn't want to go into too much detail and turn it into a high school science lecture, so I introduced the site, showed them a few of the photographs and talked about the different types, talked a little about how the type and size of snow crystal that forms is affected by the temperature and humidity, and watched a few of the videos of snowflakes growing. I encouraged them to explore the site on their own later because it is just so amazing, but what I wanted them to observe and what I wanted to emphasize was that snowflakes always have 6 points (unless of course they were damaged while growing), not four, not eight, but SIX. This is because of the molecular structure of water, which leads to a hexagonal lattice structure when it crystalizes. 

[One of my pet peeves is seeing representations of snowflakes that have four or eight points, which is simply not possible. The physics and chemistry of water and ice crystal formation means that fully-formed, complex snow crystals, otherwise known as snowflakes, will always have SIX points. Some may think this isn't an important detail, or argue that 4- or 8-pointed snowflakes are easier to draw, or that it's okay to take "artistic license", but I feel that as information professionals, it is our duty to present scientifically accurate information, ESPECIALLY if we are presenting that art project as a STEM activity.]

I also wanted to show them snowflakes had symmetry, radial symmetry to be more specific, and showed that how no matter which direction you cut a snowflake in half through the middle, each side was more or less the same as another. I also discussed the saying that "no two snowflakes are exactly alike", and that while it is statistically possible and that snowflakes formed under the same conditions (in the same snow shower, for example) are likely to be somewhat or even very similar, to my knowledge no one has been able to credibly demonstrate fully-formed complex snow crystals (what we commonly know as snowflakes) that were exactly alike.

Activity #1 - Frost Formation

Growing frost experiment

This one takes at least 30 minutes, so I started it first. (In retrospect, I should have just started a second one well in advance to be sure I would have good frost formation to show them, and I could have gone straight to the snowflake activities, then done this one at the end).

1. Fill the can about 2/3 full with ice. Crushed ice does work better, but cubed ice will work.

2. Add about 4 spoonfuls of salt (be sure to save a little for a later activity) and stir.

3. Top of with more ice and one more spoonful of salt, and just a couple of spoonful of cold water.

4. Let sit for 30-60 minutes, checking every 10-15 minutes or so to observe the water vapor condensing out of the air onto the surface of the can as frost. If you have a thermometer, check the temperature at the beginning, then at 10-15 minute intervals.

The salt causes the ice to melt by pulling energy from the surrounding ice/water, which ultimately causes the temperature to drop below freezing. So instead of the water vapor condensing on the surface as water droplets, it condenses as frost. This is the same principal by which homemade ice cream is made using ice and rock salt to freeze the custard.

Activity #2 - Snowflake Art
Snowflake Craft/STEAM activity

1. Keeping in mind the principles of snowflake science, use the cotton swabs and glue to make your own designer snowflakes on the blue cardstock.

2. Use the swabs whole or break into pieces. Use the photos on for inspiration or be creative, just be sure not to break the laws of physics ( 6 points and radial symmetry)!

Activity #3 - Snowflake Resist Art 

Snowflake resist art STEAM activity
1. Draw snowflakes on white paper with a white crayon (or candle). It might be easier to draw a template in black marker on another piece of paper first, then trace over it. Again, be sure to follow the laws of physics with six points and radial symmetry.

2. Wet the water colors and load some on a brush and sweep over the paper, and watch your snowflakes "magically" appear.

Of course, it's really science, not magic. The crayon is made of wax, which is hydrophobic and repels water, so the watercolor paint does not stick to it, but the paper is hydrophilic and absorbs the watercolor, resulting in white snowflakes on a colored background.

Activity #4 - "Ice Fishing

1. Fill a small- medium bowl about 1/2-2/3 full with cold water.

2. Float a few ice cubes in it.

[At this point I challenge them to try to catch an ice cube with a piece of string. Most will try some variation of lassoing it, which almost never works (except when I'm trying to demonstrate that it doesn't on live video, LOL). I give them a minute to start to get frustrated, then show how easily I can catch one without even tying a loop or anything, then show the trick.]

3. Wet a piece of cotton string (NOT synthetic; it must be able to absorb water) and lay it along the top of an ice cube.

4. Sprinkle it with a tiny pinch of salt, and wait about 5-10 seconds.

5. Now gently lift the string and you should have caught your ice cube "fish" (the photos are from the previous in-person program where I had made fish-shaped ice cubes to use).

6. Now see how many ice cubes you can catch on the same piece of string at the same time!

This works on the same principal as the the frost-growing activity, the salt initially melts the ice a little, but that causes the temperature to drop and it re-freezes around the string. Encourage them to experiment with the amount of salt used and the waiting time and note the results.

I meant to close with suggesting books in our collection related to snow, snowflakes, or other easy experiments to do at home, but I was running short on time to get everything ready and trying to get the video recorded, and completely forgot.

How It Went

This time I had 6 people register in advance that were specifically interested in the program (which is 6 more than registered for the first one), and gave out an additional 17 kits at the desk. This time I thankfully had no technical issues, and I was pretty happy with the video (other than getting a tickle in my throat and coughing in the middle). The video ended up being almost 30 minutes long, which is about 10 minutes longer than I'd like, but as it was I kind of rushed through the activities. I only had 3 people watching it live, but within just 3 days it had 40 views, 2 comments, and 7 likes/reactions on Facebook. Even if people didn't get a kit, they would likely have the materials to do at least some of the activities at home, and all materials are easily found at local stores.

I was happy with how it went, and really pleased to actually get some live viewers and several reactions and one comment, which was very complimentary, from patrons. I am hoping that interest will continue to grow as patrons learn about the program. I would love to do additional STEM programs for toddlers/preschoolers and tweens/teens, but right now the programmer and I have about all we can handle, since assembling kits is so time consuming. Once we begin in-person programming and stop virtual programs, then we might be able to fit some in, at least on an occasional basis if not as a regular, ongoing program.