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




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. 

After 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...


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:

Giddy-Up!
(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!
WHOOOAAAAA, Unicorn!

(repeat several times, getting faster each time)


I 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.)

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!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Why? Why Not? What If? - Three Books to Satisfy Curious, Inquisitive Kids



We've all seen those precocious, inquisitive kids who are always asking questions, refusing to accept anything at face value just because a grown-up says so. It seems like everything you say is met with a "Why?", or conversely, "Why not?" With my daughter it was always, "What happens if....?" While this is often a sign of intelligence and analytical thinking, it can be a bit exhausting for their parents and teachers trying to come up with all the answers!

Thankfully, Nat Geo has three great books to help satisfy the most curious of kids. The most recent one just came out and caught my eye, and that led me to the other two. Check out this trio of elucidation:


Why? 1,111 Answers to Everything, by Crispin Boyer, 2015. National Geographic Books for Kids,192 pages, ages 8-12.

Children are always asking why, and this book has answers to, well maybe not everything, but to quite a lot! All kinds of questions kids might ask are answered, and grouped by category. Questions like: "Why do men have nipples?", "Why do penguins look like they're wearing tuxedos?", "Why is the Golden Gate Bridge orange?". (There are also How? and What? questions, too.) And as one would expect, it is filled with full-color photos and graphics to illustrate the information.


Why Not? 1,111 Answers to Everything by Crispin Boyer, Aug 21, 2018. National Geographic Books for Kids, 223 pages, ages 8-12.

While this wasn't the second book chronologically, it is clearly the obvious complement to the first book. This one has the same format and beautiful full-color photos and graphics with tons of interesting facts and explanations to answer questions such as "Why don't spiders get stuck in their own webs?", "Why can't I use my left hand as well as my right?", and "Why can't I eat cupcakes for dinner?" arranged by category: Animals, Our Planet, The Universe, History, Your Body, Technology, and Pop Culture.


What Would Happen? Serious Answers to Silly Questions by Crispin Boyer, 2017. National Geographic Books for Kids, 176 pages, ages 8-12.

These are the kinds of questions my daughter peppered me with from around ages 3-5: "What if you ate nothing but ice cream?", "What if mosquitoes went extinct?", "What if you stepped in lava?" Again, a fun book full of interesting facts and information about things you've always wondered, or never even though to ask, illustrated with lots of full-color photographs and graphics, organized by category.

Kids really seem to love these types of books full of random and interesting facts; they seem to circulate really well in my library system. I would recommend them for all curious kids aged 8-12, possibly even younger if an adult was helping to read and explain the information.