Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Early Literacy To Go - January


Early literacy kit, storytime at home kit

This monthly early literacy to-go kit was the first type of programming I developed when I started my new position 3 months ago, as this branch had been without early literacy programming for several months, and many in the community either do not have internet access at home or have to prioritize its use for work and/or school for the older children. I have since started doing virtual storytimes on a weekly basis in addition to these monthly take-home kits.

As I start to get caught up and be able to plan further ahead, I am working on making the activities in these kits even more intentional, and coordinating with my virtual storytime themes for the month. So while the kits are designed to stand alone, they also complement and extend the virtual storytimes. My themes for this month are snow, soup, moose, and yeti and I chose the letter "Ss" for the letter of the month. 

These are listed on our calendar and now patrons are becoming more aware of them and have started specifically asking for them. I also have been doing an "unboxing" video at the first of the month to show the contents of that month's kit and talk a little about how they support early literacy, and plug the virtual storytime as well. This month's kit contains:

  • 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.
  • Book Suggestions:
    • Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (print & digital formats)
    • One Snowy Day by Diana Murray (print, Vox, & digital)
    • If It's Snowy & You Know It, Clap Your Paws by Kim Norman (print, can be sung)
    • Every Color Soup by Jorey Hurley (print)
    • There's a Giraffe In My Soup by Ross Burach (print)
    • Circle, Square, Moose! by Kelly Bingham (print)
    • A is for Axel by Kurt Browning (print & digital)
  • Songs/Rhymes/Fingerplays (linked to previous posts with full lyrics):
  • Included Sensory Craft - Cotton-ball Snowman
    • handful of cotton balls
    • assorted colors of scrap construction paper
    • assorted mini pom-poms
    • small Black circles
    • sheet of blue paper
  • Included Craft - Hand- & Foot-Print Moose
    • sheets of blue, brown, and dark brown paper
    • Googly eyes
  • Included Activity - Play dough
    • small cup commercial Play-Doh
    • recipe for homemade salt dough
  • Coloring sheets
    • snowman & snowballs
    • moose with a goose
    • alphabet soup
    • abominable snowman
  • Writing activity sheets
    • Letter Ss
    • Name
  • Die cut letter "S" for snow
  • Die cut snowman to decorate or do with as they please
  • Five die-cut snowflakes (to go with fingerplay)

I try to select several books that are available from my library in both print and digital formats, but I prioritize print since it doesn't seem that this community really uses digital, at least for children's books. I try to include books for each theme, but I inadvertently forgot to include a yeti book, and include one counting book and one alphabet book each time. I cautioned that not all children will be developmentally ready for the writing activities, and that backwards letters, letter-like forms, or just scribbles are perfectly acceptable, and not to correct or expect precision; it's the process, not the product for all of these activities.

Though people are asking for the kits, I am not sure how much they are really engaging with them as I would hope. I emphasize in the description that these are for the caregiver and include activities to do WITH your child, but I suspect that many are just handing the crafts to the kids and sadly ignoring the rest as I do not see the titles I suggest being checked out. I know these are trying times and parents may just be too busy managing online school with their older children, working from home, looking for work, etc.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Snow - Virtual Storytime

I guess I always do some kind of snow-themed storytime in January, but I was able to come up with two books I had not used before, so it's somewhat original. The weather is very unpredictable where I am now, for example a week after I arrived here in October a big storm dropped temperatures and 8"-12" of snow on us, after being sunny and 75 the week before, and after a few days almost all traces of snow were gone. I've been told they've had blizzards pop up as late as May, or even in the summer!

Snow storytime
I started with a hello song, introduction, and lead-in song, then read the first book, Pablo In The Snow, by Terri Sloat and Rosalinde Bonnet. A little lamb named Pablo has never seen snow before, and is amazed when "pieces of the clouds" start falling down. He goes outside to explore and discovers lots of fun things to do in the snow. But he stays out a little too long and can't find his way home as new snow has covered all of the tracks.

I chose this book for a few reasons: it shows several snowy day activities, it was a newer book and I had not seen or used it before, and my branch happens to have "Lamb" in its name. I also used it as a reminder that if you get lost or separated from your group, you should stay put and call for help.

Next we counted out ten snowflakes as I put them on my flannel board, and then sang the following while counting on our fingers:

Ten Little Snowflakes

(The snow shower begins:)

One little, two little, three little snowflakes;
Four little, five little, six little snowflakes;
Seven little, eight little, nine little snowflakes;
Ten little snowflakes fall!

(Now it's snowing harder!)

They are falling all around us,
They are falling all around us,
They are falling all around us,
MILLIONS of snowflakes fall!

(The snow shower ends:)

Ten little, nine little, eight little snowflakes;
Seven little, six little, five little snowflakes;
Four little, three little, two little snowflakes;
One last little snowflakes falls.

(The snow is over, time to play!)

When I do a "Ten Little..." counting song, I may not always include a middle verse, but I do always include counting back down from 10 to 1 because it forces them to use their muscles and their brain a little differently, not relying on muscle memory or habit, so they have to think a little more and be more aware of what they are doing and saying and what it means. And of course, counting down is the first introduction to subtraction.

I followed that with a quick little action rhyme about a snowman losing his nose to a hungry bunny:

The Snowman & The Rabbit

There was a little snowman,     (pretend to stack 3 large snowballs)
Who had a carrot nose.            (indicate long nose)
Along came a rabbit                 (hold up two fingers and "hop" hand around)
And what do you suppose??    (hold out upturned hands)
That hungry little rabbit             (hold up two fingers, rub tummy with other hand)
Looking for his lunch                (look around)
Ate the snowman's nose!         (pretend to eat)
Nibble, nibble, crunch!

Snow storytime
Then I read one more book, Snowball Fight! by comedian Jimmy Fallon and illustrated by Adam Stower. I was surprised when I came across this book as I had never heard that Jimmy Fallon had ever written a children's book. It is a bit older, 2005, which is probably why I wasn't familiar with it. Though I am generally VERY skeptical about celebrity authors, this turned out to be a really great, fun storytime book. It has very little text and lots of action as the neighborhood kids gather for an epic snowball fight. It ends with the protagonist sneaking out and making one last snowball and storing it in the freezer for "future use!", which is something my brother and I always did as well.

I closed with a goodbye song and the usual reminders about take & make kits, digital resources, and curbside services.

How It Went??

Again, it's hard to say. I am getting more comfortable with our set-up and being live, and I liked the books I chose, but I am still ending up at 20 minutes, which I feel is too long. I am seriously thinking of eliminating the additional songs and fingerplays, because I don't feel that translates as well to a virtual storytime, and that people are likely more interested in the books. 

Once again, I am not getting tons of views and I don't know how many of those "views" really indicate someone watched a significant portion of the storytime or just clicked through it, and I don't have access to any additional information Facebook provides to the administrators, only what it shows to the public. Our branch's page only has like 400 followers, so I wouldn't expect many views, but I would like to know if *anyone* is really watching. I may get a couple of "likes" from patrons, but thus far no comments.

I gave the green screen another try, and was much happier with how it worked this time. I do wish we had better a better quality camera with higher resolution; I think the poor resolution also makes it more difficult to engage viewers. Honestly, the videos I did on my own at home over the summer with my phone and natural light looked much better, imo. Here is a screenshot from the video (I choose not to link to or embed the videos I do for work in my blog as I want to maintain a separation between my employer and my professional activities as an individual):

I don't expect to return to normal, in-person programming until maybe the Fall (though I expect to be told to do outdoor in-person programming before that), so I will keep offering the virtual storytimes and early literacy kits for the time being and hope I start to pick up some viewers and re-evaluate in a month or two. Of course, I appreciate any and all suggestions for making virtual storytime more engaging and/or attracting viewers!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Christmas - Virtual Storytime

 At first I wasn't sure about doing a Christmas storytime, having previously worked in a very diverse, multinational community with a wide array of ethnicities, cultures, and religions where we did not do Christmas programs. However, the library and community where I work now is very different and Christmas celebrations and programs are the norm. There was a wide array of non-Christmas programs available as well, and I made sure the theme was announced in advance so those who preferred to opt out could do so. But with storytime falling just two days before Christmas, and knowing so many in our already economically depressed community have had even more hardship due to the pandemic, I really felt a cheery Christmas storytime would best serve this particular community at this time, plus my manager had requested some type of Christmas program.

(I know this is a very divisive topic in our profession, and I have discussed my thoughts and opinions on the matter in previous articles, here and here, so I prefer not to debate the issue on this post.)

I started with a short welcome song, and introduced the question "we know Santa uses reindeer to pull his sleigh, but did you ever wonder if he ever tried any other animals?" and told them our first story would answer that question, which I led into with my usual "story song".

Christmas storytime, dinosaur storytime, virtual storytime
I was SO excited when I happened upon this first book in the stacks, which gave me another opportunity to incorporate my favorite topic, dinosaurs! Though dinosaurs and Santa may seem like an unlikely pairing (but maybe not considering all the ugly Christmas sweaters featuring dinos), it works well in Jerry Pallotta and Howard McWilliam's Dinosaur Christmas, and dinosaurs are always an appropriate theme in this state, which has numerous dinosaur trackways and fossil sites, even a town named Dinosaur! The story begins with a little girl writing a note to Santa, posing the question of what he used to pull his sleigh before he had reindeer? Santa answers, describing how he once used dinosaurs to pull his sleigh! He tells of all the various kinds of dinosaurs he tried, and the pros and cons of each. Very cute, and sure to delight all the budding paleontologists and dinosaur aficionados out there.

The story ends back with the reindeer, which gave a perfect lead-in for a fun flannel rhyme starring that most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph! I revealed my flannel board with Rudolph's face (missing the characteristic red nose), and reacted to my assumed audience's imagined objection that it couldn't be Rudolph because it had an ordinary black nose, saying the first verse of the rhyme "Rudolph, Rudolph, Santa has his sack, but you're not ready if your nose is black!" then suggesting we work on our colors and rhyming words and help Rudolph fix his nose.  

(I made the flannel using a pattern provided by Library Quine and found the poem from Crafty Chic Mommy, though I changed the order a little and skipped the green because I was using green screen to make a Christmas-y background).

               Rudolph, Rudolph

Christmas storytime, Rudolph flannel board
Rudolph, Rudolph
Rudolph, Rudolph, Santa has his sack.
But you're not ready if your nose is BLACK.

Rudolph, Rudolph, what will you do?
You can't guide Santa's sleigh if your nose is BLUE.

Rudolph, Rudolph, you're such a silly fellow.
Who will know it's you if your nose is YELLOW.

Rudolph, Rudolph, your way cannot be seen,
Through the wintry weather if your nose is GREEN.

Rudolph, Rudolph, Santa gave a wink.
But what will he say if your nose is PINK?

Rudolph, Rudolph, it's time to fly at night.
But you can't get through the snow if your nose is WHITE.

Rudolph, Rudolph, it's time to go to town.
But you can't help Santa if your nose is BROWN.

Rudolph, Rudolph, the children are in bed.
And now you can get on your way because your nose is RED!

I've always had so much fun with this flannel in the past, really hamming it up and trying to convince the kids that each color would do for one reason or another, and of course they always insist they just won't work and we have to keep trying. Being virtual, it of course wasn't the same, but I reacted as though the viewing audience were making all the typical comments I'd heard from kids in the past. Of course once Rudolph had his proper red nose, we had to sing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer".

Christmas storytime, interactive Christmas book
I transitioned to our next story by commenting on how reindeer are Santa's helpers, and now we were going to have a story about one of Santa's other helpers, an elf! I LOVE Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott's series for how fun and interactive they are, and There's an Elf in Your Book! lived up to my expectations. The illustrations are cute, it's highly interactive, and funny. The premise is that Elf must give us the "nice or naughty" test to help Santa with the list. In the vein of "Simon Says", Elf prompts the reader/audience to do or say different things, but you have to be careful not to be tricked into doing something naughty, like saying "I'm a wisenheimer sparkle-butt!" or you'll end up on the naughty list! 

I then commented that while we know elves can be very mischievous, the reindeer can be mischievous, too, as we would see in our second flannel, which starts with cookies left out on a plate for Santa:

Five little cookies, sitting on a plate.
Waiting for Santa, but he was running late.
Along came Rudolph, and guess what he ate?
The _______ cookie, sitting on a plate.

(fill in with color, shape, or type of cookie, repeat until all cookies are gone)

No little cookies sitting on the plate,
Because that's what Rudolph the Reindeer ate!

The original poem just said "a reindeer", but I said Rudolph since I already had him on the flannel board. Next time I think I will add 5 more cookies, and say a different reindeer each time, and end with Santa getting the last cookie. The original poem also just said "one little cookie", but I like to add concepts of color, shape, etc., whenever possible.

I closed with a good-by song and announcements about holiday closures and reminders about our digital resources and curbside services.

How It Went

Again, it's really hard to judge. As always, I'm not thrilled with my performance and feel like I am not as natural and engaging on camera as I am in person with a real audience, but I do feel like I am gradually getting better each time as I get more used to doing it them. 

I played around with using the green screen for the first time, since the only space I have to film in is our boring blah meeting room in the basement, with artificial light and bland grayish-white walls that do not provide a flattering background, and I thought it would be nice to have a cozy, Christmas background. However, though I loved being able to add a background of my choosing, I found it just didn't work that well for storytime for a few reasons. One, having to try to minimize green in my clothing, props, and illustrations, which is difficult, so some things ended up looking really weird, and it had issues with white as well. Two, it did not handle all the movement well at all, making my hands very blurry with a trailing greenish haze anytime I moved them. Three, I could not get the setting just right, so that there was a slight green halo-effect around me all the time. 

So, I think I'm going to have to go low-tech for a background, and I still need to work on getting it shorter and being a little faster and more energetic. Again, only getting a few views (and who knows if they're real views, or just someone quickly clicking in and out), and no comments, despite practically begging! I encourage them to comment to let me know who's watching so I can say hello to them, asked them they're favorite dinosaurs, and other prompts, but nothing. 

I know it's still a ways off, but I cannot wait to do in-person programming again!

Winter - Virtual Storytime

 After taking a few weeks to settle into my new position and first develop a non-virtual alternative to storytime, I turned my focus to virtual storytime in December. I know many people are reporting that patrons have screen fatigue and interest in virtual programming has sharply declined, but I felt that I had to at least give it a try. Partly because I really didn't know what else to do and felt pressured to do *something*, and partly because I had not done a storytime in 10 months and really missed the performance aspect of reading books aloud. Of course it isn't the same without a live, in-person audience, but it would at least keep me in practice.

I decided not to do a full storytime because I don't think kids engage as well with a video verses in-person. My goal was 15 minutes, but I keep ending up around 20 because I guess I'm trying to fit too much in, and I think I tend to favor slightly longer books. I've been doing opening and closing songs, two books, and two other songs/rhymes, but I may need to cut back to one book. I am not handing out a separate craft for each storytime, as the monthly early literacy kit contains several activities that loosely coordinate with what I will be doing in the virtual storytimes that month, and I don't have the time to do extra on top of that.

For the first one, I focused on a winter theme of hibernation, migration, and adaptation. I introduced myself and welcomed potential viewers with a quick song, "Hello, My Friends, Hello", then introduced the theme. I led in to the first book with my usual "If You're Ready for a Story" song.

winter storytime, hibernation storytime
The first story was a very cute one that I had not seen before about a little bear who does not want to hibernate, Hush Up and Hibernate by Sandra Markle and Howard McWilliam. Adults and kids will likely chuckle at all the familiar excuses Baby Bear gives for not being ready to hibernate: he's not sleepy, it's not fair because other animals don't hibernate, he's thirsty, the bed is too hard, etc. 

I really like that it also talks about the fact that not all animals hibernate and shows some of them being awake and active while Mama and Baby Bear are asleep in their den, as well as geese flying south. The illustrations are lovely, and I really like all the informational material at the end of the book, including other animals that do hibernate, so you get both fiction and non-fiction in one book.

I ended with talking about other ways animals survive the winter besides hibernating, such as migrating to warmer locales, or adapting by growing thicker, longer, warmer coats or even changing colors to better camouflage in the snow. This led to a song that includes several examples of all of these, "Winter's Coming Soon":

Winter's Coming Soon

The weather's getting cold, so bundle up,
bundle up, bundle up.
The weather's getting cold, so bundle up,
winter's coming soon.

The ducks and geese go flying south,
flying south, flying south.
The ducks and geese go flying south,
winter's coming soon.

The bears in their dens sleep all the time,
sleep all the time, sleep all the time.
The bears in their dens sleep all the time,
winter's coming soon.

The frogs and toads go deep in the mud,
deep in the mud, deep in the mud.
The frogs and toads go deep in the mud,
winter's coming soon.

The people in the town wear hats and gloves,
hats and gloves, hats and gloves.
The people in the town wear hats and gloves,
winter's coming soon.

winter storytime, migration storytime
Next was a book I've used many times that addresses migration, or rather what happens when one little duck doesn't migrate with his flock as he was supposed to, Jackie Urbanovic's classic Duck At The Door. Poor Max liked where he was during the rest of the year, so he thought he would like it there during the winter as well, so he chose not to migrate with the rest of his flock, which of course proved to be a serious mistake. Luckily he finds the home of animal-lover Irene, who of course takes him in. Max makes himself at right at home, maybe a little too at-home! This is a very cute story, and provides an opportunity to remind kids they should never open the door, but go get their grown-up if someone knocks.

I ended with a quick good-bye song and reminders about our curbside and digital services.

How It Went

I always ended my traditional storytime write-up's with a "how it went" to discuss how well it was received, what worked, what didn't, what I might do differently. But with a virtual format, it is really difficult to address those things without an audience to interact with.

I felt I did a decent job, though I would definitely be better with a real audience. It just isn't the same without the in-person interaction and feedback. At around 20 minutes, I think it's too long, and I will have to try to whittle it down in the future. Even though it was done live, there was no audience feedback during the presentation despite my prompting them to comment, nor after, and very few views. With being new and not having a chance to build a loyal following before the pandemic, and it being months since this branch had any virtual programming for kids, it will take time. I am cross-promoting with the to-go early literacy kits, as well as putting flyers in bags for curbside pick-up of holds that contain picture books to let people know about it.

I honestly have my doubts that I will be able to build much of an audience, but I am going to give it at least 3 months of trying, then re-evaluate.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Reflecting on 2020 and Looking at 2021


Every new year I like to reflect on the year that has passed, looking at everything I've experienced, accomplished and learned, and set goals for the year ahead. I was about to start this article off saying something like "Well, it's time for my usual new year's post...." when I realized that there was nothing "usual" about it this year. Before I write my annual post, I look at the one from the previous year to see how I did on meeting my goals, and as I read it I found myself thinking, "oh, you poor na├»ve thing, you have NO idea what is coming for you!" 2020 was a disaster of a year, bringing hardships, challenges, and changes that turned our world upside down, and will continue to have ramifications into 2021.

Personally, I am very thankful that I and my family are still healthy, seemingly having evaded Covid-19 thus far (though I think I may have actually had it back in February, but we'll never know for sure). Professionally though, I was greatly impacted. Looking back at my goals for the year, I actually managed to meet some of them: I finished my MLIS (though to my dismay graduation was cancelled) and I attended PLA. Unfortunately, I was not able to expand my programming experience in the way I wanted, but I have gained experience adapting the programming I'm experienced with to virtual and other alternate formats. And oddly enough, I did achieve my goal of getting a full-time professional librarian position much sooner than expected, though most definitely not the way I wanted it to happen.

I had intended on staying in my part-time paraprofessional position for a little while longer, in order to have a bit of a break after finishing library school, and because I really loved the job, the patrons, and the people I worked with. I was going to give it up to a year to wait and see if a position opened up in my system or in one of the several surrounding counties, then start looking out of state if necessary, giving my son time to finish high school, my husband to reach early retirement eligibility, and get our house ready to put on the market. But as I've written about previously, I and 100 other staff were blindsided in July with a permanent mass layoff, which forced me to start job-hunting out of state immediately. I was very fortunate to find a position after just two months of searching, but it required my to leave my family behind and relocate across the country by myself, for the time being.

So, since nothing has been normal I really haven't been able to attain that work-life balance, but now that I've settled into my new job and new home, I'm working on it. I am eating more healthfully and getting out and exploring the area when I can, but still need to work on getting more exercise and finding time to read. I've read very little in the last 6 months, and did not meet my Goodreads goal after exceeding it the previous year.

As to goals for the upcoming year.....Well, I'm not really setting any this time. I just feel like things are still too uncertain, and I know the pandemic is going to continue to impact us, in general and libraries specifically, on into 2022. I don't know if I like my new job yet, because I'm not really able to do it. I've been in limbo, partly because of being shutdown due to the pandemic, and partly because my manager left two weeks after I got there (!) and we don't have a new one yet. So while I know the job description, I've yet to have a conversation about goals and expectations with anyone above me, other than the fact that I (and all the other branch librarians) are going to officially be made assistant managers of our respective branches, which again, until I get a manager, I don't know exactly what that's going to look like. So, in the meantime, I'm focusing on learning the systems and culture, trying to get a feel for the community, and doing what I think I should and can do with programming.

So my plan for the year is basically just to survive, to figure out my place in my new system, continue to try to introduce and adapt programming, and find opportunities for professional growth where I can. I am not making any decisions or plans for the future beyond that. At the end of the year I hope to have a better idea of where I want to go from here. My husband may join me and we'll permanently relocate here, I may decide I want to return home when something opens up there, I may decide to try a different location, or maybe another year of wait and see. It's really hard to judge how much I like this job and area when things are so not normal. I hope with the introduction of the vaccine that I and my family members will soon feel more comfortable traveling so that I can go home to visit and that they can come here, but I know we are still a long way from normal. But for the next year, I committed to this position and doing the best that I can and developing as much as I can.

What do I see in the future for libraries in general? I think we are still months away from being able to do indoors in-person programming safely, though I plan to give outdoor programming a try. I know some libraries are doing in-person already, and I just can't agree with that. I know my new community desperately needs outreach at all levels, but I personally won't feel safe doing that for quite some time. Almost every time I have gotten sick has been after an outreach visit, and as a parent I know what germ factories schools are and I know that kids are not capable of social distancing and not the best practitioners of good hygiene. I think many of us will continue virtual programming just because we don't know what else to do, though I don't think it is particularly successful, though in some cases there may be a small audience.

 I think this next year will be tough to navigate as management tries to balance demands from boards and community members who may not have a good grasp of the risks and try to push a return to normal services long before things are back to normal with the need to be responsible and to protect the health and safety of staff and patrons. I am afraid many library staff will be pressured to do things they are not comfortable with and feel compromises safety in order to keep their jobs. I think curbside service will be in demand even after normal hours and services resume as many patrons have come to enjoy and appreciate the convenience, and while I do think it is a worthwhile service to continue, we also will have to work to convince them to come in the building and to browse sometimes as well. I'm not sure if virtual program will be a thing long-term, and likely depends on the library and community. Perhaps to some degree, but I just don't see it being a large-scale success overall.

To sum it up, I think we still have a long road back to anything approaching "normal", and that it won't be the same normal as before. We are forever changed personally, as a profession, and as a society by this pandemic and everything associated with it. Once libraries are finally able to resume normal hours, operations, and services we are going to have to work really hard to bring the public back. I fear we have lost much of the progress made over the last 25 years or so in engaging with the community and making the library a community center. 

The pandemic has also revealed a HUGE disconnect between management and staff, and the way many library boards and administrations have treated their staff during this has been unconscionable, treating them as disposable and expendable, and this needs to change! Staff morale is at an all time low across the country, and libraries can never fully recover until this is addressed, in a positive way, not in the typical "the beatings will continue until morale improves" kind of way that too many directors seem to employ. And it's not just those of us who were thrown away by our library administrations that have suffered, the survivors have suffered as well. I really worry about the library systems that made such short-sighted decisions as the one I used to work for and wonder how well they will weather this compared to systems that both found ways to retain most or all of their staff and prioritized staff safety. That nice new building the salaries of those let go helped fund may get headlines, but how well is it going to operate if you've thrown away or burned out all of your knowledgeable and experienced staff?

I wish everyone well as we continue to navigate through strange and uncertain times, and thank all those out there who have come together to share ideas and support one another during this difficult time!

Saying "Happy New Year!" doesn't really feel quite this year, but I wish for everyone to have some peace and calm this year, less of the stress and chaos of the last year, and of course I wish all of us and our loved ones good health!