Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Seven Great Picture Books For April Fool's Day

April Fool's Day is a fun theme, yet it is surprisingly hard to find good picture books to fit. Some people just go with a silly books, but I really wanted books that had some element of trickery in them, either characters playing tricks on each other, or the story tricking the audience. I also had not completely given up hope of an actual April Fool's Day book, even though I had been told there really weren't any good ones suitable for storytime. But, here's the list I came up with:

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak (of the television show "The Office" fame).  

This book has reportedly been a huge hit, especially with school-aged audiences. It fits the April Fool's theme because first you trick the kids by telling them you are reading a boring book with no pictures. But then they realize how hilarious it is as the book "tricks" the grown-up reading it into saying silly things that grown-ups, especially teachers, do not usually say, like "Boo-boo butt".  Don't be surprised if the kids beg you to read it again.

That Is NOT A Good Idea! by Mo Willems.

One day a very hungry fox meets a plump goose, and one of them tricks the other one into becoming their dinner. But, the victim is not who the audience is expecting! This starts out with the feel of a folk tale, but with a surprise ending. This story has twice the trickery, with one character tricking the other, and the story tricking the audience with an unexpected twist.

Guess Again! by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex.

This book will trick audiences into guessing wrong again and again! For each round of guessing, there is an illustration and a rhyming quatrain that provides the riddle. Both the illustration and the rhyme provide misleading clues that will prompt the kids into guessing the obvious, yet completely wrong answer. By the very last one, they think they finally have it all figured out, just to be tricked yet again.

Who Wants a Hug? by Jeff Mack.

This is a hilarious book I recently used around Valentine's Day that the kids loved. In this story, Bear loves to give out free hugs, but grouchy Skunk finds him annoying and decides to put a stop to his hugs with his box of stinky tricks. Skunk thinks if he makes Bear get all stinky, then no one will want to hug him. But, all of Skunk's terrible stinky tricks backfire hilariously, leaving Skunk more stinky than ever. A very funny story with plenty of tricks.

Who Needs A Bath? by Jeff Mack.

In this sequel to the above Who Wants a Hug, Bear is planning a party for Skunk, but the other animals won't come unless Bear can do something about Skunk's odor, so Bear decides to trick Skunk into taking a bath.

Bear tries several different approaches, but they all end up backfiring, leaving Bear all wet!

April Foolishness by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott.

An actual April Fool's Day book!  The grandkids keep running in the farmhouse with tales of various farm animals getting loose and causing mayhem. Yet Grandpa inexplicably ignores them and continues calmly cooking and eating breakfast. When Grandma asks why he isn't rushing out to round-up the animals, Grandpa says he knows the grandkids are just trying to play an April Fool's trick on him. But Grandma sends him into a panic when she replies that April Fool's is not today, but tomorrow! As he rushes out the door to find everything as it should be, Grandma smiles and calls, "April Fool!"  Not too long, but the humor might be just a little hard for younger kids to follow.

And now, the Holy Grail of books for an April Fool's Day storytime:

Barnyard Fun by Maureen Wright and illustrated by Paul Ratz de Tagayos.

This story is all about April Fool's Day tricks, it's funny with easy to understand humor, has clear illustrations, and is not too long.  It is short enough for younger kids, but funny enough for the older kids as well, so would work with a fairly broad age range.

In this story Sheep decides to play April Fool's Day tricks on all the other farm animals, setting Rooster's alarm clock an hour early, filling Dog's dogfood can with springy snakes, icing a box to look like a cake, and more.  But he gets a taste of his own medicine in the end with hilarious results.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Round 'Em Up, Pardner! It's Cowboy/Cowgirl Storytime!

My manager had asked me to develop a kit for our Storytime-To-Go program with a "Cowboy/Cowgirl" theme when I first started this job a few months ago. The book selection took much longer and was more challenging than I expected. I think I looked at every book in our system and at my local library about cowboys, horses, coyotes, and the old west. There are a number of good books, but most of them are just too long for preschoolers. But I finally came up with 10 I was happy with, and worked on the extension activities to go with it while I waited for the books to be ordered, received, and processed. I finally was able to work it into the schedule and try it out this month!  We started each session off with an introduction, letter-of-the-day (Cc), and then our "story song" to help us settle.

The Books 
Let's Sing A Lullaby With The Brave Cowboy was the clear winner; let's face it, you can't go wrong with Jan Thomas. The kids loved the silly cowboy who turned out not to be so brave after all. I found the tune to the lullaby on the author's site. I sang it straight, but one of my volunteers had the kids practically rolling on the floor laughing with her slightly off-key, very cowboy-twangy rendition. They loved it!

Are You A Horse? by Andy Rash was a close second. You can make it interactive by letting the kids guess what the present might be and name each creature Roy comes across on his quest to find a horse. Don't be surprised if it takes longer than you'd think for the kids to notice the last picture and realize that Roy still didn't quite know what he was doing. It's a little long, so if we are short on time or it's a younger group, I skip the pages about the chameleon and/or sloth.

Simon Puttock and Caroline Jayne Church's Little Lost Cowboy was another favorite. The kids empathized with Cowboy Coyote being lost and lonesome and having one mishap after another. And of course they love joining him in howling at the moon. I use this opportunity to illustrate that the best thing to do if you find yourself separated from your grownup is to stay right where you are and yell until they find you, rather than wandering around and getting more lost.

I was glad to find Giddy Up, Cowgirl by Jarrett J. Krosoczka in order to have some cowgirl stories, too. This story had a little cowgirl trying to be helpful, but not always getting things right. It has several cowboy phrases the kids can repeat.

Another great find was I Want To Be A Cowgirl by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. The main character is a little girl who lives in the big city yet spurns girly activities and instead dreams of being a cowgirl out on the open range. I found it empowering, by rejecting feminine stereotypes and saying girls can be whatever they want.

Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee is another great, all-purpose kind of book that is short and simple enough for younger kids, but fun enough for older kids. I've used it in farm and horse storytimes as well. The kids can name animals and make the "clip-clop" sounds along with the story, getting faster and faster.

A Wild Cowboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith and Laura Freeman is a cute story about a little boy pretending to be a cowboy as he goes to spend the evening with his grandmother while his parents go out. It is also a great book for adding some needed diversity to this theme, as it features a multi-racial family, with an African-American father and Aisan mother.

Noni the Pony by Alison Lester is a cute little story about a sweet pony and her friends. It shows them playing games, telling stories, and snuggling together at night to keep Noni from being scared of the strange sounds in the night. A good choice for the younger groups.

The Cowboy ABC by Chris Demarest was the only book I could find about real cowboys that was suitable for this age group. The kids were interested at first, but got a little restless by the end, so either be prepared for that, or you might want to just show selected pages rather than read the entire book. 

Cowboy Baby by Sue Heap was the only book I ordered without ever having a chance to review a copy first, and it wasn't quite what I had expected. I thought it would have much less text and be geared for younger kids just based on the title and cover. It is a decent book, but because of the amount of text, I'd be leary of using it with younger kids. It's about a toddler pretending to be a cowboy as he gets ready for bed and rounds up all his "pardners".

The Activities 
One of the most fun activities was also one of the most simple, with a song that allowed the kids to pretend to be riding horses while seated. While patting their hands on their thighs in rhythm to imitate the sound of horse hooves, we sang this easy song to the tune from "The William Tell Overture" (also known as "The Lone Ranger Song").

*Source:  Loudest Librarian

Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!
Whoa, horsie!

Repeat as many times as you like, getting faster each time.  Don't fall off!

Another fun song let us imitate different animals out on the prairie.

"Western Animals Song"
(to the tune of "The Wheels On The Bus")

The coyotes on the prairie go
Howl, howl, howl;
Howl, howl, howl;
Howl, howl, howl.
The coyotes on the prairie go
Howl, howl, howl;
All night (day) long.

The snakes on the prairie go Rattle, Rattle, Rattle....
The cattle on the prairie go Moo, Moo, Moo....
The horses on the prairie go Neigh, Neigh, Neigh....
The jack-rabbits on the prairie go Hop, Hop, Hop....
The cowboys on the prairie say "Giddy-Up".....

"I'm A Little Cowboy"
(to the tune of "I'm A Little Teapot")
*Source:  Sunflower Storytime

I'm a little cowboy.     (point to self)
                         Here is my hat.     (pretend to pull hat down)
Here are my boots,     (stomp feet)   
 And here are my chaps.     (slap sides of legs)
When I get up, I work all day.     (yawn & stretch)            
 Get on my horse,     (say "Neigh")
         And ride away!     (pretend to ride)
I also had a couple of flannel board activities. The first uses rhyming verses to help give the kids a clue as to what the cowboy needs to put on next to get dressed for work, and the second lets them count up from 1 to 5 and back down with coyotes.

"The Cowboy Dresses Himself With Care"

A cowboy dresses himself with care.
He starts with long, red _____ (UNDERWEAR).

Out in the desert, you don't want to get hurt, 
So the cowboy wears a strong plaid _____ (SHIRT).

Deserts and prairies are the cowboy's scenes;
To protect his legs, he wears sturdy blue _____ (JEANS).

The cowboy bent, and ran, and knelt.
To keep his pants up, he wore a leather _____ (BELT).

The coyote howls; the old owl hoots.
On his feet, the cowboy wears leather _____ (BOOTS).

The dust gets stirred up by the Santa Ana's (pause and explain);
So around his neck he wears a soft _____ (BANDANA).

A cowboy is a cowboy, and that is that!
On top of his head, he wears a ten-gallon _____ (HAT).

He's all dressed from head to feet,
And now our cowboy can't be beat!
I got this from Sue at Library Village.  I just enlarged and printed out her picture of her felt pieces and used that for patterns to make my own.

"Five Little Coyotes"
(use flannel pieces and have kids use fingers to count up & down,
and pause to let them howl at the moon.)

 One little coyote, howling at the moon.
Along came a friend and joined his tune.

(put up felt coyote, then repeat up to 5)

Five little coyotes, watch an owl soar.
One ran after it, and then there were four.

Four little coyotes sniffing at a tree.
Once chased a mouse, and then there were three.

Three little coyotes where the clover grew.
One chased a rabbit, and then there were two.

Two little coyotes sitting in the sun.
One went for a drink, and then there was one.

One little coyote, howling at the moon.
He went to sleep, 'cause the sun would be up soon.
The rhyme came from "Storytiming", and I just printed out some clipart to use for a pattern for the coyotes, and cut the moon with a die cutter.
How It Went
We had a lot of fun with this theme (and as you can see, I got in touch with my inner cowgirl), despite some concern from a couple of the volunteers about how well kids would relate to it these days. But, thanks to "Toy Story" most kids are at least somewhat familiar with cowboys and cowgirls and seemed excited about the theme. I think most were surprised to learn that cowboys are real and still around today, and we did try to talk a little bit about where cowboys live and work and what they really do. I also asked if girls could be cowboys, too, and they all said "Yes!" without any hesitation. Kids don't get hung up on semantics like adults do, though I did use both "cowboy" and "cowgirl" terms.

As I mentioned above, the kids absolutely loved the way one of my volunteers sang the lullaby from Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy, in heavy cowboy twang and slightly off-key. They died laughing and asked her to sing it again after the story was over, and joined in with her. It was great!  Several kids commented on how the cowboy really wasn't very brave, after all. One little girl piped up at the part where the cowboy asked if wolves like lullabies and said, "No, they like pigs!"

They also really liked Are You A Horse?, but most agreed Roy still had A LOT to learn about being a cowboy!  Clip-Clop is always fun, too, and was particularly good for the younger groups. Another cute comment.....while reading I Want To Be A Cowgirl, every time I read the line "I just want to be a cowgirl, Daddy. Now, what's so wrong with that?", one little girl would say "Nothing, nothing's wrong with that."

The other songs and activities went well, but they LOVED the "Giddy-Up" song, going faster and faster. The song was so simple they joined in right away, and I think most seemed to be at least somewhat familiar with the tune. As we went faster and faster, I would warn them to hold on tight and don't fall off, then at the end I would ask if anyone fell. First they'd say "No", then some would change their story. One little boy said he fell off into a cactus, ouch! I also observed with "A Cowboy Gets Dressed With Care" that the kids had trouble with rhyming words. Many didn't really have a concept of what rhyming words are, and the ones that did, and could name rhyming pairs, still had trouble applying it in the context of the activity, so we will have to work on that some more.

I do wish I had been able to find a few more books that were really interactive, and I really could've used two or three shorter books as well. If anybody has any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

Oh, I almost forgot, one of the classes at the preschool we just started visiting in February paid me a huge complement.  The teacher mentioned that they had adopted "my" story song, and now use it every time they have reading time, and that the kids like it and it really helps them settle down.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Storytime - More Than Reading Stories

People who are new to storytime (either presenting or attending) are sometimes surprised that we do more than just read stories, and I have been asked on occasion why I also include songs, action rhymes, fingerplays, flannel board activities, etc. (often referred to as "extension activities").  The answer is more complex than you might think.

The first, and most obvious reason, is that children have a limited attention span, and the younger they are, the more limited it is.  So they really can't sit still quietly through one story after another.  They need a chance to talk and to move, and do something different, and the younger the child, the more movement to be expected.  That's why a preschool storytime might be 3 books and a few movement activities, but a toddler storytime may be almost all movement and only 1 simple, short book.  We have to keep our programs and expectations developmentally appropriate, and fun for everyone.

Another reason is that extension activities help reinforce basic concepts beyond the theme of the storytime, as they often involve counting, color recognition, rhyming words, matching and sorting, shape recognition, number recognition, and others; working on pre-math and science skills as well as language and early literacy skills.

Fingerplays work on dexterity and fine motor skills.  All the five- and ten- little something songs and rhymes are really good for this.  Not only do they work on the concepts of counting, addition, and subtraction, they require a great deal of dexterity in being able to raise and lower different groups of fingers at a time.  Action rhymes and songs involve larger movements and work on gross motor skills, coordination, and rhythm.

Singing is one activity that many presenters are uncomfortable with when they first start doing children's programs and storytime (myself included), but it is so important to incorporate at least some songs and music.  For one thing, children enjoy music and different types of music are known to be related to different areas of cognitive development. Music also encourages movement and imagination.  You can incorporate movement scarves, shaker eggs, or instruments to encourage participation and expression.

Vocal music is actually an important tool in language development, and therefore early literacy skill development.  When we sing, it often slows down the language, breaking up the words into their individual syllables and sounds, making it easier for children to discern and learn all the smaller sounds that make up language.  So don't be afraid to sing!  Trust me, the kids really don't care!  Stick with tunes to familiar songs that you are comfortable with if you need to, and practice.  You can also supplement with recorded songs; songs from children's performers like Laurie Berkner, Jim Gill, and Raffi are popular, but carefully selected pop songs work well sometimes, too.  If you still aren't over your stage fright, check out my previous post "I Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket..."

And one last benefit to using all these other activities is cultural literacy.  Children today are less and less familiar with all the older, traditional folk tales, songs, and nursery rhymes, so by incorporating some of them in storytime we can keep them alive and pass them down to another generation.  Not to mention, they often contain more complex language and new vocabularly as well.

Do you have to all of these, all the time?  Should you stress about being sure you are incorporating everything I've mentioned in your storytimes?  Of course not!  Start with what you are most comfortable with and enjoy first, then as you gain experience and confidence gradually add more to you repertoire.  Mix and match, so that overall, you are doing a little bit of everything. 

Please feel free to mention any extension activities and/or benefits I may have forgotten in the comments, and tell me which work best for you.  No matter how long one has been doing storytime, there is always something new to learn from others.  Conversely, even if you have only been doing storytime a short time, you have something to share.  Most of all, have fun!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Review of "Ida, Always"

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso.  February 23, 2016.  Antheneum Books for Young Readers.  Ages 4-8.

Gus and Ida are polar bears living in a zoo in a park in the center of a large city.  They are best friends and do everything together, until one day when Ida doesn't come out her cave at all.

The keeper explains to Gus that Ida is sick and the doctors can't do anything else to make her better.  She tells Gus that Ida will be tired and sleep a lot, and eventually her body will stop working and she will die.

At first Gus is very sad and upset, but he learns to enjoy what time he has left with his friend. Ida has good days and bad; sometimes they talk and laugh together, sometimes Gus just keeps Ida company, and sometimes they each need time alone.  He is very sad when Ida dies, but he knows she will live on in his memories.

My Thoughts
This is a beautiful, though bittersweet, story of friendship and loss.  I love how the text is simple, gentle, and age-appropriate, but at the same time is very honest and straightforward, with no euphemisms or sugar-coating.  I like how it shows that Ida has ups and downs, good days and bad, over the course of her final days, and that the friends are still able to enjoy each other's company and laugh together sometimes, even though Ida is dying.  I think it does a great job of portraying the decline and ultimate death of a loved one without being frightening.

It's important for kids to know that it's okay to feel however they feel in a situation like this, whether it's angry, sad, confused, or lonely, but that it's also okay to feel happy sometimes, too, and I'm glad this story shows both bears feeling a range of emotions.  I think this would be a wonderful book to help children deal with the terminal illness of of a friend, relative, or pet.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and can tell the story on their own.  The beauty and softness of the pictures help offset the almost blunt honesty of the text, and the abundant use of the sky helps give the story a more uplifting feel as well.  If this doesn't win a Caldecott medal, I will be very disappointed.  This is sure to become a classic, and is probably one of the best books I've seen for helping young children deal with the illness and loss of a loved one.

Background Information
This story is based on real polar bears named Gus and Ida that lived in the Central Park Zoo. Gus captured national interest as being the first zoo animal to be treated with Prozac for his depression and anxiety (along with a greatly enriched habitat to alleviate his boredom).  Ida was later brought to the zoo to be his partner.  The real Ida died of liver failure in 2011 and Gus was euthanized in 2013 after difficulty eating led to the discovery of an inoperable tumor.

This is not the first time Gus has been featured in a book. His story inspired the satirical book What's Worrying Gus?: The True Story of a Big City Bear, and two other children's books, Gus the Bear, the Flying Cat, and the Lovesick Moose: Twenty Real Life Animal Stories and Gus: The Feeling Better Polar Bear.

Other Works By This Author And Illustrator
Caron Levis has also written a book for children to help them understand, express, and deal with their feelings of sadness, called Stuck With The Blooz.

Charles Santoso has illustrated a number of other children's books, including Spy Guy: The Not-So-Secret Agent, I Don't Like Koala, and Peanut Butter and Jelly Brains.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Who Has Seen The Wind? - Preschool Storytime

For Friday's group I decided to narrow the focus of the "Weather" theme I had just finished for the Storytime-To-Go program, and do a Wind-themed storytime, and ended up with colors as a secondary theme.  We started with our welcome song, then on to the introduction of the topic.  We talked a little about weather in general, then about wind specifically.  We talked about how you can hear the wind and feel the wind, but you can't actually see the wind, only what the wind does.  Then we sang our "story song" to get settled down and ready for our first book.

I chose to start with a book that showed several different kinds of weather, Maisy's Wonderful Weather Book by Lucy Cousins.  This is a fun book with some small pop-ups and tabs to pull for added interest, and ends with a rainbow magically appearing on the last page.  The illustrations are bold and bright, and the text is relatively short and has a nice rhythm.  With each type of weather we pointed out how you would need to dress and activities one would do, and when we got to the rainbow we named all the colors.

Since they were doing such a good job of listening and participating, I decided to just go straight to the next book rather than doing a song or rhyme.  For the next book, I chose one that was short but silly, and had farm animal sounds; a sure recipe for success!  In One Windy Wednesday by Phyllis Root and Helen Craig, a strange wind blows through Bonnie Bumble's farm and blows all the animals' sounds right out of them and mixes them up.  Just when she gets things back to normal, another breeze blows by.  The kids can help make the wind sounds and animal sounds, and giggle at the pure silliness of it all.

After two stories they were definitely ready for some movement, so we stood up for a windmill action rhyme (after explaining what windmills were):

"The Windmills"

The wind blows high,     (wave hands in air over head, make wind sounds)
And the wind blows low.     (wave hands close to floor, make wind sounds)
Round and round the windmills go.     (roll hands at a medium pace)          
Sometimes fast, and sometimes slow.     (go really fast, then very slow)     
And that is how the wind blows.     (wave hands and make wind sounds)    
We did this twice, and the second time we repeated the fast and slow since they were enjoying it so much.
I transitioned into the last book, Kite Day by Will Hillenbrand, by asking them if they knew of something fun to do outside on a windy day.  At first they said things like run or play with friends, so I refined my question to something fun you could only do on a windy day.  They had to think for a minute, but then someone finally said "fly a kite".  [As we read the story I took the opportunity to plug the library when we got to the part where Mole was studying a book (presumably to learn about kites).  I asked them where they would go if they wanted to find a book to learn about kites, and a couple did say the library.  I explained that the library had all kinds of books about lots of different things and they could go to the library and one of the librarians would help the find just the right book.]  I also took advantage of all the different colored bows on the kite's tail to work on color recognition. 

Then what better to follow a kite story than a "Five Little Kites" fingerplay.  I had the kids use their fingers to count up, and "fly" their hand like kites, while I said the rhyme and put brightly colored kites (made of craft foam) on the magnetic board.
"Five Little Kites"
One little kite in the sky so blue     (hold up one finger, place first kite)
Along came another, and then there were two.     (place 2nd kite,  2 fingers up)

Two little kites flying high above me,    ("fly" hand with 2 fingers up)
Along came another, and then there were three.     (place 3rd kite, 3 fingers up)

Three little kites, just watch them soar.     ("fly" hand with 3 fingers up)
Along came another, and then there were four.     (place 4th kite, 4 fingers up)

Four little kites, so high and alive,     ("fly" hand with 4 fingers up)
Along came another, and then there were five.     (place 5th kite, 5 fingers up)

Five little kites dancing across the sky,     ("fly" hand with all finger up)
What a sight to see, way up so high!  (continue to make "kites" fly)
After we did the rhyme, then we counted the kites and named the colors.  I took it a step further and asked if they knew what two colors you would mix to make orange and green respectively.  They didn't really know, but some of them were able to figure out one of the colors, then I went on and explained how the primary colors could be combined to make the secondary colors.  After that, our time was up and we ended with our closing song and passed out stickers.

How It Went
I had 13 kids today, and overall they did really well.  The teacher had put nametags on them before I got there, which really helps.  A few needed correcting or redirecting, but in general they did much better than in some of the previous visits.  They not only did a better job of sitting still and not talking, but they were also very engaged and really participated well.  They definitely know the routine, as soon as I sat down one little girl piped up and said, "Now it's time to sing our welcome song!"

They seemed to like all the books and activities, and seemed even more engaged in Kite Day than any of the groups I read it to in the previous two weeks, and I was proud when one little boy spoke up and pointed out how Bear and Mole worked together as a team to make the kite, and was the first to respond that the library is where you would go to find a book about kites. 

To cap off a great storytime, there was absolutely no whining, arguing or pushing while lining up to get stickers!

Friday, March 11, 2016

What Will The Weather Be?

I thought early March would be a good time to do a "Weather" theme, since this time of year (especially where we live) you can have many kinds of weather, sometimes in the same day.  And true to form, the week I started this theme we had a very windy cool day, followed by a partly sunny warm day, then the next day started warm and sunny, then became rainy and stormy, and then we woke up to snow on the ground the next day! 

With the Storytime-To-Go program I visited 10 daycares for approximately 30 storytimes, using 2-3 books and 2-3 songs/activities for each plus our "story song" and letter of the day (in this case, "Ww") to start.

The Books

Hello, Sun! by Dayle Ann Dodds and Sachiko Yoshikawa is a cute, slightly humorous story about a little girl who has to keep putting on more layers as the weather keeps changing every time she's ready to go out.  Ask the audience to name the weather, and join in with saying "Hello," and "Uh-oh."

Maisy's Wonderful Weather Book by Lucy Cousins is a fun book that shows all kinds of weather and has small pop-ups and tabs to pull for added interest, and ends with a rainbow magically appearing, providing an opportunity to work on color recognition.

One Windy Wednesday by Phyllis Root and Helen Craig is a short, simple, silly book that kids will love!  One day, the wind blows so hard, that it blows away the animals' voices, and they end up all mixed up.  This can be a very interactive story by having the audience help make the sounds of the wind and the animals, and saying which sound should go with which animal.

Mushroom in the Rain by Mirra Ginsburg, Jose Aruego, and Ariane Dewey is adapted from a Russian folktale and tells of a ant who takes shelter under a tiny mushroom during a rainstorm.  He is joined by a butterfly, mouse, sparrow, and finally a rabbit, and somehow they all manage to fit.  Ask the audience if they can figure out how.  This is also good for working on sequencing, asking the kids to recall the order in which the animals came to the mushroom

Little Cloud by Eric Carle is great for encouraging imagination as it shows Little Cloud traveling across the sky, growing and changing shapes along the way. 

Kite Day by Will Hillenbrand is a good follow up to a general weather story or windy story, and has Bear and Mole building and flying a kite that later crashes.  This is a simple story, but it has the opportunity to plug reading books to learn about something, and going to the library to find those books, emphasize teamwork, name colors, and show how something good can come out of something bad.

It's Raining, It's Pouring by Kin Eagle and Rob Gilbert is a take-off on the familiar children's song, with additional verses for all kinds of weather.  It can be either sung or read.  I like to read it first, then sing it all together.

The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins is an old classic that shows the wind blowing things away, one by one, then dumping them all back down to the ground in the end.  Some explanation of the judge's wig will be needed.  Don't be surprised if this prompts some comments about tornadoes.

In Like A Lion, Out LIke A Lamb by Marion Dan Bauer and Emily Arnold McCully is a perfect book for talking about the weather in March, though younger kids do have a little trouble understanding the metaphor.  But it shows how March has all kinds of weather, starting out wintery, cold, and blustery, but giving way to milder weather as we transition to spring.

The Activities
 "Make A Rainstorm"
This was one of the activities I used the most, and the kids all loved it.  I really liked how it had a lot of movement and sound, yet was very controlled at the same time, so it helped get their wiggles out without winding them up even more.
Rain Stick
First, I would have them close their eyes and just listen while I used the rain stick and asked them to listen and think about what weather it reminded them of.  After they said rain, I told them to look and explained how it worked, and how the original rain sticks were made of wood and seeds and sounded even more realistic.  Then I asked them if they knew they could make it sound like a rainstorm all by themselves.
First, start rubbing your hands together so it sounds like a gentle rain falling softly.  Then, the drops start to get bet bigger and you can hear them go plop, plop, plop. (Snap fingers and/or click tongue.  Start slow, then get faster.)  Next, pat your hands on your thighs as it starts to rain harder, then even harder.  After that, stomp your feet and it turns into a storm; clap your hands loudly for the lightning and thunder.
Then, work backwards as the storm subsides into rain, and eventually stops (I sometimes go back and forth to make it more fun and stretch it out a little).  Then the sun comes out and makes a..............rainbow!
"Five Little Kites"
(Fingerplay with "Flannel" Board)
(These are craft foam with magnets on the back,
but could easily be made out of felt as well.)

One little kite in the sky so blue     (hold up one finger, place first kite)
Along came another, and then there were two.     (place 2nd kite,  2 fingers up)

Two little kites flying high above me,    ("fly" hand with 2 fingers up)
Along came another, and then there were three.     (place 3rd kite, 3 fingers up)

Three little kites, just watch them soar.     ("fly" hand with 3 fingers up)
Along came another, and then there were four.     (place 4th kite, 4 fingers up)

Four little kites, so high and alive,     ("fly" hand with 4 fingers up)
Along came another, and then there were five.     (place 5th kite, 5 fingers up)

Five little kites dancing across the sky,     ("fly" hand with all finger up)
What a sight to see, way up so high!  (continue to make "kites" fly)

 I always tell them to wiggle their counting fingers and loosen them up, and explain that their fingers represent their kites and to fly them around.  At the end, we count the kites and name the colors, then I ask if they know what two colors you would mix to make orange and green, respectively.  Some will know, many won't.  So then I explain, and also mention that blue and red would make purple, even though I don't have a purple example.  I would like to add additional verses (and kites) to 10, so that with my smaller groups at least, I could give everyone a kite and let them bring them up to put on the board.


"May There Always Be Sunshine"
by Jim Gill

May there always be sunshine.     (make circle with hands over head)
May there always be blue skies.    (gesture to skies with both hands)
May there always be Mama.     (hug yourself or point to mothers)
May there always be me.     (point to yourself)                

The remaining verses vary depending on the recording you have, and are taken from what various children have suggested to him.  Ask your audience to suggest things, preferably weather related in this case.  Possibilities are:

May there always be spring rains.     (flutter fingers like rain falling down)
May there always be rainbows.     ("draw" an arch in air with hand)
May there always be snowballs.     (pretend to make & throw snowball)
May there always be clouds.     (gesture to clouds in sky)   

How It Went
This theme went pretty well, though I think the book selection could use a little improvement.  There were a number of books in this kit, but most of them seemed pretty boring to me.  I added a few, but the whole kit really could use a little jazzing up, both with some more fun books as well as more activities that provide for a lot of participation.

The kids all loved the silly story of One Windy Wednesday, and liked Maisy's Wonderful Weather Book with it's pop-ups, pull-tabs, and magically appearing rainbow at the end.  They also seemed to really like Mushroom In The Rain, and I was impressed when one little girl recognized it as being similar to Jan Brett's The Mitten, where the mitten keeps stretching to accommodate more animals.  Little Cloud fared pretty well, too, though I found it amusing that one boy identified the clown as a monster!  I really like In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb, but I think it might be better for slightly older children.  My preschoolers listened to it okay, but I don't think they really got it; the whole metaphor just went right over their heads, even when I tried to explain it first.

Of the activities, the rainstorm was a clear winner.  Kids who had never seen a rain stick before were fascinated by it.  I would prefer to have a natural wooden one, though, but I know the plastic will hold up much longer.  The seemed to really enjoy making their own rainstorm, especially the lightning and thunder, of course.  I got lots of giggles when I would surprise them and go back to raining hard after we had already started to taper down.  But, isn't that how it always goes?  You think the rain is about to stop, and as soon as you go out, it starts raining harder again.

We also got to work on colors a little bit, with all the talk of rainbows and the multi-colored kites.  The kids at the very last preschool we went to were just too smart for me.  They not only recognized all the colors (as I expected), at least one child knew the correct order of colors in the rainbow and used the terms "indigo" and "violet", plus they also already knew all about blending primary colors to make secondary colors.  These kids are going to need some more challenging activities in the future!  Maybe I can come up with some mini-STEM activities just for them.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Importance of A Beginning Routine

I was reminded this week of the importance of a regular beginning routine with repeating elements for storytime.  I've had a bit of a cold this week, and almost lost my voice, so
I had to let my volunteers take the lead and do most of the talking for storytime for a couple of days.

The volunteer I was with on the first day works with me frequently and knows my usual routine, and followed it.  However, the second day I was with a volunteer I don't work with very often and she does not really use any kind of beginning routine, just introduces the topic, and jumps right into reading stories.  All morning I kept thinking, "Boy, the kids all seem to be having a hard time settling down today," and then it finally dawned on me, we were not doing our usual routine.  Even though it was in the middle of storytime, I went ahead and did my usual opening song and behavior reminders before I read the next story, and it was like night and day.  I noticed their faces light up as they recognized the familiar song, and they immediately settled down and did a much better job listening after that! 

It doesn't matter what you do; it could be songs, rhymes, an activity, or any combination thereof.  What matters is that it's something you do every time.  Kids like routines and repetition.   If something is repeated, they will learn it and participate.  Familiar routines help get them engaged, and give them cues as to what is coming next and how to behave.  Kids are more comfortable and cooperative when they know what to expect.

So, here is my beginning routine, but yours might be totally different.  First, the kids take a seat and we sing a "Welcome Song".  Then, I give a brief introduction to the topic, which may sometimes include a short rhyme or activity related to it, but often does not.  Then we go to what we have come to call our "Story Song", which is based on "If You're Happy And You Know It", but says "If you're ready for a story..."  I like using this because I can add or subtract verses based on how wiggly the kids seem.  The more wiggly, the more verses I do to help them settle down.  I start with large movements and work down to smaller ones, ending with them sitting down and saying "Shhh".  Sometimes I may incorporate something related to the theme.  I really like the flexibility of using this song.

Then, we are ready for a story.  Before I start, I remind them that I need everyone sitting on their bottoms, "criss-cross applesauce," ears ready to listen, eyes up front, hands in our laps and not up our noses or bothering our neighbors, and catch a bubble.  Then I start the story.  I give this little speech before every story, and if necessary I will even sing a shortened version of the "story song" to transition from movement activities to subsequent stories ("If you're ready for a story, take a seat").

That is what I do for my "regular" storytime -- the one that I've been doing on my own for a while, where I go to the classroom, and I don't have to worry about time.  For the "Storytime-To-Go" program, it's a little abbreviated because of the time constraints.  At most we have 25 minutes per group, as we have to stay on a tight schedule to get everyone in, and sometimes less when classes don't show up promptly.  So in this case, I omit the "Welcome Song" and it still seems to work pretty well.  When I first started with the program, it was staffed by volunteers only, and no one established any kind of beginning routine.  I saw right away that one was needed and gradually worked towards introducing one, and could see a big difference once I had.  The kids really like having something familiar each time, and a routine to help them settle down.

So figure out what works best for you and your group.  You may find something shorter or longer works better.  You might do rhymes or fingerplays, or use a puppet.  It really doesn't matter, and its okay for it to gradually evolve and change over time.  I bet you will find that even you like it better with more of a routine to lead into things.  If you already have an established routine, tell me about it in the comments! I love to hear what works for other people, too.