Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Flower Power - STEAM Program

Flower STEM activities,

This program was inspired by the saying "April showers bring May flowers". I thought flowers would be a great theme for this time of year, as many are blooming, but it's not too late to plant new flowers, either.

For this program we dissected flowers and learned about all the different parts and what they do, extracted the pH-sensitive pigment from rose petals and tested it, then made seed bombs with native wildflowers. 

[Click on any image to see larger]

Budget: About $45, not counting stock supplies
Ages: 5-10
Number: 15 kids (accompanied by adults)
Time: 1 hr to 1-1/4 hr


Flower STEM program
(all materials not pictured)
  • 2 bunches of alstroemeria flowers (or any flower that clearly shows anatomical structure; lily or hibiscus also work well, 1 flower per participant plus few extra)
  • 1 dozen red roses (8 would have been enough)
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • plastic ziplock bags (snack or sandwich size)
  • water
  • seed bomb matrix (or about 2-3 cups each natural clay powder and compost)
  • 2 packets native wildflower seed mix
  • large mixing bowl or bucket
  • 45 small Dixie cups
  • 45 clear plastic shot glasses or test tubes
  • measuring spoon
  • mixing spoons
  • Exacto knife, scalpel, or razor blade (only to be used by instructor)

Activity 1 - Flower Dissection 

Flower Dissection Activity, STEM, STEAM
  1. I found a labeled diagram of the parts of a flower online, and handed out copies to each participant.
  2. I gave each participant a stem of alstroemeria flowers, though 1 bunch would have been enough since each stem has several blooms. (lilies work the best for visualizing all the parts clearly, but they can be pricey and some of them stink).
  3. We started with talking about the stem and leaves, discussing how the stem contains the xylem and phloem, which carries water and nutrients to the rest of the plant, and how the leaves use the energy of the sun to produce food through photosynthesis.
  4. Then we moved through the rest of the flower parts, taking them apart as necessary to better view the more internal parts. I cut them down the middle for them so they could see the inside of the ovary.
  5. I gave them a few minutes to study their diagrams and flowers as they wished while I prepped the next activity.

Activity 2 - Extracting Natural pH Indicator 

Natural pH indicator from flower

Flowers contain anthocyanins, which are water soluble pigments that produce shades of red, purple, and blue, and give many flowers their color. They are also found in red cabbage, berries, and other foods, and are responsible for some of the colors of autumn leaves. Anthocyanins are pH sensitive, which means their color can change under acidic or alkaline (basic) conditions.

In this activity, we extracted the red pigment from rose petals, and exposed it to an acidic solution and an alkaline solution and observed the color change.
  1. Each participant was given a small ziplock bag and half the petals from one rose (this was more than needed; each full-size rose is easily enough for 3 people).
  2. They were instructed to tear the petals into small pieces and put them into the bag. (It is easiest to open up the bag wide, and tear the petals over it, dropping the pieces directly into it.)
  3. Then they added a small amount of water (about 1 ounce, or 2 Tablespoons), which I had dispensed into Dixie cups, squeezed the air out, sealed the bag, and then smooshed the petals with their fingers for a few minutes, until the water becomes colored. (If it appears too concentrated, add a little water; if too dilute add more petals and smush longer.)

    Extracting anthocyanins from flower petals
  4. After the water became a definite purplish-pink color, indicating the pigment had been extracted, one corner of the bag was opened slightly, and the liquid carefully decanted off into 3 clear shot glasses/test tubes (It's okay if a few small pieces slip through).
  5. I then gave each participant a Dixie cup with a very small amount of vinegar (1 T) in it, and they were instructed (1) NOT to smell it directly, and (2) not to do anything until everyone was ready and I instructed them to. After everyone was ready, they were instructed to pour some of the vinegar in the first tube of rose extract, until they observed a change. They could add more after that if they wished. I explained that we would do nothing to the center tube of rose extract, because it was the control.
  6. Next, I gave them a small amount (1 T) of a baking soda solution (1 T baking soda in 3C water), and all added it to the third tube of rose petal extract, and observed the color change.
  7. I explained that vinegar was acetic acid, which we observed turned the pinkish-purple rose extract bright red, and the baking soda was an alkaline, or basic, solution, which we observed turned the rose extract a dark bluish-green.

    Natural pH indicator from rose petals

Activity 3 - Seed Bombs

I used a pre-mixed seed bomb matrix because (1) I only needed a small amount and it would likely have cost even more to buy the clay and compost separately, and resulted in excess leftover, and (2) it would save time and be less dusty and messy.
  1. I broke up the mix in a large bowl with a large mixing spoon. It is supposed to be ready to use, but seemed too dry, so I added a little water. (Of course I added too much, so I had to run get corn starch out of the supply closet to thicken it.)
  2. Then I added the two packets of seeds and mixed until it was well mixed and a good rolling consistency.
  3. I divided it evenly among the participants, and showed them how to roll it into balls, about 1/2" in diameter. After they rolled all theirs, they placed them in cups to take home.
  4. They were instructed to set them outside in the sun to dry well if they wanted to save them until fall to plant, or they could plant them now as is. The idea is to just toss them randomly in areas that are bare.
Making seed bombs

The package of matrix I got was enough for 15 participants to each make at least 6-12 seed bombs, depending on size. If we had not been pressed for time, I would have had the kids help more with mixing the matrix and adding and combining the seeds.

How It Went

I was very pleasantly surprised at how good of a turnout I got (15 kids and 9 adults) since it was the day after a holiday AND the last week of school. I figured everyone would have their days off or be distracted, and expected a low turnout.

Everyone seemed very engaged, if a little bit impatient at times. I was very impressed that one little girl knew what leaves did, including the word photosynthesis. Most of them did really well following directions, though every time they had to wait just a couple of minutes for everyone to catch up, or for me to hand out the next round of materials, they acted like it was taking forever, (have fun on those long road trips, parents), LOL! 

One girl got a little behind because she was so intent on tearing her rose petals into almost microscopically small pieces and had to be repeated urged to work a little faster and it was ok if the pieces were bigger. They were amazed when the water started turning purplish-pink as the pigment was extracted, and were very impressed with the color changes in response to added acidic and alkaline solutions. [Red cabbage is even more impressive as it has multiple pigments and covers the whole range of pH, but is very stinky to work with.]

I was impressed with how little mess they made making the seed bombs, and they really had fun doing it. I had to demonstrate to a few again how they were supposed to roll it into multiple small balls, rather than one large ball or mud pie. There was one girl who wanted nothing to do with it though, and said she was going to take it home and "make her mother do it". I was really impressed I made it through the whole program wearing white pants that were still white at the end!

One of my regulars cutely asked me, "Miss Jennifer, are you a scientist?" to which I replied, "I used to be, but now I'm a librarian, and that's even more fun!" [I have a BS in biology education, an MS in Microbiology, and in another lifetime worked in biomedical research.]

What I Would Do Differently 

Honestly, this one went really well as is, though it did run over just a tad. This was mostly due to several latecomers coming in a different times, causing me to have to pause and quickly grab them materials and catch them up. 

But it would also be great to just take the pigment extraction activity and expand it to a whole program by itself, by (1) providing them with additional (non-hazardous) solutions to test and determine if they are acidic or basic and (2) test the extract from a different flower of a deep blue or purple color. I had wanted to do a blue or purple flower as well, but the florist did not have any on hand, so if you want to do this, I would suggest ordering specific flowers in advance. This article has several suggestions for flowers, fruits, and vegetables that can be used; keep in mind some flowers, such as delphinium, are toxic, so be sure appropriate safety warnings and precautions are given.

One of the kids observed that the rose petals would leave pink-red marks when rubbed on the paper, so another activity that would go with this them could be using flower petals to "paint" with.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Birthday, Very Hungry Caterpillar! - Family Storytime

caterpillar storytime, very hungry caterpillar 50th birthday

Fifty years ago a tiny caterpillar popped out of an egg and into the hearts of children everywhere. Generations later, it is still hugely popular, and has been translated into at least 40 languages. The upcoming anniversary of the publication of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar inspired this caterpillar-themed storytime with some very special guests.

I started with my usual welcome song, followed by a new one from Jbrary I've been using lately:
 "Hello, Everybody"

Hello, everybody, can you touch your nose,
Touch your nose, touch your nose?
Hello, everybody, can you touch your nose?
Touch - your - nose?

(wiggle ears, pat head, rub tummy, etc...)

caterpillar storytime, very hungry caterpillar pop-up bookI followed that with our "story song", then introduced the topic and asked them how old they thought The Very Hungry Caterpillar was. First they guessed a year, then three years, five years, and ten years. Then I told them it was FIFTY years old, and that I read it when I was their age, which blew their minds. Then I told them that while most of them had probably read it before, I bet they had never read this version, and pulled out my special pop-up version that was created for the 40th anniversary.

Though I had had to make some repairs, it still worked pretty well and they were very impressed, and I think paid attention more than they would have otherwise. It's always fun to see an old favorite in a different format or told in a different way. My only fault with this classic is the mistaken use of a cocoon, when it should be a chrysalis. Caterpillars that become butterflies form a chrysalis, a flexible shell under their skin that hardens after they molt one last time. Cocoons are like sleeping bags spun out of silk by caterpillars that will become moths; they serve the same function, but are very different, and I explained this to the audience.

I followed that with a fun little song that would let them move around and get some wiggles out, including wriggling like a caterpillar and flying like a butterfly.

Can You Move Like Me?

Can you wiggle like a worm?
Can you squiggle can you squirm?

Can you flutter, can you fly,
Like a gentle butterfly?

Can you crawl upon the ground,
Like a beetle that is round?
Can you move like me?

Can you flip? Can you flop?
Can you give a little hop?

Can you slither like a snake?
Can you give a little shake?

Can you dance like a bee
That is buzzing 'round a tree?
Can you move like me?

caterpillar storytime, Then we went from a very old caterpillar story to a brand new one, and instead of being very hungry, this one was The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach. If you've read my previous review, you know I love this book! It is so funny, reminds me a great deal of Mo Willem's impatient Pigeon, and the humor is very similar.

I also love that it properly shows a chrysalis, and uses the appropriate term, plus introduces two other great vocabulary words, metamorphosis and migration. 
I got to read it earlier this week to the 4-year old class at my outreach visit, and they loved it, too.

Our Special Guests! 

Then I introduced our special guests, and let them all get a chance to see them up close.

I've always wanted to do the activity where you buy live caterpillars and then get to observe them as they grow and develop, forming chrysalises, and finally emerging as butterflies, so I figured this was a great excuse, and I wouldn't have to pay for it, plus I'd get to share it with everyone else. So we now have twelve Painted Lady caterpillars (from Carolina Biological Supply) living in our department, and I encouraged everyone to stop by every couple of days or so to check on their development. The whole process only takes about 3 weeks!

caterpillar storytime, painted lady caterpillars

The caterpillars came in 2 cups, complete with nutrient media, which I set inside an aquarium with a mesh cover (taped down) to protect them from being picked up, shaken, or opened, and put them on a shelf near the desk with an info sheet where everyone can see them, and we can keep an eye on them. [They also came with a butterfly cage, feeding wick, and lots of info and resources.]

caterpillars in the library

[I'll post further updates, photos, and videos to the blog under STEAM programming, and to my Facebook page, so be sure to follow along!]

Optional Craft

The craft I chose was very simple, but yielded impressively cute results. It actually combined two crafts, a caterpillar made with pom-poms and a clothespin, and a butterfly made with coffee filters, washable markers, water, and a pipe cleaner. I gave them the option of making either or both, and supplied ziplock bags for those who had to leave so they could take the supplies, take a picture of the directions, and finish at home.

caterpillar craft, butterfly craft

The caterpillar is pretty straightforward (just glue pom-poms on the clothespin and add eyes), but for the butterfly, stack two coffee filters directly on top of each other. Color the top one with washable markers, then lightly mist with water (or drip from eye droppers) until the colors bleed through the second filter; let dry. Then accordion-pleat each filter, hold together and twist pipe cleaner around and bend the ends into antennae; one filter forms the forewings, and the second makes the hindwings. Lightly "fluff" the wings.

butterfly craft

Once both parts are dry, you can transform the caterpillar into a butterfly by clipping it onto the butterfly wings!

caterpillar craft, butterfly craft, caterpillar storytime

How It Went

This was a really fun storytime! I had a decent turnout, despite not getting an announcement on social media like I wanted*, and the kids all seemed enthusiastic, plus several were aged 4-6, which was a nice change.

We loved reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I got really great participation, with the kids all saying the repeating line "...but he was still hungry" and identifying the foods he ate. Though I of course like to use storytime to introduce kids and parents to new authors, illustrators, and stories, it is nice to occasionally read an old classic because it's familiar and you get such great interaction and participation, and even better if you can share it in a new way, such as with a pop-up version, flannel story, using puppets or props, singing it, etc. Kids always love pop-ups, so of course the pop-up version I had was a big hit.

Most of the kids enjoyed the "Can You Move Like Me?" song, but for whatever reason, about a third of the audience left after that. But the ones that stayed really loved the humor in The Very Impatient Caterpillar, and though most of the kids denied it, the parents confirmed that they had a lot in common with the impatient caterpillar sometimes.

They also loved seeing the caterpillars up close, and hearing that we were going to keep them at the library and watch them grown and develop, until they transformed into butterflies. I encourage them to stop by and check in on them frequently, as the process is surprisingly fast!

*I had a whole social media component planned to go with this, announcing the arrival of the caterpillars and inviting the public to their big debut at storytime, then posting updates with photos of their growth and development. I even envisioned possibly being lucky enough to catch them emerging from their chrysalis on live video. But, alas, it was not meant to be. Our person in charge of social media quit, and it's kind of a hot mess right now. So I'll just post them on my own social media instead.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Caterpillars! - Outreach Visit

(I am writing this in June, but back-dating it to May, when I actually presented it but did not have time to write it up.)

We had caterpillars in the library during May to watch grow and transform into butterflies in honor of the 50th anniversary of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. So I decided to do a caterpillar theme for both my in-house and outreach visits in May to kick it off, followed by an Eric Carle-themed storytime outreach visit (and a butterfly release) on June 3rd, the exact anniversary of TVHC.

I saved The Very Hungry Caterpillar to read in June, and picked my new favorite storytime book and a couple of other caterpillar stories to read in May.

caterpillar storytime, butterfly storytime
I started with my "Hello" song, and then sang a few other well-known children's songs before reading Mary Murphy's A Caterpillar's Wish. Mary Murphy's books are great for younger kids because they are short and sweet, with little text and bold, simple illustrations with heavy black outlines. 

In this cute story, the caterpillar feels left behind because she can't fly away with her friends Bee and Ladybug, though they always come back to see her. Then one day she goes to sleep inside a chrysalis, and when she wakes up is overjoyed to discover she has changed into a butterfly, and now the three friends can fly together!
Three Year Olds
When I arrived, I discovered this class had increased by at least 50%, and the teacher was having a great deal of trouble handling the sudden large influx of new kid, many of whom had just started within the last couple of days.

With so many new kids, the class was completely out of their routine, and out of control! I tried, and tried to get them to settle down, and thought I had, but as soon as I started reading the story (Caterpillar's Wish), I completely lost them again. I decided rather than waste time fighting what was clearly going to be a losing battle that day, I would just cut it short and use their time with the 4-year old class, who are always really good listeners, especially since I had a great new book I couldn't wait to try with them.

Four Year Olds 
As I approach the classroom, they were coming down the hall, explaining that they were just going to check on their school caterpillars in the lobby really quick. I said that worked out well, because I had brought caterpillar stories to read, including a brand new one that was really funny!

caterpillar storytime, butterfly storytime
When we got to the classroom, I first pulled out two non-fiction books I brought to complement their caterpillar project. Since they had Painted Lady caterpillars, I pulled out Butterflies In Room 6 by Caroline Arnold to show them how lots of classes do the same project they were doing, and showed them a photograph of the eggs, since they had only seen the larvae, and the adult butterfly (their caterpillars were currently at the chrysalis stage). 
caterpillar storytime, butterfly storytime

Then I pulled out Caterpillar to Butterfly by Melissa Stewart to quickly show them the stages of the Monarch butterfly (and this is a great book for that), so they could observe how it's caterpillar and chrysalis look quite different from the Painted Lady. (Personally, I think the Monarch caterpillar with it's black, yellow, and white stripes is MUCH more attractive than the black, bristly Painted Lady caterpillar!).

caterpillar storytime, butterfly storytime
Then it was time to introduce the book I had been dying to read since I first saw it, The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach. This book is so cute, clever, and hilarious! I have not been this amused or excited by a picture book since Cookiesaurus Rex. If you are also a fan of that book, or of Mo Willem's Pigeon books, you will love this book, too!

Rather than being very hungry, this little caterpillar is very impatient, and also has poor instincts, as he doesn't really quite know what this whole metamorphosis thing is all about or what he's supposed to do. He has a terrible time waiting, but learns the hard way that you can't rush Mother Nature. His internal dialog while in the chrysalis is very entertaining. And in the end, he learns to be patient. Or does he? I really wish I had more chances to read this book, I love it so much! The kids were not the only ones entertained by it, as the teachers found it very funny as well, and a refreshing change of pace after having already read The Very Hungry Caterpillar right before I got there.

caterpillar storytime, butterfly storytime, moth storytimeAfter that, I finished up with Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle's Ten Tiny Caterpillars. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time left to read the whole book, but I just flipped to the end so they could see what all the different kinds of butterflies and their caterpillars looked like, which they really enjoyed, and liked saying which ones they had seen before or which ones they liked best.

This class went so well, quite a different story from the previous class, and I was glad I made the call to just cut the previous storytime off so that I was able to give more time to the class who appreciated it most, and benefited the most.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Dinosaurs - Toddler Storytime

Once again I volunteered to sub for storytime at another branch, this time it was the toddler storytime. My family storytimes have a varying range of ages and often are more of a toddler storytime, and I do an outreach visit once a month that includes the toddler classes, but this was my first official toddler storytime.

Because the request came fairly late, I didn't have a lot of time to plan, so I fell back on a favorite theme that I thought was sure to be a hit - Dinosaurs! Who doesn't like dinosaurs? And of course anything that involves roaring is usually a sure thing! This was actually easier than planning either the baby time, which I was completely unfamiliar with, or my family storytime, since I could plan for a more specific age range (18-36 months), rather than baby thru school age, so didn't need to have as many back-ups or "Plan B"s.

I did it similar to my usual storytime, but only planned on doing 1-2 books, and added more songs and movement, and bubbles and music at the end instead of a craft. I started with singing "Hello, My Friends, Hello" as I passed out the sheets with all the songs on them, then introduced myself and gave my welcoming spiel, encouraging them to not worry about their child moving around as long as they didn't block the book or infringe on someone else's personal space, and to feel free to leave early if need be, or step out and come back.

Then we sang my new favorite beginning song I got from Jbrary. I like this song for the younger kids especially, because it has movement and encourages participation, and you can do as many or few verses as you like and incorporate different actions/body parts:

Hello, everbody, can you touch your nose?
Touch your nose, touch your nose?
Hello, everybody can you touch your nose?
Touch - your - nose?

(pat your head, rub tummy, clap hands, stomp feet, take a seat)

In the past, I've found that the younger kids tend to be warm up more and be more engaged when I start with familiar children's songs, particularly the ABC's, and that's how I begin my outreach toddler visits, so I figured I would do the same today, and amp it up a notch by showing how the ABCs can be song to other songs, which helps break up the letters in different ways, so "LMNOP" doesn't always get lost in the middle.

So we started with the traditional way, which is to the tune of "Twinkle Little Star", and I mentioned it could also be sung to London Bridges, Mary Had A Little Lamb, This Old Man; Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes; and Row, Row, Row your boat. I decided to do it to the tune of "This Old Man", and we sung the first verse of that first, to get the tune in our heads:

This old man, he played 1; he played knick-knack on my thumb.
With a knick-knack, paddy-whack, give a dog a bone!
This old man came rolling home.

Then we sang the ABCs to that tune.

After that, it was time for our story, which we led into with three verses of our story song, clap your hands, find a seat, and say "Shh".

Dinosaur storytime
I chose an oldie but a goodie that I knew they would love, Snappy Little Dinosaurs, which is a wonderful pop-up book that is perfect for preschool and under. The illustrations are very bright and bold, with a heavy black outline, and the pop-ups really get their attention and make it fun. The name of each dinosaur is given, along with a short rhyming text, and it ends with the ferocious daddy T. rex with his massive jaws open wide!

These "Snappy Little..." pop-up books are so great to have in your storytime collection, with this one and the "Colors" one being the best. Sadly, they are out of print, but sometimes you can get a good deal on a good-condition used one.

SInce we talked about the colors of the dinosaurs while reading the book, I used that to segue into doing two scarf songs with our birghtly colored scarves. As I handed them out, I asked the kids to identify the color if they were older, or just said the color as I gave it to them. I originally had just planned one scarf song, but since I know they like them so much, I added a second, similar one. Both I found at Jbrary (of course).

(to the tune of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow')

We wave our scarves together;
We wave our scarves together.
We wave our scarves together,
Because it's lots of fun.

(throw, twirl, etc)

(tune of London Bridges)

Wave your scarf up and down, 
Up and down, up and down.
Wave your scarf up and down,
Wave your scarf.

(left & right, fast & slow, 'round & 'round, to say goodbye)

In the last verse they are getting a chance to say "goodbye" to their scarves in preparation for putting them back in the bag, and I'm happy to say everyone did a great job of giving them back with no tears or objections!

Then I told them we were going to pretend to be dinosaurs with the next song:

The Tyrannosaurus Goes...
(to the tune of "The Wheels On The Bus")

The tyrannosaurus goes roar, roar, roar;
Roar, roar, roar; Roar, roar, roar.
The tyrannosaurus goes roar, roar, roar,
All day long!

(pterandodon's wings go flap, mosasaurus' tail goes splash, triceratops goes munch, brontosaurus feet go stomp, velociraptor runs fast, fast, fast, etc.)

Dinosaur storytimeI had planned a possible second book, I Love My Dinosaur by Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd, but we were already out of time, and I was losing them, so I skipped it and went straight to the bubbles. It is a super cute book, though. The text and illustrations are simple enough for toddlers, but it would probably be perfect for 3 year olds.

Instead, I put my "Wee SIng Dinosaurs" CD on and blew bubbles, and gave hand stamps (dinosaurs, of course) to those that wanted them, and blew a few more bubbles since there were still a fair number of families hanging around. 

I left the music on for a couple of minutes while I put everything else away, and still had a few cute stragglers who were determined to hunt down and pop every last bubble, and one who stayed until I just couldn't wait any longer and had to stop the music so I could leave. If I had been working my normal shift and my home branch, I would've just left it on as long as there were kids listening/dancing to it, but it was actually my day off, and I needed to get home to work on a final MLIS assignment due Friday.

How It Went

I think it went fairly well, as well as a toddler storytime with a substitute presenter could go. Most of the kids didn't seem to preturbed that their usual storytime person wasn't there, but the son of our program manager was not happy at all that I was there instead of his Miss Meggan, though he warmed up a little once we got going. One little girl was there that also comes to my branch frequently and recognized me, so she was happy to see me at least.

Though many of the kids seemed to like everything we did, I did notice that surprisingly I started loosing them during the "The Dinosaur Goes..." song, which I thought they would love, but maybe it had just gone on too long for them. I also noticed I lost some during the attempt to show the ABCs could be sung to different tunes. 

In retrospect, I should have skipped the ABC song, and done either the scarf songs or the dinosaur song in its place. I think I did not have enough movement at the beginning, and then too much at the end. I wish we'd gotten to the second book, but I did not really expect to, and I think it probably would have been slightly too long for this crowd anyway.

But the one little girl who stayed until the bitter end when I finally had to unplug the music and leave did come up and give me a hug, so I consider it a success! Plus, I got to wear my dinosaur dress.