Thursday, April 22, 2021

Paleontology - Hybrid STEM Program

I never outgrew my childhood fascination with dinosaurs, which is actually part of why I decided to take my current position as it is located in a state with lots of dinosaur fossil sites and trackways, and I work dinosaurs into my programs as often as I think I can get away with. Luckily, most kids love dinosaurs, so it's a win-win for everyone. When I saw that April 18th was "Velociraptor Appreciation Day", I figured that was as good an excuse as any to do a paleontology theme for my monthly STEM program.

This is a hybrid program that combines a take-home kit of supplies and a video presentation. The kit has a booklet with some basic info, QR links & URL's for the library's Facebook page and YouTube channel where the program can be viewed, very basic instructions for the activities, thought questions, and book suggestions and/or other resources for more information. The video component not only demonstrates the activities and provides an opportunity for asking questions, but usually has additional information presented. The program is usually for ages 6-10, but ages 3-5 would also be fine with this particular one, as long as they had an adult or older sibling assisting/supervising.

Materials Provided In Kit

Materials Needed From Home 
  • 1-1/2 cup water, divided
  • mixing bowl
  • spoon or stiff spatula
  • additional toy dinosaurs (optional)
  • foil or baking sheet
  • small tools for "digging"
  • paintbrush
I started with a PowerPoint presentation to explain a little bit about the types of fossils and how they are formed, with photos of lots of different kinds of fossils: marine, plant, animal, and dinosaurs; including trace, cast, and permineralized fossils; and emphasizing some found in our state, with a map to point out some of the major fossil sites and trackways here. I also talked a little about how you become a professional or amateur paleontologist. Then I explained we were going to make our own simulated trace fossils and a DIY dinosaur dig.

Activity #1 - Simulated Trace Fossil In Salt Dough

Paleontology activities for kids, dinosaur activities for kids
1. Combine the 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup salt from the kit in a mixing bowl, then add 1/2 cup water, and mix until combined to make a homemade play dough.

2. Knead the salt dough until smooth, adding more flour if too wet or more water if too dry.

3. To make it look more rock-like, flatten slightly and use the cotton swabs to apply streaks of paint to the center of the dough, the fold dough over to seal the paint inside to avoid getting it on hands or surface. Knead the dough until the paint is worked in slightly, but still streaky to mimic the variations of natural stone.

4. Divide the dough in half, and pat or roll out one half until it's about 1/4" thick.

5. Use the provided plastic dinosaurs and skeleton, or your own toy dinos if you have some, and "walk" them across the dough to leave footprints. Use more than one if desired; you might also want to press their bodies into the dough to leave imprints of their skin.

6. When satisfied with your imprints, place the dough on a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for about 4 hours and let cool completely. Now it will be hard, simulating how real footprints are fossilized. (In an arid environment, air-drying might also work, but would several days.)

7. Use the rest of the dough to make fossil footprints of a different dinosaur, or whatever you want. (Playing with dough is a great activity to work on strength and dexterity of the hands.)

Activity #2 - DIY Dinosaur Dig with Oobleck 

1. Pour the 1 cup of cornstarch in the mixing bowl, and add 1/2 cup water.

2. Mix to combine. You will notice it feels and behave very strangely once it is all mixed, sometimes behaving as a solid, being hard to stir, "breaking" into dry clumps, but looking like a liquid and moving like a liquid otherwise. 

3. Pick some up in you hand and quickly squeeze. It will feel like a hard, dry solid clump briefly, but when you open your hand it will become liquid and ooze through your fingers. This mixture has very unique properties and behaves as a solid when subjected to a strong, quick force, but behaving as a liquid when not stressed. This type of substance is known as a non-Newtonian fluid.

4. After you are done experimenting and observing the oobleck, pour it into the 1 cup container, then add the plastic skeleton. It should sink right in, but if it doesn't, give it a slight nudge.

5. Let it dry for 2-4 days or so. Drying time will depend on a few factors: how much water you added, the humidity of the surrounding air, and temperature. I am in a very arid climate, and mine was fairly dry after 24 hours, and a couple of hours in the sun sped it up. If you added too much water, it will eventually form a layer on top that can be carefully poured off (the one picture is just a little bit too dry).

6. Once the surface feels and looks very dry, loosen the sides and then turn it out onto a plate, tray, or foil pan and let dry for one more day. If it becomes too dry, it will crumble immediate and be too easy to dig out. Once you see the first hint of fine cracks, it is definitely ready; the one below is too dry.

DIY dinosaur dig, paleontology activities for kdis

7. Use small tools for digging out your dinosaur bones, such as a small precision flathead screwdriver, skewer or tooth picks, nut picks, plastic knife, and paintbrushes.

8. If you are careful to retain all the cornstarch, it can be re-used for oobleck and repeating the dino dig activity; just let it dry out completely then mix with another 1/2 cup of water.

The instruction booklet also directed them to the 567's to find more information about dinosaurs and paleontology, and to ask librarians for help locating dinosaur stories. It also listed some of the major sites in our state for seeing dinosaur fossils and trackways, as well as the two major museums in our area.

How It Went

Because this kit is suitable for a wider age range (3-10) than my usual science programs (6-10) and I expected it to be popular I made 40 rather than the usual 25, and had no problem giving them all out. My video ended up running way too long, longer than I intended because I talked too much and tried to include a little too much content. I'm not sure if anyone really watched it, but I did get a lot of enthusiastic kids picking up kits, and some positive feedback after they completed them.

The plastic dinosaurs ended up being a little too small to get really good footprints, so I advised them to use their own toy dinos if they had any. When I've done this in-person, I had larger dinos for them to use (but not keep).

Measuring out all the flour, salt, and cornstarch was very messy, so be prepared and do it in a room with an easy to clean floor. If anyone had seen my stash of baggies of white powder, they probably would have gotten the completely wrong idea of how I earn a living. I did make sure they were clearly labeled, of course. But it was kinda sketchy looking 🤣.

National Crayon Day - Virtual Storytime

One of my weekly storytimes fell on March 31st, which is National Crayon Day. Not only are crayons a great way to teach colors, but scribbling, coloring, and drawing are great pre-writing activities and a crayon-themed storytime is a great way to encourage this at home. When I talk about this with caregivers I always make sure to reinforce the idea that it is the process of holding and manipulating the crayons and expressing themselves creatively that is important, not the final product, and remind them that letter-like forms come before actual letters, and backwards letters are common and developmentally appropriate.

Crayon storytime
One of my goals for the last couple of year is to try to introduce more non-fiction books in storytime, not only to help with vocabulary and background knowledge, but also to show how books are also a source of information as well as entertainment (and maybe boost our non-fiction circulation in the process 😉). 

So after the "hello" song and introduction, I showed the book The Crayon Man by Natascha Biebow and Steven Salerno. I didn't read it, but showed a couple of selected pictures, and paraphrased the beginning to tell how Edwin Binney was prompted to develop Crayola crayons for children by his wife, and encouraged them to check out the book to learn more. I personally found the story interesting, and the illustrations engaging.

crayon storytime
I did a lead-in song and then read the first story, The Crayon Box That Talked by Shane DeRolf and Michael Letzig. This is an older book, but it has a timeless message of not only embracing, but celebrating diversity and recognizing that everyone has something to offer. 

A box of crayons at the store cannot get along, each color disliking the others. The child narrating the story decides to buy them anyway. As the crayons see the picture the child has created using all of them, they realize every color is beautiful and all are needed to make the picture complete. The story is written in rhyming verse that has a nice rhythm when read aloud.

I followed that with a fingerplay and flannel board, though I didn't have quite enough time to add all the details I had planned to my felt crayons.

Five Little Crayons

Five little crayons, waiting in a row.

The first one said, "I'm red you know."
The second one said, "I'm green like a tree."
The third one said, "I'm blue as the sea."
The fourth one said, "I'm yellow as the sun."
The fifth one said, "Being purple is such fun!"

Five little crayons, as happy as can be,
Coloring pictures with you and me.

For our second story I choose Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austin. Not only is this book very bright and cheery and shows how to blend primary colors to make secondary colors, it is a lot of fun to read. 

It has words that incorporate movement, like "mix, dance, and wiggle" and sounds like "growl" and "howl". The words are also written in larger fonts that call attention to them, and the words for the colors are printed in the respective color, which is great for print awareness. Plus, the monsters are just cute! 

I closed by showing The Crayon Man and another non-fiction book about how crayons are made, and encouraging people to come by the library to check them out or let us help the find more stories about crayons or colors, followed by a good-bye song.

How It Went

This was a fun theme, and while I got a few views, there were no comments or interaction from viewers, so it's really hard to know if anyone is really watching and engaging. Even though our libraries have been open for most of the last 8 months and have had curbside service all this time, few kids and families are coming in, and few youth materials are being checked out. I put up displays, promote books in my virtual programs, provide lists of suggested books in the kits, and have done a couple of online booktalks, but nothing seems to make a difference. It's all rather discouraging. I'm really hoping things pick up a little this summer, and maybe we can try some outdoor in-person programs.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Be Kind to Spiders Week - Virtual Storytime

Lately I've been looking to various lists of holidays and observances for inspiration for my storytime themes, and the first full week of April was "Be Kind to Spiders Week". Since so many people have somewhat irrational fears of spiders as adults, I thought maybe this would be a good opportunity to provide some factual information and a more positive spin on spiders.

After our "Hello Song" I brought out our tarantula spider puppet I named Aragog to help me introduce the storytime, along with a non-fiction book about spiders. I talked about how most spiders are harmless to people, and they help us by catching some of the bugs that can harm or annoy us like mosquitoes and flies. I showed pictures of the only two species found in the U.S. that are harmful, the black widow spider and the brown recluse, and talked a little about the spider's anatomy. I also mentioned that it's okay not to want spiders in your house and have a grown-up humanely relocate them outside, but we should just let them be when they are outside where they belong.

After a lead-in song I read the first book, the classic Little Miss Spider by David Kirk. This story is short and sweet, and Little Miss Spider is so adorably cute I don't see how anyone could be scared of her. This book was originally published 28 years ago, and was perhaps ahead of it's time in showing a non-traditional family, and that parents are the ones who love you most and care for you and don't necessarily look like you. I will have to remember this one the next time a patron is asking for adoption stories.

After that, we sang the traditional children's song, "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" using the traditional hand motions:

The itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout.

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain,

And the itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.

I added a second verse with "the great big" spider, and told the audience we would use an itsy bitsy voice for the itsy-bitsy spider, and a big, deep, loud voice for the great big spider.

Then I read another classic, Eric Carle's The Very Busy Spider. I really like this one because it includes lots of farm animals that you can ask the kids to identify and/or sound like, since making animal sounds in great for phonological awareness, and it's fun! In the story we see the quiet spider building a new web a little at a time as the other animals stop by one by one to ask her to play. But she is too busy building her web to play.

Some editions of this book print the web in a silvery-white, raised ink that is great for one-on-one or independent reading, but not so great for storytime as it's hard to see. This version showed the web in a goldish color that was flat, so more visible and better for storytime.

I followed that with another quick song I saw at Librarian on the Loose, this time with my spider puppet to act out the motions:

The Spider Spins a Web
(to the tune of "The Farmer In The Dell")

The spider spins a web; the spider spins a web.
Round and round, up and down.
The spider spins a web.

She spins it back and forth; she spins it back and forth.
Round and rounds, up and down.
She spins it back and forth.

She spins it in and out; she spins it in and out.
Round and round, up and down.
She spins it in and out.

She spins it good and strong; she spins it good and strong.
Round and round, up and down.
She spins it good and strong.

The spider catches a fly; the spider catches a fly.
Round and round, up and down.
The spider catches a fly.

I closed with a reminder to pick up this month's early literacy kit for a couple of great spider crafts, and invitation to the next storytime, and a good-bye song.

How It Went

It went pretty well as far as I could tell, but as usual there was no live interaction during the broadcast, nor any comments later. There were a decent number of views I suppose, but I just really doubt kids are watching and engaging. With my moving to this area and library six months into the pandemic, I had no pre-existing relationships or audience to draw on, and I know it's just incredibly difficult for young kids to engage in this format. But I did have a cool background, though it was at the expense of some of the illustrations in the first book.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Early Literacy To Go - April


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

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

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

This month's kit contained the following:

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

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

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