Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Pizza & Guacamole - Family Storytime

Pizza storytime

Maybe you don't think those two things go together (but it does seem like people are putting avocados on/in everything these days), but think of it as both being party/snack foods featured in September.

I had originally planned this as two separate themes, first planning a pizza storytime two years ago, but then I postponed it when I found out a coworker already had one planned. I have also been wanting to use the book Holy Squawkamole! in storytime every since I first read it, and planned it for last September after finding out September 16th is Guacamole Day. But, then the pandemic hit and I was unemployed last September, so I waited another year. This time around I ended up being on vacation the week of the 16th, so I decided to just combine the two topics on the following week.

As always, I started by introducing myself and briefly going over expectations (basically, it's okay if they are wiggly and roam as long as they are not bothering anyone else or obstructing anyone's view of the book), then we sang our "Hello" song, followed by this month's warm-up song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes":

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes; knees and toes.
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes; knees and toes.
Eyes and ears and mouth and nose,
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes.

And to make it a little trickier so they have to think about what they're doing and work their brain and muscles differently rather than relying on muscle memory, we did it in reverse:

Toes, knees, shoulders, and head; shoulders and head.
Toes, knees, shoulders, and head; shoulders and head.
Nose and mouth and ears and eyes,
Toes, knees, shoulders, and head; shoulders and head.

And since it is Hispanic Heritage month and I like to add a little Spanish here and there when I can anyway (our community is 50% Hispanic), we did it in Spanish next:

Cabeza, hombros, rodillas y pies; rodillas y pies.
Cabeza, hombros, rodillas y pies; rodillas y pies.
Ojos, orejas, boca y nariz,
Cabeza, hombros, rodillas y pies; rodillas y pies.

They all agreed it was more difficult to do in reverse and in Spanish since that's not what they're used to, but everyone did a good job and giggled when they messed up. I told them next time we might have to try it in Spanish AND reversed, LOL.

Not only is this song fun to do and gets them moving, it's familiar to most so more engaging, it reinforces vocabulary for naming body parts, both in English and Spanish.

Guacamole Day storytime
Next we gradually settled down with our "Story Song", starting with stomping our feet and ending with taking a seat, so we were ready to start our first book, Holy Squawkamole! The Little Red Hen Makes Guacamole by Susan Wood and Laura Gonzalez. This is a fun re-telling of the traditional folktale, with a Latin American twist. Instead of bread, the Little Red Hen is making guacamole, and needs to gather and prep avocados, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. The animals that she meets and asks for help are common to Central/South America: coati, armadillo, iguana, and snake. 

This book has a great rhyme and rhythm when read aloud, and the audience will have fun saying "Holy Squawkamole!" over and over, and the illustrations are quite charming. I like the exposure to Spanish words and animals they may not be familiar with. Another great thing about this book is that in the end papers there is information on the cultural background of guacamole and several variations influenced by cuisines from other cultures, a basic recipe, and a glossary.

Then we segued to pizza by sharing our favorite toppings and voting on whether pineapple was a legitimate pizza topping (most of the adults agreed it was, kids weren't too sure), and pretending to make our own pizza with this variation of "Pat-a-Cake":

Pizza Man

Pat-a-pie, pat-a-pie, pizza man (clap hands)
Make me a pizza as fast as you can (shake finger)
Roll it  (roll)..... Toss it  (pretend to toss in air).....
Sprinkle it with cheese (pretend to sprinkle)
Put it the oven (pushing motion)
And bake it for my friends and me! (gesture to friends, point to self)

I would recommend pointing out the substitution of "pie" for "cake" and briefly explain that pizza is sometimes referred to as a "pizza pie", since kids may not be aware of that expression.

Pizza storytime
Next I read the classic Pizza at Sally's by Monica Wellington. I like that this book not only shows the steps in making a pizza, but at least alludes to the fact the ingredients all have to come from somewhere, and you can elaborate on that as you read it, or afterward. These days so many people are completely disconnected from the sources of their food, and need to be reminded/educated to the fact that it doesn't just magically appear at the supermarket. 

I also like that this book subtly promotes community gardens and supporting local businesses. I had the kids act out each step of pizza-making along with Sally, and again discuss toppings. I showed the recipe for pizza at the end of the book, mentioning that kneading and playing with any kind of dough, whether it's pizza dough or play dough, is great for developing the muscles and coordination of little hands and fingers so that they can hold books and pencils for reading and writing later.

Next we did a pizza-themed variation of "BINGO" to work on letter knowledge, using clip art of pizza slices with each letter in the word "pizza" printed on a slice:

Pizza storytime


There is a treat that's good to eat, and "pizza" is its name-oh!
P - I - Z - Z - A
P - I - Z - Z - A
P - I - Z - Z - A
And "pizza" is its name-oh!

(spoken) "Oh yum, I'm gonna eat one!"
(remove one and repeat, clapping in the place of the missing letter)

Since I had just the right number of kids (not counting infant siblings), in this case I said each child's name as I removed each piece: " Then Johnny was hungry, so he ate one".

Pizza storytime
Our final book was another fun one, featuring an a-typical pizzeria making some rather unusual pizzas. Mary Morgan's Dragon Pizzeria features a pizzeria in Fairytale Land owned by dragons BeBop, who likes to bake, and Spike, who likes to go FAST, making him the perfect delivery person. As they take each order, the audience can guess who it's for based on the toppings, such as a pizza with magic beans for the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, and a pizza with frogs, snails, and lizard tales for the Wicked Witch. 

This is a really fun read aloud with several different rhymes and rhythms, as BeBop chants a different rhyme as he makes each pizza, and the customers respond in rhyme when their pizza is delivered. A little long for younger kids, but it's easy to skip one of two of the orders to shorten. The illustrations are just a tad busy for a group read aloud, but they are well-done.

We closed with a good-bye song and I passed out a take-home craft.

I am doing take-home crafts since we are having storytime outside, and between not having tables (other than a round wire-mesh picnic table) and it often being windy, crafts outside just don't work out very well.

Pizza craft

This week's craft was assembling a "shapes" pizza. I gave them a sheet of light brown with an outline of a pizza on it to cut out themselves so they would get a little scissor practice to develop those fine-motor skills, then the following shapes/colors: large red triangles for tomato sauce, lots of small rectangles in yellow & white for shredded cheese, reddish-brown circles for pepperoni/meatballs, red semi-circles for tomato slices, and small green squares for chopped peppers. This would allow for practice identifying shapes and colors, and use the pincer grasp in picking up and placing the various toppings.

How It Went
It went well for the most part, ran just a little bit long, and the kids seemed to get just a little bored with Pizza at Sally's, and I don't think any but the one slightly older child got the fairy tale references in Dragon Pizzeria, but the adults did and enjoyed it. 

Since school started and I split from doing one family storytime to doing a toddler storytime in addition to a family storytime, my attendance levels have been low at both, and now I'm kind of wishing I had just left it at one family storytime a week, especially since numbers will likely drop again when it gets colder and we have to move inside. It's impossible to build any momentum with the constantly changing Covid situation, and that's really frustrating and discouraging. The community has made it clear they are not interested in virtual programming, so I'm going to focus on keeping in-person if at all possible. At least the lower attendance does allow for easy social distancing without being too far away to see and hear, so there's that.

I know our community does love the various kits, but I don't feel they foster any real engagement or have as strong a connection to literacy and learning, and don't seem to result in any increased use of the library or circulation. I also hate the waste with all the packaging needed, and wonder how many actually do the activities, or if many just end up sitting around and eventually getting thrown away.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Play In the Sand Day - Family Storytime

When I haven't come across any books to inspire me - which has been happening a lot this last year as there seems to be a dearth of new picture books suitable for storytime - I start looking over the lists of various holidays and observances to get ideas for themes I haven't done before. I found that National Play in the Sand Day fell right on our storytime day, and decided to give that a go as playing in sand is such a great activity for little ones, and here are a few articles explaining why:

We started with our usual "Hello" song, then a warm-up song. I choose a different warm-up song each month, and for August it was singing the ABC's, but with a twist. Instead of using the usual tune ("Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"), each week we sang them to a different familiar children's tune, and this week it was "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". We started by singing one verse of the original song to get the tune in our heads, then singing the ABC's to it. This can be surprisingly difficult, so we repeated it, and I encouraged them to practice at home.

Singing the alphabet to different tunes allows different letters to be emphasized and heard distinctly, so "L,M,N,O,P" don't always get squished together, and it forces one to think about what they are singing rather than going on automatic and relying on muscle memory. Mel's Desk has a great resource for this, mapping out the alphabet to 5 different tunes.

Playing in the sand storytime
After a lead-in song, we were ready for our first book, Sea, Sand, and Me by Patricia Hubbell and Lisa Campbell Ernst. Though not specifically about playing in the sand, this gentle story shows a young girl and her family spending a day at the beach, where she makes a new friend, and enjoys playing in the sand and the waves. This was a good choice for the younger ones in the audience as it was short and simple, and though the illustrations are not bright and bold, they are colorful and uncluttered.

We followed this with a song I saw at Storytime Secrets about going to the beach that allows the kids to fill in the blank and name things they might see there:

We’re Going to the Beach
(to the tune of “Farmer In the Dell”)

We're going to the beach,
We're going to the beach.
I think we'll see some ______ there!
We're going to the beach.

Playing in the sand storytime, sandcastle storytime
Our second book showcases a spectacular sandcastle, and also features making new friends, in this case between two monsters who are very different and don't speak the same language.

 In Victoria Turnbull's Kings of the Castle we discover that monsters like playing at the beach, too, waiting until nighttime when all the people are gone. This night, George meets a creature who comes out of the sea, but first thinks they can't be friends because they don't speak the same language. But, he discovers they can communicate with drawings and gestures, and by the time the night is over they have worked together to build an amazing sandcastle, which is shown across a huge fold-out spread. The illustrations are a bit dark due to the nighttime setting, which initially give it an unintended spooky feeling.

We ended with a rhyme counting down from 5 to 1 with sandcastles that I first saw on Storytime Katie's blog, accompanied by clipart sandcastles on my magnet board (that I forgot to take a picture of and will add later):

Five Pretty Sandcastles

Five pretty sandcastles standing on the shore,
The tide came in (whoosh!) and then there were four.

Four pretty sandcastles standing by the sea,
The tide came in (whoosh!) and then there were three.

Three pretty sandcastles standing by the ocean blue,
The tide came in (whoosh!) and then there were two.

Two pretty sandcastles standing in the sun,
The tide came in (whoosh!) and then there was one.

One pretty sandcastle just out of reach,
The tide came in (whoosh!) but it stayed on the beach! 

We closed with announcements, a good-bye song, and I handed out the take-home crafts.

While I really would have preferred to end with actual sand play with a sand table or sandbox, but we did not have either, nor any regular or kinetic sand on hand (though that is about to change, more on that later!), so I had to settle for a craft. I decided on giving them a sandcastle coloring sheet that they could first color in any details, then squeeze glue along the outlines, and sprinkle sand on the glue, let dry thoroughly, then dump off the excess.

Sandcastle craft, sandcastle storytime

Squeezing the glue is great for hand strength, and they would still get the tactile benefit of playing in the sand. Since I didn't have any sand on hand, and did not really want to buy a 50lb bag just for this craft, but I did have plenty of salt. So I colored the salt a pale beige by grating brown and gray sidewalk chalk against a wire mess strainer and mixing it in the salt to make it more of a sandy color, and mixed in just a few coffee grounds to give some realistic darker specks.

How It Went
It went well, they enjoyed both stories and were really impressed by the huge, detailed sandcastle in Kings of the Castle. I really wish I could have had one book that showed playing in a sandbox with trucks and cars, or measuring cups, rather than both being set at the beach, as most of these kids have never been to the beach, and don't find it as relatable. 

But, just to show how kids that may not *appear* to be paying attention are absorbing a lot more than we may realize, I need to share one thing that happened. I have one semi-regular toddler who is very active, and can't sit still more than a few minutes. He typically starts getting squirmy, then has to stand up, and gradually starts wandering more and more.

Today, he was running all around, seemingly completely oblivious to what we were doing. I expect this from toddlers, and it doesn't bother me at all, but I do occasionally try to re-focus them by calling them by name to ask a question, or point something out. As we were doing the sandcastle counting rhyme, this little boy was running around, and came zipping by behind everyone else just as we were down to the last one. I called out to him, "Hey, Ollie, how many are left?" He paused half a second, look over and happily called out "One!" as he held up one finger, then continued merrily on his way. I was so glad his caretaker and the other adults got to see this!

I REALLY wish I could have had actual sand play as the after storytime activity, but it just wasn't possible. Hopefully they have access to a sandbox at home or at a local park. However, I am working on a project to provide more opportunities for sensory exploration in the future, including a sand/water table.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Silly Chicken Stories - Family Storytime

Chicken Storytime


The YS department at the main library had a bunch of these egg-hatching craft kits leftover, so I decided to take some off their hands and do a chicken-themed storytime. I've ready many chicken books as part of farm or bird themes, but I've never done a whole storytime about chickens before, so it would be a new theme. I started with introductions, going over expectations, then waving and singing "Hello" to each other. That was followed with a warm-up song. 

I use the same warm-up song for a month, then change it, and this month's warm-up song was the Alphabet Song, BUT with a twist. Instead of singing it to the usual tune (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star), each week we would sing it to the tune of a different children's song, and this week was the tune of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes". The alphabet can be sung to several different tunes, and this allows different letters to be emphasized and heard distinctly, so "L,M,N,O,P" don't always get squished together, and it forces one to think about what they are singing rather than going on automatic and relying on muscle memory. Mel's Desk has a great resource for this, mapping out the alphabet to 5 different tunes.

Chicken Storytime
After the warm-up, I used a non-fiction picture book with lovely illustrations, A Chicken Followed Me Home by Robin Page, to introduce the topic and some factual information about chickens before moving on to our silly stories. We talked about where chickens come from, saw pictures of a few different breads, rooster vs. hen, and the sounds that rooster, chickens, and baby chicks each make.

Chicken Storytime
Following our lead-in song, "If You're Ready for a Story", I read one of my personal favorites, Chicken Story Time by Sandy Asher and Mark Fearing.

In this cute story a chicken sneaks into the library for storytime, and enjoys it. She then apparently tells a few of her friends, as there are more chickens (and more children) the next week, and even more the following week, resulting in chaos. How can one librarian manage all of these chickens and children? We decided it probably wouldn't be a good idea to have chickens in the library.

We followed that with a rousing round of Laurie Berkner's "I Know a Chicken", with egg shakers, of course, followed by pretending to be chickens with "If You're a Chicken and You Know It":

If You're a Chicken and You Know It"

If you're a chicken and you know it, flap your wings.
If you're a chicken and you know it, flap your wings.
If you're a chicken and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you're a chicken and you know it, flap your wings.

Scratch in the dirt.....Peck your food....Say "bawk, bawk"....Sit on your nest....

Chicken storytime
I love the way this ends with them sitting back down, ready for the next story. I chose a favorite of a former manager, Chicks Run Wild by Sudipta Barnhan-Quallen and Ward Jenkins. 

This is truly a fun read aloud, with rhyming text and a repeating line. Mama Hen is trying to get her little chicks to bed, but the second she closes the door, those naughty chicks run wild! Mama finally catches them, but her reaction may not be what you expect. Great fun, with a twist.

We finished with a song that let us explore various chicken-related sounds, which is great for phonological knowledge.

The Chickens In the Coop

The chickens in the coop go Bock, Bock, Bock.
Bock, Bock, Bock; Bock, Bock, Bock.
The chickens in the coop go Bock, Bock, Bock, all day long.

Roosters go Cock-a-doodle-doo....
Eggs go Crack...
Chicks go Peep....

We san our "Goodbye" song and I passed out the take-home craft kits that consisted of a plastic egg, a large yellow pom-pom, and other accessories to make a little chick hatching out of an egg.

How It Went

We had a lot of fun with this one! As always, Laurie Berker's "I Know a Chicken" was a big hit, but they enjoyed all the songs and books. 

Toddler Storytime - August


toddler storytime

After having done only one family storytime a week since the pandemic hit, virtually through May and in-person outdoors through the summer, I decided to go back to the pre-pandemic schedule of toddler storytime on Wednesday and family storytime on Friday. This is for two reasons: (1) I have been having a fair number of toddlers (and a few infants) attending fairly regularly, and felt they needed their own storytime that was more developmentally appropriate for them, and (2) once school starts in August the older kids can only come on Fridays because for whatever reason the public schools here are only in session Mon-Thur. 

I have done hundreds of preschool storytimes and dozens of family storytimes, and while I've subbed for toddler storytimes and had a few outreach visits to baby and toddler classes, this is the first time I've had my own regular toddler storytime. The toddler storytimes I've subbed for followed slightly different formats, but both involved shorter, simpler books, more movement, more songs/rhymes/fingerplays, and playtime with developmentally appropriate toys rather than a craft. I decided to start out with the format my previous co-worker used for her "Movers & Shakers" toddler storytime, which uses the same songs and rhymes each week for a month along with 1-2 short books. I like this format because I know how important repetition is for learning with young children, plus it really encourages participation and engagement, and as a bonus I don't have to spend time searching for new rhymes and songs every week.

I decided not to worry about themes. If I can find toddler-appropriate books that fit the theme of the family storytime that week, then fine, but if not, I'll just pull something else for the toddlers. Another thing I am taking from my former co-worker's storytime is ending with bubbles. Not only are bubbles great fun, but it's also a great developmental activity as it involves tracking, gross motor movement to chase and pop the bubbles, crossing the midline to reach for a bubble, and bilateral coordination in popping the bubbles with a clap. Plus we sing a counting song along with them. I am still giving them a simple take home craft, but I am really hoping to gradually move away from that and incorporate play time and more open-ended activities instead of crafts every week, as soon as I can get some sensory toys and manipulatives. Not only is this more developmentally appropriate, it saves time in prepping all the cookie-cutter crafts.

The songs/rhymes I selected for the first month were:
The books I read and the take-home craft for each week were:

  • Toddler storytime
    Week 1 -
    Spunky Little Monkey by Bill Martin, Jr. & Michael Sampson, I Spy Under the Sea by Edward Gibbs, cupcake liner fish craft.

    I wanted to incorporate movement as much as possible, so we moved our heads, hands, feet, and hips along with the spunky little monkey, and then we practiced counting with I Spy.

  • Chicken storytime, toddler storytime
    Week 2 - Charlie Chick Learns to Fly by Nick Denchfield & Ant Parker, Wee Little Chick by Lauren Thompson & John Butler, hatching chick craft.

    The Charlie Chick series of simple pop-up books are *perfect* for toddlers! I had never seen them before, and was excited to find them in our collection. The kids got to show their feet, flap their wings, and peep along with Charlie, then identified farm animals and showed me little, big, and tall with the Wee Little Chick, along with pecking for food. (The other books shown were used for Family Storytime later in the week). I also added Laurie Berkner's "I Know a Chicken" with egg shakers. So fun!

I should have had one more song or rhyme with lots of actions, and something else instead of Mary Had a Little Lamb, which they didn't really know and seemed a little boring without actions to go with it. However, "Roly-Poly" proved to be a big hit, especially with one of my regulars, and of course they loved counting and popping the bubbles.

I will continue to tweak the format of this storytime, though I know I want to keep a lot of repetition and movement, maybe incorporating a song cube if I can find time to make one. A few parents have asked about a "Music & Movement" program, which I don't have the availability to do as a weekly program due to staffing constraints, but I will probably incorporate as a special monthly program, probably in place of the regular toddler storytime that week. But first I have to get a new boom box that works that can both play CDs as well as connect to my phone and can run on batteries.

What kind of format do you use for your toddler storytimes? I'd love to hear about it! 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

One Step Forward, and Two Steps Back...

Yikes! It's been 6 weeks since my last post, and I'm starting to see why most blogs fizzle out after about 3-5 years....It takes time and creative energy to keep a blog going, and as I move forward in my career and and all the changes life has thrown at me lately, it's hard to find enough of either. 

When I first started this blog six years ago I was only working part-time, which left me plenty of time and energy for blogging, reading, and everything else, and as someone just entering the field I was full of enthusiasm and ideas. Now I'm full-time and too exhausted and screen-fatigued when I get home to do any reading or writing in the evenings, and seem to have hit a bit of a creative wall with programming. I've done so many storytimes in my career that while I still love doing it, I'm not as excited about writing them up and find myself repeating things I've done before more often. Frankly, I'm very underwhelmed by the picture books being published in the last year or so. I've seen nothing new that inspires me lately; the recent publications are often so text heavy and dull, IMHO, or just not suitable for storytime.

And to be perfectly honest, the last year and half have been extremely difficult for me on every level, and I'm sure that's true of everyone. I miss normal. I miss working in a thriving library. I miss my regulars. I miss doing regular programming. Most of all, I miss stability. At the beginning of the summer I was so excited because I could finally start having in-person programming again outdoors, and I really thought we were going to be back to normal, in-person programming again this fall. I started planning things, arranged to start outreach visits with nearby preschool, and then I began hearing that nasty word "Delta", and soon everything changed again.

Now we have had to step back and return to masks being required to be in the library, and programs are encouraged to be outside or reduced number to allow for social distancing inside. I agree with this under the circumstances, but as we are in a very anti-mask population, this means a lot more stress on staff and between that and school starting, a lot fewer families and kids coming in. I'm going to have to continue to have storytimes outside as long as possible, but once it gets too cold I don't know what I'll do. I've discussed it with my storytime crowd, and they told me what I already knew; they are absolutely not interested in virtual programming. Just after our monthly program guide was printed, we found we had to cancel or change a lot of things, which makes it confusing and frustrating for patrons.

All the back-and-forth and constant change is not only stressful for staff, but frustrating for patrons and causes less use of the library and lower program attendance. I'm afraid in the coming months we'll be taking another step back and reducing the number of computers available (for social distancing) and having to reimpose time limits, which is just as contentious to enforce as mask-wearing. I keep finding myself wishing for things to be like they were before and craving stability, for things to stay the same for more than a couple months, but I've come to realize libraries are likely forever changed by this, and it will likely take years to regain any sense of stability and community again. 

So what is your fall programming looking like at this point? Charging ahead with in-person programming? Returning to virtual and kits? Somewhere in between? Something else?