Saturday, May 6, 2023

Derby Day - Family Storytime

Kentucky Derby storytime, horse storytime

This was the last week of storytimes for the Spring, after which I would be taking a much needed break from programming for the rest of May. This is mostly to have more time to get ready for summer reading, but also because though I love doing storytime and other programs, I do get burned out on the planning of them and just need a break every so often. 

Since we are in Kentucky, and this last week of storytimes coincided with Derby week, I decided to do a horse-themed storytime for the toddlers, and a more Derby-themed one for the preschoolers, which became a family storytime as the public schools were out that day. I made it a little bit "bigger" of a program than a typical storytime with special crafts afterward (more about that later).

We started off with a quick "Hello" song, greetings, and "Wheels On the Bus" to warm-up. Then I used a non-fiction book about the Kentucky Derby to introduce the topic, showing a few pictures of the race and introducing/reviewing vocabulary words "saddle" and "jockey", and talking about how people get dressed up, wearing fancy hats to attend. 

horse storytime, Kentucky Derby storytime
After our lead-in song ("If You're Ready for a Story.."), I read the hilarious modern classic, Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash, starring a very confused cowboy named Roy. It's Roy's birthday and his friends gift him with a saddle and the instructions to find a horse and enjoy the ride. There's just one problem - Roy doesn't know what a horse is! Hilarity ensues as Roy tries to find a horse, culminating in a silly twist. This was a little long, but most of the kids managed to pay attention, and the older ones really loved it. Sadly, this book is out-of-print, so if you don't have a copy, you'll have to buy a used one. 

Then we sang a fun little song with some gross motor movement that let us pretend to be horses, to the tune of "Shortnin' Bread":

My Little Horsie

My little horsie loves walking, walking.
My little horsie loves walking slow.
(walk in place)

My little horsie loves running, running;
My little horsie loves running fast!
(run in place)

My little horsie loves jumping, jumping;
My little horsie loves jumping high.

My little horsie loves spinning, spinning;
My little horsie loves spinning  'round.
(turn around)

My little horsie loves neighing, neighing;
My little horsie loves neighing loud.

My little horsie loves sitting, sitting;
My little horsie loves sitting down.
(sit down)

Horses don't typically sit, but it was a good way to end the song with them ready for the next story. You could also sub more appropriate equestrian terms such as trotting and galloping if you wish, but I felt like it would not be as obvious as to how to act them out.

horse storytime, kentucky derby storytime
Since the first book was on the long side, I stuck with a very short, simple book for the second one, the classic Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee. I love this book as it is fun, repetitive, short and simple, and works well with both toddlers and preschoolers (I read this, along with Noni the Pony for the toddlers a few days earlier). In this story Mr. Horse offers to give his friends, Cat and Dog and Pig and Duck, a ride. Clip-Clop, Clippety-Clop... His friends then want to go faster, and faster, and Mr. Horse obliges, until he is going so fast that his friends can't hold on and call for him to stop. He stops so suddenly that his friends go flying off, over his head, into a haystack. He fears they are hurt, but instead, his friends pop their heads out of the hay, calling "Again!"

I had the perfect song to follow this story, which only has three words: "giddy-up", "whoa", and "horsie", to the tune of the "William Tell Overture". I first asked if they knew how to tell the horse to go faster (say "giddy-up"), and how to tell it to stop (say "whoa" and pull back on the reins). I then started by showing them how to slap their thighs in rhythm to imitate the sound of the horses hooves, then we sang several verses, going faster each time.

(to the tune of "The William Tell Overture")

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!

I stopped here, and closed with our "Good-Bye" song (even though we have activities afterward, not everyone stays for that, and people finish at different times, so I always say "we do have activities afterward, but let's go ahead and sing our good-bye song now, just in case we don't get a chance to say good-bye to all of our friends later"), then I told them about our special Derby Day crafts.


I have been moving away from crafts to more open-ended and exploratory activities, and when I do have crafts I try to make them very simple so that the kids can actually do at least some of it. However, today was a big departure from that philosophy, and I think that's okay once in a while. I wanted to make this last storytime special since we would be taking a 4-week break (and I won't see some of these kids in the summer), and I knew the adults and kids would love making these Derby hats and pool-noodle stick horses. While the adults and staff would have to do most of it, the kids would still be able to participate in the design.

Derby hat craft

Derby Hats - The hats were made with paper bowls for a simple bowler/bucket type hat, or a wide-brimmed hat could be made by cutting out the center of a paper plate and inserting one of the small bowls through the center and gluing into place. 

I put kid-scissors, liquid glue, crayons, and a hole-punch on each of the three tables they would sit at, then on the tables up front I put a stack of paper plates, small paper bowls, large paper bowls, and a variety of embellishments: multiple colors of curling ribbon, three different 1" wide fabric ribbons, gold braid, feathers, artificial leaves, and artificial flowers. I also set up a hot-glue station with low-heat guns on a higher counter for the grown-ups to use.

Stick Horses - While they worked on the hats on their own, another staff member and I set up two stations for them to come up one at a time to make a stick horse out of a pool noodle.

  1. Pool noddle stick horse, hobby horse
    First they would come to me and pick out the color of pool noodle for their horse (we had pink, blue, and green, which I had stumbled on for 98 cents each at Wal-Mart. They are a bit skinnier than standard pool noodles, but you can't beat that price!) and the color of duct tape for the reins/bridle (we had rainbow, blue, and gold; rainbow was by far the most popular and no one chose gold). 
  2. To make the horse's head, simply bend the top portion of the noodle over and secure with a strip of duct tape (could also use rubber band or twine). I cut the duct tape in half so it would be narrower. 
  3. To make the reins, I cut a long piece of duct tape, then folded it in over on itself lengthwise, then taped the end in place on the bridle, leaving a loop hanging down the back of the horse.
  4. Next, they would move on to my co-worker to get a mane and ears cut out of felt. Each child selected the color they wanted, and whether they wanted long fringe, short fringe, or a wavy mane. Then they would select the color for ears. The ears and mane were hot-glued in place using a low-temp glue gun and glue. This is not just for safety, but because hi-heat glue will melt the pool noodle. Even with low-heat, you have to be careful the tip of the gun doesn't contact the noodle.
  5. Then, they could go to the (low-temp) hot-glue station on the counter to add the eyes themselves, with their grown-up manning the glue gun.
  6. Nostrils can be cut out of felt or paper and glued on, or simply drawn with a permanent marker, as can eyelashes if desired.
  7. For smaller kids you may need to shorten the pool noodle by 6"-12".
How It Went

We had so much fun, and the kids all LOVED their pool-noodle stick horses! They enjoyed both stories and loved the "Giddy-Up" song as well, and several very fashionable hats were made. I could not find an appropriate picture book (not too long/too much text) that had to do with the Derby, horse racing, or racehorses. If you know of one, preferably still in print, please let me know in the comments!

Derby Day storytime, Kentucky Derby activities for kids

This ended up taking longer than I realized it would: the storytime portion was about 25 minutes, but making all the horses (we had 14 kids) took an hour. Typically, our after-storytime crafts and activities only last 20 minutes, 30 at the most. But everyone was very patient; only one child had a meltdown, and she is really too young for this storytime to begin with, and I didn't hear any grumbling among the adults. It helped that I opened up the sensory bin for the kids once I realized they were mostly done making hats and it was still going to be a while making all the horses.

If I'd had more help, it would have made a huge difference. I would advise having 3-4 stations for making the horses in an assembly line to speed things up, breaking it into: bridle, reins, main, ears & eyes, if at all possible. You might be thinking why didn't I just let the kids pick their colors and then let the adults work with them to make them. Well, a few reasons. (1) We only had 4 glue guns an no really good scissors for cutting the felt, (2) There aren't enough outlets in convenient locations, (3) I didn't want to buy multiple rolls of duct tape, and (4) I know from experience that a number of the adults struggle with even fairly simple crafts and following directions. For us, this way worked best. Another potential time-saver would be to have the various colors of felt pre-cut and fringed for the ears and mane. However, I never have any idea how many kids I'm going to have for this storytime, it could be 6 or 16, and I've had as few as 2-4 before, so I didn't want to take the chance of wasting a lot of felt, but in hindsight I probably should have just gone ahead and done at least a few pre-cut.

But, though it did take longer than I'd planned or would generally prefer, it was fun and everyone enjoyed it. The grownups probably enjoyed making the hats more than some of the kids, but it was still something they could do together, and there were several very fashionable hats. All of the kids absolutely loved the horses, and the adults were very impressed with them, never having seen them before. I would love to be able to take credit for the idea, but I had seen a former manager make them for a program years ago, and I'm sure she got the idea elsewhere. Having the sensory bin to keep the kids occupied while waiting was probably the key to our success in everyone being patient. 

Again, having at least one other staff member (or volunteer) to help would be highly advised. I have a teen volunteer I normally would have asked to help, but knowing she had just applied for a page position and been turned down that week, I didn't feel right about asking her to work for free, at least not so soon.

Happy Derby Day!

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