Thursday, June 18, 2015

Early Literacy Messages In Action

I’m always appreciative of the effort it takes for families to come to my baby storytime. My boys are school-aged now, but it wasn’t that long ago that it was me who was trying to juggle naptimes, cranky babies, and squirmy toddlers and get out of the house to get to the library on time.  It’s not easy, and I think it shows that the caregivers who are there really do want to be there because they feel like storytimes are valuable for themselves and their child.

While sometimes librarians are worried about including early literacy tips in their storytimes because they think it comes off as preachy or didactic, I actually find that most of my caregivers are extremely receptive to these types of tips. Talking to the caregivers before and after storytime, I hear time and time again that they are at the library because they want to instill a love of books in their child or help them learn and grow. I have a huge percentage of ESL families in my storytimes, and I know the caregivers who attend are very passionate about how the storytimes are a great way to expose their young children to the language.

When I started doing baby storytimes, I used to give families handouts with the words to our songs and a literacy tip. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing it this way, but I have personally moved towards trying to incorporate these tips as naturally as possible into the storytime process itself.  I feel a lot more comfortable doing it this way, and it seems to resonate more with the families.   Here’s a glimpse into what this looks like in action.

Give families “permission” to read books in non-traditional ways.

We’ve all been there. Sometimes the book that seemed perfect in your planning process is obviously not going to go over well for a group that’s extra antsy.  While I may decide to ditch a book entirely, lately I’m more apt to read it in an alternate fashion.  I’ll show the book and just name what’s on the page or point out a few interesting details in the illustrations.  Maybe we’ll count the numbers of apples on the tree in the picture, or the butterflies in the sky, or whatever.  Sometimes I’ll just conversationally narrate what’s going on rather than read the exact text.  It’s usually very obvious to the caregivers when I’m doing this, because they can read the text on the page and see that I’m not following it.  

After I’m done sharing the book, I always like to say something like this: “Don’t feel that every time you read a book to your child, you have to read exactly what it says on the page, and read every page, in the exact order. It’s not always easy for wiggleworms to sit still! By sharing a book like we just did, you are still teaching your child vocabulary and helping them learn to love books!”

I also like to share books in non-traditional ways. There’s always the classic idea of singing “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to “Twinkle Twinkle,” but if we do that, I also like to bring out “Brown Bear” again and sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” while showing some of the pages from the book.  “With a blue horse here, and a blue horse there…”  I like to point out that using the same book in multiple ways helps reinforce the vocabulary the child is learning, and that singing, of course, is a great way to help hear the individual syllables that make up words.

Oh Say, Can You Say

When you look at early literacy tips, you often see caregivers encouraged to narrate their day to their baby. This is one that sometimes seems overwhelming to new parents -- “I’m just trying to get through the day, but now you’re telling me I have to spend the whole day describing everything I do? That’s going to drive me crazy!” In reality, this is something that many people naturally do with small children, without even realizing they’re doing it.  Throughout my storytime, I try to narrate what I’m doing. For instance, as I pass out props to the children, I might say, “And here’s a red scarf for Harry, and a blue scarf for Hermione, and Hagrid gets the purple scarf!” Or I might count out the children aloud as I pass out shakers (which helps me keep track for recording attendance stats)!  If I haven’t prepoured the bubble solution for our bubble maker, I might do so and say, “I need to fill up the bubble maker with this special liquid soap. Up, up, up to the very top! That’s what we use to make the bubbles. After I fill it up, we’ll sing the bubble song, and then we’ll get to watch the bubbles float and pop!”  And at some point during all of this, I’ll throw in a quick aside that narrating what you’re doing is a great way to teach your baby vocabulary and teach them narrative skills, where you’re teaching them the steps to a process or the beginning, middle, and end of a story. By throwing in this tip after I've demonstrated what it looks like in action, caregivers realize that hey, they're already subconsciously doing this and have been teaching their children early literacy skills without even knowing!

Easy Does It

I also find parents really receptive to learning early literacy skills when you’re teaching them things that will make their day-to-day life as caregivers easier. Every preschool teacher and children’s librarian loves the clean-up song, and just about every new parent is thrilled to learn it and use it during clean-up time at home.  When we do certain tickles, fingerplays, or songs, I like to point out how a caregiver might use them at home. For instance, some of the rhymes or songs that name body parts are great to use during diaper changes or baths. I point out that doing so is reinforcing vocabulary. Other quiet songs and fingerplays are a great way to calm down or distract a baby during a diaper change. Not only are such things fun and a great way to bond with a child, they can also help ease difficult transitions like diaper changes or bedtime, AND teach early literacy skills by exposing a child to a rich variety of language. It’s a triple win!

And just as a surefire way to storytime failure is sharing a book or a song that you think you should rather than one you want to share, a surefire way to come off as preachy is to share early literacy tips you think you should rather than ones you are really personally excited about.  To me, it’s more about, “Hey, isn’t this a cool and fun way to interact with your child?” rather than “Experts say you need to do this and this and this….”   If you’re genuinely excited and passionate about sharing information, chances are your audience will be receptive!

Huge thanks to the other amazing children's librarians who organized this week's Early Literacy in Action blog tour! Check out Jbrary's post, and look on their site later today for a blog roundup! You can also follow #EarlyLitInAction on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lessons Learned from Baby Storytime

When I started as a brand, spanking-new librarian, fresh out of my MLIS program, I inherited the baby storytime (for children under 2). No one, I got the feeling, particularly enjoyed doing it, so I volunteered to take it over. I did it for two sessions (summer and fall). To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing in the summer and sort of faked my way through it, but I had pretty lofty ambitions for the fall session.  I made weekly handouts with early literacy tips, book suggestions, and words to the rhymes and fingerplays I was doing. We did lots of nursery rhymes for their early literacy value. We ended every session with bubbles. And we had a small but dedicated group of attendees.

In the winter session, we switched up our staffing and I inherited the preschool storytime. Another librarian took the baby storytime and really moved it into a wonderful new direction. The program is just so much more successful now, by any measure: the attendance has exploded and the attendees are clearly having a great time.  I have given the program using the new outline about four times now, when schedule changes required me to cover the program, and I've learned a lot about what I was doing wrong (and yes, right) before.

1. Get your parents to advertise for you. 

Part of the explosion in attendance is due to a large group of moms who clearly know each other from outside the storytime. They all show up for storytime and then hang out and play together in the children's room afterwards. What I suspect is that one or two of them started to attend the program and then recruited other friends to join them, turning it into a weekly social event.

Ask parents to tell their friends with similar-aged children about the program. Perhaps even host a "Bring a Friend to Storytime" day. You can also reach out to your local mothers' club. Most communities have one, and they're always looking for events to put on their calendar. You might offer to host a special storytime for their group at the library as a one-time event and encourage those who show up to start attending your regular storytimes.

2. Channel your inner cartoon character (or You Can Never Be Too Animated)

Of course, I read with a lot of expression in my preschool storytime, but I realize that I often go for a sort of deadpan humor. It goes over great with the preschoolers, but it's way too subtle for babies. After hearing another librarian read a book to the babies at storytime, I realized that, duh, I need to read the stories to the babies in the same high-pitched, sing-songy voice that I used to talk to my kids when they were babies (watch any TV show aimed at very young children if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Now when I read books to this crowds, I do it in a much higher register, with so much expression it seems over-the-top. I also get up and walk around the room a lot, holding the book and showing the pictures to the  children.  I'll get my whole body into it -- if the word "swooping" is on the page, I'll literally swoop the book. The kids are much more engaged and can really pay attention to me this way.

3. Interactive elements are key.

Kids this age are not going to be able to sit there and listen to you read stories and do flannel stories for 30 minutes. They're just not developmentally able to do that yet. I know some libraries limit their baby storytimes to 20 minutes, but I found that for our customers, 20 minutes was just too short. I know firsthand that it can be difficult to get out of the house with a baby, and our patrons made it clear that for them, it wasn't really worth the effort to do so for a 20-minute program. They were looking for sometime a little longer and more substantive.  So to stretch it out for 30 minutes, you're going to have to have a box of tricks.

We now incorporate maracas and egg shakers into just about every baby storytime. We do a variety of things with them. Sometimes we shake them in time to songs, sometimes I'll go to each child and shake the number of syllables in their name, and sometimes we practice vocabulary (shaking fast, slow on top of our heads, behind our backs, high, and low). The kids really look forward to this, and so far, there are been few tears when we've had to put them away. There were a few times when the noise from all the shakers was too much for our smallest attendees, and if I noticed an infant or two getting fussy, I'd cut the shaker session short.

We have also incorporated props like a parachute into the storytime. The kids really do enjoy these, and I think they motivate parents to keep coming back. And you can never go wrong with bubbles.  Scarves would be another great one to try.

4. Repetition is key, but you don't need to overdo it

When I did the program, we did a lot of repetition. We did pretty much every rhyme, fingerplay, and song twice in a row, to the point where it felt stilted and scripted. After all, repetition is key for this age group, right? Babies learn best by hearing things multiple times.  Well, I did it to the point of insanity. The babies might have enjoyed it, but it was way too much for their caregivers. I could feel the energy lag whenever we repeated something.

Now, there's still a lot of repetition, but it feels more organic.  We use the same song to open and close the storytime each week, "Wiggles and Giggles" off the Diaper Gym CD. The song repeats itself twice, so in effect, the parents are hearing the same thing four times every week, week after week.  Now this level of repetition is great. They all know the song and activities by heart, so they can really jump in and participate.

The song we use to introduce the bubbles also has a lot of internal repetition, and I usually have them sing that two or three times because it's so short. It builds anticipation for the bubbles, there are natural motions that go along with it, and the caregivers are comfortable singing it and doing the motions without me leading it, which leaves my hands free to prepare my bubble machine for blowing.

We also have a relatively small number of songs and fingerplays that we draw from every week, so they're repeated often throughout the session, but we no longer repeat absolutely everything twice within the storytime itself.

5. Have fun!

The best advice I ever received about leading storytimes was not to do something just because other people enjoyed doing it: you should only do the things that you yourself enjoy doing, because if it's clear you don't like it, your audience won't like it either. There are a lot of great librarians and bloggers out there who do their storytime a certain way because it's what they enjoy and what showcases their strengths as a performer. But just because it works for them, doesn't mean that you have to do the same thing.

For instance, I tried to make nursery rhymes happen with the baby storytime. I believe in their importance for early literacy, I really, really do... but the audience was not really that into it, at least the way I was presenting them (which was mainly via flannel board that previous librarians had created). But to be honest, I didn't think they were very fun, I just thought it was important to do them. I didn't get the sense that the kids or caregivers loved them, probably because I didn't love presenting them that way.

If I were to incorporate more nursery rhymes into the baby storytime again, I'd find some other way to do it. We often shake our shakers to simple songs like "Baa Baa Black Sheep," but we could also do them to short nursery rhymes.  We could also turn them into opportunities for some gross motor activity.  I love the way that Jason from the Webster Public Library does "Jack Be Nimble" (in fact, I think I may start doing a gross motor nursery rhyme with my preschool storytime every week):

These lessons may already have been familiar to you, but I guess I had to learn them the hard way. I'd love to know, though: what are some of your hard-earned storytime lessons? What did you start out doing that you no longer do?

Preschool Fish Storytime

Our storytime theme this week was fish. We had a sort of "red in tooth and claw" thing going on this week -- a lot of fish songs and books are about small fish getting eaten by larger fish.  Who knew?

The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino

A very cute book about a girl who wants a pet pony, but receives a fish instead. I introduced this by asking if any of the kids watched the TV show Oswald. There were some who did, so I pointed out that the author and illustrator of this book, Dan Yaccarino, also created the show Oswald and that the pictures might look familiar. The parents were excited to learn this, and it was a good reminder to me that it's never too early to point out these connections to the kids. I could have done it, for instance, when I read Knuffle Bunny last week, since we'd read another Mo Willems book earlier in the session. 

"Five Little Fishies" Flannel

I took five felt fish from an existing flannel board set and printed out a clip-art shark onto cardstock.  We sang a variation of "Teasing Mrs. Kitty"

"Five little fishies, swimming in the sea
Teasing Mr. Shark, 'You can't catch me!'
Along came Mr. Shark, quiet as can be...
Then.... SNAP!"

I had the kids hold their palms parallel to each other like big fish jaws and clap them shut when I yelled, "SNAP!" I had a lot of fun making them anticipate it.  I would have preferred to have a shark hand puppet, but I just held the cardstock shark in one hand and grabbed the fish with my other hand hidden behind it. Worked well enough!

Where's the Fish by Taro Gomi

On each page, the book asks the reader to spot a hiding pink fish -- he's in a flowerpot, in a jar of candies, in a room full of toys... and he keeps getting harder to spot! I knew my preschoolers would really enjoy this book, although I had worries about how I would share it with a larger audience. I told them upfront that the pictures were small, and it was hard to spot the fish, so that I would be walking around the room and let anyone who was seated have a chance to look at the picture up close.  I showed about four pictures -- not the whole book -- and I alternated which side of the room I started on.  Everyone was patient, and the kids really enjoyed looking for the fish. 

A giant squid is bigger than clams, than shrimp, than an octopus! He thinks he's the biggest thing in the ocean..., but is he? I love this book, and the illustrations are great for sharing. I let the kids shout out which ocean creature was on each page. I was impressed by their vocabulary... thank you, Finding Nemo!  This lead very nicely into our next song....

Check out this pretty adorable video for a demonstration of kids singing the song "Slippery Fish." I did this one a cappella. We did this in the winter session, so some of the kids remembered it, but we did a quick recap of the motions for everyone.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

I introduced this one to the kids by unfolding the book, showing them the entire cover, and saying, "This is a book about a group of fish, and one of them in particular. His name is Swimmy. He's this one right here." The kids immediately picked up that Swimmy was black, and the other fish were red, which hooked them right into the story. I was  little worried that Swimmy was too quiet and subtle for my group, but they really liked it. Again, they got to show off their ocean vocabulary as Swimmy explored the ocean and we said the word "anemone" a lot because it's so funny.

We finished out with a round of "If You're a Fish and You Know It" (we swam around and went "blub blub.")

Our craft was a paper plate fish, with a triangle wedge cut out and stapled on for its tail, like so. I thought it was adorable, but the kids did not seem to spend so much time coloring and decorating this one as they do with other crafts. I wonder if the plate was hard to color -- maybe markers would have worked better?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bunny Storytime

I'm several weeks behind on my storytime write-ups because it's been a busy, busy month. But it had some great professional news... more on that when it's public.

This week, we did a bunny-themed storytime.  It was a weird storytime in that my supplemental activities all were big hits, but some of my books were just ho-hum.

I began with my typical welcome song and the Mystery Bag. Because we're doing another "b" word theme later in the session, I used "r" words for "rabbit." I was a bit rushed this week, so I used pictures instead of physical objects, and the kids didn't seem to mind at all. They threw out a lot of great "R" words!

I was very excited to read one of my very favorite books...

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

I felt very confident about how I would read this aloud, and I just adore this book... but it didn't get the response I'd hoped for.  We had a very large audience, so I wonder if perhaps the illustrations weren't the best for sharing with a big group.  Or maybe my Trixie impression isn't just as funny as I'd like to think. It wasn't a flop or anything... they definitely listened... but no one was laughing or responding to the book.  I also think that maybe I should have pointed out that Knuffle Bunny was in the washing machine when they left the laundromat.  Rookie librarian mistake.  One of the best things about doing storytime is that I really do learn how to improve each week. I'm so much more confident than I was when I started 11 months ago.

If You're Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre

This was a huge hit. I like incorporating "song books" into storytime -- I feel like I'm a mom sneaking in vegetables into dessert, since it feels like I can sneak an extra book into storytime -- and this one went over very well. Parents and kids alike had fun guessing what animal would be on the next page.  They especially liked growling for the growly animals.  I am definitely going to bring this one to preschool outreach.

B-U-N-N-Y (Bingo)

I took large letters made of EZ Felt and placed them on the board spelling B-U-N-N-Y. Or at least that's what I meant to do... somehow the Y fell out of my basket on my way into storytime. So I made the kids pretend a Y was there, and we all drew a Y in the air with our fingers, and then I said we were going to sing the song Bingo, but instead of B-I-N-G-O, we'd spell Bunny. And since my Y was already missing, I said we'd do something extra tricky, and take the letters away from the end of the word first instead of the beginning. This was actually very fun, and I'd recommend trying it for a round of regular ol' Bingo. Everyone had to pay attention a little bit more, and the song sounded a little different with the claps in different places. A good reminder that it's fun to play around with the classics.

Forest Friends Flannel Story

I improvised a story based off some flannel pieces we had in a folder and based off an outline another librarian at my library gave me. I don't tell flannel stories like this very often, but I enjoyed it, and maybe I'll incorporate more of this into my storytimes.  My story went something like this....

"Once upon a time there lived three friends in a forest: a bunny, a bird, and a duck. Each of them had a very special home in the forest. The duck lived in a pond, where he could swim and catch fish to eat; the bird lived in a big tree where she could see the entire forest; and the bunny lived in a a hole underneath a big bush, where he was safe and warm. One day the three friends wanted to play together. "Come to my pond," said the duck. "We will dive and swim!" But the bird and the rabbit said, "We cannot come to your pond. We do not know how to swim." So the bird said, "Come to my tree! You can see the whole forest from the highest branch!" But the duck and rabbit did not know how to climb a tree. "Come join me in my bush," said the rabbit! But the bush was full of prickly brambles, and the duck and bird did not want to get scratched. So they thought about what they could do together, and they thought and they thought and they thought..." And the rabbit said, "I know! We can read a book together!" So that's exactly what they did.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

This also went over really well.  I held up the cover of the book, but covered up the title and asked people what it was a picture of.  Most kids shouted, "Rabbit!" I then asked if anyone thought it looked like something else.  A few parents said, "A bird!"  The entire audience was really engaged with the whole book, and it was a very interactive experience. I like it when books engage the parents as much as the kids. This is another one I'm going to bring to preschool outreach.

I Think I'm a Bunny by Todd McHatton

This was my grand experiment... which was an utter failure. My kids love the song I Think I'm a Bunny. We have sung it on many a car trip to much giggling. I really wanted to incorporate the accompanying video into the bunny storytime somehow. I debated doing it as a puppet show, with a kid puppet and a purple monster puppet, but, well, I didn't have either of those things. I ended up just decided to hold up my iPad and play the video, but first I held up a picture of the monster and asked the kids what they thought he was.  It actually paralleled nicely with the previous book.  The kids were pretty sure it was a monster, not a bunny.  So I played the video, and... some kids stood up, but then the kids behind them couldn't see, so I paused the video, had all the kids come sit right in front of me, restarted the video... and radio silence. No real response to it -- no one thought it was funny (at least no one was laughing), no parent or child seemed engaged. Well, actually the kids WERE watching it, but they had that glazed-over screen time look.  I stopped it about halfway through the song.

I knew going into it that it was a risk, but I just couldn't help myself.  I am definitely interested in incorporating my iPad into more storytimes, but only in an interactive way, not in a, "Hey, let's watch this video" way, no matter how awesome it is.

(But you should watch it, because it really is awesome.)

So then I went onto my final book.... which also fell kind of flat, sadly.

Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells

I love the Max and Ruby books, and I thought that a lot of the kids would be familiar with them from the Nick Jr. TV show. (I was right about this.) I also thought the kids and their families might not know that the series originated as books. (I was right about that, too.)  But this didn't garner quite the reaction I was hoping for. I think maybe it would be better suited for one on one telling rather than reading it to a large group.

To finish, we did the Bunny Hokey Pokey, where we put our right paws (our right foot and hand), left paws, bunny ears (index fingers on the tops of our heads), and bunny tails in and out and shook them all about.

The craft was a rabbit hat made out of construction paper. It was very cute, and we had a lot of bunnies hopping around the department post-storytime.

Friday, April 12, 2013

KidLit Pilgrimage: Klickitat Street

Me on Klickitat Street, 2001 (Excuse the bad fashion..)
Today is Drop Everything and Read Day, in honor of Beverly Cleary's birthday, and today's KidLit Pilgrimage is also in honor of Ms. Cleary. She was my favorite author growing up and is probably a huge part of why I became a children's librarian.

My husband was a consultant for many years, which meant that he's worked in lots of different cities. Pre-kids, I always enjoyed spending a weekend or two where he was staffed and getting to explore a new city. One of my fondest memories is when he was staffed in Maryland, and we spent a morning getting library cards to allow us access to the Library of Congress. Swoon.

He worked off and on outside Portland, Oregon for a number of years, the first time in 2001.  And the first time I went out there to visit him, I had one thing on my mind: visiting Beverly Cleary's Portland. 

I didn't know a lot about Portland as a kid growing up in suburban Chicago, but I did know that you could see Mount Hood on clear days. And that Ramona lived in Klickitat Street. And... that's about it.  I didn't even know if Klickitat Street was even real, but I was excited to learn that it was. So I printed up directions from the hotel we were staying at to Klickitat Street (this was long before smartphones or GPS, back when the concept of Google Maps was amazing. Actually, it was probably Mapquest back then... Anyway...)

Cleary, I believe, never lived on Klickitat Street, but she lived close by and she'd always loved that particular name, so when she started out writing the adventures of Henry Huggins, she set his house on Klickitat. Cleary's books, I think, have a very real time and place. As a kid, I really had no idea what Ramona's neighborhood looked like -- my worldview at that point didn't expand much past "1970s planned suburban subdivision" -- but as soon as I started walking around Klickitat Street and the surrounding neighborhood, I knew I was walking where Ramona lived. I could just recognize the landscape from Cleary's familiar words.

The city of Portland has erected a beautiful sculpture garden in the neighborhood park.  There's a neighborhood map that points out local landmarks and their significance in Cleary's books, and there's also sculptures of Ramona, Henry, and Beezus.  It's just perfect.  I've been back to Portland many times since then, but I've not made a pilgrimage back to the garden.  I'll have to take my kids there the next time I go.


Henry Huggins

Neighborhood map

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Elephant Storytime

Week two of our spring storytime session brings... elephants!

I did my usual welcome song, "Welcome Welcome Everyone," and dove right into the mystery bag. (When I brought all my props into the programming room, some eagle-eyed preschoolers were quick to remind me I had forgotten the mystery bag!)

Everything in the bag began with E this week, which turned out to be a hard one.  There was an elephant, of course, and an egg (left over from Easter), a ball that looked like Earth, an eraser, and an envelope.  We had a great vocabulary discussion about the envelope -- kids got Earth right away, but no one knew the word envelope, guessing instead "letter' or "mail."  One of my storytime kids had a name that began with E, and the audience also shouted out "ear" and "elevator."

The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet

A series of jungle animals refuse to help each other, but a humble ant and a mighty elephant prove you're never too big or small to help someone. I selected this beforehand, but was a little worried about it because of its length.  And it turns out I was right on both counts. It was really much too long for my audience today, so I ended up paraphrasing and telling the story in my own words rather than read the text.  In retrospect, this would have probably made a great flannel story, although I do love Bill Peet's illustrations.The kids and parents, however, did really like the story and responded to its message.  I was able to demonstrate dialogic reading, by asking the kids to predict what each animal would do, and also we worked on narrative skills, by asking the kids to recall what each animal's problem was.

Five Elephants in a Bathtub Flannel

I saw a couple references to this online, but I did not have the time to make my own elephants, so I used the printable template provided by Sunflower Storytime. The kids really loved this, too.  I'm usually not a huge fan of the storytime standby Five Little Whatsits, in which the presenter puts five little elephants or birds or monkeys on the board and recites a cute little poem... mainly because I don't think I'm very good at presenting them and my audience seems bored. I do love ones like this, though, where the kids are as much a part of the rhyme as I am. 

Big Little Action Rhyme

I came up with this idea minutes before storytime and decided to run with it.  I was glad I did because it was big hit.  I started out by saying in our last book, we read about an elephant who was very very big (and here I made myself as physically big as possible and spoke in a big voice) and a very little ant (and here, I crouched down into a tiny ball and squeaked my words).  I asked them to think of other things that were big and little, and started out by asking everyone to pretend they were trees and whether or not they were big or little.  After we were big tall trees, I asked them to think of something that was little, kind of thinking along the lines of a flower or something, but someone yelled, "A worm!" so worms we were.  The kids made great contributions to this one, and I followed their lead as to what big and small things we pretended to be.  We were little mice and birds and big dinosaurs and ostriches, and it led very nicely into the next book which was...

Big and Little by John Stadler

Told by a mouse circus leader, this lift-the-flap book follows Ellie the Elephant as she climbs a ladder and dares to dive into a little glass of water.  This one begs to be read aloud to an audience, and mine enjoyed the cute twist ending.  This was a short read, and I love adding quick little books like this to my storytimes. I almost overlooked it thinking it was too young for my audience, but I'm glad I didn't.

"You're an Elephant," Geof Johnson off the Exercise Party CD

I've made a conscious effort to include recorded music in my storytimes, especially as a way to work on gross motor skills and give the active kids a chance to move their bodies.  This one was perfect -- there's a repeated part where you have to stomp your feet, wave your ears, and swing your trunk like an elephant.  The rest of the time, we just free-formed danced pretending we were elephants.  A welcome break and a great lead-in into my final book which was....

Let's Go For a Drive by Mo Willems

Oh, how could you do an elephant storytime without an Elephant and Piggie book?  I thought this one was especially fun to read aloud because there's a repeated refrain of "Drive-drive-drivey-drive-drive." I got the kids to sing along with me, and again, it was a great way to demonstrate dialogic reading as I asked the kids to predict what items would need on their drive to protect them from the sun and the rain.  This one got giggles from kids and parents alike.

To finish it out, we closed, as I always try to, with a version of "If You're Happy and You Know It." We were elephants, and we knew it, so we stomped our feet, waved our ears, and shook our tails.  (The kids really liked shaking their tails!!)

For our craft, we had a patchwork elephant -- very Elmer-esque, if you ask me.  Kids got an outline of an elephant on white paper that was divided up into little puzzle segments and construction paper in different colors that had been cut to match the puzzle segments. This was a challenge for the kids in a good way, and a lot of the caregivers were vocally appreciative of this craft.

There were a lot of other great elephant books, and I had planned to read What to Do If An Elephant Stands On Your Foot, but... I ran out of time. Oh well!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sheep/Lamb Storytime

March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so what better theme to kick off our spring storytime session with than lambs?  (I took the liberty of extending the theme to sheep in general, not just those of the baby variety.)

I presented this storytime three times this week with alterations to each group: once to my regular preschool storytime crowd at the library, and twice at a local preschool as part of our outreach program. At the preschool, I presented to a group of two year olds and to a group of three and four year olds.

With both preschool groups, I opened (as I always do) with my Mystery Bag. I shamelessly stole this concept from the a post on the ALSC Blog last fall, and have been using it to great success this year. (The Mystery Bag deserves an entire post of its own!)  The Mystery Bag gets filled with items that start with the same letter as the theme for that week. I show the kids the letter and demonstrate the sound it makes and ask them to guess what might be in my bag that starts with that sound.  I decided to get a little bit tricky this week and go with things that started with the sound "SH" for sheep. In my bag, I had a shirt, a shoe, a shovel, a pair of shorts, and, of course, a sheep.  This one was a little bit tricky for the kids: the abundance of clothes threw them off and made them think of other items of clothing, and I think the consonant blend may have been a bit too sophisticated. Nevertheless, everyone enjoyed it for sure.

Books I used for this storytime were:

Sneaky Sheep by Chris Monroe
I read this to both groups of preschoolers, and they really loved it. Two sheep want to explore a dangerous meadow high atop a mountain, but are thwarted at every turn by the loyal sheepdog who guards their flock.Not only was it hilarious, but it turned out to be a great one for dialogic reading. I asked the kids before the book started why the thought the sheep would be sneaky, or what the dangers to sheep might be, or how the sheep might get out of an especially tough situation.

The Sheep Fairy: When Wishes Have Wings by Ruth Louise Symes
I also read this to both groups of preschoolers. A sheep rescues a fairy, who grants her one wish as thanks. Sweet and funny.

Three Bags Full by Ragnhild Scamell
A generous sheep gives her woolly coat away to help other animals stay warm, but what is she to do when winter comes to the farm? Mrs. Farmer come to the rescue! I thought this book was very sweet, but it wasn't a smash hit with my first group of preschoolers, so I didn't read it to my second. I think this would be better in a smaller group or one on one.

Where Is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox
A classic for a reason. I read this to all three groups, who all adored it and really engaged with it. I don't think any of the adults were familiar with it, so I was pleased to introduce it to everyone. It was a lot of fun to read the book to different groups on the same day and see how they became more sophisticated at guessing some of the sheep ("brave sheep," "clown sheep") as they got older.

Wee Little Lamb by Lauren Thompson
The two-year-old group I read this to was perhaps the quietest and best-behaved group of twos I've ever presented to, and boy, did they love this sweet book about a little lamb who is too shy to go play with the other creatures in the field but instead wants to stay close to his mama. It was adorable and would be great for one year olds as well.

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw
A hit with the two-year-old group as well. We had a lot of fun continuing to say "Beep beep!" throughout the story, even though it was only written on the first page. A nice introduction to rhyming words.

We sang "Baa Baa Black Sheep," of course, and my other main storytime activity this week was my color lambs.  I cribbed the idea from 1234 More Storytimes.

I put up a white lamb and had everyone sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with its fleece as white as snow, but then I said, "You probably didn't know that Mary had a lot of other lambs, too, who were all sorts of colors!" With my younger kids, who were just learning their colors, I put up the lambs one by one, named the color, and put up the object that was that color. Then we sang the song again, e.g. "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was as red as an apple."  With my older kids, I put all the lambs out at once at the top half of the board, and all my objects at the bottom of the board, and asked them to match them up. We also named different things that were each color.  This was a huge hit with all groups. It took a very long time, so I didn't get to a lot of my other flannels or songs this week. I had an idea of doing baby animal vocabulary -- sheep/lamb, horse/foal, cow/calf -- which I still think would be great, but I just ran out of time. I'll have to save it for another storytime...

For the craft, the kids made a lamb puppet out of a brown paper bag, some paper cut-outs, and a cotton ball.