Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Preschool Lab: Building

We're back from storytime break and I finally got to do another Preschool Lab! This week, we talked about building and construction, exploring the concept in a brief storytime (20 minutes) and then opening up for playtime with lots of different building materials.

Books on display and our take-home craft packets

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Tip Tip, Dig Dig by Emma Garcia. This is a great book for audience participation. I had the kids dig, roll, lift, and push along with me as we read the text.

Song: Dump Truck. I found this song on Katie Salo's Storytime Katie blog. The kids loved it!

(Tune: Bumpin' Up and Down in my Little Red Wagon)
Bumpety-bumpety goes the dump truck!
Bumpety-bumpety goes the dump truck!
Bumpety-bumpety goes the dump truck!
Duuump out the load!

We sang it through once and then I asked what we should put in our dump truck. The kids suggested wood, sand, and concrete as we sang the song again several times.

Book: Construction Zone by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Richard Sobol. I wanted to use a book with actual pictures and this is a great one. The text is a little long for my preschool audience, so I paraphrased or just described what was happening in the pictures. As much as I could, I tried to relate the building in the book to our library building, pointing out our two floors, the fixtures in our story room, etc. Both of the books we read today have lots of great vocabulary words!

Rhyme:  Five Little Nails. I got this rhyme and prop idea from Melissa Depper at Mel's Desk, but we actually didn't use it today. I had it in my plan, but the kids were a little squirrelly after that longer book, so I decided to skip the rhyme and go right into our felt activity, which would give them a chance to get up from their seat.

Felt Board Activity: Color Machines. I passed out the machines and had each child bring their machine up to our "Construction Zone" as I called for it. (Our set of color machines includes one in each color that does not have a felt backing and has a label with the machine name on it, which makes it easier! This is a great activity for reinforcing some of the vocabulary words we'd heard in our books. Also, using activities where children approach the storyteller helps them get used to approaching adults outside their family (including, one day, their schoolteacher!).

Stations: Today we were all about building, which was lots of fun and pretty easy to put together (win-win). I had stations where the kids could build with Duplos, build with recycled materials, and play on the felt board with our color machines.

The kids had a BLAST building with all our recycled materials. For about 2 weeks before the program, I collected any clean boxes and egg cartons that our library staff was willing to bring in for me. We had cereal boxes, cake mix, crackers, paper clips, etc. I had volunteers tape up the open ends to give the boxes a little more structural integrity. 

This activity was cheap and pretty easy to put together. I especially wanted to try it to demonstrate to parents that you don't need to buy fancy toys to have fun. Probably everybody has some small cardboard boxes they can save up or solicit from friends who would otherwise be throwing them away. One of the parents commented that she had no idea how much fun small cardboard boxes could be and they will be trying this at home. Mission accomplished. :) 

ETA (3/3/14): The science comes in here as kids experiment with building with different materials. What happened when the piece they had didn't fit where they thought it would? How could they use different shapes? What happened when their buildings became top-heavy? How could they balance different "blocks" to create taller towers? How could they provide more support to create bridges and other structures? I saw kids experimenting and answering these questions for themselves as they played. 

As the kids built, I talked to them about what they were building, what pieces they needed, who lived in their castles, etc. 

We're planning to do a weekly storytime and building night this summer and we'll definitely be saving our recyclables again for this activity. 

I encouraged everyone to take a craft packet home. I had a handout with several extension ideas and a book list. In their packet, I included a half-sheet of construction paper and a bunch of shapes cut out from our paper scraps. The instructions encouraged children to build a "shape town" out of the shapes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reading Wildly: Realistic Fiction

This month for our Reading Wildly staff readers' advisory training, we discussed Realistic Fiction. This is a genre that some of our schools cover for book reports, and it can be one that's confusing to people (I've most often had it confused with Nonfiction by patrons). I define realistic fiction as a made up story that's based in reality; it could actually happen. No magic, no science fiction elements. Some might consider historical fiction a branch of realistic fiction, but for the purposes of our discussion, I asked my staff to stay away from historical fiction (a book set in a past historical time period or around a historical event).

We opened our discussion by talking about the article "Keeping It Real: How Realistic Does Realistic Fiction for Children Need to Be?" (link opens a PDF) by Barbara O'Connor (Language Arts, Vol. 87, No. 6, July 2010). The article discusses several elements of realistic fiction and how Barbara O'Connor deals with them as she's writing her books for young people. We talked about how fiction for young people needs to be a mirror and a window, both reflecting the life that children know and opening a window to how different lives are lived. We talked about the importance of realistic dialog and looking for dated language or dialog that doesn't seem natural. And we talked about the importance of finding the right book for the right child. Storylines in realistic fiction are as diverse as the children reading them, so it's important to find out what kind of reading experience a child is looking for.

As you can see, we had a diverse group of books to talk about this month, from funny to heart-wrenching and everywhere in between. These are the books my staff and I booktalked this month:
Next month, we'll be talking about books from popular series. You know the ones. The books that every kid is asking for but maybe you haven't read. Reading the books that kids are gravitating to will not only help you when performing readers' advisory, but it validates the choices kids are making. Yes, some of these popular series have more substance than others, but allowing kids a choice (and valuing their choices) is one way to help kids develop a love of reading.

What series are popular at your library? 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Getting Ready for Readalouds

Michelle Obama reads to children! Photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

As I was getting ready to go to this week's Afterschool visit, I started thinking about the things I do to get ready for storytime. My baby storytimes and preschool storytimes are almost always planned out weeks (or farther) in advance, while I pull my Afterschool books a bit more on the fly. Whether I'm planning in advance or day-of, there are some things I always do to get ready (and really regret when I skip!).

First, I read through all the books I'm planning to read, the scripts of any felt stories, and the text of any rhymes or songs. This may sound basic, but I make sure to read all the way through every book so that there are no surprise endings. My children's services professor in library school told a horror story of picking a dog book on the fly and realizing as she's in the middle of reading it to a group that the dog is not going to make it... Don't let that happen to you! This is also a great chance to make sure that you have all the props you need and put felt pieces in order for easy retrieval.

Especially for new-to-me readalouds, I will often read the book out loud before my program. If there are people in the office, I may make them listen. If I'm prepping at home, I will read to my cat (he is scared of my "wolf voice"). Reading the book out loud helps me catch any bits where the phrasing or emphasis matters. Reading the book out loud all the way through helps me remember where the story arc is going, which may call for a certain reading style. It also helps me determine whether I'll use voices and if I have voices in mind, it helps me solidify them. Of course, sometimes the voice that comes out when I read to a group is slightly different than what I've practiced (which is fine!).

A note on voices: if it works for you, do it. If it doesn't, don't. There are all kinds of ways to read a story and there's no reason to stress yourself out trying to force yourself into a style that's not you. Reading aloud, whether using voices or not, is great for modeling to parents. Both librarians and parents should read in a style they're comfortable with. But also, if you are interested in incorporating character voices, one great way to find inspiration is by listening to audio recordings of the stories. It's not cheating to copy the inflections of the actors or authors reading them!

When you're reading a book out loud before your program, you may discover words that you're not sure how to pronounce. This gives you the chance to look them up and practice before you perform. This is also a great opportunity to make sure you know what tricky words mean so that you can define them for your audience. Don't skip harder words! Defining them for your audience is a great way to increase their vocabulary (and maybe yours, parents', and teachers', as well!).

Putting together all my storytime elements before I perform it (even if it's only an hour before) allows me to figure out what my transitions between books will be or if there is any information I need to share with my kids before reading a book. I'll make an example of the book Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (Chronicle Books, 2013). I love this book and couldn't wait to share it with my Afterschool group, but it flopped a little bit because I hadn't taken the time to read it out loud before I went. I also discovered that many of the kids in my first group had no idea what a carnivore is, which is necessary to understanding the story. Lesson learned!

What are some ways you prep for storytime?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Simple Solutions: Building Squares

This fall, I came across a wonderful series called 25 Days of Art on the blog In the Children's Room. In particular, the post on Building Squares caught my eye. AHA! Cheap, easy, and creative is just what I need our Afterschool crafts to be and this fit the bill perfectly.

Building Squares are small squares of cardboard with varying numbers of slits cut in the sides. Kids can fit them together at the slits. We planned way ahead, knowing that we wanted the prep work to mostly be done by volunteers. (Upside: this gave us several months of volunteer tasks! Yay!)

We needed around 300 sets to take with us on our Afterschool outreach because we wanted each child to be able to keep their set. Cardboard is an abundant commodity here and it really cost us nothing but time and effort (which was mostly volunteered). We bundled them up in sets of 15, held together with a rubber band for distribution. Yes, that was a lot of pieces. Yes, we started cutting months ago. But, of course, you don't need to let your kids keep their sets if you're limited in time or resources.

The kids have loved having these sets and they were really excited to have something to take home with them. We pointed out to them that if they want to extend their sets, they can easily create more (save the box next time you order pizza, save your cereal boxes, etc.). If they wanted to color them when they got home, they totally could.

Building with the squares is a great STEM activity. Encourage kids to design a structure that will stand on the table. See how high they can build it with a limited number of pieces. Can they redesign it to make it higher? How sturdy is their structure? Can they knock it down with their breath? How could they make it sturdier? Encourage them to experiment with their designs and see what happens. For a family program, provide hundreds of squares and ask everyone to work together to build a GIANT tower!

Since they are very cheap and easy to make, building squares would be a great science component to leave out in your children's area. It's easy to replace any pieces that get torn or walk away. And it's great for families to see that you can craft and experiment with materials that do not cost a lot.

This was a cheap, easy craft that worked perfectly for a large outreach event!