Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Preschool Lab: Growing Things

This is our last week of storytimes for the spring and I held Preschool Lab on Monday. This month, we explored how things grow and we talked about tadpoles and frogs, seeds and plants, and caterpillars and butterflies. Here's what we did: 

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello - our standard opener, a signal to kids that we're ready to start, and a chance to move a little bit to get some wiggles out. 

Book: A Tadpole Grows Up by Pam Zollman. This easy reader nonfiction book goes through all the stages in a frog's life, from eggs to tadpoles to frogs. I didn't read every word, but we went through each page and talked about how the frog was changing. We talked about amphibians and how they are different from fish. I like using books with photos, and we talked about what a tadpole looks like. 

Book: Ten Seeds by Ruth Brown. This book counts down from ten as ten seeds are planted and creatures begin eating them or accidentally destroying them on each spread. I like this book because it clearly shows what is happening underground (roots growing) and then what the plant looks like above ground as it grows. This is a great book for pointing out the parts of a plant (roots, stem, leaves, bud, flower). 

Song: Ten Little Flowers (Tune: Ten Little Indians). I learned about this song from Storytime Katie and I use it because it talks about what plants need to grow. We match actions to words and it gives the kids a much-needed chance to stand up and move a little bit. 

One little, two little, three little flowers
Four little, five little, six little flowers
Seven little, eight little, nine little flowers
Ten flowers in the spring
Give them rain and lots of sunshine
Give them rain and lots of sunshine
Give them rain and lots of sunshine
So they'll grow up tall!

Felt Story: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I used my flannel board set purchased from Lakeshore Learning. This is a familiar story to many kids and it's great for talking about the life cycles of butterflies - from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly! I wanted to use this felt set because I left it up as one of our stations, but you could also use the print book or pop-up book!


After our storytime (about 20 minutes), I let everyone break up and visit whichever stations they wanted. While the kids stayed seated, I briefly explained what each station was and I let families know they could spend as long or as short as they wanted at each station and when they were done, they were free to leave. I'm going to be doing preschool science programs all summer and I need to insert a line about early literacy and talk, sing, read, write, play in my intro. I think it will encourage parents to get involved with what their kids are doing and talk more!

Plant a Seed: I purchased all the materials for this station for about $15. We had 11 kids and TONS left over. I purchased peat pots, the smallest bag of potting soil I could find, and marigold seeds. Kids scooped soil into their pot, placed a few seeds in the pot, and covered the seeds with soil. In the take-home packet, I gave them additional instructions: place the pot in a sunny spot and the flowers should sprout in about 2 weeks! I provided bags (left over from last year's Summer Reading Club) for them to carry them home - I could just imagine people getting dirt all over their cars!

Sticky Table: Parts of a Plant: The sticky table is an idea I found on Pinterest via Teach Preschool and one I'm sure we'll use again! Tape contact paper sticky side up on a table. Provide felt pieces and let the kids built their own flowers. This is a great activity for encouraging them to use new words like seed, root, stem, etc. I provided sunflower seeds, yarn for roots, and felt pieces. The sticky table will hold the pieces in place, but you can move them around, pick them up so another kid can do it, etc. I only put a piece of tape on each edge, but it is pretty darn sticky, so when we do this again I'll actually put tape all around the edges. 

Tadpoles!!!! I'm lucky to have a friend who gets tadpoles every year in his defunct swimming pool. We went out last weekend before the program and caught some tadpoles for the kids to observe. I put out magnifying glasses so kids could get a closer look. After the program, we released the tadpoles back into the wild. No tadpoles were harmed in the making of this program!

Felt Board & Life Cycle Toys: I left out the pieces for The Very Hungry Caterpillar on the felt board and I put out the Life Cycle Sequencing Kit, purchased at Lakeshore Learning. Kids really enjoyed handling the plastic figures and we had some great conversations!


For their take-home project, I sent home the pieces to make this butterfly life cycle with pasta, found on The Thoughtful Spot Day Care. I did not include real leaves and sticks since I was prepping in advance, but I drew leaf shapes on scraps of green construction paper and included strips of brown construction paper that represent leaves and sticks. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reading Wildly: Sports Books

This month for Reading Wildly, my staff and I read sports books. We get a lot of requests for sports books and I know it's a genre that I'm not particularly drawn to, which made this a great month for expanding my horizons! I know some of my staff members felt the same way, but with the variety of books in our collection, everyone found something good to read.

We kicked off our discussion by talking about our article of the month. Now, I KNOW that not only boys read sports books, but I chose a chapter from the book Serving Boys Through Readers' Advisory by Michael Sullivan. We read Chapter 5, "Booktalking for Boys". Sullivan shares advice for engaging boys (and particularly boys who are not already readers) when booktalking. His advice includes keeping booktalks short, making them interactive, and focusing on elements that will appeal to boys. That last bit was especially important for me to remember: it's okay to choose which elements of a book you'll talk about and it's essential to match your booktalk to your audience. Don't feel like you have to tell the kids about every single element of a book, just mention the elements/the hook that will appeal to your audience. You're trying to SELL a book, not give it a fair and balanced review. It's okay to trick kids into reading a book. ;)

One thing Sullivan recommends for booktalks is to have the books available for kids to take immediately. This is especially essential for non-readers who are not likely to expend extra effort to seek out a book. My staff and I had a brainstorming session about how we could make this happen when we booktalk to classes. We thought about possibly purchasing extra copies of books that we frequently like to booktalk and encouraging kids to bring their library cards when we're coming so that we could check books out while we're there. We'll continue to try to figure out a system that works for us!

One thing we will definitely do is incorporate booktalks into as many programs as possible this summer!

So... sports books! Here are the books we booktalked this month:

My staff found a variety of books to bring to the table this month, books for younger readers and older readers. There was also a wide variety of different sports discussed, and some books with boy characters and some books with girl characters.

Next month, we're talking about multicultural books. We'll start our discussion by talking about the recent New York Times article "The Apartheid of Children's Literature" by Christopher Myers. I also distributed copies of the book list 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know, compiled by the Cooperative Children's Book Center. This is not a required list for our book discussion next month, but it'll give my staff a good starting point if they're not sure what they want to read. I had a great question from one of my library assistants. He asked if our book for next month had to be realistic fiction or if it could be fantasy or another genre. I told him that any genre fiction featuring protagonists of color or from cultures outside the US would be GREAT for us to know about! 

My question for YOU today has to do with the chapter on booktalking we all read: when you booktalk to groups, are you able to place books in the kids' hands? If you're visiting a group outside the library, how do you make that happen? 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Poetry Egg Hunt

April is National Poetry Month and we celebrated that with our homeschoolers this month at Fantastic Friday! I've been trying to come up with fun activities to add to our program, and - I'm not kidding - I literally dreamed this activity while I was on vacation.

We did a Poetry Egg Hunt!

I printed out the words to two nursery rhymes ("Humpty Dumpty" and "Sing a Song of Sixpence"), each on a different color paper. I cut out all the words and stuffed them into colorful plastic eggs. When the families arrived, I entertained them in our program room for about 10 minutes (announcements about upcoming programs, booktalking and sharing some poetry with them) while my colleagues hid the eggs throughout our department.

Once the eggs were hidden, I released the kids to find all the eggs and put them in a large communal basket. Once we had all the eggs*, we brought them back into our program room, cracked them open, sorted out the blue words and the yellow words, and I challenged the kids to unscramble the words to make up their nursery rhymes. I provided construction paper and glue for them to glue the words down as they unscrambled them.

The kids had a BLAST searching for the eggs and some of them really got into sorting out the rhymes. It was an easy and fun activity to kick off our poetry program.

I chose nursery rhymes because I was relatively certain that all or most of the kids would be familiar with them, but this would certainly work with any poems.

Some tips from our experience:

  • Create a backup set of words in case some get lost or any eggs remain unfound. That way your kids can still unscramble the entire rhyme (can they tell you which words are missing?).  
  • Have a printout of the rhymes you're using just IN CASE your kids don't happen to know the nursery rhymes you picked. I had a couple that didn't know "Sing a Song of Sixpence", but one of the moms helped out. 
  • I put the words to "Humpty Dumpty" on yellow paper and hid those words in the warm-color eggs (pinks, reds, oranges, yellows) and the words to "Sing a Song of Sixpence" on blue paper and hid those words in the cool-color eggs (blues, greens, purples). I had a moment where I thought only 3 kids had shown up, so I was prepared to only hide half the eggs.
  • Count the eggs so you know when the kids have found them all!
  • We didn't, but you may want to create a map of where the eggs are hidden so you can make sure you get them all. Or this might be more work than it's worth. 
  • You may want to hide the eggs in advance, but it worked for us to do them after our families had arrived and were in the meeting room. That way we didn't have to worry about other children walking off with them or about keeping the kids from starting early when they arrived to play before the program.

We did this program with our homeschoolers as part of our monthly homeschool program, but I think this activity would work well with a variety of groups. It's conducive to a wide range of ages - we had a span of ages 4-16 at this particular program. To do it like we did it, at least some of the kids need to be reading to unscramble the poems, but if you wanted to try something like this with pre-readers, consider: 

  • Unscrambling the rhyme as a group with the librarian reading the words and the kids helping recite the rhyme.
  • Having a pre-written poem on large paper or your dry-erase board and the kids searching for rhyming words to fill in the gaps. 
  • Hiding rhyming words and asking kids to help you match them up when the group gets back together. 

And this doesn't necessarily have to be a poem activity! For a group tour, you could hide the titles of books or subjects and ask the kids to use your catalog to find the call numbers. You could hide letters and ask the kids to put them in alphabetical order. The possibilities are numerous. 

Are you doing any programs or lessons for National Poetry Month? I'd love to hear about what you're doing! 

* Okay, all but one. There is still one egg floating around somewhere in our department. We'll probably find it in June.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Preschool Lab: Weather

This month for Preschool Lab, we talked about weather. This was a great week for it since we have been having LOTS of different types of weather recently. Here's what we did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello - our standard opener and a signal to my friends that it's time to start storytime.

Book: Hello Sun by Dayle Anne Dodds, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa (Dial, 2005). This book has bouncy, rhyming text that explores what we wear for different types of weather. This was a great book to introduce many kinds of different weather to our friends.

Book: Rain by Manya Stojic (Crown Books for Young Readers, 1999). In this book, we use all our senses to explore a rainstorm on the African plains. Our STEM moment for the day came when I read about rhino squelching in the mud after the rain and a chorus of "Eeeew!"s rang out. I explained that many animals bathe in mud to keep cool and to keep their skin healthy. One of my friends called out "Like pigs!" Exactly! What a great connection!

We also used some sound effects with this book - slapping our knees to make thunder sounds and I used the rainstick when the rain finally started coming down.

Book with Scarves: Duckie's Rainbow by Frances Barry (Candlewick, 2004). We practiced our colors and listening/following directions by reading this book with scarves. For more details about this activity, check out my recent spring storytime.

Book: It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw (HarperCollins, 1947). Clouds can be many different shapes, as we notice in this book.

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?


Wind. We can't SEE wind, but we can see what it DOES. I put together a tub with different materials and put out a box of straws. Children blew through the straws to see which objects moved and which did not. To incorporate writing, I put out basic charts so that families could record which objects could be moved with breath and which could not.

Umbrella Counting Game. I made my own template for the Rainy Day Counting game I found on Kiwi Crate. Children could color and cut out their umbrella cards and use the blue craft marbles to count out raindrops. I included some additional activity ideas for the umbrella cards in their take-home packets. If you don't have craft marbles laying around, you can just as easily use cotton balls for cloud counting.

Temperature. I put out our thermometers (from a Lake Shore science kit) and cups of water, some of which were room temperature and some of which had ice cubes in them. Families could explore how to use a thermometer and whether our water was hotter or colder.

Felt Board. I put out felt pieces from our story It Looked Like Spilt Milk and I left out our rain stick for exploration.

I also put out a weather book display and take-home craft packets with the supplies to make this weather tracker from Storytime Katie!

And now, let's hope that our weather is taking a turn for the better (finally)!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Alchemy of a Homeschool Program

or, Fantastic Friday Revamp (Again!)

Photo by Horia Vorlan
I've posted before about my monthly homeschool program Fantastic Friday and how we revamped it last year based on feedback from one of my very involved homeschool parents.

The revamp seemed like a dream come true - the program practically ran itself! With the kids presenting projects, all I really had to do was provide a room, make some announcements, and come up with materials (book lists and displays) to help them find resources for the next month's topic. It was so much less work for staff and I felt like the kids were getting much more out of it.

And then they stopped coming.

I mean, not all at once. I had pretty good attendance consistently throughout 2012-2013. We were okay at the first meeting this school year in September - lots of new families trying it out. But then every month, attendance dropped. I tried to rally everyone in December. Our topic was food and I advertised it as a potluck; even if you didn't have a project, please come and enjoy food! I even personally emailed families who had come in the past and invited them to hang out and share our snacks.

Attendance still went down. And in January I only had the same 3 dedicated families who had been coming almost every month. And one of those families informed me they were moving out of town. And with so few kids, the program was getting super short. The kids were nervous. They blitzed through their presentations and my "program" was only lasting 15 minutes.

I needed a change.

But I struggled with this because my loyal families had professed so much love for the program. At the end of last school year, they had specifically approached me and asked me to keep the same format. How could I make the program work for the library and still have a program that would work for these families?

So, in February I revamped a little bit. We were meeting on Valentine's Day, so instead of concentrating so much on the kids' presentations, I decided to start with a craft making Valentine's Day cards. I researched some new listservs to reach out to and I billed it as "Come make Valentine's Day cards!" and if anyone wanted to share a project or booktalk with the group, they were welcome to do it.

Friends, my attendance went from my expected 6 kids to, like 18 that day. And not only was attendance up, but having some icebreaker time doing the craft together at the beginning helped the kids relax and do better in their presentations. Instead of such a formal setting, it was more like sharing with a group of friends.

I did something similar in March: our theme was science and we started the day by making play-doh volcanoes and exploding them. (Side note: this is a simple, cheap project [get play-doh at the Dollar Store!], and the kids LOVE IT, even if they have done it before!) Again, attendance was good. The new format had attracted some new families.

I've dreamed up a poetry scavenger hunt for April and then in May we'll do our End-of-the-Homeschool-Year party.

Having an activity at the beginning of the program gives me something I can really advertise. It lifts the pressure on families to have a project every month. It attracts kids who might never want to present (and that is fine). It fleshes out our program and helps the kids get to know each other. It allows me to tell a new family who just stopped in the day before our program "hey, come do a craft with us and get to know some other homeschooling families" instead of "you need to have a project completed to share with the group, so... maybe next time". (Not that we were ever telling families that last thing. But I'm sure they felt like it sometimes! And then we've lost them!)

As I start planning for the fall months, I'm going to:
  • keep topics basic so that they're very open as far as the projects we're doing. I'm going to concentrate on subjects that homeschooling families are probably already going to cover - art, history, science - with a few more specific months thrown in - Black History Month, my favorite book.
  • look for simple activities or crafts that will work for ages 3-15 (older siblings are great with helping younger siblings) and allow for creativity. Creative activities/crafts let me stand back and see what the kids will come up with instead of giving explicit instructions = much easier for me.
  • continue to seek new outlets to advertise the program and encourage new families to come. I think with an activity to advertise, this will be easier than the previous iteration of our program.
  • probably forget about the book and project list that I had been doing. While book lists are certainly a good resource, our families don't seem to be using them. With much broader topics, book lists are probably only marginally helpful, anyway. Instead, I'll make sure to let everyone know that our ever-helpful librarians are happy to suggest books and help find resources (at any time, not just for this program). 

Will this format work for us forever? I don't know. We'll use it as long as it's working and then reevaluate again! Change is a good thing, and we need to be constantly evaluating our programs and tweaking them to make them better for families, better for the children, and better for staff. And when you hit on something that works better, it's such a great feeling!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

January, February & March Afterschool

Afterschool was hit or miss for us this year as our kids had SO MANY SNOW DAYS and thus many of our visits were canceled. And now we're starting to wrap up the school year (yup - doesn't feel like it, but April will be our last month for Afterschool visits!).

Here are the biggest hits over the past few months of Afterschool:

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2004). This nonfiction book shares facts about many animals from around the world. The cool part? The illustrations are made ACTUAL SIZE, so they show you just how big (or small) these animals really are! The short, simple text makes this an easy one to read aloud. Kids LOVE learning fun facts about animals (and sharing what they know!), so this is great for incorporating some nonfiction in your readalouds.

Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick Press, 2013). A baby dinosaur hatches and decides to give a kiss... but she doesn't exactly get it right the first time. After some whomping, stomping, and chomping, she meets a friend who can finally kiss the way dinosaurs kiss! At first the kids thought this was going to be a sappy story ("Is this a kissing book?" YEP!), but it's actually funny. This is a great readaloud for February since it can go along with Valentine's Day, or for any time since it is hilarious. 

My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza (Puffin, 2003). When a piglet shows up at Mr. Wolf's door, Mr. Wolf thinks it's his lucky day! How often does dinner just SHOW UP on your doorstep?! But after piglet's done with him, your listeners will know just whose lucky day it really is. This is another silly story that'll have the kids laughing.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, 2011). It starts with Floyd's kite. Stuck in a tree. And to get the kite down? Floyd throws his shoe at it. But guess what? The shoe gets stuck... and so on and so on until most of the neighborhood is stuck in the tree, too! This is a really wacky story and the kids really responded to the humor in it. 

There were other books, but these were my biggest hits this winter. For crafts, we did building squares, made Valentine's Day cards*, and colored slap blank slap bracelets (found on Oriental Trading!).

What new books have you found that are great for K-4th readalouds? Any old standbys I need to know about? I'm always looking for new books to share with my groups!

* After February 14 they became I love you/Happy birthday/Whatever cards. Make sure you have some different colors of construction paper and you're good to go. Kids LOVE to make cards.