Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Noon Year's Eve 2017-2018

Happy New Year! This is my first post of 2018! Like in years past, I kicked off the new year (or, more accuately, ended the old year) with a Noon Year's Eve Party, where we counted down to 12:00 noon! Only slightly modified from last year's version, the program included homemade crowns, time capsules, a balloon drop, sparkling apple cider, a photo back drop, and a few rounds of Noon Year's Eve Bingo, complete with prizes!

Before the program, I set the room up with a few key elements:

1. The balloon drop (After trying a couple, this one, $10-ish on Amazon, is my favorite). 
2. The countdown to noon projected on the wall to build anticipation (made with timeanddate.com, and seen above). 
3. The photo backdrop (this one from Oriental Trading) so I could photograph the kids against it.
4. Plastic champagne flutes and sparkling cider.
5. Craft stuff (which I'll discuss below).
6. Music.

Like I said, this year's program was really similar to past Noon Year's Eve programs. I started the kids off by having them decorate 2018 crowns (which I made and pre-cut for them) so they could be festive when the balloons dropped at 12:00.

I had also created a two-sided worksheet which I called a "time capsule." On one side of the sheet it asked kids to list their favorite things (favorite color, favorite book, favorite movie, etc.) and on the other side it asked them to draw a self-portrait. When the kids were finished with their sheets, I had them fold them up and put them in boxes (these from Oriental Trading), which they could also color and decorate. I had out crayons and an assortment of foam stickerts that were leftover from other crafts (mostly these from Oriental Trading with a few others tossed in the mix) for all of their various crafting needs. Then, as each kid finished up, I came around and sealed each of their boxes up with sticker that said "Do Not Open Until January 1st 2019" (which I just made myself on on blank labels).

Then it was time to countdown! The kids gathered at the balloon drop and, at exactly noon, the balloon bag was yanked open by its string, allowing the balloons to slowly tumble onto the kids. They were so excited about it, grabbing for balloons, like they were pieces of candy falling from a piñata. This was the highlight of the program for sure! It's all about the balloon drop!

After all the balloons were successfully out of the balloon bag, I scrambled to play Auld Lang Syne on the iPod as quickly as possible, although I think the significance of the song was lost on the kids. Then I distributed the plastic champagne flutes of sparkling apple cider out to the kids (after explaing, at least 3-4 times, that it was just juice with bubbles and that we aren't allowed to serve alcohol to children). In past years I'd served other snacks too but I kept it easy this year and just did the "champagne." I don't regret it ONE BIT. It was totally enough!

Then, there was about 10 minutes of "free time" for the more meticulous kids to finish up their time capsules and the more antsy kids to toss their balloons around, sip cider, and take pictures. Then, I ended the program with our game of Noon Year's Eve Bingo. For reference, the 2015-2016 Noon Year's Eve Bingo cards can be downloaded here.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kids always like Bingo. As we played the game, I had the kids build onto their existing game boards until everyone eventually won. And, as they did, they got to come up and grab a prize from the basket (which was filled with leftover summer reading club stuff from years past). They LOVED it-- of course. They always do. When in doubt, Bingo!

There were just a few minutes left when the Bingo game ended. The kids quickly finished what they had left of their time capsules, grabbed a few balloons to go, and endured my cheesy "See you next year!" comment as they made their way out.

What worked least: I bought a different balloon drop this year (by accident) and it gave me anxiety. The string and hole were on the side instead of the bottom corner that I was used to and I was worried that I'd have to pull too hard to get it to open... and then, I worried that this hard pull would rip the pannels of the library's drop ceiling down and hit the kids on the head. At the last minute, I asked our clerk, Ryan, to yank the string for me at 12:00 because I was just too scared and, of course, it was totally fine. But it was my biggest source of stress! As I said, this one, $10-ish on Amazon, is my favorite balloon drop! This is the one I would recommend.

What worked best: Despite my above answer, the balloon drop, without question, worked best! As long as it's hung tightly enough so that you don't yank the whole bag (or the ceiling) down when you go to open it, it's the best $10 thing you can do for a Noon Year's Eve Party. It's all in the hanging (which, thankfully, I had no part of).

Happy 2018, everyone! Let's stay warm and make it good!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Polar Express Pajama Storytime

In my last blog post (written 5-minutes ago) I mentioned how I have fallen way too far behind on my blog posts lately. The holidays, lots of days off, and Winter Reading Club planning got me bad this year-- typical December! My goal is to write TWO posts in ONE day and this is the second of these posts. With that said, just like with my last blog post, this one might seem terse (or have lots of weird-yet-entertaining type-os), but here it is! Post #2 of the day: my Polar Express Pajama Storytime, held at our branch library.

This program, for all ages, was super fun and a repeat (although modified a little) of my 2015 Polar Express PJ Storytime (held at our Main library).

Before the kids entered the room, they each got two things: a round trip tickets to ride on the Polar Express (These found on Keepin' It Kool in Kinderland, except I resized them to be a little bit larger) and a candy cane glow stick (just for fun!).  Then, when they got in, I had everyone sit in the back of the room, so I could read them the story. Two things to note about this:

1. I tried SO HARD to use my e-book copy of The Polar Express. I wanted to have the lights out and the kids relaxed, gazing up at the pictures projected on the wall as I read the words. This is what I did back in 2015 and it really worked great! At our branch library, where this year's version was held, we got a Smart TV and I thought it would be perfect for creating the magical, Polar Express-y atmosphere I wanted... except I totally failed at using it.  I had it all perfectly set up and blu-toothed (?) but after I got back from my dinner break, I just couldn't, for the life of me, get all the required devices to be friends with each other again. They must have gotten in a fight while I was eating my apple! Anyway, with 10-minutes to spare before the start of the program, I gave up and decided to read the good ol' fashioned book. While it may have been a little less cool and a little less magical, it worked anyway. I guess when you're dealing with Chris Van Allsburg, the book is enough by itself!

2. I always have anxiety about reading longer titles to kids. I imagine them getting antsy and bored and not paying attention. The Polar Express is one of the few "long books" that I ever read out loud, but this amazing group totally made it fun! They were SO into it-- even filled in catchy phrases like "Why, to the North Pole of course!" and "The first gift of Christmas!" It wound up being so cute and interactive! Definitely nobody got bored!

I had two crafts for them:

The first was a sort of make-your-own-Polar-Express that included lots and lots of assorted Ellison Die Cut train pieces with white paper, crayons, and glue sticks. The second craft was quick but pretty: Big silver bells to string on red ribbon along with a "Believe" charm from Oriental Trading so families could make and take home their own bell like the one from Santa's sleigh.

I also made a little hot chocolate bar! It had hot chocolate (obviously), marshmallows, candy canes, whipped cream, and fun Santa cups!

What worked least: Me taking pictures! The program was great but I totally dropped the ball on picture-taking, which is very unusual for me! The hot chocolate bar, the bell craft, and (apart from what you can sort of see in the first picture) the tickets and glow sticks are totally not pictured at all! This is so unlike me and I'm kind of mad about it! The program though-- it was great.

What worked best: The book! Go figure! It was "long" and I didn't use the Smart TV and yet, still, it wound up being the best part of the program. I guess you just never know!

Holiday Dance Party & Holiday Dance Party for Babies

I have fallen way too far behind on my blog posts! The holidays, lots of days off, and Winter Reading Club planning got me this year-- typical December! I'm going to try to write TWO posts in ONE day so, with that said, this one might seem terse (or have lots of weird-yet-entertaining type-os), but here it is! Post #1 of the day: my Holiday Dance Party and Holiday Dance Party for Babies.

I did a Holiday Dance Party back in 2015 and this year's (aside from taking place at our branch library location and having a "spin off" program-- Holiday Dance Party for Babies), was quite similar. I love music and dance programs of any kind, but, I was happy to have done the bulk of my song-finding two years ago! Finding songs that are the perfect mix of dance-able, not too long, and kid-friendly is actually super-hard! I searched and searched and modified and modified until it was time for the program and I was forced to stop and be happy with what I had. Here is the playlist I wound up with (red = ipod, blue = sing):

Holiday Dance Party (2-5 Years-Olds)

1. Hello Song by Big Jeff
2. Jumping and Counting by Jim Gill
3. Once There Was a Snowman from this YouTube video (drums)
4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from this YouTube video cover by Amasic (drums)
5. Frosty the Snowman from Music Factory Music (bells)
6. Jingle Bell Rock from the Glee cast (bells)
7. Oh, Hanukkah from the Glee cast (dance) *
8. It's a Marshmallow World by Darlene Love (tambourines)
9. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Barbie in the Nutcracker (ribbon dancers)
10. Jingle Bells from this YouTube video (parachute)
11. Wheels on the Bus (parachute)
12. Blow A Kiss by Laurie Berkner (parachute + bubbles)

Holiday Dance Party for Babies (0-2 Year-Olds)

1. Hello Song by Big Jeff
2. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer from this YouTube video cover by Amasic (drums)
3. Once There Was a Snowman from this YouTube video (drums)
4. Frosty the Snowman from Music Factory Music (bells)
5. Jingle Bell Rock from the Glee cast (bells)
6. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Barbie in the Nutcracker (scarves)
7. Scarf Dance by Mary Jo Huff (scarves)
8. Oh, Hanukkah from the Glee cast (shakers) *
9. It's a Marshmallow World by Darlene Love (tambourines)
10. Snowflake, Snowflake (parachute) **
11. Jingle Bells from this YouTube video (parachute + balls)
12. Blow A Kiss by Laurie Berkner (parachute + balls + bubbles)

* When I did Oh, Hanukkah with the older group (ages 2-5), I briefly taught them a super-basic version of The Hora (while explaining that I am extremely unqualified to be teaching them The Hora) and had them dance it in a circle. The actual steps didn't last long but it was fun dancing around and wound up being a good laugh for everyone. With the babies, we all just danced around with our shakers. No circle, no steps. They're babies.

** Snowflake, Snowflake came from this wonderful Jbrary video:

It was a PERFECT baby parachute song! I had the babies lie or sit on the floor and we raised and lowered the parachute above them. I may even use this again for my baby group in Musical Kids this winter!

Keeping it fast so I can move on...

What worked least: For some reason, when I was planning this out, this Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cover by Amasic (this YouTube video) seemed to have a more defined drum beat. In actuality, while fun, it didn't have the solid easy-to-drum-to rhythm I was originally hoping for. But I don't think anyone minded too much!

What worked best: It's hard to say, but I think the up-beat Glee version of Jingle Bell Rock coupled with the bells (for both groups) was the most fun part of each program. I'd high recommend this combo for future Holiday Dance Parties!

Apologies for any weird things I should have caught while proof-reading! Like I said, I'm working quickly today!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Musical Kids (for ages 6-16 months) 11/10/17

Hello! Today I'm in the mood to blog about my favorite recurring program-- Musical Kids! I do Musical Kids so much that I could fill my entire blog with weekly posts about it but, for the sake of some variety, obviously, I don't. In fact, I'd taken a little (8 month!) break from writing about it! But two weeks ago, I had SUCH a wonderful baby class that I just have to blog about them! And no, it's not just because my own sweet Sadie was there to join the fun...although that might be part of it. Maybe.

If you haven't been to my blog before, allow me to briefly explain Musical Kids: This is a reoccurring program done in three 30-minute sessions per week: 6-16 months at 10:00, 17-29 months at 10:45 (this used to be 17-35 months), and 30 months-5 years at 11:30 (this used to be 3-5 years). We did a bit of age group modification recently due to overcrowding in the middle group, which is not a bad problem to have! This all goes on for 3 or 4 weeks in a row, takes a week or two off (or sometimes doesn't!), then starts again for another 3 or 4 weeks in a row. I love Musical Kids and, even more than that, I love the relationships that I've formed with the patrons who attend it! I am so so lucky to get to work with such wonderful families regularly.

So on to my baby class two Fridays ago. I'll be honest, when I was planning the various weeks of activities, I'd saved some of my favorite stuff for this 4th and final session because I knew my husband and daughter were coming and I wanted them to get the best of the best. You'd do the same if were you! 

Anyway, here's my playlist (red = ipodblue = sing):

1. A New Way to Say Hello by Big Jeff
2. Alabama, Mississippi by Jim Gill (shakers)
3. We're Going To The Market by Kathy Reid-Naiman (shakers)
4. Faith by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande (tambourines)
5. Popcorn Kernels *
6. Smile for the Camera by Datarock (scarves)
7. Five Little Monkeys (mitt) **
8. Heartbeat Drumbeat by Joanie Bartles (drums) ***
10. Whole Lotta Lovin' by Fats Domino (drums)
11. Peek-A-Boo (parachute) #
12. Popcorn by Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights (parachute + balls) ##
13. Alphabet Song by Josh Levine (parachute + balls + letters) ##
11. Blow a Kiss by Laurie Berkner (parachute + balls + letters + bubbles) ##

* Popcorn Kernels: About two years ago I was in a scarf-rut and, to combat it, heavily researched new scarf songs for a few days. Then, of course, I wound up introducing a whole batch of new songs all at once. As time passed, the two that stuck around most prominently for the long term were called The Scarf is On My Head and Popcorn Kernels. The handout for both of these songs can be downloaded here. The Scarf is On My Head goes to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell and is possibly the reigning favorite scarf song (We did it the week prior to this one in Musical Kids. I can't save ALL the best stuff for the last week). But Popcorn Kernels, to the tune of Frère Jacques, is a close second favorite! It goes like this:

Popcorn kernels, popcorn kernels (wave the scarf around above your head)
In the pot, in the pot (crumple the scarf into balls in your hands)
Shake them, shake them, shake them (shake your tightly wrapped scarf around in your hands)
Shake them, shake them, shake them
'Til they pop, 'til they pop (toss the scarf up in the air and watch it fall slowly to the floor)

** Five Little Monkeys: Another thing I have blogged about before but want to mention again: The monkey mitt. It's available here. I totally chose to do this song this particular week because it's one of Sadie's favorites. So sue me! Like I said, you'd do the same if were you!

*** Heartbeat Drumbeat: I got the idea to do Heartbeat Drumbeat from a library program I took Sadie to at my local library. The (real) song, however, is a little long for kids, and if I am remembering right, the library programmer who used it wound up just cutting the song off when it got too long. I just can't do that. I am too particular. Enter... YOUTUBE 💜💛💚. I've encountered this dilemma a few times over the years (mostly when I do holiday programs, actually) and, when I do, I turn to YouTube. I found the PERFECT version of Heartbeat Drumbeat here. A little finagling and it's made its way into my playlist. It even has audience applause at the end, which is a fun bonus!

# Peek-A-Boo: This baby song, to the tune of Frère Jacques (again), goes like this:

Where are you hiding?
Where are you hiding?
I can't see you
I can't see you
Are you over here?
Are you over there?

It winds up being a fun little game for parents and babies to play together and is particularly good for the babies on the younger side of the 6-16 month age range. There is such a difference in ability between a 6-month-old and a 16-month-old, I like to make sure I get in at least one thing that is especially for the littler ones.

## Popcorn, Alphabet Song, and Blow a Kiss: The end of the babies Musical Kids class is always the most fun part (albeit probably best for those who are 10-months and up). Here's where, really, I just throw a bunch of stuff on the parachute and let the babies go wild. It's so simple, yet it is always the highlight of this class. Our parachute time and parachute songs vary from week to week, but they always end with some time like this. Here's how parachute time usually happens:

a. 1-2 structured parachute songs (in this case it was Peek-A-Boo. Other favorites are The Colors Over You, Come Under My UmbrellaIf You're Happy and You Know It, The Grand Old Duke of York, or Wheels on the Bus).

b. 1-2 unstructured parachute songs where we throw the beach balls in the middle of the parachute and just let the babies go hog wild (in this case they were Popcorn and The Alphabet Song). Some weeks we may toss alphabet letters (as seen here) or something else in the parachute too, but always the beach balls.

c. The goodbye song, which is always Blow A Kiss. I've found it best to use this as additional parachute time and also, because clearly there needs to be MORE STIMULATION, I also blow bubbles at this time.

What worked least: This was such a fun week but I'm not sure if Smile for the Camera was the best scarf song possible. It was my first time using it and may (or may not) be my last. But also, sometimes ya just need a little variety after a lot of the same things from week-to-week.

What worked best: In this class particularly, with this small but really really great group of babies (and parents), the end of the program felt like the best. Everyone (including me!) got in on a fun baby photo op (see the picture at the very top of this post) and I kind of felt like maybe, some real mom friendships were genuinely formed here. Such a great group, seriously! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Easy Art

Just this morning I did a program called Easy Art! I'd been wanting to do a program like this for sooo long and I was excited about it! This was all about process, not product. It was meant to be a place where kids (ages 12-35-months) could get messy, be creative, and have fun! (In the newsletter, I wrote "dress for a mess.")

I had four "creative stations" set up (plus a grown up station for parents wanting to make hand and foot prints to take home, but it wasn't very popular). These stations consisted of covered tables, sitting flat on the floor, resting on a big tarp. Then, when the crowds (hah!) came in, I put on some music and let them move freely around the room, from station to station, making crafts and exploring with their hands. It totally worked! 

Here are the stations that I had:

Edible Finger Paint

This was sooo easy and fun! Edible finger paint is literally just Greek yogurt mixed with food coloring. That's it! My age group started at 12-months and, with a 12-month-old at home, I know that sometimes things get eaten. Often things get eaten. I wanted to make sure that even the youngest kids in the program could really get into the finger paint fun, so I mixed a few batches of this up and it really worked well! Then I put out some watercolor paper (I needed something thick to handle this thick paint) and let the kids have at it. Easy as pie!

Simple Collage

Another easy one: I put out different color construction paper, Elmers glue, big pom poms (picked the big ones out of this mixed bag from Oriental Trading), giant buttons (these from Oriental Trading), pieces of cut-up foam (I ordered these, these, and these from Oriental Trading, then just cut them into random shapes) and tissue paper circles (these from Oriental Trading). That's it. Maybe it was just all the STUFF in bright colors, but the kids really enjoyed this station. And spend a long time at it! And I loved seeing them get totally creative with this. I was a little worried that some of the parents might try to make this craft too "nice" (like, try to make a pom pom-button flower or something) but all the adults really sat back and lets the kids go to work. It was really great to see!

This was this little one's first craft ever!

Edible Marshmallow Play Dough

The edible finger paint was easy. The simple collage was easy. But the edible marshmallow play dough could have been a lot easier. If I was making one blob of this at home for one-on-one play, I actually WOULD call it easy. It's just marshmallows, coconut oil, corn starch, and food coloring. And each ball of it shown above took about 4-minutes to make. But scrambling to make a class set of this before the program (when you also have to clean up all the mess and three people called out sick that day so you're totally on your own with nobody to help) was a veritable nightmare. Also, I should have gotten another bag of marshmallows and made double this amount. 

The edible marshmallow play dough recipe can be found here (or literally like 75 other places on the Internet. This is very Google-able). Some trouble shooting type things to note:

1. This (the picture shown above) is how much I got from one regular size bag of Jet-Puffed marshmallows. For a library program sized quantity, I should have gotten two bags to make double this amount. But (a) there is no way I would have had time to make double this amount before the program started anyway, so I guess it's for the best? and (b) it really did work out fine anyway. We didn't exactly not have enough, it was just more that the kids were forced to do a little more sharing and a little bit less "building" than they would have otherwise. But it was totally still fun!

2. The play dough got really firm, really quickly. This recipe is kind of meant for immediate play, I guess. I made 7 balls of dough (see picture above) starting at 9:00am when I walked in the building. (It was the first thing I did in terms of set-up.) When the program started at 11:00, most of the balls were already so hard they were difficult to work with! I gave them a quick microwave--about 4-5 seconds for two on a plate--and this seemed to help a lot, but then they needed to cool! Overall, I found that if the play dough was being actively played with, it stayed soft, but if I just let a ball of it sit out, it firmed up quickly and needed to be microwaved back to squishiness. Luckily, the kids were playing with this pretty much nonstop for the whole 45-minute program, so most of my microwaving was done in the beginning.

3. I microwaved one ball for, I guess, too long? I don't know what happened, really, but when I took it out of the microwave, it was SO HOT and SO STICKY. I mushed it around a bunch of times in my hands to try to get it to be more normal, but finally I wound up having to add more corn starch and that did the trick. When in doubt, add cornstarch!

With all that said, this was the most popular table by far! Everyone loved it! I would 100% do it again in the future with (a) more marshmallows and (b) more time.

Giant Paper and Crayons

Paper and crayons = If it aint broken, don't fix it! I made a last minute call to also toss just big, giant paper and crayons out on a table-- nothin' fancy at all. As a kid, I never discriminated between things like cool, homemade play dough (that took the all of the librarian's energy for the entire day to make), and just a plain old basket of crayons, so I figured these kids probably wouldn't either! And it couldn't hurt to have one more activity out. With the 1-3's age group, this was a perfect extra-- especially for the younger end of the age range! What's better than just a basket of crayons and giant pieces of white paper? (Maybe marshmallow play dough is slightly better, but this really is fun too!)

What worked least: While the post above might make it sound like the answer to this question would be the edible marshmallow play dough, that is not the case! While, yes, the marshmallow play dough was a headache (And a lot of rushing. And a lot of stressing. And a huge mess), it was seriously just SO MUCH FUN, that it was worth it! The fun outweighed the bad! What actually worked least was the foot and hand printing (not even mentioned above)! Mostly, because it just didn't get used.


Originally I'd planned my four stations to be: (1) The edible finger paint (2) the collage (3) the marshmallow play dough and (4) the "bonus foot print craft" (which was meant to be a strawberry footprint, borrowed from my Grandparents' Day Brunch n Craft). But, at the last minute, I decided to change it up. I decided to keep the "real" paint up on a high table (off the floor) so that the grown ups could use it if they wanted but that it was away from the kids, and to instead, use the big paper and crayons as the last station on the floor. I think, because of this, it just went largely unnoticed, even though I did point it out several times. I had to include it today it because I'd advertised a "bonus foot print craft" in the newsletter but next time, I think I'd skip it entirely and just make the coloring station a little more elaborate instead. Maybe I'd include different mediums like markers and colored pencils, in addition to the crayons. And maybe even some stickers. Why not!?

What worked best: The collage! It was awesome and just absolutely perfect for little hands and creative brains! I think the nature of the stuff I put out was perfect for inspiring kids this age, and also perfect for keeping adults away from trying to create something "pretty." Like I said, this was meant to be all about process not product. And it was! It was seriously great! I'm really happy with how it worked out.

All in all, I DEFINITELY want to do this program again in the future but with a few tweaks and more set up time for sure!