Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Muffins with Mom

What do moms like? Coffee, snacks (in this case muffins--mainly for the alliteration), a low-stress craft, and light piano music! This is what I tried to deliver at my day-before-Mother's-Day program called "Muffins with Mom."

It wasn't complicated. Moms and their kids ages 3 through 3rd grade came in, sat together, enjoyed coffee and muffins, decorated flower pots, and did a simple hand print craft.

I arranged the room so that the table all the way to one side had the muffins and coffee and the table all the way to the other side of the room had the craft supplies: paint, some small decorations (gems and pom poms), and tacky glue. The tables in the middle were arranged so that each setting had a flower pot and flower pot tray to paint and decorate, an empty paint pallet, and paint brush. Then I also put a small pile of the hand print craft on each table.

I told everyone that only the grown ups would get the paint and craft supplies from the back table and it worked out perfectly. That way the kids weren't even tempted to mess with any of that stuff. Here is a picture of some people getting paint for their pallets:

Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of my snack table set up but it was pretty! I even artfully arranged the muffins on a platter. But here are some pictures of kids and parents working on their flower pots and eating muffins:

The handprint craft I had came from gluedtomycraftsblog.com and was a great, simple, extra small craft. In fact, I have my sample (made by Sadie) hanging above my desk as we speak. People really liked it!

What worked least: This was a total success but I guess, if I'm being super nit-picky, I forgot to put out the water cups for kids to dip their paint brushes in? I mean, this was a two-minute problem that was easily rectified the second I realized it, but I don't know, I'm just looking for a "least," I guess.

What worked best: The crafts! They were the perfect choice!

Overall, this was a really nice program that I left feeling really happy with. Everyone had fun and I genuinely think that I created the sort of "chill mood" I was aiming for (thanks partially to the piano music playlist I found on Spotify!). The patrons definitely played a factor in the success of this program too. I had SUCH a great group of families in attendance! This is a definite must-repeat for next Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Dino Diggers

Is there any match as perfect as toddlers and dinosaurs? They go together like peanut butter and jelly! This would explain the huge sign-up I had for last week's Dino Digger's program, for ages 2-5.

We started off the program with a story-- just one. It was hard to choose which I wanted to read. Because I was only doing one, I kind of wanted a true story book, but I wanted it to be short and easy enough so that even the youngest kids in the group would get something out of it. There are a lot of great dinosaur books, but I wound up picking Roar by Todd H. Doodler, which I'd used (with success) for pre-school visits some years ago. I think everyone enjoyed it, although I'm not sure if they enjoyed it more than they would have enjoyed, say, Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, The Super Hungry Dinosaur, or Dini Dinosaur. There are a few good class-roaring opportunities throughout Roar, so it's got that really big perk going for it. (Nevermind the fact that I had a sweet boy afraid of loud noises. Details, details.)

After the book, I opened the room up for a sort of "free play." I had several different activities available and about 30-minutes for children and caregivers to make their way around the room to try it all out.

There were:
-- Two sand bins with sifters and dinosaur skeletons buried for the kids to dig around in *
-- Several dinosaur puzzles
-- A volcano picture made by blowing watered down paint through a straw **
-- A trace-a-dino-footprint worksheet ***
-- Dino eggs to inspect and match up with their corresponding pictures ****

* The sand bins and the dinosaur skeletons are things we own and have on hand. We don't use them very often but when we do, they are always, always, always a big hit. It was time to break them out again and, as usual, they were awesome.

** I got the idea for this craft from Pinterest-- specifically, it came from OurLittleAcorns.com. I had pre-cut volcanoes (although my coworker commented that they looked like poops), watered down red and orange paint with straws for blowing, and these puffy dinosaur stickers, which were cool, though smaller than I'd anticipated. This craft was fun, but way too hard for the younger crew. In fact, I tried it at home with Sadie (who's 2½) and she liked doing it in theory, but was kind of clueless and not really strong enough, physically, to blow the paint around through the straw. The stickers though, now those were easy and fun for her. On the other hand, the 4ish-year-olds in the class had great success with blowing the paint!

*** The trace a dino footprint worksheets can be found here, on PagingSuperMom.com. I printed a stack and a few kids did them. I also took one home for Sadie and she liked it!

**** The dino eggs were fun! I borrowed these from our county's lending library. They are a total mystery to me. I seriously have no idea how they were made but they're really cool looking! Basically, they're colorful plastic dinosaurs living inside Easter egg-sized, clear plastic homes, with a texture similar to that of a fancy, un-started bar of soap. To go with them, I made some match-up sheets to encourage the kids to examine the eggs and play with them a little. I think it worked pretty well.

This is a picture I took of the eggs and sheets a long time ago. I have since lost my original sheets and the eggs got a little cloudier. But this really gets the idea across:

Some "egg-xamining" in action below. The boy pictured was so smart! Instead of matching the eggs with the pictures, he wrote down the name of every type of dinosaur! I told him that was the "advanced way" to do this activity.

What worked least: As a whole, this was a great program (that I received a lot of great feedback about!) but it's true that the paint blowing craft was probably better for the 4+-ers of the group and not the younger kids. Even despite this, the younger ones watched their parents/caregivers blow the paint and still enjoyed the sticker scene aspect of the craft, so I'm not sure I'd have even changed anything in retrospect!

What worked best: The sand. It's always all about the sand.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

100th Anniversary of Children's Book Week

Children's Book Week is the nation's longest-running literacy initiative and this year--this week in fact--marks its 100th anniversary! To celebrate, I planned a self-directed program revolving around picture books. There were 4 tables, 1 craft per table, each based on a different picture book. So the idea was that the families would move around from table to table, read the book together, and then make the corresponding craft.

You might remember (but probably don't!) that about 4 years ago, I planned a program called Discover Picture Book Art. Inspired by seeing Lois Elhert speak at a conference, that program was basically this same thing: 4 different artists' books displayed and a chance to create art in those similar styles. The only difference is that I missed that program because I was out on disability after a bad car accident. The only other difference is that my colleague set that program up (again, because I wound up having to miss it) and she did it so so so beautifully and, while I really tried, I just don't think I did as nice of a job as she did. She's just got a natural eye.

Anyway, these are the 4 books I used: 

The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Color Zoo/Color Farm by Lois Elhert
I Spy by Jean Marzollo

The program was for ages 2 and up so I wanted to try to accommodate lots of different ages. Some of the crafts were simple and some were more challenging. Let me get into each one in more detail...

1. Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly

Perfect for the younger ones, this easy, almost "throw away craft" was, of course, the most popular one we had out. It's always like that, isn't it? The simplest thing is the fan favorite? It was just printed directly from kizclub.com. I put out several of their Go Away Big Green Monster black and white printable sheets with crayons, scissors, glue sticks, and paper plates. And that's it! And everyone liked it!

2. The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

I don't want to say this craft was for the grown ups, but well, this craft was kind of for the grown ups. It was inspired by Laura Vaccaro Seeger herself! I saw her speak at a children's librarian dinner a few a weeks ago and she had this cool craft for all of us to try based on her book, The Hidden Alphabet. Everyone got a piece of paper folded down the middle like a greeting card. On the front, the card had a square cut out of the middle. Laura Vaccaro Seeger told us to draw a picture of something in the middle of that square, then open the card and turn that picture into the letter that that thing begins with.

So... here are some actual examples made by the actual Laura Vaccaro Seeger:

The bottom two panels show balloons that then open to reveal a big B. The top picture shows eggs making an E (the picture with just eggs in the black window isn't pictured).

And here's my awful example:

While I am here, continuing to try to think of more creative ways to turn pictures into letters, I think this was way too hard for the kids. Although some parents got kind of into it.

3. Color Zoo/Color Farm by Lois Elhert

Shapes, shapes, shapes! Super simple, this was just straight up collaging with shapes. I put out pre-cut shapes, paper, glue, and crayons and the kids went to town. The best part about this craft is that it could be for any age! It's easy, cheap, versatile, and open-ended!

4. I Spy by Jean Marzollo

This craft was the one that the older kids seemed to migrate toward. It was making your own I Spy style scene. I collected a bunch of stuff from around the library and also gave the kids paper to create a background scene. Then they could arrange whatever random things on the paper, take a photo of it, and write a little "I spy..." list to go with it. Here is my example:

I spy 12 red hearts, a taco, a bunny ears ring, and a green feather.

What worked least: I hate to say it, but I think the Laura Vaccaro Seeger craft was too challenging. Not only that, but compared to the others, it was also the least appealing on the table. I was really excited about it, but unfortunately, I'm not sure if this was the right venue to debut it. Maybe another time.

What worked best: The super simple Go Away Big Green Monster table was a hit. This one required the least amount of effort for me to set up and was also the one that I think the families enjoyed most! It's always the way!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Parachute Play

Believe it or not, after almost 12-years of librarianship, last Wednesday's Parachute Play was my first toddler parachute program ever! And it was only my second parachute program for any age group ever! (The first was Petite Parachute Play for babies ages birth - 16 months, which I did a little over a year ago.) It seems so simple, especially since I use the parachute in my other programs so so so often, but I have long been afraid of the parachute-exclusive program! I've always worried that it would seem like it was getting boring or that I wouldn't be able to come up with enough material to fill the time. In fact, now that I have done it, I can't say that I am fully over that irrational anxiety. Parachute programs are just plain scary!

Originally, in my research for Petite Parachute Play, I stumbled across this blog post from Laughter and Literacy. The librarian who wrote it didn't fill an entire 30-minutes with specifically parachute stuff. She did other songs and stories too. This realization took the pressure was off a bit at the time, but this time around, it was a little different. This time I had toddlers. I wanted to up my game a little, and also, I didn't want the program to feel too much like my other programs where I use the parachute for just a few minutes. So I planned for 25-minutes of parachute + one big book + goodbye song. Here's how my 30-minutes broke down  (red = ipodblue = sing, green = book):

1. Let’s All Clap is a hello song that I use often, but not in Musical Kids. I like it because it's easy, doesn't take up too much time, and I don't need the ipod to do it. I use it in most of my one-off programs for babies and toddlers and I learned it from Jbrary (of course):

After we finished  this song, I had all the grown ups lift up the parachute to reveal a bunch of balls underneath. Then I told the kids to run under, grab as many balls as they could, and throw them on top of the parachute. This sort of worked. It worked great for the kids who were about 2 and older, but 4 out of 6 of them were younger and I think this was too complex of an activity for those children.

2. Popcorn Chant by Carole Peterson, for which I had the kids bounce the balls on the parachute.

3. Popcorn by Joanie Leeds, for which I had the kids climb into the middle of the parachute and the adults shook all the balls up around them. After this song I had the kids all help me collect the balls,  then I instructed them to sit in a circle around the parachute.

4. I’m Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor was originally a poem by Shel Silverstein, but works really well as a parachute song! I borrowed this idea from a wonderful program that I attend regularly with my own kids at my home library. The song can be heard below (although I think the version I sang wound up being slightly different) and, when we did it with the parachute, I had everyone pull it up to the kids' body parts as we sang about them (like they're getting swallowed).

5. Colors Over You is my #1 favorite parachute song. To the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, it goes "Red and green and yellow and blue, these are the colors over you. Red like an apple, green like a tree, yellow like the sun, and blue like the sea. Red and green and yellow and blue, these are the colors over you." This one is good for ALL ages!

6. Let’s Go Riding in an Elevator is another regular for me. It can be found in the video below and works just as well (if not better!) with the parachute and the kiddos underneath it:

7. Stop & Go by Greg & Steve was a good under-the-parachute freeze dance song.

After this song was over, I threw my little black sheep (made by Folkmanis) on to the parachute and did...

8. Baa Baa Blacksheep. The kids were still underneath for this, even though the sheep were on top of it and...

9. Mary Had a Little Lamb. Some kids liked dancing under the parachute; some liked helping us grown ups shake. 

10. Ten in the Bed by Fred Penner is fun because it's a short song and it gets faster and faster. If any of the kids are around the parachute, shaking it, the way the tempo increases usually gets everyone giggling and wiggling. The whatevers-are-in-the-middle fall off and everyone scrambles to get them back in. It's fast paced and lots of fun!

11. Wheels on the Bus is my go-to song for having the kids on top of the parachute. When I do this song, I sing three verses. (1) The wheels on the bus go round and round. (2) The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish. (3) The doors on the bus go open and shut. For the first verse, everyone sits (with the sheep in their laps, in this case) while the grown ups pull the kids around in a circle, like a ride. For the second verse, the grown ups "swish" the parachute around the kids back and forth. And, for the third verse, the grown up pull the parachute all the way down around the kids and then snap it up on the word "shut." In my head, it reminds me of a Venus fly trap and, most of the time, all the kids giggle.

12. Seals on the Bus (as a big book) was the one little non-parachute activity I worked in. I thought, since we'd just done Wheels on the Bus, it'd be cute to follow it up with Seals on the Bus. The book is about a bunch of animals that barrage a bus and make noise, basically. The seals go "erp erp erp," the snakes go "hiss hiss hiss," etc., until, on the last page, the people on the bus go "help, help, help!"

13. Blow a Kiss by Laurie Berkner is the song I always end with when I do a structured program. It's the best and everyone basically knows it means the end. Throw in some bubbles, and we've got ourselves a finale.

What worked least: Maybe, thinking back, the age group should have started at 18-months. In theory, I wanted those babies there, but in practice, I probably didn't have enough things to really accommodate their particular level.

What worked best: I think the kids enjoyed the part toward the beginning when they were crawling around on the parachute with the balls (to the song Popcorn by Joanie Leeds) the best. This was also probably the most baby-friendly activity that I did.

All in all, I still think parachute programs are intimidating. I'd do one again, absolutely, but I can't say I wouldn't be a little nervous that morning!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Instrument Exploration

Since having kids of my own, I have really grown to love a good self-directed program. They're relaxed, fun, and a good chance for parents to get out and chat, without feeling like they're disrupting something. I like to take my kids to these types of programs too because it gives us a chance to hang out and play together with different, stimulating, age-appropriate things that we don't have at home. So we have more fun!

Last summer, while on maternity leave, I went to a weekly program at a nearby library called "Baby Shake, Rattle, and Roll." It was for ages birth through 2 and it was basically just a bunch of music-ish type sensory stuff out around the room for the kids to play with. It was drop-in style for two hours and people came and went throughout the duration of the program. Totally unstructured and totally fun! 

Shortly after I got back to work, I put in to do my own version of this program and yesterday, I did it! Here's what I had out:

From left to right: Orange "baby bells", 5 sensory tubes, rhythm sticks, tambourines, drums and drum sticks, manipulative fidget disks, colorful egg shakers, green wrist bells, yellow shakers, and triangles and beaters. Many of the things my library already owned for Musical Kids, though some of it I almost never use (e.g. the triangles), and a few of the things I got from our county library system's lending library.

At "Baby Shake, Rattle, and Roll" there was sometimes music playing and sometimes not. I think it just depended on who set it up that morning. I preferred when it was there, though we totally had fun either way. I always like to play music in my programs, but I didn't want the music to detract from the kids instrument playing. So, I wound up making a very specific playlist of songs that were somewhat rhythmic, varied in tempo, and sort of backgroundy, if that makes any sense at all. A few prime examples of things on this playlist were songs from the second half of the Moana soundtrack (disc 2, mostly instrumental) and songs from the We Bought a Zoo soundtrack (100% made up of Sigor Ros/J√≥nsi songs, which I guess, I'd sort of describe melodic ambient rock?). 

In the end though, my playlist didn't matter at all. The room was so loud-- buzzing with percussion and chatter-- you could hardly hear the music anyway. I think having it was definitely good; everyone could kind of feel the underlying beat, but my specific song obsessing? Not at all necessary. I could have just put the whole ipod and shuffle and called it a day.

Here are a few pictures from the program:

What worked least: The age range. I made this for kids 0-5 because I figured that the self-directedness could leave it open to be adapted for nearly anyone, but I think I probably should have capped it at 3. The room was packed and most of the stuff was probably better for the kids on the younger side of this range. There was a 4-year-old who made a quick appearance and left shortly after and I'm pretty sure it was because she felt too old. (Then there were also a few 4-year-olds who loved it though, so, eh, who even knows?)

Another thing to mention: The room was really really really loud. If I ever do this again, I'd try to hold it in a larger room. It was a lotta volume in a little space.

What worked best: There weren't a lot elements to this program to "work" and "not work," but I definitely left feeling like it was success. I think the manipulative fidget disks got the most attention. The younger ones mushed and squished them (aka used them for their intended purpose), and the older ones enjoyed stacking them on their heads! This was one of the items that I borrowed from our county lending library and I'm so glad that I did! I'm planning to get them again for a program this summer.

Overall, this was a simple and fun program with a great turnout-- 37 patrons!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sadie's Top 5, 2-2½ years

Guess who's 2½!? It's my Sadie! (And baby Callie is rapidly approaching 1-year! I seriously can't believe it!) A lot has changed for Sadie between her second birthday and now. She's ditched her naps, stopped using diapers (wooh!), and--the most exhausting thing of all--stopped going to bed in her own bed. Actually, she's stopped going to bed at bedtime too! This whole sleep mess has really put a major slowdown on our book reading routine. We used to get in pjs, cuddle in her chair, dim the lights, and read 4-6 books a night. It was a special time together. Now we're down to a couple of books a week and they're often rushed, sandwiched between playing blocks, eating lunch, watching stupid YouTube videos, and a lot of play dough. We're reading just to read... reading because the guilt of not reading is too much for me to handle. This change in routine has influenced Sadie's top 5 list, of course. A lot of the books listed below are sort of older favorites, from closer to her 2nd birthday, before bedtime got all weird. Most of the books she gravitates toward lately are books based on TV and movie characters-- Paw Patrol, Disney princesses, Moana, etc-- but those aren't as much fun to write about (and definitely aren't as good!). So, for now, and hopefully not for the last time, I am omitting those from her list. That said, here are what I consider Sadie's favorite QUALITY books, from 2-years-old to 2½-years-old:

Monster Boogie by Laurie Berkner is the illustrated version of Laurie Berkner's song, Monster Boogie. This is the perfect book for Sadie because she loves loves loves LOVES all things Laurie Berkner. The book is literally just the song lyrics accompanied by adorable illustrations. My favorite thing about the book is that there is a little boy in it who starts out afraid of the monster and, by the end of the book, he's having a great time boogie-ing along with him (and with his brave sister). Sadie's favorite thing about the book is that there is a half-page, full color photo of Laurie Berkner on the back cover. This book, best read in song, has withstood the test of bedtime routine destruction, even if it is mostly because of the Laurie picture (see above).

Pancakes! An Interactive Recipe Book by Lotta Nieminen, and also the similar Pizza by Lotta Nieminen, are interactive recipe books that Sadie loves! They are literally cook books for toddlers. Simple, straightforward text brings readers through each step. The first page lists all of the ingredients needed for the recipe, then the second page lists all the "other stuff" needed for the recipe--table spoon, ladle, whisk, frying pan, etc.--all with simple and colorful pictures. Then it brings readers through the rest of the steps, just like a "real" recipe book would, but with interactive elements: pull-tabs, flaps, spinning wheels, etc. At the end, there is even a little pancake piece that pops out and can be moved from the frying pan on one page to the plate on the next page. One side of it is yellow (uncooked batter) and the other side of it is brown (a finished pancake). Sadie loves putting the yellow side on the plate and saying, "Noooo!" and then flipping it to the brown side and saying, "Yes!" There is also a dollop of whipped cream pictured on the last page that Sadie likes because it looks like a poop. Idk. Toddlers. Anyway, I eventually had to return this book to the library because I got so tired of reading it night after night, but now that we've had a little time apart, and now that Sadie and I don't read quite as often, I kind of miss it. It was a great book that absolutely taught Sadie a bunch of new words. Highly recommend this one for all kids in this age group!

Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney is one of a handful of actual, real story books that Sadie likes. (She also likes several Maisy books, especially Maisy Goes To Preschool.) This is the story of cute little Llama Llama on his first day of school. Everything is new and different and, while all the kids are friendly, he doesn't want to participate in anything. He just misses his mama too much and he's afraid she won't come back. But, just when he finally starts to open up a little, there's this page where Llama Llama is coloring, having fun, and mama appears behind him! Then, on the following page, he notices her and, in big letters, the text reads "Mama! You came back!" And they're running to each other with arms outstretched. It is so sweet and tender. And I think it's Sadie's favorite page too! She starts to get excited when she sees mama appear and says "You came back!" along with me. I should note that this was the first Llama Llama book that we read together. While she was into the others I brought home for her after it too, this one still remained her favorite. And I think it's my favorite one too!

Spooky Boo! A Halloween Adventure by Lily Karr was the book Sadie asked for every night before our bedtime routine got totally mutilated. Seriously every night. Every. Single. Night. While, admittedly, I got a little sick of it after a bit, I can see why Sadie liked it. It's an interactive haunted house in a book. One page has a "skinny" mirror, one has a "mummy" mirror, and one has sticky "goo" to touch (over and over and over until it pretty much loses all its stickiness). However, Sadie's favorite page is the first one, which just has simple door to open (a flap), revealing all of the ghoulish friends inside. She likes to knock knock knock on it and then open it and say, "Spooky Boo!" This is a cute book for Halloween and any time of year... in moderation.

Dino Chomp by Beatrice Costamagna is one of those books I have caught Sadie "reading" on her own, but that she also enjoys having me read to her. She liked this close to her second birthday and still likes it a lot now, at 2½. Even baby Callie seems to kind of like this one. It's a simple story about a big, bully dinosaur, Rex, who threatens to eat all the other dinos. One by one, littler dinosaurs stand up to him until, finally, they trick him into singing a song so they can make a break for it. On the last page, Rex finds himself alone with "only a rock to eat." Victory for the good guy (although I would have preferred they all made friends at the end instead, but maybe that's a lot to ask). The real appeal of this book, though, is the teeth. They move up and down when you pull the tab at the top of the book to make a big "chomp." Sadie enjoys sticking her hand in the giant mouth and having the dinosaur bite her. Toddlers, man. This is a fun little, interactive story for dinosaur lovers and also, part of a whole "crunchy board book" series. Worth checking out!

And that wraps it up for today! Hopefully I will have enough non-TV/movie character books for another post around Sadie's third birthday! Until then, happy reading!