Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Getting to Know You

It's the first day of September! For many of us, that means (unofficially, at least) that summer's over. I'm totally bummed to say goodbye to my favorite season, and although it isn't exactly quiet around the library, I'm enjoying a short yet relaxing break from program planning.

So my blog doesn't go completely abandoned, I figured I'd write about a really simple (yet successful) program I did throughout this summer called Getting To Know You. This program was passed on to me from a librarian who left last summer. I was given the premise of the program: open play for the kids and a chance for community parents to meet and chat with other community parents. I was also told that "this was a new program and I could make it whatever I wanted." I knew this would be easy for me to keep up throughout the summer since it didn't require a lot of weekly planning and, as it turned out, the program was a huge hit with many of our patrons!

In addition to the room of toys, each week I made a different playlist, planned a 10-minute wrap-up mini-storytime, and put up this sign (thanks to Lindsey at Jbrary for the great idea!):

I've struggled with play programs for years. They've always made me uncomfortable because I'd worried about how I looked in the room--awkward, useless, and like I was "just standing around." But knowing the importance of it for kids, over time, I've incorporated small amounts of play in other programs (like Books n Play for Pre-K) more and more. Since doing so, I've noticed that they've gotten easier! I have become more comfortable with it and less self-conscious about how I appear. Making it even easier still, I had personal relationships with many of the parents, caregivers, and children in this particular group because of doing Musical Kids this summer (and there's no standing around there!). So once I sucked it up and more or less got over myself, I was able to really enjoy being part of this program!

I tried to keep this both easy for me and consistent for the kids. Each week, I put out the same toys in the same spots, then followed the same basic mini-storytime format: 1 simple book, Old MacDonald with the puppets, and the Bread & Butter Goodbye Song seen below:

I had two classes each week: 10:00-10:45 for non-walkers and 11:00-12:00 for walkers.

While the non-walkers class was generally a smaller group, I noticed that almost all of the attendees were new moms who were happy and enthusiastic about discussing parenthood with other new moms. In short, they pretty much utilized this program exactly the way we wanted them to. That's a win! Meanwhile, the walkers group was absolutely packed every week! It had a nice mix of regular library users and newer-to-programs patrons who were excited about what we were offering. Both groups were absolutely wonderful.

I noticed that people poured in sporadically for this program, which was totally ok since it was all open play until the last 10-15 minutes. I did wind up sitting for most of the time but I also got the chance to play with blocks, read board books one-on-one, and roll balls with many of the kids. Then, when there was about 15 minutes left of the program, I had the group clean up, then sit back down for our mini-storytime. Each week I read one of the library's big books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, Where's Spot?, or Freight Train. Next I lead the group in Old MacDonald with the puppets, which the kids absolutely love. LOVE! Of course it helps to have the most adorable selection of Folkmanis puppets on hand at all times. As we sang together, I brought the current animal around and had it kiss (or lick, or nuzzle) each kid and they usually giggled or squealed or smiled. Fun story: One mom told me that her son asks for this at home now. To end the program we sang the Bread & Butter Goodbye Song and that wrapped it up! Everyone enjoyed this so much!

What worked best: The open play was just so perfect for the summer. Attendance was high and, especially in the non-walkers group, this program gave a lot of new moms the chance to really use the library as a community meeting space and to talk about their experiences in parenthood together. You can't really be more for-your-patrons than that! Amiright?!

What worked least: Even though I put time into making the What To Say While You Play sign, I found that nobody really used it. I could have skipped it, really, but no biggie!

After all my nervousness about beginning this program at the start of the summer, I am now sad to see it go. But it's inspired me to create a new half-play program for babies starting this fall, so (hopefully) new parents will get to meet each other again!

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