Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Polar Express PJ Storytime

Inspired by last year's post from my good friend, Book Girl Nadine, this past Thursday night I finally got to host my own version of a Polar Express Pajama Story Time! I was SUPER excited about it-- bought my supplies about 5 months in advance, and set the program room up about 3 hours ahead of time. I even brought slippers in to work, despite the fact that I intensely dislike dressing up in a costume of any kind. 

Anyway, by a few minutes before program time, here's what I'd prepared:

1. The things you get when you check in: 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 candy cane glow sticks so the kids could (a) get something cool immediately and (b) walk into the dark room safely (even though it totally wasn't very dark at all).

2. I quickly made masking tape train tracks to follow into the room. I stole this idea from The Gala Girls Polar Express Party, but I definitely didn't remember it correctly because the version that I made was lot less cool. But it didn't matter. The tracks were still fun for everyone to follow into the room and only took a few minutes to make.

3. The craft stuff: Lots of assorted Ellison Die Cut train pieces, Jumbo 2" bells, glue sticks, large white construction paper, crayons, red velvet ribbon (pre-cut into strips), thin twine-like yarn, and "Believe" charms from Oriental Trading (hiding in that Dixie cup seen above).

4. I made a little hot chocolate bar! It had hot chocolate (obviously), a big plate of marshmallows, cinnamon sticks (which one boy ate straight up!), mini candy canes, spoons, a small plate of Christmas Tootsie Rolls (confession: I brought these in from home because I had a million and was trying to get rid of them), and water bottles.

Tickets, please!
Another thing I was super excited about was reading The Polar Express with both the book and the ebook! I had the kids sit on the floor, like I would in a regular storytime, but then, in addition to having the hard copy of the book with me, I had the ebook projected on the wall, nice and big so everyone could see the illustrations really well. This created such a mood!

To me, The Polar Express is at least 65% about the pictures. I had this vision of the kids relaxing in their PJs in the quasi-dark room, staring up at the pictures from the book as I read the words to them. And that kind of worked! Many of the kids still looked at me, despite the fact that I tried to draw their attention to the projected book repeatedly. But a few of the kids got the idea; one boy even lay on his back staring up at the ebook as I read! But either way--the darkish room, the classic story, the kids in PJs, the candy cane glow sticks... it was an atmospheric night! I think (I hope, anyway) that it was the kind of night Chris Van Allsburg would approve of.

After the story, it was time to move on to hot chocolate and crafting. The kids were super well-mannered as they waited in line at the hot chocolate bar. I poured them each a small amount of hot chocolate in a Christmas hot cup (which I pre-made with Swiss Miss packets and hot water, then let cool for about 45 minutes in a hot carafe meant for the Keurig). After they got their cup, they walked down the line of "toppings" and customized their drink. Basically though, they all took everything. Despite this, to say I overbought stuff would be an understatement. We had quite a bit of leftovers (I guess I'll be making marshmallow igloos in Books n Play for Pre-K this week).

Once everyone was settled with their beverage, it was time for crafting. If you haven't already guessed, the kids made 1. A fancy sleigh bell (a craft more about the product) and 2. A train scene (a craft more about the process).

The bell was a cool, "The First Gift of Christmas" type bell made with Jumbo 2" bellsred velvet ribbon (which I pre-cut into strips), thin, twine-like yarn, and "Believe" charms from Oriental Trading.

This was super easy and quick. The kids strung the big bells through the velvet string and tied a knot at the top (most with help from me or their parents). Then, I had them string the tiny "Believe" charms on a piece of super thin, kind of rusticy-looking yarn, and then tie that string through the big bell too. Voila! Like I said, this was a quick craft with a nice looking finished product.

Next, the kids made train scenes. I told them they could create their own Polar Express, or any other kind of train they wanted and had about a billion pre-cut Ellison Die Cut train pieces for them to pick through. Coupled with white paper, glue, and crayons, they were set and able to be creative. Here are some of the finished products:

What worked least: It was all really great! One thing that didn't go exactly as I'd planned (but still worked) was that the kids were more into looking at my physical copy of The Polar Express instead of relaxing and gazing up at the ebook projected above them. Had I planned on this happening, I may have ditched the ebook altogether and just turned on the lights so they could see the book better. But also, then the candy cane glow sticks would be pointless and the whole vibe of the room would have been different. So really, I'm not even 100% sure I'd have changed anything at all.

What worked best: They LOVED those silly tickets! It's always so funny when something so simple is the highlight of the program, but in this case, the tickets totally made it! Go figure!

Anyway, happy everything to everyone! May 2016 bring us all luck, love, and happiness. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Holiday Dance Party

Yesterday was my Holiday Dance Party. I love music and dance programs of any kind, but, in the planning stage, the holiday version of my Toddler Dance Party, wound up being a little bit of a challenge for me. I wanted to incorporate a few Christmas songs, at least one Hanukkah song, plus a few of my usual favorites. But they had to be dancey! And finding perfect, dancey, not too long, kid-friendly versions of holiday songs is actually super-hard. I modified and modified until it was time for the program and I was forced to stop. Here is the playlist I wound up with (red = ipod, blue = sing):

1. Hello Song by Big Jeff
2. Jumping and Counting by Jim Gill
3. Once There Was a Snowman from the Youtube video below (drums) *
4. The Tempo Marches On by Jim Gill (drums)
5. Jingle Bell Rock from the Glee cast (bells) **
6. Frosty the Snowman from Music Factory Music (bells)
7. Rocketship Run by Laurie Berkner (rockets)
8. Oh, Hanukkah from the Glee cast (circle dance) ***
9. Twinkle, Twinkle
10. Snowflake, Snowflake ****
11. I Know a Chicken by Laurie Berkner (shakers + chicken puppet)
12. It’s a Marshmallow World by Darlene Love (shakers)
13. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Barbie in the Nutcracker (ribbon dancers) #
14. Slow and Fast by Hap Palmer (parachute)
15. Hot Poppin’ Popcorn by The Wiggles (parachute + balloons) ##
16. The Balloon Game by Music for Little People Choir (balloons) ###
17. Blow A Kiss by Laurie Berkner

* I am lucky that I figured out how to play Youtube videos through the our iPod dock. This version of Once there Was a Snowman was perfect for playing the drums. I played the song twice and each time I had the group lift up their drums for "tall, tall, tall" and then bend down low like a melting snowman for "small, small, small." Easy enough! Here's what "tall, tall, tall" looked like:

** Jingle Bell Rock was a hit and the Glee version was THE perfect arrangement. Here's a cute video of the kids enjoying it:

*** As a celebrator of both Christmas and Hanukkah, I find Hanukkah music repeatedly disappointing. It's just so boring, sad, and dreary compared to Christmas music. I was just about to leave it out entirely (I couldn't stand the thought of pretending to like the song Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel), but then I decided to TAKE BACK THE HANUKKAH MUSIC. I wanted to make Hanukkah music fun--like a big, Jewish party, sans wine. And SO, I decided to teach the kids the Hora and dance to the perfectly exciting Glee version of Oh, Hanukka. First I taught them the basic steps (in short: step, step, step, kick, kick) and made them all do it a few times for practice. Once they appeared to have the steps down, I had them get in a circle, hold hands, and get ready to dance the Hora! I pressed play and, while it wasn't as perfectly choreographed as it would have been with a room full Jewish adults, it was so much fun! We, as a group, were messy. But every person in the room was smiling and laughing and that, I guess, trumps being a good dancer. Here we are:

**** Snowflake, Snowflake was written by Dana of Jbrary! It's simple and to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle. It (with classic Twinkle, Twinkle preceding it) was perfect for calming the group down after wild Rocketship Run and then dancing the Hora. Here's how the song goes:

# Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was, unfortunately, one of those weird, low iPod songs that you can't actually hear too well unless the group quiets down (and you don't actually know is weird and low until you try to play it loud enough to project over a crowd of noisy preschoolers and you just can't seem to get it loud enough). This was a bit of a glitch, yes. In a way, it was kind of good because everyone was forced to be a little quieter, but mostly it was annoying because Holiday Dance Party wasn't designed to be a quiet program. But big thanks to ribbon dancers! Because of them, I didn't even need music! The kids just liked twirling these things around. The room could have probably been completely silent and they would have still enjoyed the ribbon dancers! Also, I'd explained to them that this song is from a ballet called the Nutcracker and that, in ballet, the dancers all dance on their tip-toes. I told them that for this song, we all had to dance on our tip-toes, but even I gave that up about halfway through the song. Here's us (that's me up front):

## Even though we didn't do any holiday music with the it, the parachute was, as usual, a highlight of yesterday's program. The Wiggles' Hot Poppin' Popcorn is a good parachute song that I don't get to use too often because it requires something that's a good middle-of-the-parachute bouncer. And the best middle-of-the-parachute bouncer ever is balloons--which I just don't have the time to blow up for weekly programs. So balloons are a treat and thus, this fun song is also a treat.

### The Balloon Game, like Hot Poppin' Popcorn, is also a treat reserved for dance parties and other special programs. This is a fun song that prompts the kids to bounce balloons off of their heads, knees, noses, and other body parts. However, much like with Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the ribbon dancers, the music doesn't even really matter here. They're just psyched to play with the balloons. Makes no difference to them!

Overall, this was SUPER fun and definitely worth the hassle of trying to find the perfect versions of each song.

What worked least: I was disappointed that Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy wasn't louder because I think it would have been adorable if it had been. I had visions of sugar plums the kids dancing on their tip-toes and waving the ribbon dancers to the music, but it was fun for them regardless. The ribbon dancers MADE this work, especially because they was something special that we ordered for this program (and specifically for this song).

What worked best: The parachute, obviously.

What else worked best: I think Jingle Bell Rock really got everyone up and into the program. Maybe also because it was the first really "rockin'" holiday song that I played but, check out the video above. It was really a fun song!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Snowmen for Everyone

This past Friday, I had a program called Snowmen for Everyone, for ages 3-5, which I created solely based on this blog post from Huckleberry Love (found on Pinterest, obviously). I thought the fake snow looked like so much fun to make and play with, plus it even looked easy to make! I took this, combined it with the fact that there are so many great snow books for ages 3-5, and, viola, a program was born!

About an hour before the start of the program, a page and I made the snow recipe according to Huckleberry Love's blog post. The recipe calls for 2 cups of baking soda + 1/2 cup of hair conditioner. But once we did that, we found that we had a small amount of each ingredient left, so we just kind of eyeballed adding in more of the two ingredients without measuring. It turns out that the recipe doesn't actually need to be too exact to be snow-like. We dumped in all the rest of the stuff, added a few toys into each bin, and we were ready to go!

Naturally, I started the program off with a storytime. I read Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner, followed by Snow by Uri Shulevitz. For some reason, the kids got a little antsy during the storytime part of this program. This was kind of a surprise to me. I've done a lot of programming with this age group (and these specific kids!) in the past and haven't had a problem holding their attention before, but last Friday, they were antsy! However, of the two books, this group was slightly more into Snow (although, in the past, Snowmen at Night has been a hit with kids this age). When I was reading Snow, the kids got really excited to spot and point out the tiny snowflakes on the grey skies and I think it made them feel smart to find them so quickly too.

Then we moved on to the craft part of the program: simple snowman-making. (This is about the time when I started my playlist, which began with Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from the Frozen soundtrack). I did a decent amount of prep work for this craft to keep it simple for the kids. Each child's work area had: Two dinner-sized paper plates stapled together, the top one with three holes punched in it to attach the arms and the head; one dessert-sized paper plate with a hole punched in it (the head); two brown or black pipe cleaners (the twiggy arms), a paper fastener (for attaching the head to the rest of the body), pre-cut paper carrots, pre-cut paper hats, and pre-cut paper bow ties. Plus I put out glue and crayons for extra decorating.

In my sample, I made a snowy scene on the bottom paper plate (inspired by this Hallmark ornament series) because I worried that otherwise, it would be too much of the kids just gluing things mechanically and not enough being of them being creative. This worked well. The kids liked decorating their snowmen in all different ways. We had a winter scene, an under the sea scene, and lots of different varieties of colorful buttons. But, even without the crayons, they would have still had fun. They actually got a little creative with the glueing of the carrots, hat, and bowtie. Go figure! Anyway, here are some snowmen in progress:

And here are a few kids with their pretty (and all very different) snowmen. Notice the "chef's hat" style hat on the left. So creative!:

As the kids finished up their projects, I started to bring over the bins of play snow. THEY LOVED IT. What a fun, sensory mess! The kids made animal tracks and car tracks, some built snowmen, some used the animals to scoop and dig like shovels, and some just picked the stuff up and put it down. I wish it stuck together a tiny bit better (maybe if I had measured the ingredients more accurately, it would have), but the kids didn't care. They could have played with this snow for days. Several moms even asked me how to make it at home. Similarly, other moms thanked me for giving their kids a chance to play in a messy way because they didn't want to make something like this at home. Both were great compliments!

At the end of the program, I was left with a LOT of mess. However, it was a relatively easy mess to clean up. The snow bins were simple and lightweight enough to just dump out and the remnants of the ingredients left behind all washed easily down the drain. Quick, quick quick. Plus, even though there was a good amount of the concoction left on the floor, it was vacuumed up easily and it even left the room smelling nice and fresh! 

What worked least: Sadly, the books worked least. I've found that this age group usually pays more attention during the stories, but last Friday morning, many of them just weren't feelin' it.

What worked best: The fake snow was just awesome. This kind of sensory play helps kids develop their motor skills, helps them focus and calm down, and let's them be creative! And most of them had to be pulled away. It was definitely a big hit.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Holiday Craft and Story

This past Saturday night was the big holiday parade in the village of Huntington! In conjunction with this event, my library director was able to set up a sort of parade kick-off program for the kids at the library, and I was lucky enough to be the librarian assigned to do it! I spent a month or so choosing what I hoped to be perfect selection of family holiday stories and the right mix of crafts. It wound up being a fun event for lots and lots of kids!

The program was drop-in style, from 2:00 to 4:00 (but really more like 4:45) and for all ages. I ordered a ton of stuff. I was told to expect crowds and I was told right! We had over 60 people! I decided to have 6 different crafts, each on their own table, and to have the families move around from table-to-table as they wanted (in the same format as the Watercolor Workshop, which really worked well). For me, this format is, for sure, the way to go for an assortment of crafts.

We received many compliments on Saturday's programs so I figured I'd share each craft. They were as follows:

Christmas Tree Ornaments

This was the crowd favorite of all of Saturday's crafts. I purchased these snap-together ornaments from S&S and let the kids just go to town with them. I put out pom-poms, buttons, pipe cleaners, sparkles, feathers, and also paint and paint brushes. It was all super messy and really let the kids be creative. There was one glitch though. The snap-together ornaments each have two different shaped halves that look almost identical--so almost identical that I thought they were all compatible with each other and therefore put them all out in a basket. So kids would pick up two pieces and sometimes they'd snap right together and sometimes we'd twist and push and they'd just never fit together properly. So be warned! Once we were privy to the situation, I put sets together to make it easier going forward and that helped fix the problem. All in all, still the overall favorite.

Paper Snowflakes

This is an easy, classic, and virtually free craft that I was obsessed with as a kid. I tried it a while back in Books n Play for Pre-K but it wasn't a huge hit with that age group. However I found it to be absolutely perfect for the older kids! It seems like they can snip these up for a while before getting bored and some of them were so focused and precise. I think it's the element of mystery--not knowing how your finished product will look until you've unfolded it--that makes snowflake cutting so exciting for the older kids (and the parents too). The only thing to remember with this craft is that the paper must be square! I chose not to pre-cut squares but to instead have the kids trim the paper themselves. No regrets there. It's all part of the experience! I'm glad I included this simple craft in the day's events because it really went over well with many families.

Mitten Hand Print Wall Hanging

This is was an easy kit that I ordered from Oriental Trading that wound up making really cute keepsakes! When I made my sample for this (seen above), I had to borrow kids on the floor because my hand was too big to fit in the mittens. Because of this, I thought it wouldn't be a doable craft for the older children, but it actually worked out totally fine. I guess there's a bigger difference between older kids' hands and adults' hands than I realized. Anyway, everyone loved this! Way more than I had expected! One mom even told me a few days later that she made one with each of her three kids and hung them all next to each other at home. Success!

Penguin Magnet

This was another simple kit from Oriental Trading. I liked this because it was good for all ages, quick, cheap, not paper (I didn't want too many of the crafts to just be paper) and not even remotely Christmassy. Even though this kit was quick to do, the kids really seem to enjoy it--I'm guessing because they made a "thing" (a magnet) and not just a picture. Plus this was great for all ages. I even saw a few moms with teeny babies sitting down to make one of these. Some older kids wound up making a set of them and that was cute too. It was perfect to group with other crafts because it always looks cute and it's hard to mess up. I might not want to use this as a stand alone craft because it doesn't allow for much creativity on its own, but for this situation, it absolutely was perfect. It filled the "thing" component for me.

Chalk Traced Holiday Lights

Thank you, Pinterest. This came from BuggyAndBuddy.com and just looked so pretty and doable. While kind of messy, and kind of less doable than I'd expected (perhaps in part to me using sidewalk chalk instead of something smaller; who knows?), it was pretty and fun for everyone! It turned out that many of the kids didn't want to make a string of lights but really enjoyed just drawing with chalk on black paper. That's cool too! Some people made the string of lights, some made glowing Christmas trees, some made glowing menorahs, and some just made scribbles and happy faces. As the hours went on, some kids even glued my light-shaped, cardstock templates to their projects, using it as an art supply. (I quickly made more.) They were having a good time just doing their own thing and that's all that matters! Sometimes you never know, right?

Color a Snowman

The day before the program, I decided to throw in one more last-minute activity and it was this--a coloring sheet, nothing fancy about it. Yet sometimes I am amazed and how the simplest craft is the most fun. And this was super simple. I had already formatted the "blank snowman" template a while back for Books n Play for Pre-K so it was easy for me to run a few copies off again. While this craft was a bit of an afterthought, the table was never empty! I think the appeal of this is that it works for almost all ages, it's virtually mess-free, and it allows for as much or as little creativity as the colorer sees fit. Everyone likes coloring! Even our pages got in on the action. I'm glad I threw this one in; it worked.

I'd also selected three books for the storytime part of this program: Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner, Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson, and Have You Been Naughty or Nice by Ethan Long. Picking Christmas books felt wrong but the town's parade ended in a Christmas tree lighting with Santa, so avoiding Christmas books also felt wrong. I tried by best to compile a collection that was "light Christmas" and I think I did an ok job with these three. Snowmen and Night is always safe and, while Santa Claus makes a brief appearance in the other two books, they avoid religion completely.

My director and I had discussed how we would go about incorporating the stories in with the drop-in craft, since families would come and go. In the end, it was decided that we'd sort of wing it based on when there were crowds and if the kids came in waves. We wound up holding two little storytimes during the craft, one about 20-minutes into the program and one a little over and hour into it. My director did the reading and she chose to read both Snowmen and Night and Bear Stays Up for Christmas. She read as the kids continued to craft. When she did, some kids gathered around her and some continued to craft, which is about what we'd expected. It really seemed like everyone who did move from the craft to the story though, really liked these books. Something for everyone, I guess. Nobody was bothered by the appearance of Santa Claus or the mention of Christmas. Phew.

What worked least: Although the kids really liked them, the snap-together ornaments from S&S were just junky. I wish I'd paid enough attention when I'd opened the packages to realize that there were two different corresponding halves instead of just tossing them all in a basket and having them not match up right. But once I figured out what happened, and pre-matched the pieces up, it really was a fun and successful craft. And funnily enough, the favorite craft of the afternoon!

What worked best: The overall format of the program was probably its biggest success. I think that having the kids choose what crafts they did and when the did them, sort of gave them a little sense of  independence and made them feel like they were in charge. Plus, they all left smiling and with armfuls of handmade goodies.

This kicked off the holiday season here! December is going to be a fun month for library programs!