Friday, January 29, 2016

Books n Play for Pre-K 1/27/16: A Mixed Bag

Yay, Books n Play for Pre-K! I've written about this program so many times before but it's different every time that I do it and sometimes, the mood strikes and I just straight up wanna write about it again. Wednesday's group was, quite literally, the young and the restless. I had a chatty collection of moms and a justtttt barely eligible collection of kids. It wasn't my smoothest of programs, but I'm really proud of the cool stuff I did and I wanted to show it off. And also, I write about successful programs a lot. And unfortunately, once in a while, one isn't as successful, and those programs deserve attention too (maybe even more attention, really). So, without further ado... Books n Play for Pre-K, 1/27/16, AKA Books n Play for Pre-K, A Mixed Bag:

Wednesday's theme was colors. I leaned on some book stand-bys this week, although I did try out a brand new song, thanks to As usual, first up was our Hello Song (still A New Way to Say Hello by Big Jeff... always A New Way to Say Hello by Big Jeff), and then I read Dog's Colorful Day by Emma Dodd (coupled with corresponding "spots" that I made [contact paper covered card stock with tape for sticking] and our adorable Golden Retriever puppet from Folkmanis). Then I read Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes by James Dean. The kids were SO good during these books--super-smart and good at counting, singing, and color identification. A PLEASURE, despite being the young and the restless. For my song, I introduced the color song, an adorable find from It's not only cute and easy-to-pick-up-on, it's interactive too! Here's how it goes:

I had the kids put their fingers on their heads, smile, frown, etc. I'm not sure if they all got the concept entirely, but either way, everyone had fun. Here they are stomping with all their might:

Then it was time to break off for 20-minutes or so of crafts and play. Here's where the chaos started. This is usually the highlight of the program for many of the kids, and maybe it's because of that that I have high expectations for myself regarding what kinds of stuff I put out...and maybe it's because of THAT, that I get annoyed when it's more chaotic than it should be. So when, for whatever the reason, the kids were super antsy, I found this part of the program to be just really frustrating.

Here's what was at the craft table:

1. Dog from Dog's Colorful Day coloring sheets and do-a-dot markers (see below) *
2. Pete the Cat, I Love My ____ Shoes coloring sheets (similar to the ones that can be downloaded here)
3. Blank rainbows printed on card stock + water colors, paint brushes, and water
4. Hand print color mixing (as seen here from De Mello Teaching) (see below) **

And here's what was at the toy table:

1. Early Math Activity Jars from Lakeshore, set up for sorting the balls by color (see below) ***
2. Colorful wood blocks
3. Color sneaker matching game from
4. Chromatography Science Experiment! (see below) ****

* The Dog's Colorful Day print-outs are from I put these out with dot markers (like these), so the kids could dot-up dog like in the book. Whenever I use these print-outs, I always think "eh, just an easy extra thing to put out," but then, they wind up being one of the kids' favorite activities! That knowledge alone should teach me to keep it simple (but it doesn't). Anyway, the kids love using the dot markers! And I think the story-tie-in makes this one especially exciting for them. Also, the dot markers are pretty un-messy so we all like that! Here's some pictures of dotting fun:

** The hand print color mixing has been hit or miss. I've had success with it in the past, but on Wednesday, it didn't really work. I am blaming this again on the younger age of the kids. Here are pictures of the this craft when it was done successfully over the summer:

Look how cute it was! But, unfortunately, on Wednesday...a totally different story. The littler ones b-lined straight for the paint and, before I was even able to explain what they were supposed to do, they just went at it. So we have: the young and the restless + paint + no direction = A MESS. Then, once the haphazard painting started, it was impossible to get make it go away. Everyone freely painted landscapes, scribbles, and sweepingly long versions of their names. I tried to right it, but they were in too deep. At least they enjoyed it.

*** This is the Early Math Activity Jars from Lakeshore set up for sorting the balls by color:

The kit itself allows you to sort balls, cubes, and pyramids by color, shape, and number. But I decided to keep it simple and just put one kind of sorting activity out. This went over better than I'd expected! In particular, I had a little brother who couldn't pull himself away from the sorting jars.

**** I was really excited about this chromatography experiment! I got the idea for it from the Science Buddies kit that I borrowed from the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. Unfortunately, most of the science experiment stuff in the kit was too old for my crew, but, after a good amount of testing different things out, I was able to take their version of a chromatography experiment and modify it to work for the 3-5's.

Here's how you do the experiment: 

1. Take a piece of paper towel and dip it in water (not until it's totally saturated, but wet enough). 
2. Use a black marker to scribble a big splotch on the paper plate. Not all black markers work! I had two different ones that I used and I found that Mr. Sketch worked the better.
3. Use the wet paper towel to “wipe up” the black splotch. 
4. Wait a few seconds, then watch what happens on the paper towel. 

Spoiler: There are colors! Red and blue and black! It's cool! Here is a picture of some results:

I think the small number of kids that did the chromatography experiment were into it. And I think one or two of them even "got it," like, understood that the point of it was to see that the color black was actually made up of many other colors. Unfortunately, not a ton of kids were interested in trying the experiment, so it went largely ignored. So disappointing!

At the end of play/craft time, I wrapped up with one more stand-by story: Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. This is when the chatty moms were at their chattiest. I actually had to shush them, which is totally awkward for me. Any tips on shushing noisy moms would be greatly appreciated!

What worked least: Ugh! I'd say the hand print color mixing--or lack there of, was probably my biggest disappointment of the program. However, it worked great over the summer! Don't dismiss it! With the right group, it can be a great activity.

What worked second-least: The chatty moms. Please, folks, any tips for shushing them in a non-awkward way would be welcomed. Let me also say that I can't really use a "set up the ground rules at the start of the program" type method. These patrons were late, and, in general, lateness is something I'm pretty easy-going about. What I need is something to-the-point and maybe even funny that I can say quickly, mid-book, to the offending chatters.

What worked best: Time to be positive. Dog's Colorful Day by Emma Dodd and Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes by James Dean have always worked well for me. They probably always will work well for me. Can't go wrong with the stand-bys! Also, my new color song from was awesome! Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

International Taste Test + Winter Reading Club (Book A Trip)

I have always said that my favorite part of travel is tasting all the snacks from other countries. The grocery store is a regular stop on all of my trips. In fact, the following picture from my trip to Australia just appeared on my TimeHop feed this morning:

So anyway, when I stumbled across (and quickly became obsessed with it), it spiraled into the inspiration for not only one of my biggest programs yet, but our entire Winter Reading Club theme!

I present you... the International Taste Test.

Choosing snacks was no easy task. is a wonderful, amazing, super-easy-to-use website where you can order treats from all around the globe, HOWEVER, inventory when you're shopping for a large quantity (i.e. a library program), is limited. It's clearly not an insanely corporate operation over there, but instead a few people who are even more interested in snacks from around the world than I am. It's cool though. After a good amount of cart finagling, I wound up with a decent assortment of goodies from 5 different countries. Selected based on interestingness but also based on availability, I had goodies from Japan, Mexico, Korea, Italy, and Ukraine.

Here are the snack tables all set-up:

All the goodies came to the library in two big boxes. I made some signs and some flags for the tables (shown above) + some other signs to label all the different goodies that we had (although, they didn't exactly explain much, really). Then we cut everything into kid-size samples, and at 2:30pm, the flood gates opened! What a show!

We had approximately 75 patrons come to taste the goodies! Such great turn out! Everything disappeared quickly. First to go was the Purple Sweet Potato Kit Kats, followed quickly by the other flavored Kit Kats and then by the Hello Kitty Biscuits. So basically, the Japan table was a total hit. Leftover at the end were the Takis from Mexico and the Shrimp Crackers from Korea.

My love of foreign travel did not end here. The International Taste Test was only the kickoff to the Winter Reading Club-- themed: Book A Trip.

"Book a trip to the library for this year's winter reading club. As your family reads together, you'll visit six different continents and earn stamps in your passport plus a fun prize at each destination. Earn a stamp each week from January 25th through March 6th and a special prize at the end. And be sure to stop in to kick off all the fun at our International Taste Test on January 17th."

I lucked out because not only were the bones of this reading club already in place from 2006 but I was also able to successfully locate them on our staff hard drive! In short it goes like this: Each week the families "travel" to a different continent, read a book (either one about that continent or anything else that they want), then earn a sticker (one of these, from Upstart) in their reading passport + a souvenir from that place. Here is a link to the "travel itinerary" which outlines the continents in which we "travel" plus the prizes that are earned at each place.

The welcome packets, received upon club registration, look like this:

Pictured above are: The plastic bag that houses everything (these from Upstart), a welcome letter to the parents explaining how this year's Winter Reading Club works, the "travel itinerary" which outlines which continent we travel to which week, a list of recommended books if the families choose to read titles that correspond with each location (they don't have to!), a little compass notepad (these from Oriental Trading), a reading log passport (these from Upstart), a flag pencil (these from Oriental Trading), and two bookmarks with continents on them (any two of these from Upstart).

The weeks follow along like this:

Registration (Jan. 17 – March 6): Sign up packet with reading passport
Week 1 (Jan. 25 – Jan. 31): Australia – Boomerang & Australia Sticker
Week 2 (Feb. 1 – Feb. 7): Asia – Fortune Cookie Eraser & Asia Sticker
Week 3 (Feb. 8 – Feb. 14): Africa – Zoo Animal Sticker Sheet & Africa Sticker
Week 4 (Feb. 15 – Feb. 21): Europe – Medieval Stamper & Europe Sticker
Week 5 (Feb. 22 – Feb.28): South America – Frog Squirt Toy & South America Sticker
Week 6 (Feb. 29 – March 6): North America – Mini Foam Finger & North America Sticker

The prizes are all from Oriental Trading and the passport stickers are these, from Upstart.

At the end of the club, instead of a final party, we'll just give out certificates of completion and one final prize. We wanted to see if a kick-off event (the International Taste Test) would be more well-attended than a wrap-up event and YEP, with approximately 75 taste testers, it sure was! Success!

The Winter Reading Club is now underway. In regard to the International Taste Test...

What worked least: I ran out of Kit Kats too fast! I just didn't have any idea of the magnitude of this program when I was shopping for treats! I could have had a whole Kit Kat Taste Test program (hmmm...) and it probably would have been successful. So next time, more Kit Kats! ("Next time" being the key part of that statement.)

What worked best: This was the best way to ensure a good turn out for our Winter Reading Club, for sure. In 24-hours, we have almost half of the number of patrons registered for the club that we had all of last winter. This was also the most excited I've seen patrons about the Winter Reading Club in a long time. A kick-off event is definitely a better way to go than a wrap-up event...especially a kick-off event that involves treats!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Noon Year's Eve 2015-2016

First post of the new year!

After a not-so-great 2015, I have high hopes for the year ahead. Much like I did last year, I kicked off 2016 with a library Noon Year's Eve Party. Only slightly modified from last year's version, the program included homemade crowns, paper bag time capsules, a balloon drop, sparkling apple cider (and other snacks), a photo back drop, and (new for this year) 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, the most important of those being (a) the balloon drop (specifically this one, $10-ish) and (b) a countdown to noon projected on the wall to build anticipation (made with, no fills necessary). I also had a backdrop (this one from Oriental Trading, also seen above) hanging on the wall so I could photograph the kids against it.

This year's program was really similar to last year's version of the Noon Year's Eve Party. I started the kids off by having them decorate 2016 crowns (which I had 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 they were finished with it, I had them fold it up small and put it in a bag. Then they decorated the bag and sealed it up with a sticker (which were just printed on blank labels) that said "Do Not Open Until January 2017."

At 11:55, I passed out the bells I use in Musical Kids to act as noise makers. At 11:59, the whole room got very excited. The kids made their way over the to the balloon drop, placing themselves strategically as close to directly under it as they could. Then, with 10-seconds left until noon, we counted down! Here's a picture of that. I'm guess they're all saying "eight.":

At exactly noon, I grabbed the balloon bag chord and let the balloons slowly tumble onto the kids. I wish balloon bags were a little faster and that I didn't have to spend an extra 30-seconds or so fishing out all the more tightly-packed balloons from the bag, but like I said last year, for a $10 bag, can you expect perfection? The kids didn't care one bit. They were so so so excited about the balloons, grabbing for them as they fell to the ground, like they were pieces of candy falling from a piƱata. And even though my group was about half the size of last year's group, this was still the highlight of the program by far. 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 snacks. I served different types of Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, sparkling apple cider (from plastic wine glasses), and water bottles.

Because I had a smaller sign-up this year than last year, I decided to include a game of Noon Year's Eve Bingo to wrap the program up. The Bingo cards can be downloaded here! I started the game about 10-minutes after the balloon drop, so the more meticulous kids could finish their crafts and the more antsy kids could toss their balloons around for a little while.

It seems like all kids always like Bingo a lot. We played one game until everyone won, and then by request, a second game until everyone won again. Because of the size of the group, I had plenty of prizes for each child to win twice and take home two things. I used Dinosaur-Filled Eggs and Wind-Up Robots as prizes and the kids really liked them! When in doubt, Bingo.

By the end of the second game, there were about 5-minutes left of the program and, aside from a few stragglers, everyone was pretty much ready to leave. The kids quickly finished their time capsules, grabbed a few snacks to-go, and endured my cheesy "See you next year!" as they made their way out. Last year, when the parents came in the room to pick up their children, some of them posed against the backdrop together. This year, it definitely didn't get the same attention. But never the less, it was still appreciated.

What worked least: Nothing about this program didn't work, however the overall vibe was a little lackluster compared to last year's super-high-energy group. I heard two girls (repeat attendees from last year) say to each other "This was fun last year so I decided to to come back" and everyone else definitely had a good time too. It just felt, I guess, quieter.

What worked best: The balloon drop, without question. As long as it's hung tightly enough so that you don't yank the whole bag down when you go to open it, it's the best $10 thing you can do for a Noon Year's Eve Party.

Happy 2016, everyone!