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Adventures in early literacy


Explore! Fizz, Boom, Pop! STEM For All Ages

In the past I’ve held STEM programs for preschoolers but these programs can easily be modified for all ages. I decided to go for it over the summer. I planned 3 programs-1 Slime and Goo and 2 Fizz, Boom, Pop (one in each of the two branches I do programs in). This one is Fizz Boom Pop.

There are kind of a lot of supplies involved, but the good news is they’re cheap supplies.

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And, of course, books to check out AND recipes to take home (I truly do not know I am sometimes unable to take a clear picture). I read Bubble Bubble by Mercer Mayer in one program and Stretch by Doreen Cronin in the other (younger kids in the second program).


Fizzy Trays

Plates with drops of liquid watercolor covered up with baking soda. Eye droppers and cups of vinegar. Kids use fine motor skills squeezing the vinegar out of the cups and onto the baking soda plates. They get a fizzy reaction and as the baking soda gets soggier, the colors mix and we can start guessing which colors were originally under the soda. There are always a few who get it right and a few who see purple and think purple was under the soda-this gets to be a magic learning moment for those kids. They really think its magic that there was blue and red and together they made purple.


Mini Explosions

In one session we did mini explosions together after they had exhausted the fizzy trays because there were 150 in that session. In the second session it was a station all by itself. I knew the attendance would be smaller at the second location.

Cups about half full of vinegar, scoop a tablespoon of baking soda into the cup and watch it explode. Add some color for extra fun.

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Fizzy Painting

This one I only did at the first location because it works pretty well with a large group. They could all share the fizzy paint that we made together and can share the spray bottles filled with vinegar.

2 heaping teaspoons of baking soda, 1 heaping teaspoon of corn starch, some liquid watercolor, add liquid until it’s the right consistency. Kids paint with it and after they are finished with their picture, spritz the painting lightly with vinegar and it will fizz!



In the first session each kid (really each family) made a tub of bubbles with dish soap and water. They were encourage to guess how many teaspoons of soap would be required for the best bubbles. After they had the consistency they wanted, they got to play.

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They also got to make their own bubble wands out of pipe cleaners. The second group didn’t make wands because the room was much too small for an additional station, but they DID get to play with the cool, Steve Spangler bubbles, which I feel totally made up for the lack of wand making.

Rocket Balloons

This one came out in the second session and was by far the most popular activity, which is why I’m super glad I didn’t pull them out until AFTER they had started cycling through the other stations. These come from Steve Spangler. The noise is incredible, especially when they pop, which many will. But, hey, science. What will happen if I put even more air into this balloon that looks pretty full already?

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Super fun, sciency times!



Explore! Preschool STEAM: Me and My Shadow

Well, this post is finally coming out of “draft” stage! This program happened in October!

For this session we sang our block song, I read A Trick or a Treat? by Keith Faulkner, but not the whole thing. I skipped everything about Halloween, actually and just called them kids. Not a single person mentioned that they were trick-or-treaters.  Then we played a guessing game with the book Whose Shadow Is This? by Claire Berge. They loved it and kept urging me to turn the page, turn the page!

This was the first session where I put a lot more emphasis on PLAY. We know kids learn, like, EVERYTHING, through play and the program really works much better when it’s kids and grownups and kids and kids playing together with the tools we’ve given them.  I emphasize the importance of making the activities fun. If they stop being fun, move on to another activity or be done. They can spend as much or as little time on an activity as they want.

Most the ideas for this session came from the LibraryMakers blog.

Featured app: Hand Shadow Lite

Station #1: Make shadow puppets

Use die cut shapes and scrap paper to create stick puppets for the shadow theatre.


Station #2: Shadow Puppet Theatre

Had to be clever with setting this up to get the lights to shine through strongly enough. The kids had TONS of fun with this. And so did the parents. Behind the screen there was a bin of other objects like a plastic dinosaur (you can see his shadow below), pinwheel, stuffed animals, and more. This gave them more ways to experiment with making shadows and some kids even made up short stories for their stick puppets and other objects.

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Station #3: Trace a Shadow with chalk

Happily, my husband has a ton of shop lights for his various college film projects so we were quite well lit! Of course, I didn’t get a picture of the girl who posed in a flight position with arms out and mom traced her. So adorable!

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Station #4: Trace a Shadow on a white board

A lot of kids had their hands traced on the board instead of tracing objects.



Explore! Let it Snow

Yesterday was the last Explore! for the year and the last Monday session ever. 2pm on Mondays does NOT work for our community. So, we’re (read: I’M) letting it go and my co-worker will continue Explore! on Thursdays.

Eventually, I will catch up on all my sessions (there are several I haven’t blogged yet) but this latest was SO much fun and perfect for this time of year. It even snowed last night! Which hardly ever happens!

Theme: Snow

Opener: Hello song with blocks

Book: Snowballs by Lois Ehlert

We had a lot of fun talking about all the supplies used to make the snow people and animals in the book.

Station #1: Paper Snowflakes

Supplies: copy paper, scissors and an example snowflake

Skills: scissor practice, engineering (where can I cut without my paper falling apart?), math (shapes), art, talking (LOTS of talking about what was happening, where to cut, how to cut, what shapes to cut, etc.-mostly between child and adult)


Parents were instructed to experiment with folding and cutting and see what they come up with. Kids were totally blown away watching their parents unfold the paper to reveal a snowflake. I have to remind myself sometimes that these are 3 and 4 year olds and may have never seen a paper snowflake being made.

Station #2: Make a Snowman

Supplies: marshmallows, cotton balls, glue sticks, markers, toothpicks, cardstock

Skills: art, engineering (how can I get these marshmallows to stay in a stack? toothpicks!)


Make a snowman using the supplies on the table. Some used only marshmallows and toothpicks, others glued things to the cardstock to create a whole winter scene.

Station #3: SNOW

Supplies: trays or bowls for mixing snow, corn starch, shaving cream, aprons/smocks

Skills: sensory, science (what is happening?), play (Look! It’s snowing! as he sprinkles snow on his tray) and talking (lots of conversations during this activity both parent to child and child to child)

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Start with some shaving cream on the tray. Kids add corn starch until it reaches the consistency they like. I had a bowl of pre-made snow on the table as well so they would have an idea of what they were aiming for. After they get a good consistency they could mold it into snowballs and everything. It even felt a little cold! Most wanted to take it home so you might want to have baggies on hand as well. This was the most popular station for all but one little girl who just cannot tolerate messy hands.


Explore! Preschool STEAM: Huff & Puff

Calm and sunny outside, but it was windy in the program room!

We began with the storytime routine. This week we read The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins and I demonstrated a super cool app called Ocarina 2. You blow into your iPad or iPhone to make music! They were amazed.


Station #1: Hot Air Balloons

Stretch a balloon over the mouth of an empty water/soda bottle. Place the bottle in very cold water (I used pitchers), then place the bottle in very hot water. Watch the balloon blow up!

I demonstrated this before letting them loose and they were totally amazed. The moms were even blown away. “How does it do that?” The kids spent a long time going from cold to hot to cold to hot making the balloon blow up and collapse.


Station #2: Blowing Through Straws

Pretty simple! Just stuff on a table with straws and a fan. The kids tried to blow items with just their breathe, blowing through a straw, or with a fan. This led to “How many blows to get it across the table?” and “Look how fast I can blow!”


Station #3: Pinwheels

The kids made pinwheels using pencils, thumb tacks, and origami paper or cardstock. They made one of each and tested them on the next station.  Great scissor practice!


Station #4: Fan

They tested their pinwheels and played with scarves and dancing ribbons in front of the fan. I’m sure none of you will be surprised to learn this was the second most popular activity. Kids love fans and seem to be able to stand in front of them all day (or behind… “Luke, I am your father”).



WonderWorks: I pretty much replicate everything they do. It’s amazing and SO FUN.

The Show Me Librarian: You had all better know about Amy already. SO much inspiration here for my STEAM programs.

Pinwheels: here and here


Explore! Preschool STEAM: Pitter Patter

For October we are focusing on weather, kicking it off with rain since it does a lot of that here. Ugh. I mean, yay!

Storytime Portion:

Introduction: This program has now been going for a whole month! The basis for the program is STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. We hear from teachers that kids could use extra help in these areas and Art is there because many schools aren’t doing as much with budget cuts. I mostly hope kids will have fun, be encouraged to ask questions, and that you might get some ideas for activities to do at home. So here’s an overview of what we are going to do today.

Welcome Blocks

Now It’s Time For Storytime

Book: Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin

Cover image for Listen to the rain

I wanted to use this book in particular because of all the great sounds it makes. I explained this to the group after we read it. Great for vocabulary and pleasing to the ears.

“We just read a book about the rain and how it sounds and used lots of words to describe the rain. Let’s listen to some real rain sounds and you can tell me what they sound like. ”

App: Rain Sounds (Free)

This app is super cool. I put it on my Galaxy Note (it is available for IOS) and plugged it in to the ceiling speakers in the room. It sounded like the rain was right on top of us. So cool! I showed them the image that went with each sound, but mostly we talked about the sounds. The most popular words were pitter patter and drip. There were only 6 kids so that’s OK. They really enjoyed listening to it and were surprised that the thunderstorm rain was quieter than the rain on the tent sound.

I also gave a short message here about using technology together so kids get more out of it. Lots of big head nods to that.

Song: Rain is Falling (Frere Jacques)

Weather Station:

My coworker made this beautiful weather station so we used it to talk about the weather today. We also had a big calendar printed out so we could mark the weather on that so we can keep track from week to week, but the calendar at the wrong dates on it. Oops! Next time.

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Activity portion:

Station #1: Feel the Rain

Shallow trays with a little bit of water in the bottom were set up on the table. Cotton balls were in a container in the middle along with some eye droppers. Kids took their “cloud” and either squeezed water on it with the eye dropper to make it rain, or dipped it in the water to fill it up until it bursts. Just like a cloud! The kids were totally amazed that it got smaller when they wrung it out and bigger when it was full of water. They spent the most time at this station filling their clouds and “making it rain”.

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Station #2: See the Rain

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This idea came from Amy at The Show Me Librarian. I wanted them to have their individual clouds to work on so instead of a tub I used clear cups. Each cup was about half full of water and I squirted some shaving cream on top of the water for each child. They used eye droppers to drop liquid watercolor on top of the shaving cream until the color broke through the “cloud” and rained. The only reason they didn’t stay forever here is that parents wanted them to stop filling their cups with watercolor. Even though I said it was fine. They tried different colors to make a “rainbow that looks like ice cream”. Can you guess which of these was my demo and which was the 4 year old’s?

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Station #3: Hear the Rain

Just some rain sticks on a table. That’s it. They loved it.  Sometimes simple is good.

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Explore! Preschool STEAM: Splash!

This week’s program focused on water. You probably figured that out from the name, but I’m Captain Obvious today.

I got to do both sessions this week, which was great since there were some things about the Monday session I didn’t think worked so well. They were fixed in today’s program.


Welcome: Block Song (they LOVE this activity!)

Book: Splish-Splash by Nicola Smee

Even though this is a book I would usually share with toddlers because it’s short and simple with lots of opportunities for movement, I knew preschoolers would like, too.  With the older kids I focused on asking more open-ended questions I knew they could answer and getting their help in telling the story. For example: “Why do you think they want to do it again?” and pointing to the animals and letting them say “dog”, “cat”, “pig” and “duck” instead of me every time.

Song: The Goldfish by Laurie Berkner

This song is ALWAYS a hit. We swam all over the room and only occasionally swam in to each other. This is a great song for following directions.

Book: Seals on the Bus by Henry Hort

Usually, I just do one book so there is plenty of time for playing, but I just happened to have this on the table for today’s session (I sang it in the preschool storytime right before Explore) and since there was a seal in Splish-Splash, HAD to pull it out.



The idea for this activity is to see what kinds of things dissolve in water and what kinds of things do not. And, of course, to define “dissolve”.

In Monday’s group I let each child do their own test. They had little cups with sugar, beans, and rice plus a big cup with water. They dumped each item into the water and stirred to see what would happen. Grown ups were directed to ask them what they thought would happen before they put their item in water and then talked about what actually happened. It was great, but there were only 8 kids. Thursday there are more like 25-30 kids. So, I knew I’d have to think of something else.

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In Thursday’s group I did a demo, but had the kids help me. I pick a couple of special volunteers to be in charge of stirring and all the other kids just gathered around to watch and talk about what was happening. This way I was able to do more items, too. We had beans, rice, sugar, glitter, flubber (from our first week), salt, and dish soap. With each item I asked if they thought it would dissolve, or “go away”, or if they thought it would stay whole. They pretty much thought every item would go away, and only a few did. They were totally amazed.

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I left the cups on the table so they could keep stirring and talking and a lot of them wanted to do that. I split the group up in to 2 groups and sent them to the next station.

Sink or Float?

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Pretty straightforward! A tub with water and a tub with items. Each child/family got a paper with a chart asking them to write down their predictions (another great word to define!) and what actually happened. They mostly just wanted to play in the water, which was totally fine. They were talking about what was happening with everything they did. The pom poms got so wet you could wring them out and one girl was asking her mom why that was happening. I didn’t hear the answer, but I bet it was a good one.

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On Monday I had bins for them to sort the items that sunk or floated. With such a large group on Thursday I didn’t bother with asking them to sort.  Plus, there isn’t enough room on the tables for that much stuff plus the kids.

People checked out books, asked questions and had a great time. Another SUCCESS!


Explore! A Preschool STEAM Program

Our first Explore! program was Monday afternoon and I think it was a success. There were 30 people in attendance, 17 of which were children. About half came for the program and the other half were in the library at the time and decided to attend. ALL of them had a great time. How do I know? Lots of smiles, half the books on display were checked out, everyone was there for at least 30 minutes, and these exclamations were overheard: “I want to come to every single one!”, “This is the best day!”, “I love this, it’s sticky stuck.”

Need I say more?

Here’s how it went down:

As families came in, children wrote their names on these wooden blocks and took them to the storytime rug where they sat on a lilypad, fish, or stone. The blocks idea came from the Library Makers blog.


Once everyone had their name on a block we sang this song (to the tune of Good Night Ladies):

Hello ________

Hello ________

Hello ________

Come build something with your blocks!


I then invited those 3 children, and only those 3 children (this is great patience and taking turns practice, parents) to come up to the tray where my name block was sitting and add their blocks to it. They chose to stack it like a tower. Then I asked them to sit back down and we did the next 3 names and so on until everyone had placed their block.  As Library Makers mentions, the engineering part of this activity is awesome. I did not rush the children as they were having great conversations about where to put things after the tower collapsed everyone had to come back up and fix it. They had a LOT of fun working together on that one. Best part: one girl asked which was her block and I picked it up and said I think it is this one because it has the first letter of your name on it. She said “Yes, the M!” and pointed to the letter. Work those literacy skills, little ones.


After the tower was all fixed up we sat back down for another song and a story.

This one is sung while getting a beat on your knees.

Song: Now It’s Time for Storytime (tune of Camptown Races)

Now it’s time for storytime, doo, dah, doo, dah

Now it’s time for storytime, oh de doo dah day

Raise your arms and say “Hooray!” it’s a library day

Now it’s time for storytime, oh de doo dah day

We repeat on our heads and tummies.

Book: Bubblegum, Bubblegum by Lisa Wheeler (it was between this and Hippospotamus so I just randomly grabbed one form the table-I hate hard decisions!)

Exploration time: Oobleck

I explained the activity to the children and parents, emphasizing that all Explore activities are designed to be done with parents and children working together. We have prompts on the tables in case parents want some ideas for questions to ask their children while exploring.


Corn starch was placed in orange dishes and there were pitchers of water on the tables. Kids dumped the cornstarch from the orange dish to the black dish they were given and took some time to play with the corn starch by itself. Some kids (like me) did not like the way it felt but others loved it saying it felt soft. Then they added water. Some added too much and had to decide if they needed more corn starch (I had more on hand to add upon request). That meant asking their neighbors what was happening to theirs and asking me whether it was right. I described what it might feel like and if they didn’t feel that they might need to add either water or starch. In the end they all ended up with white goo they were happy with. One boy could NOT understand why it felt like he could pick it up but then it “went away”. It was fun to watch him try over and over.


After they were done with Oobleck I had baggies of orange Flubber (aka Gak) for them to play with and then take home. Originally I was just going to have them take them home as I thought they would spend more time on the Oobleck. I’ve noted that for future programs we should have 2 stations of activity.

I also had some Flubber and 2 Ingredient Slime for them to play with if they wanted to save their Flubber for home.

People left gradually after having their fill of Oobleck and Flubber, but not before I handed out Explore Journals suggesting to parents that they ask about what they saw, heard, felt today and let their kids write or draw about it in the journal. They can add an entry each week after they attend the program.

Other handouts: Recipe sheet and Prompt sheet (see image with pitcher above)

My coworker will repeat this program on Thursday.

*Note* We planned to have the kids playing with Oobleck the whole time. But that did not keep their attention so at the last minute I added the Flubber free play, We’ve decided for future programs we need to have 2 stations of activity for them to move between.  Since 3 year olds are in a different place than 6 year olds it makes sense to provide a station-like atmosphere so those who need to vary their tasks can and those who want to focus on one thing for an hour can do that.

Next week’s theme: Fizz!