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Adventures in early literacy

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Play, Baby, Play! Parachute Fun with Friends

Play Baby

One of the highlights of my summer so far was being visited by some of my closest friends and their kids. They attended storytime, devoured pancakes, sticky-fied my house in the best possible way, read me books, braved the coldest waters and piled rocks on the beach. It was the best. Thanks, friends, for giving me permission to use the awesome pics you took on this trip.

parachute storytime

If any of you ever get the chance to have personal friends attend storytime, do it. Sometimes as librarians we get used to talking about early literacy to people who are basically strangers, but then forget to share what we do with those closest to us. Now, all my friends have heard me talk about this for years, but it was still super rewarding for me to host them in my element.

storytimefriends maxstorytime storytime sat

Then I skipped out of work for the rest of the day and we hit the beach before they went home. And snacked. Duh.




Early Literacy Messages in Action: Be Enthusiastic and Engaging

This post is part of a blog tour discussing the use of early literacy messages in storytime and other early literacy programs. Each stop on the tour will include practical information for ways to include messages and why we feel it is important to do so. The tour round up can be found on on Friday, June 19th.

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic


I’m going to start with the why. For many of us, and for many caregivers, reading, talking, singing and playing with children is natural. Why wouldn’t we do those things? Not everyone gets it. They understand their child will need to learn how to read and write. Which might include the alphabet and numbers and learning how to sit still. This knowledge might have brought them to your storytime. Where they believe all the learning about reading and writing will happen for their child.

We know better. What a child sees and hears in a storytime will not make them readers alone. It will help, sure, but to truly develop all the skills they will need for learning to read and write in school, they will need their caregivers to continue reading, singing, talking, playing, and writing with them outside the library. Some caregivers already know this and their knowledge and actions will be affirmed when we talk about early literacy in storytime. Those who don’t might hear just the thing to spur them into sharing an extra book this week and singing a song at the bus stop next week and talking about all the things they see in the grocery store the week after that. Maybe not. But wouldn’t it be better to share our knowledge? Because it could be just what they needed.


I often hear concerns that sharing messages will sound preachy or like a lecture. It really doesn’t have to, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t. If it feels like school you’re doing it wrong. The key to success for me (everyone has their own style hence the blog tour!) is being enthusiastic and conversational.

From the moment a patron walks into the storytime room I engage with them. “Hello! How are you today? Please give yourselves nametags (these are for caregivers AND children) and then you can join me on the storytime rug with all these books!” Every participant gets basically the same welcome. Even if I’m in the middle of an enthralling board book on colors, I look up long enough to welcome them to the room.

This creates a welcoming, comfortable environment. Newcomers and old timers alike hopefully feel as though they belong the moment they set foot in the room. They like this feeling, and in turn, they like me for making sure they never had a chance to feel awkward (oh my goodness, what do I do, do we get a nametag, do we go sit down, where do we sit, ACK).

When I first began delivering messages in storytime I would write notes to myself on a sticky note and stick it to the back of a book. For example, if I was singing a book that day my note might say “Song books for short attention span, helps break up and slow language so easier to hear parts of words, vocab, calming, rhyming, quit when not interested or keep singing.” I would not address all the parts of this but the note helped me remember some key talking points so that when I was at a good place to give a message I didn’t have to think so hard about what to say.  That message might come out as “When you share song books like this one at home you are helping expand your child’s vocabulary. So many synonyms for “twinkle!” Plus, song books are great for toddlers because when they wander away from you you can just keep singing, or ditch the book completely without interrupting a story.” 

Now that I am more familiar with early literacy principles I don’t write notes and my messages are a little more conversational and don’t always happen during a book. I especially love talking to caregivers during transitions. That way I don’t lose them if I turn around to grab something AND I can explain what is so great about the next activity in regards to early literacy. It might look like this:

“Ok, it’s time to sing Twinkle Twinkle! Now, I’m going to play on the ukulele so I am going to need you all to twinkle your fingers, like this, since I won’t be able to. Grownups, we do fingerplays and other activities with fingers with our kids because it helps build the muscles necessary for writing later on. *play and sing a verse* Ok, now who knows another word for “twinkle?” Flicker! Yes! You remembered from the book we shared last week! Ok, now let’s flicker our fingers. Flicker extra for me while I play. Great! Grownups, you can change lots of songs to include new and interesting words to help build your child’s vocabulary. You might even learn some new words yourself!”

This gets me lots more head nods and feedback than the old way ever did. Not only do they trust me and like me because I have been nothing but welcoming from the start, but I’m including them in the entire experience rather than being the talking head at the front of the class. They are having fun when I talk to them about early literacy so they are more likely to remember what I’m saying. After storytime a few weeks ago a mother asked “Do you have any suggestions for songs that would be good for changing the words to?” So, she heard the message! And we developed a deeper relationship.

Moral of the story: know your stuff, be open and welcoming from the beginning, and HAVE FUN! Relationships and trust will develop quickly. Enthusiasm is contagious so be excited to share what you know!

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Ring in the Noon Year Party

It’s 2015! This post is late, but will be a good reminder of what went down for next year. This was a super fun event!


We started at 11:15 with the room set up with 3 sort of stations and space for a short storytime. As the kids arrived they decorated and wrote their names on a party hat. Once everyone was mostly settled we sang Hello Bubbles and Hands Are Clapping and I shared Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. We talked a little about how different countries and cultures and even households celebrate the New Year in different ways and for different reasons. A few of the older kids were really interested in the idea that Chinese New Year happens at a different time than our New Year. After all questions were answered we did some egg shaking and I explained the stations.

OMG learn how to take a non-blurry picture!

OMG learn how to take a non-blurry picture!


Station #1: bubble wrap popping. Self explanatory. Most loved activity.

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Station #2: scratch art glasses. Because you need bling to ring in the new year.

There were a ton of these glasses in the closet at my new job. This seemed like the perfect time to use some of them. And kids love scratch art! Honestly, if you are going to get scratch art, I don’t recommend getting them from Oriental Trading-these glasses left a lot of residue and were a little too easy to scratch, I think. I’ve used things from Discount School Supply with success in the past.

Station #3: pipecleaner firework rings and 2015 pipecleaner tiaras and/or glasses. Because see above.

Got the idea for this from this site and this site via Pinterest, thanks to Elizabeth (@libraryeliza -she claims to not care about kids stuff but then somehow always finds the best ideas…)

They had about 20 minutes to explore the stations and there were shakers, scarves and dancing ribbons in the center of the room and music going for those who preferred a dance party to the activities on the tables.

As we approached noon I passed out blowers to everyone in the room. Then, as we counted down I put down some more bubble wrap and got ready to pull open the bags of balloons for a BALLoon drop.

Then it was total chaos as everyone shook shakers, blew on noisemakers, popped bubble wrap (and balloons) and played with balloons and their bling. There were 85 people in the room. So yeah.








Songs and Lyrics, Oh My!

By now, you should all know I love to sing, even if it’s not always so great. The majority of every one of my storytimes is singing. I can’t help it, it just has to happen that way for storytime to work. I feel good, grown ups feel good, the kids definitely feel good so it’s a total win situation.

Anyway, I’ve had some requests for tunes and lyrics to various songs used in storytime. May I humbly direct you to my Rhymes page? There I have written out the words to more than 60 rhymes and songs and have recorded myself singing several of them.  I’m working really hard to get them all recorded but for now I’ve picked the ones with the trickiest tunes.

The newest members of the recorded song family are:

Hi, Hello, and How Are You?

The Elevator Song (Jbrary has also done this one)

Wake Up! Quiet and Loud song. This probably has a real name, but I call it the wake up song. VERY popular in storytime.

Hello and Goodbye Bubbles 

Wake Up Toes

Bouncing, Bouncing

Let me know if you need the tunes to anything else and I’ll get on it, asap. In the meantime, check out Jbrary and KCLS Tell Me a Story for visuals to go with the sound (I’m too lazy to get out of my pjs to do a video, sorry).

And just because. Yes, yes, I do.



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

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Guerrilla Storytime @ ALA 2013

Guerilla Storytime version 3 for blog

Are you a youth librarian, have questions about storytime and want to see the answer in action (and/or share your solutions/ideas)?

Are you a non-youth library person and want to know what the heck storytime is all about?

Just want to have fun, be silly, and talk with some really cool people (I mean, we’re all cool so you can lose, right?)?

Then come on down!

We’ll be in the Uncommons on Friday and Saturday at 3pm. There will be demonstrations, silliness, music, and more. Get your questions answered, contribute to questions, talk about storytime, network, take a break before whatever session you’re headed to and get your wiggles out. Amy discusses this event more eloquently than I here.

Thanks to Cory for coming up with this brilliant idea! It’s going to be a blast. And very educational too. In her words “Guerrilla Storytime is an opportunity for youth services professionals to learn from each other in a informal, off-the-cuff, highly interactive drop-in session.” So, be ready to share your ideas with your colleagues!

I’ll see you there. With bells on. There WILL be bells.


Storytime in Action: Stand Up Rhymes

Your Valentine from me this year is another video! This shows three stand up rhymes we do pretty regularly. This was only the second time we’d done them. It works really well with a small group like this, but we’ve done them with very large groups as well and just have them spin in place or make several smaller circles with the parents around them. Lots of fun!

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We’re Going to the Zoo and Playing Peek-a-Boo

Seem to have caught a cold at ALA, so almost didn’t come in for storytime on Wednesday (that should tell you just how crappy I’ve been feeling!). Sucked it up and went in but used some of my old standbys to give my cloudy brain a break. Glad I made it because it was a LOT of fun!


Hello Bubbles

Hands are Clapping

Two Little Blackbirds

Parent message: I always ask you to participate in storytime because you are your child’s first teacher and role model. They look to you for what to do so please don’t feel silly wiggling your thumbs and flapping your arms. The more you participate, the more they are going to learn, and the more fun you’ll have!

Book in Tiny Tots: Guess Who Eats What by Liesbet Slegers

Book in Toddler Storytime: Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin

Puppet Song: We Went To the Zoo One Day (giraffe, elephant, monkey and Leo the Lion): Tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb

Book in Tiny Tots and Toddler Storytime: Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell


We’re Going Down to Portland (Going to Kentucky with my modified lyrics), We’re going to the zoo, To look at all the animals and everything they do! Then continue with original lyrics.

We’re Tapping by Kathy Reid-Naiman

Book in Tiny Tots and Toddler Storytime: If You’re Happy and You Know It by Jane Cabrera (3 verses for Tinies and 4 for Toddlers)

Goodbye Bubbles

Splish Splash by Bobby Darin

Activity: Do a Dot Art on construction paper

Parent Message for activity: Daubers are great for toddlers because they’re so much fun but also easy for chubby hands to grip so they can work on strengthening the muscles they will use to write later on.


Our daubers are quite well loved and the pads on the tips frequently get ripped off. You can still use the ink for other activities like colored shaving cream painting!

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Storytime: Relationship Building

Yesterday was the first day of a new session after a three week break. Those babies grew so much in three weeks!

Welcoming people back got me thinking about the relationships we make with our young patrons and their caregivers.  I’ve seen so many “methods” of bonding that work really well, but here’s what has worked for me. Visually, I’d say my approach is to expect a big smile rather than a big hug after a break (from adults, not kids-what would life be without knee hugs?).

1) Learning the child’s name is the most important thing, but it doesn’t hurt to learn the names of caregivers who are regulars, especially those with babies. They appreciate the thought and greeting them by name makes them feel like a regular which means they’ll likely keep being a regular. Babies don’t care much about you knowing their name, but knowing it and their mom’s name can make a huge impression on Mom.

2) Don’t get too personal. Forming relationships doesn’t mean being friends. You might make some friends along the way, but you shouldn’t be thinking about friendship when talking with caregivers. Stick to conversation about the library, literacy, their babies, and the weather. Occasionally a topic turns political, etc. and that’s when I quietly exit the conversation and leave parents to talk amongst themselves. They don’t need me for that conversation any more and I need to remain neutral to keep and gain trust with all patrons.

3) Be friendly but genuine. We are all used to putting on a smile to help even the most difficult of patrons. That kind of smile isn’t going to cut it with storytime adults. They can tell if you aren’t being genuine and that’s going to put space between you. How can they believe the things you are telling them if they don’t even believe you are happy to see them? P.S. If you aren’t happy to see people at storytime, you might rethink doing storytimes…

4) Passion and enthusiasm. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely got this already. But are you expressing your passion enthusiastically to your patrons? I’m not talk cheerleading here, just be excited to talk about what you do! You have great, important things to say and caregivers would much rather hear those things coming from a happy, lively librarian (that they trust, see #2) than one who is giving a lecture and doesn’t seem to enjoy doing it at that. This goes the other way, too. open your mind and heart to what caregivers are sharing with you, too. They often have great tips and kernels of advice you can “steal” and incorporate into another storytime’s parent tip. Mom’s have shared free spots for parents to hang out with their kids (great after storytime announcement!), Grandmas have taught me new songs, and Dads have demonstrated the proper way to make elephant sounds. These may seem little, but when they see you share them in a subsequent storytime, you’ve made a forever storytime lover and you’ve learned something new-hooray!

5) Be honest. Honesty is the key to any good relationship, but especially in the library. If you can’t give a patron an answer to their question for privacy reasons, etc. simply tell them that. “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you that staff person’s schedule. You are welcome to stop in on the 4th floor when you are here and ask for her, however.” OR “Oh, thanks for your interest, but I really prefer not to discuss politics at work. But I’d love to hear more about Katie’s music class!” They will appreciate your candor and you will not have alienated other patrons within hearing distance. Honesty also applies to setting expectations. Make sure your groups know what you expect from them right from the get go (trust me on this!). If you expect them to sing with you, ask them to sing with you! If you want them to sit and be quiet (oh, I hope not!), ask them to. It’s that simple. You are the expert. They will follow your lead.

6) Ask them to sing along. Really, I’m sure you all do this, but I find the best way to bond with people in storytime is by singing as a group. Not only does this bond you to your patrons but it bonds patrons to each other. They giggle over being tone deaf or singing the wrong words (no such thing, I say, as long as you’re singing), and encourage each other. Singing also breaks the ice for future conversations-hopefully AFTER storytime. Mostly, music makes us happy! Happy adults=happy kids.

7) It’s about the adults AND the kids. This sums everything up, really.  We are modeling how to interact with children for the adults in the room, some of whom may never have had experience with kids before they had their own. This is a huge part of storytime, especially for parents of babies. Parents are learning rhymes (for the first time!) we hope they will repeat at home, getting tips from other parents in the room, making friends, and watching their babies grow. We facilitate all this by providing our expertise and a safe, welcoming environment for them so they will want to return again and again. And if they can’t, they’ll at the very least have a positive image of the library and hopefully plenty of rhymes to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I’m sure there’s so much more that I’m forgetting!

What kinds of relationships do you build with your patrons and how do you maintain them?

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Toddler Storytime: owls, parachute and shaving cream

What do those things have in common? Nothing, except they all had a place in toddler storytime on Wednesday!

A note about the parachute: with toddlers I always make an announcement before getting out the chute: “Grown ups, please help me keep eyes on all the kids under the chute. If any look scared or hurt, please get them out from under the chute. We want this to be a fun and exciting experience without anyone getting hurt or scared! You can let your toddler help us with the chute if they are uncomfortable being underneath or they can sit in your lap and watch from a distance. Whatever works for your family.” I’ve never had any trouble using the parachute and I think it’s really because they are all on the lookout for their own kids and paying attention to others’ kids. I get a great sense of community with this activity.

Here’s how it all went down:

Welcome (back since I missed the week before due to a death in the family-happily they were all happy to see me again!): Reminders about storytime break in December and to please sing along because no matter how terrible you think you sound, your kids LOVE the sound of your voice! The more you sing, the more they learn.

Welcome Song: Hello Bubbles

Song: When Animals Get Up in the Morning (with frog, dog, owl, and snake)

Action Song: Wake Up Toes

Book: So Big! by Dan Yaccarino (out of print, sadly)

Action Song: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Book: Giant Pop-Out Pets by Wendy Lui This is one of those “guess who” kinds of books. I just start reading even though they aren’t really with me and then BAM! pop out that cat and they are ALL like “Wha?!” and “Whoa!” and “Ooooh!” Pop out magic for the win.

Shakers: We’re Tapping by Kathy Reid-Naiman

Shakers: Instrumental Freeze song

Parachute: These are the Colors Over You

Parachute: Wheels on the Bus

Parachute: Peek -a- Boo!

Book: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Jane Cabrera (just one verse)

Book for second session because a patron REALLY wanted Twinkle Twinkle in the first session and I just couldn’t say no!: Itsy Bitsy Spider by Annie Kubler

Goodbye Bubbles

Splish Splash

Activity: finger painting with shaving cream

Aren’t these kids adorable?! They had a LOT of fun!