Monday, June 4, 2012

Bouncing Babies: Programming for the Littlest Library Kids

In my library, we strive to offer programs for children at every age. My entire department shares responsibility for the requisite school-age programs and preschool story times, and one of my staff offers regular two-year-old story times as well. That just leaves the littlest library-goers: babies and toddlers. Happily, the job of offering a twice-monthly babies and toddlers story time falls to me.

In creating a program plan for my Bouncing Babies program, which serves children 1 month through 23 months and their caregivers, I try to keep a few key ideas in mind. First, it's never too early to start developing crucial pre-reading skills (ECRR--need I say more?). Second, I believe it is also never too early to start forming positive associations with the library. I strive for all of the little ones to have a good time so that the library becomes a comfortable, loved place. And lastly, I believe that the grown-up caregivers of children under age two can sometimes feel starved for a bit of interaction with other grown-ups. My programs should be an opportunity for them to destress, too.

With all of those points in mind, I have created the following program format for my Bouncing Babies programs. The program lasts about 30 minutes plus some time for free play, and I don't deviate from that format very much--really, the fundamental components stay the same from week to week, which allows for a sense of routine that is comfortable to both babies and grown-ups.

(A few things to keep in mind: I print out a sheet with all of the songs and rhymes and pass it out as folks arrive; that way no one feels unable to sing along if they want to. Also, I start every session by mentioning that the door to the program room, while closed, is unlocked, so if anyone starts to have a meltdown, child and caregiver can step out for a few minutes and return when calmed down. I also stress that it's okay if a child doesn't want to stay by Mom but instead wants to run around--different learning styles and all. Finally, I pepper the program with little child development factoids about the importance of animal sounds, why nursery rhymes are so important, why "practicing" holding books is a good story time activity, etc. Parents have said they really appreciate learning these little bits of information, and it helps them realize why continuing early literacy activities at home is so important.)

Enough of the background. Here's what I do:

Bouncing Babies

Songs and Rhymes
     I start every session with a welcome song that I most definitely copied from the library at which I interned in grad school: "Hello, Everybody, and How Are You?". The song, below, provides a definitive sense of the story time starting, and it usually goes on long enough to allow for any stragglers to make their way into the program room before things really get going. Also, in repeating the song for each child, the little ones get to hear their names--one of the first sounds they really tune in to. It's like magic for calming down even the crankiest of toddlers.

Hello, Everybody, and How Are You?

Hello, everybody*, and how are you?
How are you? How are you?
Hello, everybody*, and how are you?
How are you today?

*repeat with each child's name

     I always emphasize that bouncing and clapping along to the rhythm of the opening song, as well as the rest of the songs and rhymes, is really beneficial to babies and toddlers. Not only is the movement fun, but it starts to introduce little ones to the idea of rhythm--a fundamental component of language and reading.
     We spend the next ten-ish minutes as a group singing the songs and saying the rhymes on the handout. These include nursery rhymes (Hey, Diddle Diddle), traditional children's songs (Baa, Baa, Black Sheep), and bounce and tickle rhymes (Round About, Round About). I repeat each one at least twice, as the first time around is usually a demonstration and folks don't always chime in until the second time. Admittedly, sometimes the mood of the group prohibits us from getting through all the rhymes. That's another reason I make the handout, though--caregivers can take it home and do the rhymes there.

     I always share a short, easy-to-see book with the group--it's a great way to start modeling story time behavior for future story time participants. I choose books that have fun interactive components, peek-a-boo flaps in particular. Since these books inevitably fall apart when they are circulated, it's a treat to enjoy these books in a program. All of my copies are staff copies for the program only, so they stay in good condition. Some of my favorites: Peek-a-Moo!Good Morning, Toucan; anything Spot; and Moo Baa La La La.
     Next comes time for booksharing between child and caregiver. I have a basket full of fun, age-appropriate board books that are wonderful for exploring how books work. Again, none of these resources is used for anything except my Bouncing Babies programs. Since I control their use, I'm able to include some great interactive books. Think Usborne Touchy-Feeling Books, Dwell Studio's great Touch and Feel or Circle books, any anything else with manipulable elements. Oh, and I also include lots of Sandra Boynton because they're just so much fun!

     After we put away our books, I break out our hand bells. I was able to purchase some baby-safe musical bells with a grant from our Friends of the Library, and they've been a hit ever since. Despite my initial worry that the noise of the collective bells ringing would be too much for some babies, EVERYONE loves this part of the program. Depending on the mood of the group, we'll sometimes have a little parade, shaking our bells along to some classical music. Other times we stay where we are and try ringing our bells high, low, fast, and slow. Lots of investigation into how bells work happens at this point.

Books, Bells, and Tactile Balls!
     Play is so important to the development of little ones, and I would consider myself horribly remiss if I didn't include time to play into our program schedule. Right now I offer two Bouncing Babies programs per month, and I alternate toys from session to session. Some weeks I break out some foam building blocks--plenty for everyone to play and build. Other weeks I dump out my box of tactile balls--some with ridges, some with bumps, some with holes, etc. From this point on, the rest of the program is free play. Little ones are free to explore and experiment with the toys available to them, and it is wonderful to see them figure out how to manipulate what they've got in their hands. It's important to me that all the toys be different bright colors--that way the almost-twos in the program can get a bit of color reinforcement out of playtime while their younger counterparts are chewing on whatever they've got. Everyone's happy! (I always emphasize to caregivers that the toys are cleaned after each program, so exploring with one's mouth is okay by me--after all, it's developmentally appropriate!)

That's what I do at my Bouncing Babies programs. Attendance has steadily risen since I started at my library last August, and at this point I offer two sessions each program day--10 a.m. and 11 a.m.--in order to accommodate all the families who want to attend. What better confirmation of a good program is there than a room packed with happy parents and giggling babies?


  1. Your baby program sounds wonderful! This past session I used bubbles with the babies at the social/play portion and they loved it. I actually had parents go out and buy bubbles after the first few sessions because of their baby's response to them. It sounds like you're doing amazing things at your library Miss Amy :)

  2. Good article. Thanks for information

  3. I care for a baby (15 mos) in Arvada 3x per week and am looking for activities to have her involved with other little ones. Most of the website I found when I searched are not valid anymore. This sounds great, how can I sign up or get the next date an activity is available. Thank you.


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