Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Have you heard about CoderDojo, a movement to get more kids involved in programming? There's been some talk about CoderDojo and programming in general in libraries recently, and I like the whole idea of getting children and teens interested in and knowledgeable about programming--especially since so much of their world is now supported by behind-the-scenes programming. Thus I was interested when No Starch Press offered to send me a copy of their book Super Scratch Programming Adventure! to peruse and review.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! by the LEAD Project introduces readers to computer programming in the form of Scratch, a programming language created by a group at MIT. Scratch is downloadable for free, and its design is graphic in nature--it should help programmers of any age visually see the way programs are written and the logic behind them. The book is a combination of two parts: a framing story in graphic novel format; and individual stages, or exercises, in learning to program with Scratch. Each exercise encourages the programmer to create a real, playable game. While these games are simple, they are dynamic and will make their creators proud.

The style of instruction is straightforward and accessible, and the games that the reader creates as exercises provide plenty of opportunities for experimenting with Scratch. Everything is very bright and visual--both the book and Scratch itself--which may make programming much easier to learn for visual thinkers. The book is not a stand-alone resource; access to a computer with the capability to run Scratch 1.4, which is available to download for free, is necessary. Thus this book is not a stand-alone resource, but it has the potential to be a great tool for teaching and engaging kids in computer programming.

For most children, Super Scratch Programming Adventure! will likely be most successful when used under the guidance of a regular instructor, i.e., in a classroom setting, where they can ask questions of someone with computer programming experience. That said, children who are motivated to understand the logic and mechanics behind the videogames they play will find the book and its exercises engaging on their own. I can also see this book and Scratch being useful to scouting groups who are working toward a computer badge. Libraries with computers specifically for children or with CoderDojo-style programs will likely find this book a useful resource as well.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is available as both print book and downloadable ebook; the print copy comes with the ebook included. The print copy I reviewed was supplied to me by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

#ALSC12: Putting conference learning into action

The hardest part of any conference, for me at least, comes upon returning home--when it's time to put into action all of the exciting ideas you got while away from the everyday life of the library. It can be difficult to condense all of the information of the conference into reasonably-sized nuggets, and then to prioritize when and how those nuggets will start to appear in the library. I manage in a few ways. First, I tend to speak out loud about all of the ideas bouncing around in my head; something about verbalizing my thoughts aloud allows me to make more sense of them. Second, I make lists. Shocking, I know.

I want to share with you, as a means of sharing with myself, a list of the ideas I hope to put into action following the 2012 ALSC National Institute. Keep in mind this is a preliminary list of goals--I'm sure more ideas will manifest as I'm reminded of conference programs over the coming months.

Goal #1: Intentionality.
     If #ALSC12 had a buzzword, it was "intentionality." Lots of the programs and conversations left me thinking that library services should be more intentional. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Asking these questions about every aspect of the services we provide will help us pare down what is giving little value for the time it takes, and it will help us beef up our excellent services. Intentionality means knowing the reasons for doing what you do--how it helps a child developmentally, how it offers opportunities for social interaction or play, etc. I want to get my staff thinking about these questions with regard to their programs, and I also want them to consider how well we are doing at helping children of all ages achieve their developmental assets. I'm not asking for sweeping changes. I'm asking for us to offer the very best because we know what the best is.

Goal #2: Make meaningful additions to our current programming.
     This goal absolutely ties in with the goal of intentionality, although here it is less abstract. I left the Institute with some definite ideas about concrete modifications to our current programs. Five big ones come to mind:

  • Make measurement a part of story time. One presenter talked about how a program that initially talked about measurement as an aside turned into a full-blown measuring-tape extravaganza once the kiddos got their hands on measuring tools. What better way to engage with the world around you than to seek to identify its qualities?
  • Use realia in story times. Seeing real life objects that correspond with a story or theme help children create a firm foundation for understanding the world they inhabit.
  • Be more systematic about sharing early literacy tips. Saroj Ghoting advocates writing short (no more than 30 seconds) early literacy tips on sticky notes, then sticking these notes to the back covers of story time books. When you hold the book to read during story time, you'll be reminded to share the tip with caregivers.
  • Add more instruments and props. Egg shakers and rhythm sticks. Parachutes and bean bags. All of these elements were recommended as means of adding more song and movement to story times, and while that impetus is extremely worthwhile in and of itself, the enjoyment children will get from really interacting in story time will be the icing on the cake.
  • Learn caregivers' names. After you learn the names of the children who come to your programs, learn the names of the grown-ups who bring them there. This practice will create a community within the program while also holding the caregiver accountable for continuing learning outside of the program.

Goal #3: Add some new programming in the not-too-distant future.
     In particular I want to think about adding book apps to my programs. I also want to ponder debuting a Mock Newbery program in conjunction with local schools. My ideas in these two realms are varied and disjointed at this point, and I know I need more time to sit and think about what these initiatives might look like. Do you have a program along these lines that works? Let me know!

Goal #4: Foster joyful reading.
     I mentioned in my post from the Institute that author/illustrator Peter Brown made a statement that really struck me: "Joyful reading is the answer to all problems." This statement has resonated in my brain, turning into a mantra of sorts. Joyful reading. Joyful reading. How do we foster joyful reading in our library customers of all ages? To me, "joyful reading" means taking joy in the act of reading as much as in the stories themselves. Joyful reading is about the feeling of fulfillment and enrichment that comes from reading something meaningful. I must remember that what is meaningful to me won't necessarily be meaningful to you, and vice versa. So how do we reach all readers?
     One of my goals is to foster joyful reading wherever I can. I will tell stories and read stories joyfully, I will recommend them joyfully, and I will make every attempt at joyfully displaying and promoting them within the library and in the community. I really think we'll all be better for it.


I'd love for you to weigh in with your thoughts on my goals, or things you've learned at conferences, or anything else that might be on your mind. What are you putting into action in your library?

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's a (story time) party!

Current and former preschoolers
celebrate together.
One of the preschools I visit regularly to provide outreach story times contacted me last month to share some news: they were throwing a party to celebrate their 25th anniversary as a preschool, and I was invited! Woo, a party! Who doesn't love a party? Of course I said I'd be there, and I happily agreed to bring some stories for the activities portion of the day.

There was a lot to capture kids' attention following birthday song and the cutting (and gobbling) of the birthday cake. There was a clown making balloon animals, face painting, a bounce house--the fire department even brought a fire truck to the parking lot for the occasion. With all that stimulation, kids moved from station to station as they pleased. Lots seemed quite happy to have a semi-quiet story time area where they could relax and enjoy some popsicles.

Since kids were moving in and out of my story time area, I had some books propped up in front of me so kids could choose the stories they wanted to hear. Familiarity and silliness seem to be key in choosing stories for an informal story time, as the big hits were Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen ChristelowDuck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and I Am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems. All these stories make sense to young children even if they arrive in the middle of a telling. They also all boast interactive read-aloud options: kids can use their fingers to tell about those jumping monkeys, and the reader can ask for opinions on what that creature looks like and what kids might wear to various types of parties.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this story time party was my getting to introduce my new story time tool: a ukulele! It arrived in the mail last week, and so far I've mastered "If You're Happy and You Know It"--which, thankfully, can be adapted and stretched out in a myriad of ways. At the party, we sang it the traditional way as well as with animal noises; kids got really involved, as I asked them to supply the names of animals they wanted to sound like in each verse. We were rockin'!

I may not have had kids lined up by my station like the face painters or balloon animal-making clown, but all the kids I did interact with were all smiles. That's what I call a fun party!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

#ALSC12: The ideas are flying!

I hope you've been keeping up with the ALSC Blog over the past few days since the Institute began--my fellow live bloggers and I have been doing our best to keep you posted on all of the ideas flying around, as there are simply too many great ones to keep to ourselves. Please, take a half hour over the weekend to read about the sessions and activities. You might just find your next big idea, too!

I plan on writing a more ideas-heavy reflective post when I get back home, but for now I want to leave you with a statement from children's author/illustrator Peter Brown in his keynote talk Thursday night: "Joyful reading is the answer to all problems."

Joyful reading. Think that over for a while. We'll talk when I get back.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What I'm Doing These Days

The next few days will be slightly out of the ordinary here on the blog. I'll be in Indianapolis through Saturday for the 2012 ALSC National Institute--three days of all sorts of sessions aimed at those of us who serve children in our libraries, plus plenty of networking and author excitement. I'll be one of several attendees live-blogging all the great things going on at the Institute, so make sure you check out the ALSC Blog to stay on top of all that's happening in Indy. You can also follow #ALSC12 on Twitter to keep up with the chatter. I'll try to post some highlights here, too, but time and internet access will factor into whether that happens.

And now for some reading updates! You may have noticed that there haven't been many chapter book reviews on the blog lately. That absence is not due to lack of reading, I assure you--on the contrary, it's due to large amounts of reading due to two committee appointments:
  • I was named a Round I panelist for the Cybils Awards in the middle grade fiction category! Reading hasn't yet begun for this appointment--book nominations don't even begin until Oct. 1 (start thinking of what titles you want to recommend!)--but I'm gearing up for what will surely be a very large stack of to-read books on my kitchen table.
  • I've been working my way through the 2013-2014 Mark Twain Award Preliminary Nominees as part of my reader/selector duties. That's 25 novels aimed at 4th-6th graders, and I'm happy to say that the genres and appeal factors run the gamut. I've really been enjoying reading these middle grade novels.

That's what I'm doing these days in addition to all the fun programming and collection management at my branch. Stay tuned to the blog in the next few weeks for some exciting program ideas as well as a celebration of one of my favorite weeks of the year: Banned Books Week! I may even have a surprise up my sleeve to help celebrate the freedom to read...

I hope to see many of you in Indy!

Monday, September 17, 2012

September Outreach Story Time: Starting the year with a hop

I love starting a new season of outreach in September. The children I visit at daycares and preschools are fully of energy and the joy of school in September, and they are pumped to have someone come to read stories to them. I also love the beginning of fall outreach because it coincides with the start of the Missouri Building Block Picture Book Award voting period. Each year from September 1-December 31, any child who reads at least five of the 10 nominated books is eligible to vote for his or her favorite. I read two or three Building Block books at each monthly fall outreach story time, so my frequently-visited preschools get to vote in December. This past week I started things off with three great 2012 Building Block nominees, plus a former nominee that always proves a hit. Add in some rhymes and songs and you're set!

September Outreach Story Time

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Story: If You're Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre, illus. by Jackie Urbanovic
     Even the youngest preschool-goers are familiar with the song "If You're Happy and You Know It," so this animal-centered adaptation is always a welcome treat. Children get to meet a variety of hoppy, sloppy, growly, and flappy animals in this bright, fun read. I read the words musically so kids recognize the tune, and they love getting involved with the actions in the story.

Fingerplay: "This is the Bunny"

This is the bunny with ears so funny
hold up two fingers for bunny ears
And here is his hole in the ground.
make a ring with other hand
When a sound he hears, he pricks up his ears
wiggle then straighten your bunny ears
And jumps into his hole in the ground.
put the bunny ears in your ringed hand

Story: Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shay, illus. by Tom Slaughter
     This colorful, rhymed book gets great reactions from children of all ages. The youngest ones watch carefully as flaps lift to show things that do not grow (e.g., sweaters, cars). Slightly older children emphatically supply "yes" or "no" answers to the questions of which things grow, and the oldest preschool children try to finish all of the rhymes in the text. This book also includes great vocabulary--it mentions that young owls are owlets, young cows are calves, and young foxes are kits. The animal-loving readers really got into these words. I love finding books that will engage and appeal to a wide range of ages.

Fingerplay: "Five Fat Peas"

Five fat peas, in a pod pressed
show five fingers, then ball into a fist
One grew, two grew, so did all the rest.
lift fingers for growing peas
They grew and they grew and they did not stop
with hands together, slowly move hands apart
Until one day that pea pod POPPED!
move hands apart and clap on "POPPED"

Story: I Spy With My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs
     This story is another great read for a wide age range. A hole in each page lets kids "spy" what is on the next page. For clues to guess the animal they are spying, they have the animal's color as well as the animal's short description (think "long trunk" for elephant). I like to encourage kids to get out their spyglasses to read this story--and before I know it everyone is peering at the book through spyglass hands. There is a lot of great vocabulary in this read, too, whether your audience is just starting to learn colors or is learning about wild animals.

Puppet Rhyme: "Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree"
     Seems like all preschoolers are familiar with the variety of "Five Little Monkeys" rhymes. Which is not to say that they tire of reciting them--no, no, much to the contrary, they love chanting along to something they know. I bring my alligator puppet with my Eileen Christelow finger puppet monkeys when I take this rhyme on the road, and the whole room always erupts in giggles when Mr. Alligator snatches those monkeys for a snack.

Story: The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend, illus. by John Manders
     Jack the cat is trying to set a trap that will give him some eggs to make omelets. After a chicken, a duck, and a goose all lay an egg in this perfect nest, however, things don't go quite as Jack planned. Children love the voices and foreign words written into the text--these are some silly fowl, people--and the story develops at a pace that really keeps their attention. The story also ends on a calm, quiet note, which is great for signaling the end of story time.

Closing Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"
     We read a book based on this song, so why not finish our story time with the original version, plus a few funny animal motions mixed in? I find this song always leaves groups in a good mood--perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it encourages them to shout in school?


That's three Building Block nominees down so far for this fall's outreach visits. I'll be visiting a few more preschools and daycares with this story time before the end of the month, and then it's on to a new batch of stories for October!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Three Upcoming Non-fiction Picture Books

A major talking point of the Common Core Standards is its emphasis on non-fiction texts for all readers. In the fourth grade, according to the standards, a child should be reading a 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction (literature classes still focus on fiction, and non-fiction comes into play in science and social studies). As a librarian, I see wonderful potential in this recommendation. There is a lot of really wonderful, quality non-fiction out there, and it doesn't always get the attention or reader enjoyment that it deserves. Publishers are responding to the Common Core Standards, though, by making great non-fiction available for readers at all levels. Here's a look at three terrific non-fiction picture books that will be released in the coming months.

Spinner, Stephanie. Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird. illus. by Meilo So. Alfred A. Knoft BFYR. 9 Oct. 2012. p. 48.
     When graduate student Irene Pepperberg purchased an African grey parrot from a pet store in the late 1970s, scientists were just starting to consider the idea that animals might have intelligence. Pepperberg named her new bird Alex, and she began to try to teach him to speak--African greys had been long known for their ability to mimic sounds they hear, but Pepperberg wanted to show that they could use sounds deliberately. Alex did indeed learn, and pretty soon his vocabulary and sentence construction skills were similar to those of many preschoolers. Alex the Parrot introduces readers to an extraordinary bird who, with the help of his devoted scientist friend, helped to expand research into animal intelligence beyond primates. The text is divided into five short chapters and is accompanied by lovely, colorful illustrations. This book would fit well in a unit on birds, science, or learning.

Watson, Renee. Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills. illus. by Christian Robinson. Random House BFYR. 23 Oct. 2012. p. 40.
     Florence Mills grew up with little, the daughter of former slaves in a "teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy" house outside of Washington, D.C. Her life was rich with song and music, however, and young Mills had a voice that would take her to sing in New York City and London. Mills became a star of the Harlem Renaissance not only for her remarkable voice, but for her devotion to equal rights as well. With every new personal accomplishment, Florence remained mindful of others--the poor, the sick, and the oppressed--and when she died young, she was honored and remembered by thousands. Watson's text has a great rhythm to it to mirror Mills, and Robinson's illustrations are bright and beautiful. This book will make a great addition to units on music, biography, and equal rights.

Bryant, Jen. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. illus. by Melissa Sweet. Alfred A. Knopf BFYR. 8 Jan. 2013. p. 40.
     Horace Pippin took pleasure in drawing and painting pictures from a young age, but Pippin set aside that enjoyment  to focus his efforts on earning money for his family and, later, fighting in WWI. After a war injury left him with limited use of his dominant right hand, Pippin returned to the states to marry and try to work odd jobs. Upon finally picking up an artistic implement again, however, Pippin found that not only was making art therapeutic--both physically and mentally--but he was good at it, too. With simple prose and beautiful illustrations, A Splash of Red tells the uplifting history of a man who was celebrated for the honesty and expressiveness in his artwork. This book will support units on art, biography, WWI, and equal rights.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Airplane Science on the ALSC Blog

I'm over on the ALSC Blog today talking about my recent Airplane Science program for school-age children. The program was a fun, engaging way to offer hands-on STEM experiences at the library!

Head over to the ALSC Blog for the post and to chime in with comments.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Simple Signing with Babies

My "map" of signs to include, the caregiver handout,
and our songs & rhymes sheets with relevant ASL signs.
I always end my Bouncing Babies programs with about twenty minutes of free play time, during which time I mostly interact with the little ones and overhear caregivers swapping stories. I've overheard discussion of nap schedules, long car rides with a toddler, and other topics that don't immediately impact me, a single childless librarian. But over the last few weeks, I noticed another frequent topic: sign language and babies. When I hear something like that, especially when multiple caregivers bring it up, I take notice.

This week marked the first time I added some simple American Sign Language (ASL) signs to my Bouncing Babies programs. My approach, at least for now, is twofold. First, I have a handout with nine simple signs that might come into "conversation" between child and caregiver (e.g., please, thank you, mom, dad); every grown-up program attendee gets a copy of this handout with the day's songs & rhymes sheet. I use these signs throughout the program if I say the relevant words, but I don't formally present or teach them. My rationale is that caregivers can take these handouts home and start to add these signs to their personal routines if they so desire.

In addition to having that handout with nine simple signs, I have also added one program-relevant sign to the songs and rhymes portion of the program. This week we did a rhyme about a little bird, so as a group we learned the sign for "bird." I encourage caregivers to use the sign themselves, and I also encourage their helping their children to make the sign, too, if the child is agreeable (i.e., not running around the room, or at least a few months old). At the very least, I figure this exercise reinforces fine motor skills, but caregivers were getting really into showing the sign and saying the word to their children.

The rest of my program format is the same--the only addition is using the appropriate sign when I say something is good or tell participants thank you for coming. A few disclaimers: I point out that ASL is a robust language in and of itself, and that we are only using a few simple signs; I also mention that I am not an expert, having only looked up the signs I thought would be relevant to young children (see my brainstorm word map, in yellow in the photo). So far caregivers seem happy with the inclusion of simple signs into the Bouncing Babies program, and I look forward to seeing how I can refine its use in programming over the next several months.

How do you incorporate signing into programs at your library, either for little ones or for older children?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Art Aliens Invade! or, How a craft program accidentally becomes a STEAM program

The assortment of things shown below this paragraph may look to you like nothing but space junk. Last week at the library, however, these random recycled bits made up our craft supplies for Art Attacks! The scenario: aliens are landing at the library. The mission: use the materials on hand to create models of aliens.

After my brief introduction of the scenario, the open art time began. School-age children and a few younger siblings scoured the supply tables to find the perfect pieces for their alien creations. Most of the craft supplies were recycled things--tin cans, plastic bottle caps, film canisters, and the like. There's this little shop in my county called Leftovers, and they have rows and rows of donated recycled things that are perfect for craft supplies; a brown paper grocery sack full of items is $8. I added some chenille sticks, pom poms, and googly eyes from our library craft cupboard, and then the alien parts tables were ready.

Attendees spent about 45 minutes assembling their various aliens. Craft glue didn't work on all of the materials, so a teen volunteer and I broke out the hot glue guns--that did the trick. Pretty soon aliens were taking shape left and right, with some children making multiple specimens while others focused their full attention on a single creature.

I noticed that the kiddos were putting the finishing touches on their creatures with about 10 minutes still left in the program--and not wanting the program to go short when everyone was so engrossed, I asked everyone to sit in a circle with their creations. The children introduced their alien/s, and then I started asking some broad questions about the aliens' anatomies. How did the aliens move around? Did they have feet? Most did, but two hovered without feet. How did the aliens navigate the world around them? All the creatures had eyes (such is the appeal of googly eyes in craft programs), but there were only a smattering of noses and ears.

What ensued for the final few minutes of our program, then, was a discussion about how body parts have functions--and by looking at what parts make up a creature like a dolphin or a cat or even an alien, you can tell things about how and where that creature lives. Through this discussion, we "discovered" that all our aliens came from only two planets: one where sound was very faint so the creatures' ears needed to be large or antenna-like, and one similar to Earth but with more hovering. And that's how this simple, labor-light program ended up having a really strong science bent. Not only did children create aliens, they got to reason through why their aliens looked the way they did.

Art Attacks! turned out to be a full-blown STEAM program--STEM plus "A" for arts--a term I first heard at ALA Annual in Anaheim. After seeing the huge success of this program, I'm going to think about more ways I can deliberately incorporate free art/creation time with simple STEM concepts in order to offer more STEAM programs at my branch.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Miss Amy Recommends

When you think about readers' advisory, what comes to mind? Is it gratifying discussions about books at the reference desk? Informal resources like genre lists and theme bookmarks? Those methods of suggesting titles to read are great, but they don't necessarily meet the needs of all our customers. What about those customers who don't want to talk, and who don't want to work through a list to find their next book? How do we get great books into their hands without violating their level of comfort at the library?

It may seem vain, but here's what I'm trying: a one-book display at the check-out desk called "Miss Amy Recommends."

I've been at my library for over a year now, and while that is by no means a long time, I have noticed that customers have gotten to know who I am. Especially those customers with children. That's Miss Amy, she came to my school! or Miss Amy did that airplane program I went to--those are things I'll overhear as children let their parents know who I am. So that's reason 1 of my rationalization: library folks know who this Miss Amy person is.

Reason 2 stems from something that occurred several times this summer. While I was interacting with summer reading participants, I had several regular library visitors start to ask what I was reading. I'd explain a bit about the books I had currently read, and more often than not the child would ask if he or she could check out the book I mentioned. Whatever their reasons may be, some kids want to read what the kidlit-reading grown-ups in their lives are reading.

Reason 3 is that this display is so very simple. It's simple for customers, who need only look at the book, decide it looks interesting, and then check it out. This display is also really simple for staff. Since it's just one book at a time, it takes up minimal space. The "Miss Amy Recommends" bubbles were simple to make and are reusable. And the only criteria I use in selecting books to display is whether I would make an effort to hand-sell the title or not. Do I like it? Yes? Then it gets added to the small pile of books that will rotate onto the display as soon as the current book gets checked out. Easy peasy.

I have noticed that picture books tend to be picked off the display faster than chapter books (with the exception of The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, which was plucked from the display within two minutes of being placed on it). But one of the beauties of such a simple display is that I can replace a book that doesn't seem to be catching customers' eyes. I'm finding this display a great way to keep things fresh and moving while letting young customers and their caregivers know I've got their reading interests in mind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Adding an early literacy edge to your story times

The second edition of Every Child Ready to Read® @ your library® has given librarians a new lexicon for empowering parents and caregivers to help their children get ready to read. We now focus on the five practices: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. These five practices, I am happy to say, are so easy to sell to parents and caregivers. And that's the point: ECRR is first and foremost an initiative for parents and caregivers, who are children's first and best teachers. As librarians, our goal is to model these pro-literacy practices for parents and caregivers at every opportunity.

Last week my library district was fortunate to have the fabulous Christina Jones* visit our library to share some of her own in-library early literacy successes. Today I give you, with her permission, five of her suggestions for how you can boost the learning opportunities in the story times you already provide, thus upping their early literacy impact:

Talking -- Talking gives children opportunities to hear and practice fluent speech. In a story time setting, adding talking means adding oral storytelling. Put down the book and tell some stories! Start with familiar folk and fairy tales, and use a flannelboard if it makes you more comfortable.

Singing -- Sing! Sing at the beginning of story time, and again at the end! Sing in the middle! Singing slows down language and helps children hear the smaller sounds in words. It's also fun and repetitive, so children pick up on songs and make them their own. Plain rhymes are good, too, but singing really is the best. Always include songs.

Reading -- Obviously you are already doing some reading in your story times. But what is it that you're usually reading? Look over your last few programs--did you read any picture book non-fiction? You should. Not only will it engage and entertain the children in your program, but it will also help them develop larger vocabularies for understanding and navigating the world around them.

Writing -- This one is simple: blank page crafts. Leave plenty of room for creativity and expression in your story time crafts. That blank piece of paper can be the window looking down from the giant's castle in a Jack story time, a canvas for a map in a "lost and found" story time, or a myriad other things limited only by the child writing on it. Bonus: it requires no prep work.

Playing -- Keep your program room open for a little while following your story time and provide a space for children to play. Grab some blocks, play food, rubber balls--anything, really, that gives children opportunities to engage in free, unstructured play. Children will have fun, act out their understanding of the world, and interact socially; caregivers will get some de-stressing time with their peers. Everyone wins!

There you have it: five ways you can give your story times even more of an early literacy edge starting right away. I would love to hear what you do in your programs to model the best early literacy practices while ensuring children have a great time.

*Christina has some mad credentials: she is a Children's Services Reference Librarian at Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, IN, and she teaches courses for the Schools of Library and Information Science at IU and IUPUI. She balances her on-the-ground early literacy-in-action work with knowledge of the research in the field. Basically, she's an early literacy rockstar and you should give her recommendations serious consideration.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Where do you get your program inspiration?

Plenty of folks in youth librarianship advise their younger colleagues not to reinvent the wheel; if you've got a good set of programs and themes, stick with them. While I think this advice is good most of the time--stick with program formats you know work, with general topics that appeal to youth in your community, etc.--there is something to be said for changing things up. New programs and experiences keep everyone engaged at the library, both patrons and staff.

On the flip side, coming up with a steady stream of new ideas for programming isn't the easiest thing in the world. Or, I should say, it isn't the easiest thing in the world for me--you may very well have a wealth of ideas 24/7. Luckily there are plenty of ways for folks like me to get program inspiration. Here are a few that I have found particularly helpful in spurring new programming at my branch:

  • Other librarians' blogs. I always love to hear what folks who've working in the profession longer that I have have to say about what they do. They share ideas, successes, learning experiences, and suggestions for improving and adapting services. These folks can be the best programming support a youth librarian could ask for. My top three are Abby at Abby the Librarian, Melissa at Mel's Desk, and Marge at Tiny Tips for Library Fun.
  • Wonderopolis. I firmly believe that the world could always use more wonder, and Wonderopolis operates under the same belief--plus they share details on all sorts of wonders with readers. A wonder every day, as a matter of fact. Wonderopolis posts are great sources of ideas and also great resources to flesh out ideas you already had. They're awesome.
  • Mixing in Math. I am always striving to incorporate more math and science into my library services, and Mixing in Math is a great source of information and ideas for doing so. I get their monthly e-mail newsletter, so I can depend upon ideas getting to me even if I'm feeling too swamped to browse online.
  • ALSC Blog. I began using the ALSC Blog for program ideas and professional advice long before I started writing for it. The community of library professionals who serve children is vast, and I love how ALSC serves as a collective brain. On the ALSC Blog, I can almost always get that spark of inspiration I need--and at the same time I can discover what crazy ideas worked for other libraries and begin to adapt them for my own branch.
  • Podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and the variety of topics they cover usually gives me plenty of opportunity to find something applicable to the library and my kiddos. These aren't really children's podcasts, but the topics they cover are often relevant. I really enjoy Radiolab, Stuff You Missed In History Class, How to Do Everything, and 99% Invisible. Recently the best idea-sparkers have been science-related--space in particular. I've got some rocketry and astronomy ideas bouncing around in my brain, and I'm excited to see what they turn into.
  • Pinterest. Obviously this list of go-to inspiration sites would be incomplete without Pinterest, which is a wellspring of all sorts of library-relevant info. Since I can easily become overwhelmed by the volume of ideas, however, I tend not to browse Pinterest but instead visit the site once I have a rough theme in mind--then I'll search the boards for activities and crafts that fit within that theme. I know folks who start here, though, and it totally works for them.
So there you have it, my go-to sources for program inspiration. I'd love to hear what you do when you're planning you next round of programs and feel stumped. What sources do you turn to for inspiration?