STEAM activities for home

Our library closed on March 15 due to the spread of COVID-19, and will be closed through April 6, if not longer. Librarians have been working from home on professional development activities and creating content we can share online. We’ve been making lists of book recommendations (with links to e-books and digital audiobooks, of course), advertising our other online resources (such as access to newspapers), providing timely and accurate information about COVID-19, and bringing a little fun and entertainment to families with kids at home. Here are a couple booklists I’ve worked on:

Audiobooks for the Whole Family

March & April Adult Fiction Titles

Over on my personal blog (there’s some overlap…I write about books and early childhood activities in both places) I did a round-up of many of the online resources we’ve been using or planning to explore: Kid resources and activities for quarantine. One activity we had fun with was “Sink/Float,” which is a great activity for kids (mine is four and a half, but younger kids will still enjoy the sensory aspect, and older ones can make better predictions). All you need is a bowl of water and a dozen (or more) objects that can get wet. If you happen to have a copy of Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis or Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein, those would be great companion books for this activity.

My kiddo hasn’t ever been the type to spend a lot of time drawing by herself, but we had a great time yesterday morning doing some mixed media art: we used crayons to color on watercolor paper, then used watercolor paint over the crayon (which resists the paint). It was colorful and fun, and we worked on them together for almost an hour. (You can also sprinkle some kosher salt on watercolor paint before it dries and observe the neat effect!)

Today we watched a couple of short videos by SciShow Kids about simple machines and “The Coolest Machine Ever!” a.k.a. a Rube Goldberg machine. (Shout out to the Portland (ME) Public Library, which had an excellent exhibit on Rube Goldberg a few years ago.) Then we raided our recycling bin and arts and crafts supplies to make our own Rube Goldberg machines. Great companion books for this activity are Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, and Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. (For older kids, Beaty has brought Rosie and Iggy into the chapter book realm in her Questioneers series.)

We’ve also been doing Cosmic Kids yoga every day: host/teacher Jamie takes viewers through a fast-paced half-hour routine, telling a compressed version of a story from a movie or book (e.g. Frozen, Moana, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). I happen to have a beautiful 1946 edition of Alice (from my mother-in-law’s basement – thanks, Nana!) and we began reading that aloud as well. There may be a tea party in the near future…

Speaking of tea parties, baking is a great activity to do with kids. Wash your hands (we all have plenty of practice with this now, if we didn’t before), put on an apron, and pick out a recipe from a cookbook or one of the many sites online. (I’m partial to King Arthur Flour recipes.) Make sure to read the recipe all the way through first, and make sure you have all the ingredients you need before you begin. Even really young kids can be helpful in the kitchen, unwrapping sticks of butter or stirring eggs with a fork or whisk. When you think about it, baking is math (measuring), science (chemistry), literacy (reading a recipe), sensory/art, and, of course, nutrition!

And if you feel like growing your own food, now’s a great time to start a garden. Seed packets should have information about when to plant seeds, whether they can be started inside and transplanted or not, and how long before you can expect them to sprout (“days to emerge”), as well as what kind of care they need in terms of sunlight and water. You don’t need anything fancy – you can start seeds with potting soil in egg cartons. Many herbs, like chives and basil, are easy to start from seed.

Chives and basil seeds in egg carton seed tray

I do miss doing my weekly storytimes, and will be excited to return to those once it’s safe to do so. Luckily, the #kidlit world has really stepped up to make sure that kids still have access to books, and publishers have temporarily eased restrictions on public performance of copyrighted works so that authors and others can read books aloud to share. Two children’s librarians at my library put together a “virtual storytime,” and many other libraries and authors are doing similar things, so check your local library’s website and social media, as well as Storyline Online, Mo Willems Lunch Doodles (Dan Santat, author of The Adventures of Beekle, makes a guest appearance in the March 25 episode), and Story Time from Space. (Also, here’s B.J. Novak reading The Book With No Pictures.)

Do you work at a library? What have you been creating/sharing from home? Do you have kids at home? What are your go-to activities?

Bookmatching: Readers’ Advisory for Developing Readers

In January, the Youth Services Interest Group (YSIG) hosted librarian Rhonda Cunha to present on the topic “Understanding Literacy Acquisition for Targeted Reader’s Advisory” at the Woburn Public Library. Rhonda is the Early Literacy Children’s Librarian at the Stevens Memorial Library in Andover, MA, and her presentation was detailed and thorough. I’m going to try to condense six pages of notes into a coherent overview here, starting with an important definition:

Reading is making meaning from text.

In the public library, Rhonda often overheard misconceptions about how children learn to read; her presentation corrects some of those misunderstandings. As children’s librarians, we are ideally placed to promote literacy, help children love reading, and help parents.

Early Literacy Skills slide

Early literacy skills include print motivation, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills (storytelling), print awareness (how books work), and letter knowledge. Two major ways that public libraries help children develop early literacy skills are through storytime programs and readers’ advisory services: talking with readers and helping them find books they’ll love (ideally, talking directly with the kids; talking with the parents is second best).

Readers’ advisory is more complex for children than for adults, because they are still developing these literacy skills: the book’s content needs to be interesting to them, and the book needs to be the right level. However, we don’t “level” books in the public library, for several reasons. Part of helping kids see themselves as readers and develop a love of reading is supporting them, not labeling them. (Benchmarking is a teaching tool for teachers to evaluate what the kids know, determine the point of need, and enable them to teach to the child’s need. “Levels” – Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell are two common ones – should not be shared with the kids themselves, let alone their parents.) A young reader’s background knowledge might enable them to read a book more advanced than their designated “level,” or they might want to pick up a book that’s easier – and that’s fine.

How to Help Kids Choose Just-Right Books for Them:

  • Helping children develop independent reading identities requires respect, trust, and lots of patience.
  • Encourage kids to vary their reading diet, in terms of genres and interests. Give them what they want, and slip in a few extras.
  • Provide lots of choices.
  • Encourage them to abandon books that don’t “sing” to them: “Good readers abandon books!” If you don’t like it, don’t read it. (But give it a chance – start with 10-20 pages, and if you don’t like it, stop. This goes for adult readers, as well.)
  • Use the 5-finger rule. Open a book to a page and start reading; put a finger up for each word they don’t know. (1=easy, 2=still easy, 3=okay, 4=challenging, 5=too hard)
  • Knowing what they don’t like is as important as knowing what they do like.
  • Use the acronym BOOKMATCH: Book length, Ordinary language, Organization, Knowledge prior to book, Manageable text, Appeal to genre, Topic appropriateness, Connection, High interest

Self-efficacy is key! Children need to see themselves as capable readers and to believe they can succeed. There are four steps to self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery experiences (reading to themselves without difficulty)
  2. Social models (seeing adults reading and writing)
  3. Social persuasion (encouragement and cheerleading, “I know you can do it!”)
  4. Mood

“While children are learning the skills of reading, they must also develop a positive reading identity or they will not become lifelong readers.” –Donalyn Miller

Advice for Parents:

  • Reading aloud to children builds receptive vocabulary, which becomes expressive vocabulary. Additionally, kids’ listening comprehension level is usually higher than their reading (print) comprehension. Reading aloud is the most important thing parents can do!
  • Social modeling: Kids should see their parents reading and writing (writing grocery lists, to-do lists, thank you notes, etc.).
  • Read familiar books to keep success high. (“If they want to read Wimpy Kid sixteen times, let them!”) Read predictable, repeating texts and short books. Read the books they bring home from school to bolster confidence.
  • Make reading a special daily ritual – try for at least 20 minutes a day/night.
  • Keep it fun and positive. Balance corrections with story flow (focus on one thing each time). If the kid is reading aloud and gets stuck on a word, count to 5 (silently) and supply the word so they can move on.
  • Name the strategies they are using.* Reread the same sentence/book if decoding is slow. Use the language that the school uses when recognizing strategies.
  • Readers who self-correct are checking for comprehension (this is good!).
  • Be aware of cognitive overload** – it’s okay to take over. Make them happy about reading/being read to.
  • End on a positive note.

*Recently, I was reading Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to my four-year-old, and we came across the word “weary.” I asked her if she knew what it meant, and she said no. I read the whole sentence again, and asked her to guess what it meant. “Tired?” She got it! I was so excited. I explained that what she’d just done was figure out the meaning of a word from context – the words around that word. She was really pleased and proud.

**Cognitive capacity: you have X amount. How much are you using for decoding, how much for comprehension? Accuracy and fluency are important, so readers aren’t using all their cognitive capacity for decoding. Phonics will only get you so far; 40% of the words in English cannot be decoded.

Reading is making meaning from text, so how do we learn to do that? Here are some decoding strategies used in school:

  • Ask: Does that look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?
  • Get your mouth ready to say that word. Skip the word and read around it (to get context – see above).
  • Ask: What would fit there?
  • Break the word up into smaller known words or sounds (families, blends, compounds).
  • Look at the picture for clues (Cunha said, “There are pictures in books for a reason! There is no cheating in reading”).
  • Before you start reading:
    • Activate prior knowledge (e.g., “What do we already know about dolphins?” Look at the book’s cover – what do you see, what do you notice?)
    • Preview difficult or unknown vocabulary and/or take a picture walk.
    • Be present to notice behaviors, give support, and watch for burnout.

More advice and strategies for reading and reading together:

  • As books become more advanced, cognitive demands on the readers increase. The more a kid has in their head already, the less dependent on the text they are (top-down vs. bottom-up processing).
  • The way children acquire language is through a direct connection with people they’re conversing with (“serve and return” communication).
  • When a kid reads aloud, you hear their mistakes, which are informative; in order to teach, you have to hear the errors.
  • Monitor for meaning: Ask big-picture questions, not detail questions (e.g. “How do you think he felt?” vs. “What color was his shirt?”)

Want to learn more? See below for more resources.

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenRecommended reading:

The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers by Nancie Atwell

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

BOOKMATCH: How to Scaffold Student Book Selection for Independent Reading by Linda Wedwick and Jessica Ann Wutz

Reading teacher newsletter from International Literacy Association: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/

“Learning, Interrupted: Cell Phone Calls Sidetrack Toddlers’ Word Learning,” American Psychological Association, November 21, 2017

“Thinking Outside the Bin: Why Labeling Books By Reading Level Disempowers Young Readers,” Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal, August 28, 2017

Step into Storytime, March 9

We had low turnout at storytime today – just three kids at the beginning, with two more joining them in the first few minutes – which could be due to coronavirus fears, but could also be chalked up to the gorgeous weather. Anyway, the show must go on…

Picture books in foreground, mouse house game in background

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Hand-washing song discussion
  • Song cube: “I’m A Little Teapot”
  • Name song (“___ is here today”)
  • How to Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler
  • Stretch: up, down, sideways
  • Shake A Leg, Egg by Kurt Cyrus
  • Song cube: “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (regular speed, fast, slow)
  • I brought two books about dogs named George; I showed them at the same time and said we’d read both, and gave the kids a chance to vote for which one they wanted first, by raising their hands. Only one kid voted. And that’s democracy.
  • Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer: This one’s a hit. It’s got animal sounds and surprises; at this age, kids like discovering and pointing out things that aren’t right, e.g. when a dog says meow instead of arf!
  • Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton: It’s always interesting to hear their predictions about the ambiguous ending.
  • Mouse house game
  • Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
  • Explanation of traffic light game and variation
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Traffic light game #1: Essentially Red Light, Green Light, starting at one end of the room and getting to the other. Traffic light game #2: Unusual colors! Blue = clap, orange = hop, pink = twirl, purple = touch toes, and red = stop.

All of today’s books were relatively short, which meant more time for open-ended questions while we read them (e.g. “What did Little Jumbo do when he didn’t want to wear his overalls?” and “What do you think George did?” and “What is the weather like outside today?”).

Step into Storytime, March 2

song cube, books, tissue box

When I walked into the children’s room at the library this morning, two staff were already talking about recent infectious disease news. I decided to address the issue of how sickness spreads at the beginning of my storytime by sharing two tips: (1) Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, and (2) when you sneeze or cough, bring your elbow up to your face, instead of coughing into your hand or whatever else happens to be in front of you. Fortunately, I had made a birthday cake felt board a while ago, so we counted out three candles (because March is the third month, and no one had a birthday today – I asked) and sang the happy birthday song while pretending to wash our hands.

felt birthday cake and three candles

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL
  • “Happy Birthday” song, miming hand-washing, with felt board cake and candles
  • Book! by Kristine O’Connell George and Maggie Smith
  • Stretch: hands up, hands down, hands to the left, hands to the right, repeat (faster)
  • A Fox Found A Box by Ged Adamson: How do you listen to music? (Most kids today wouldn’t recognize a radio as drawn in this book, so we talked about that first.)
  • Song cube: “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon” and “ABCs”
  • “Bees” by Aileen Fisher, from The Beeman by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Valeria Cis: I decided this book might be a little long, even as a lead-off book, but I shared the poem from the beginning.
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, with felt board fruit, caterpillar, and butterfly: I hand out the felt fruit first, and there’s always enough for every kid to have at least one piece. They come up and stick their fruit to the board when we get to that page in the book.
  • Song cube: “I Had A Little Turtle” (make a turtle with your hands by holding four fingers together, thumbs out, one hand on top of the other)
  • Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig: This is one of my Top Ten storytime books. It’s just the right length, it’s funny, and there are plenty of opportunities for motion/action (kneading dough, sprinkling cheese, etc.).
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL
  • Craft: Decorate a pizza together (butcher paper, pre-drawn pizza, yellow and red paper circles, glue sticks, crayons)

Pete's A Pizza, The Beeman, Book!, A Fox Found A Box, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Stay safe and healthy, everyone. Happy reading!

Step into Storytime, February 24

Song cubes and picture books

Eight kids and their caregivers came to storytime today. We read five books, sang some songs, did some stretches and wiggles, and used glue sticks.

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Name song (“___ is here today”)
  • Stretch
  • Jump! by Tatsuhide Matsuaka: This board book opens vertically instead of horizontally, which is pretty unusual – but it has a good reason!
  • Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: A newly-minted Caldecott Honor book that I’ve read at home, but this was my first time reading it aloud at storytime.
  • Song cube: “ABCs”
  • “The Kookaburra Song”
  • Roly Poly Pangolin by Anna Dewdney: Many people are familiar with Llama Llama, but I love Dewdney’s shy pangolin just as much. We practiced rolling up into a ball by hugging our knees and tucking our heads down.
  • Perfect Square by Michael Hall: Thanks to Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach webinar, I took some time to examine the cover of this book with the kids: What shape is it? A perfect square, of course! One of the kids knew the book already and noticed little details throughout, like the kite in the park.
  • Song cube: “Zoom Zoom Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon”
  • Yoga: mountain pose, forward fold, crossing the midline by touching opposite toes. Some of today’s kids were closer to 2 than 3, so I also have the option of touching the opposite elbow.
  • A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes: One of my favorite storytime books. I brought along my felt elephants, and the kids identified their colors, and we counted together. We also did plenty of marching, stretching, yawning, and trumpeting.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Craft: gluing paper elephants and paper stars to butcher paper.

I did a quick time check after our last round of yoga, and decided to skip Don’t Push the Button! and the Mouse House Game.

The same kid who participated during Perfect Square was also the only one to say her own name during the name song – and, this was the first time she’d used a glue stick (another point in favor of continuing crafts after storytime – not every kid is familiar with crayons, markers, glue, scissors, etc.). Her mom came up to me afterward and said how unusual this was for her; she’d been going to our storytime for birth-2 and always sat quietly without talking or singing at all. I love to hear that kids are coming out of their shells and feeling comfortable in the library!

 

An Introduction to the Whole Book Approach

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenMegan Dowd Lambert presented a webinar on the Whole Book Approach through the Massachusetts Library System last month; I heard about it from Rhonda Cunha, the speaker at January’s Youth Services Interest Group meeting (more on that soon), and carved out time to watch it recently. Megan’s presentation was excellent, and I’m planning to read her book as well (Reading Picture Books with Children, Charlesbridge, 2015). Here are some highlights from her introduction to the Whole Book Approach in the MLS webinar.

“The Whole Book Approach is a co-constructive model created by Megan Dowd Lambert in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art that centers children’s responses to picture book art and design.”

Megan emphasized that it’s an approach, not a method or a script. “Co-constructive” means that the storytime is interactive: kids are making meaning during the storytime, it’s not a performance by the adult reader. We are reading with children (discussion), not reading to them (performance).

Main tips/takeaways:

Cover of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

  • Engage children with a book they know already (e.g. The Very Hungry Caterpillar).
  • Ask open-ended questions (“What do you see happening here? What do you see that makes you say that? What else can we find?”).
  • Use picture book design and production terminology (jacket, case, orientation, trim size, gutter, etc.) to empower children to become experts about books.

Don’t be “the sage on the stage,” be “the guide on the side,” Megan advised. The group makes meaning together; facilitate responses, don’t correct responses. Be alert to nonverbal responses as well. For those – librarians, teachers, or caregivers – who are concerned that this approach will make storytime too rowdy, Megan offered techniques to redirect children’s attention when necessary, and advice for what to say to adults who may have concerns about the Whole Book Approach:

  • Point to the book and say “Eyes on art!”
  • “1,2,3 page turns”: If discussion wanders too far/long, wrap it up by saying, “We’ve had such a great conversation about this picture, let’s see what happens next. Count with me… 1,2,3 [turn page].”
  • Broaden the frame for a successful storytime: “That was a really busy storytime, but there are lots of different ways to measure success about storytime. Kids were excited about books, wanted to talk about their ideas and their feelings – that’s successful.”

Megan said she did not use themes in her storytimes, but chose books that she loved and wanted to share. Here are a few (not all!) of the ones she mentioned: Saturday by Oge Mora, This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, and Nine Months by Miranda Paul.

A lot of content was packed into an hour-long webinar, and I can already tell that my next storytime is going to be a little different: more open-ended questions, more time spent looking at the cover art. Thank you, Megan and MLS!

 

Step into Storytime, February 10

Storytime books with bowls of crayons

There was a big group for storytime this morning, about 15 kids plus their adults, and many of them were at the younger end of our age group. I put out some extra colored sitting mats because I could tell not everyone would fit on the rug. Fortunately, most of my books today were relatively short and simple, and/or had an interactive component, and most of the group stayed through till the craft at the end.

  • Welcome and announcements (library is closed next Monday for Presidents’ Day)
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL
  • “The More We Get Together” with ASL
  • Mr. Scruff by Simon James: I adore this new book, which reminds me of Let’s Get A Pup, Said Kate by Bob Graham, but is much shorter and therefore perfect for two- and three-year-olds. There are person-and-dog rhyming pairs (e.g. Molly and Polly), and then there’s Mr. Scruff and Jim…who make a perfect pair, even though their names don’t rhyme.
  • Quick wiggle: Wiggle fingers up to the sky, down by our toes, out to the sides (if you can without hitting a neighbor), repeat.
  • Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer: One of my all-time favorite books to read at storytime. Everyone can identify with the grumpy penguin who washes away his mood by taking a nice cold bath.
  • Song cube: “ABCs” and “Itsy-Bitsy Spider.” The latter we sang three times: regular, slow, fast. This is a simple way to change it up and the kids are usually into it – it’s like a game.
  • My Heart Is Like A Zoo by Michael Hall: I explained that all of the animals in the book were made with heart shapes, and asked if anyone knew what holiday was coming up on Friday (Valentine’s Day). I pulled my felt animals out and the kids identified them (except the clam, which is a tricky one); once they were on the felt board, I asked them to point to them when we got to that animal in the book (clam, crab, owl, penguin, frog). They did great!felt board tickle monster
  • Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau: There are a lot of pieces to this felt creation, so I asked the kids for help to put it together. I propped up the book cover so they could see what Tickle Monster was supposed to look like, then pulled the felt pieces out one by one and they told me what each one was and where to put it.
  • Yoga cube: Warrior one, forward fold, half lift, chair pose (with our invisible chairs, of course). Then some bilateral, cross-the-midline movement: touching right hand to left foot and left hand to right foot.
  • The Button Book by Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin: This is a new book that invites the reader to take part in the story by pushing different colored buttons and making sounds or doing actions (beep, thbbbt, tickle, hug, bounce, sing, etc.). It includes two songs (“Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) and is just generally fun and delightful – recommended for groups who like Don’t Push the Button! by Bill Cotter, Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson, There’s A Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda, etc.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL
  • Clean up mats
  • Craft: color and glue paper hearts to butcher paper on the floor (or color hearts and take them home to give as valentines)