Sunday, January 24, 2016

Librarianship on YouTube: Milk Planets

Today is the third annual Family Science Expo at my library, and I'll be running one of the staff-led activity stations from our craft room. What type of science will we do in there, you ask? We're doing simple chemistry by making milk planets--colorful, milky reactions that end up looking like gas giants!

Watch the video below to find out how to do this simple activity yourself using some basic household materials.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Let's Talk! Babies Need Words Every Day - The Blog Tour

Hello, friends and fellow literacy warriors! I'm pleased as punch to be participating in Day 1 of the Babies Need Words Every Day Blog Tour.

In case you'd like a refresher, Babies Need Words Every Day is an ALSC initiative with the impetus to help libraries help families to reduce the 30 million word gap--that is, the massive gap in the number of words that a typical child from a lower socio-economic status (or SES) household hears as compared to a typical child in a higher SES*. And ALSC, with the hard work of their Early Childhood Programs & Services Committee, created 8 beautiful posters (in both English and Spanish) that cheerily invite parents with young children to engage in talking, reading, singing, and playing that will, as a result, facilitate a greater sharing of words with their children.

It's my pleasure today to talk about one of the posters focused on "Talk." And boy am I happy to do so, because my favorite early literacy messages of all time--in storytimes, in parent engagement programs, and to early childhood educators--are about all of the amazing things we can help children accomplish simply by talking to and with them. When we talk to and with children, they hear and learn new words. They are introduced to new concepts. They become able to piece together facts that they understand separately to form a fuller picture of the world they inhabit. They become able to make analogies to understand both concrete and abstract concepts. And they develop the tools to express themselves. All such major milestones in literacy development.

Did you know that "talk" doesn't necessarily get a huge amount of play in today's early childhood education landscape? A recent article in The Atlantic talked about the differences between typical preschool programs and the really high-quality ones--and illustrated that high-quality interactions do not have to be synonymous with high-cost programs. Whereas many programs focus on learning words for the sake of learning words, the best embrace the learning that comes from free talking and conversation:
"The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them." -Erika Christakis
So when I talk to caregivers about the importance of talk, I emphasize talking for the sake of learning--conversation for the sake of concept-building. Parents, especially those with very young, pre-talking children, can feel awkward talking to their little ones. Many think it feels silly to chatter on with and ask questions of their infant, especially anywhere in public. But it's so beneficial! I am always emphasizing the simple, language-building ways that a parent can talk with their child. That's one reason why I love the koala poster you see here: it's got a simple, adaptable rhyme. When a parent receives or sees this poster, they can learn the rhyme: "Way up high in the apple tree / Two little apples smiled at me / I shook that tree as hard as I could / Down came the apples / Mmmmmm--were they good!" That's a fun, simple rhyme to get a conversation started, say, at the grocery store. But it's also a template for more conversations. Substitute apples for your child's favorite food when you say the rhyme. Talk about things that grow on trees and where other foods come from. Talk about why things fall down. TALK!

I encourage you to encourage the caregivers in your library and your community in the same ways. Print off the posters that you think will most appeal to your community (who wouldn't love the gorgeous artwork by Il Sung Na??). Hang them in your library, or hand them out at storytimes. At the very least, challenge yourself to have a conversation with caregivers about each of the practices emphasized by Babies Need Words Every Day.

Families need library workers who know that babies need words every day. Be that library worker! Check out all of the stops on the Babies Need Words Every Day Blog Tour for lots of resources and ideas.

How do you talk about talk in your library?

*Yes, it's true that bridging this gap alone will likely not completely solve all the problems--those 30 million fewer words are likely a correlation to a lower kindergarten readiness and reading achievement, not a causation. But study after study shows that efforts to increase early literacy through talking/vocabulary/background knowledge are, in fact, successful. The way I see it, Babies Need Words Every Day is an awfully impactful, low-effort tool to help us do just that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Early Elementary STEAM: Vegetable (& Fruit) Prints

We have two-month program cycles at my library, and during each cycle, we aim to have formal, registered STEAM program opportunities for each of the age ranges in my purview as Youth & Family Program Coordinator--that is, preschool, early elementary (K-2nd), and older elementary (3rd-5th). When we can, the other youth programming staff and I like to tie in the themes and concepts in these age-specific programs to align with the theme in the BOOMbox, our STEAM space. The following program activity aligned with our recent Textiles rotation, where folks of all ages explore sewing, weaving, prints, dying, knitting, batik, and more.

Vegetable Prints

Target age: kindergarten through second grade (our room fits about 16 comfortably)
Key concepts: print-making; visual thinking; shapes of fruits and vegetables from different perspectives
  • tempera (or other washable--trust me, this gets messy) paint, in an assortment of colors
  • vegetables and fruits of different types, sizes, and shapes (for the best result, cut them into halves/pieces at least 6 hours in advance of the program to allow the exposed edges to harden a bit)
  • heavy paper (like construction or watercolor paper) and/or fabric squares
  • trays to hold the paint
  • paintbrushes
  • cups with water to rinse brushes
  • paper toweling for blotting wet brushes

Once kids were settled into our craft room for the program, I encouraged kids to put on painting smocks in anticipation of the mess. Then I prompted them to look at the materials on the tables. What did they see? Could they identify the different fruits and vegetables? Could they make any guesses at what we'd be doing with the materials in front of them?

After kids were clear that we'd be exploring print-making with paint and natural materials, we talked for a few minutes about what different shapes, patterns, and prints the different fruits and veg would make if painted and applied to the paper/fabric in different ways. I encouraged kids to pick up the veg pieces to look at them from different perspectives, trying to imagine the prints each side would make.

Then it was time to make some prints! We started off with everyone applying paint to their chosen fruits and veg using the paintbrushes, but after a while most kids defaulted to dipping their natural materials straight into the paint. (Told you it would get messy!)

We did this as a 45-minute program, and an integral part of using that full time frame was having multiple surfaces on which the kids could make prints. Everyone started off with a small sheet of paper to get a hang of the technique, then after maybe 10-15 minutes they each got a larger sheet of paper to plan out a larger, more intricate print (if they wanted). We talked about patterns and repetition, color choices, and other factors that print-makers consider at this point. Then, the final 15-20 minutes were spent with kids diligently creating a final print on a piece of muslin fabric. The idea was for the dried fabric to serve as a wall or door hanging, so we attached dowels with string to the top of each child's fabric so that the finished print could be displayed more easily.

It was so interesting to me to see how different kids really connected with different aspects of this activity. Some were totally into color mixing, while others favored a consistent palate. Some wanted to get the full effect of a single veg or two from every angle (a sort of natural cubism), while others wanted to explore every single shape and texture available. By the end, one or two kids even started repurposing the veg as paintbrushes, using them to draw and write on their final prints. Simple activity, so many possibilities!

Monday, December 28, 2015

POP! Parents of Preschoolers: Screen Time

I've been writing a bit about the revamped caregiver engagement programming that we've been offering at my library. It's called POP! Parents of Preschoolers, and it's a bimonthly program for parents of young children to a) grow their support network with other parents of young children, b) build new skills and confidence in parenting topics, and c) see the library as a place that supports their role as parents.

In November, I facilitated a POP! program on the topic of Screen Time--specifically new media (like tablets and smartphones), although we did talk about television, too. After a bit of social time in which the attending parents and I chatted about their kids, what the kids like to do, and questions about media, I shared some information from experts followed by some recommendations for screen time and their preschool-age children. We also ended the last fifteen minutes of the program with a hands-on exploration of some exemplary apps. Here's what we discussed.

Expert Recommendations

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, co-engagement counts when it comes to media use. That means using media along with your child, for example in the same ways that you would read a book together. Additionally, parents should be aware that screen-free playtime is important, too, and make time to engage in that type of open play.

According to Lisa Guernsey, author of Screen Time and Tap Click Read, parents should consider the 3 Cs when considering media use: Content, Context, and the Child. Content refers to the specific type of media and what it includes. Context refers to how, when, and why the media is being used--for example, because a child wants to look at pictures of zoo animals or because a child appears bored. The child refers to the parent's knowing their child and their needs best, and making media decisions with their child in mind.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center, the media use should be active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering.

When using media with a young child (age 2-5)...

Choose high-quality apps. This means avoiding distracting noises and actions, glitchy performance, and in-app purchases. A good rule of thumb for quality is whether you, the adult, can stand to use it with your child for five minutes or more.

Use media together. Children learn through interaction, so the process of reading, playing, and creating together allows them to learn new concepts, new words, and how media work.

Build relationships using media. Commemorate family outings, videochat long-distance relatives, and work together to strengthen bonds.

Don't be too hard on yourself. There are lots of messages out there about children and screen time. Remember that you know your child best, and that occasional screen time that isn't ideal isn't the end of the world.

Tips for Reading, Playing, and Creating Together with New Media

Ask questions when you read a digital story. For example, ask, "What do you think will happen next?"

Reread a favorite digital story together and tell it yourself.

Practice saying new words and learn their meanings while you read digital stories.

Explore new experiences using media, including ones you couldn't ordinarily have in your everyday life (like looking at pictures of desert animals if you live in a temperate area, etc.).

Videochat faraway friends.

Record your child telling a story or talking about a creation.

Make a photo show of pictures from a family outing.


This program, at its core, is an example of media mentorship: it equips parents with expert information about young children and screen time, effectively allowing them to make the best possible decisions about screen time for their children and their family. I emphasized that every family and every child is different, so what screen time looks like at one house may not resemble what it looks like at another. And that's fine--what's important is that parents feel confident in making choices they feel are right for them and their families. And based on the post-program surveys, the parents who attended POP! Parents of Preschoolers: Screen Time did feel more confident in doing so following the program.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Incentivizing Caregiver Engagement Programs

I wrote recently about the revamped caregiver engagement programs here at my library, called POP! Parents of Preschoolers. This redesigned program is aimed at parents of children of a particular age--that is, ages 2 to 5--and it also has the goal of getting a core group of parents attending and engaged at multiple programs in the series. Getting repeat attendance can be a bit of a tough cookie, as I'm sure you've seen in some of your programs. Thus, when we were in the early planning stages for POP!, I had a bunch of conversations with colleagues in the youth department and marketing team to figure out ways to incentivize repeat participation. Here's what we're doing.

1. We're hosting all of the programs on the same day of the week and in the same 6:30-7:30 p.m. time slot. This scheduling consistency is to help caregivers to know ahead of time when, approximately, the programs will be happening. We still specify the date of each program, but this bit of consistency means interested parents know to keep Tuesday nights flexible, if not totally open.

2. We're letting attendees at one program preregister for the next program. That is, at the end of our October program, we offered to sign up attending parents for the November program on the spot. This strategy cuts down on chances parents might forget to register due to the million little distractions that pop up in life with little ones. And it's a bonus--we're signing up these parents before general registration is open. We normally don't allow advance registration, but since our priority is repeat attendance, we're making the exception for this program.

3. We're offering a simultaneous storytime for kids whose parents are attending POP! Evening childcare can be a huge hurdle for families with young children, and we're trying to help jump it by offering an extended storytime program, led by a librarian, in the youth program room (which is adjacent to the space in which the parents have their program). Tiny ones--kids under age 2--can stay with their caregivers in the POP! program, but anyone else is invited to join in storytime. They've been great programs so far.

4. We've created a takeaway--part parent information, part game--that parents can build from program to program. The takeaway is a branded card case with a set of cards for each program. The cards have two sides. The parent side has a tip or fact relevant to the program topic; for example, one tip from the Reading to Succeed program encourages using "grown-up" words with a child.

The kids' side of the cards have colored shapes, each with a thick black outline, two of each. When we hand out the new set of cards at each program, we emphasize to the parents that the shapes can be used in age-appropriate games: kids can match shapes, they can match colors, they can make patterns, they can count, they can trace the shapes, etc.

The POP! deck is a mobile preschool game with umpteen uses, and if parents use them they are also getting the tips and facts reinforced as they see them again and again. Parents have indicated that they like the cards and are excited about getting more at additional programs, so the incentive seems to be working. The deck concept is appealing for lots of staff, too, and I've got a few colleagues who are interested in adapting it for their own programs both in the library and off-site.

So there you have it: what we're doing to incentivize caregivers participating in our POP! Parents of Preschoolers program series. How do you incentivize repeat attendance?

Monday, November 30, 2015

POP! Parents of Preschoolers: A Caregiver Engagement Program

My library has a pretty strong history of parent engagement programs, and these programs have been directed at caregivers of children from newborns through high schoolers. And while we've offered a solid variety of these programs in the past, attendance has varied. In assessing the successes and shortcomings of our previous programs, my colleagues and I hypothesized that a possible culprit of the varying attendance could be the fact that, month to month, programs were geared toward parents of kids of different ages--that is, there wasn't necessarily a consistency in target audience. Cut to this year, when we wanted to be a bit more intentional about targeting a specific group of caregivers: specifically, those with children ages 2-5.

The resulting revamped program is a series we've called POP! Parents of Preschoolers. All programs (of which there will be 4-5 total this school year) are intended as a series, as one of our goals is to bring in a consistent audience. That is, we'd love for caregivers who attend one program to attend subsequent ones, in effect building on their parenting skills and confidence from topic to topic. More on the topics in a minute.

Each POP! Parents of Preschoolers program follows a common format. First, there is some low-key social time. The library provides coffee, tea, and cookies, and the program facilitator--who may be a library staffer or a paid expert presenter--encourages friendly chatter with a goal of parents building a support network with other parents via their shared use of the library. Social time is about 15-20 minutes of the 60-minute program, and so far, after two programs, parents are expressing that they really enjoy getting to talk with other parents who have kids the same age as they do.

The second part of the program is the parenting topic of the program. This is the bulk of the program, the part in which the facilitator shares information and expertise on the topic of the day. This isn't really a lecture--rather, it's a guided conversation, with hands-on examples highly encouraged. We want attending parents to build their confidence in applying what they know and learn to their parenting, and we're finding this model is a good one for what we aim to accomplish.

In putting together the initial slate of topics for the inaugural season of POP! Parents of Preschoolers, I looked at preschool parenting/development topics in which we have staff expertise and/or need expressed by parents who use the library. We've been offering one POP! program in each of our two-month calendar cycles, which means we've covered two topics so far, with two (maybe three) after the new year:
  • October: Reading to Succeed (all about early literacy)
  • November: Screen Time (all about media use)
  • February: Boredom Busters (engaging activities to have on hand)
  • March: name tbd (an expert is coming to speak on nutrition and food habits)

I'm also considering a fifth program based on an area of need expressed by parents who've attended so far: sleep and bedtime routines. I've got a local sleep specialist in mind to talk to in the next few weeks to see if/how we can make that topic work.

So that's POP! Parents of Preschoolers. To reiterate, we've got a few core goals for the program:
  1. Parents will build skills and confidence in their abilities as parents of young children.
  2. Parents will develop a social support network with other parents of young children.
  3. Parents will consider the library a place that supports their role as parents of young children.

I plan to write again in the next few weeks to cover some additional aspects of the program, including how we're trying to incentivize repeat attendance and a recap of the recent Screen Time program, which I facilitated. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what others are doing in the realm of caregiver engagement programs, and I'm also always happy to answer questions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Librarianship on YouTube: How to Make Finger Puppets

Remember that time I made a cameo in a YouTube video for the BOOMbox, the STEAM space at my library? Well, this time around, I have more than a cameo--I'm the guest expert walking folks through the steps of how to make finger puppets! Check out the video for full instructions on how to make adorable, handmade, simply-sewn finger puppets that are perfect for use in storytimes or as gifts. They're a great simple maker activity, too, if you're looking for those at your library; we've had kids making Minion finger puppets galore, plus favorite superheroes, etc., etc.

If you watched the video, did you catch the terrific puns? They were completely unplanned, I promise. Also make sure you catch the impromptu Little Red Hen scene at the end. Being a librarian is the best.