Monday, August 24, 2015

Early Literacy Center- Letter of the Week

Hello everyone! After a summer of resignations and retirements, I finally have a chance to write a much overdue blog post.

4/4/14 - 6

Today I'm going to be talking about our "Letter of the Week" we offered over the past year. We got the majority of our letter ideas from the amazing No Time For Flash Cards website.

We went through the entire alphabet, while changing the letter every Monday. We updated our bulletin board each week with new, easy to recognize items that also started with the same letter. Having kids run into the room to see what the new letter was each week was a really fun experience at the desk.

We had a great college assistant who prepped our craft each week. She cut out the letters with our Cricut machine, added any supplies we needed in separate plastic baggies (all the pom poms in one, the google eyes in another, etc), and then threw them all in a tub. Since our desk is usually pretty busy, our goal was to make the letters as easy as possible. Staff simply handed a letter to each kid and then reached into the baggies to hand out the necessary supplies. 

For the first two weeks we had kids trace and cut out their own letters instead of using the Cricut, but after observing we saw that overwhelmingly it was the caregivers doing the letter and cutting. Since we also wanted it to be as non-staff intensive as possible, taking away the scissors was appreciated by all. I know scissor usage is a great skill for littles to practice, but it wasn't feasible with our staffing. I made sure to include weekly literacy tips on the "craft table" that talked all about letters, scissor usage, etc.

The weekly activity started out with low participation and a lot of resistance from the staff (which could have had a direct correlation on participation). Some people thought it was too time consuming. Others thought that kids and caregivers just were not interested in doing a weekly craft at the library. I compromised that if patrons still were not interested by week 4, then I would come up with a different passive program. Luckily, I didn't hear a single complaint after week 3!

We soon had patrons coming in every week specifically to do the letter of the week craft. Caregivers told me they were making scrap books at home of the letters, and even creating their own letter themed weeks depending on where we were in the alphabet.

After the letter K, we consistently averaged over 50 kids a week. For a passive program, that required very little staff time, this was definitely a win in our book. If you have a volunteer that could prep the supplies each week, then it would be even better!

Seeing each unique letter made every day a little better, especially during summer reading craziness. It was a great opportunity for us to talk about process rather than product with the caregivers. One of my hesitations was having an "example" letter each week on the bulletin board. However, we stressed to caregivers to allow the kids do their own thing and that the examples were simply there to remind kids to ask for the letter craft. It helped that the "example" was on a bulletin board a good distance from the craft table. Unless caregivers got up to walk 20 feet and checked the bulletin board, they had nothing to compare their child's letter to.

Luckily, caregivers really listened to the staff's prompting and we ended up with some amazing creations! If you're looking for an easy passive idea to run (for 26 weeks!) then this is a great one. You could even leave each letter up for 2 weeks and end up with an entire year of passive crafting! We used supplies we already had in the library, with a few exceptions. In total, we spent under $20, for 26 weeks of programming that ended up with 850 participants. That's under 3 cents a craft!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Early Literacy Center- Baby Doll Doctor

To go along with the theme of "Community Helpers" for Summer Reading, I wanted to make sure I added a new table activity for little ones.

I realized having kids play doctor would be the perfect activity in our Play and Learn space. I purchased two baby dolls and a doctor's bag. If you're thinking of doing this activity, please purchase baby dolls that are different races. Just like the patrons you see every day, baby dolls come in different colors too. Out of all the positive comments I've received from this activity, parents thanking me for not just having Caucasian baby dolls have been the most abundant. Have your baby dolls reflect your community!

I added a quick prompt for caregivers and children, and simply set everything out on the table.

My biggest concern was that the baby dolls would be stolen, so they're marked with our initials throughout their clothes, as well as on their skin. We've had a few kids sneak them into strollers or just walk out with them, but the caregivers always bring them back when they see the markings. Caregivers have been very appreciative that we made it easy for them to remember where they saw the baby doll.

Kids have really enjoyed this new activity. Some kids are gentle and tell us that their baby has a fever and needs to rest. Another child told me their doll had been in a car accident and was attempting CPR. One child even became a surgeon to save the baby doll's life, while making her younger sister be the nurse. Sometimes though, the baby just has a boo-boo and needs a band-aid. The imaginative play that happens with these two baby dolls is amazing!

Overall, this was definitely a successful activity and one I would encourage all of you to do!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Early Literacy Messages in Action!

When the lovely Lindsay from Jbrary started tweeting about organizing a blog tour for early literacy tips, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I started brainstorming ideas and trying to decide what I wanted to say. There is so much that I love to say about early literacy, and it can be hard to get it all in one blog post. 

I decided to do a top 5 list (because I'm obsessed with lists) of things I wish I knew about early literacy tips when I first became a librarian. 

1. Make it fun! I think this is the most important thing to keep in mind when sharing early literacy tips. If caregivers feel like they're being lectured, or spoken down to, then they're not going to pay attention to you. Or worse, they're going to feel like you don't respect them and their parenting choices. I share "Fun Facts!" with my caregivers instead of calling them early literacy tips. To me this makes it seem less like a student/teacher relationship and more "We're all friends!".

Also, make sure the tips you're sharing are fun. No one, other than your other librarian friends, want to hear all about the statistical data you found. Instead, I always try to make it short and sweet. My goal is to give them useful knowledge that they'll remember and also share with their caregiver friends.

For example, because of all the Jurassic World excitement, I read a dinosaur book at my under 2's storytime. The book "Dinosaurs" by Simms Taback includes the name of real dinosaurs like Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Brachiosaurus. After reading a few pages my "Fun Fact!" was, "Saying the name of hard words and not simply skipping them is really important for little ones. While saying scientific names of dinosaurs might seem silly, you're building their vocabulary!"

2. Interact with your caregivers. A great way to make your early literacy interactions less awkward is to know your audience! Talk to them before and after storytimes. I start each storytime with introductions and this usually breaks the ice with the group. Also, you might be surprised by how many questions your caregivers have for you. Questions that might even lead you to your next "fun fact" to share at storytime!

3. It's ok to not have a tip in every single storytime. This is so important! Don't feel pressure to give out an early literacy tip at every single storytime. Especially if you are working in a new place, age group, etc.

Read your crowd. If it's going to seem awkward or forced then just skip it that week. If two kids in the room are howling and another one is running in circles, maybe it's time to start a song instead. You can always try to insert a tip later if the timing seems right.

You can also completely change the tip you were going to share. One week I had planned to talk about colors, but when I lost my voice due to allergies I decided to talk about singing instead. "Singing, even if you think your voice is the worst, is a great way to bond with your little one. Your child loves your voice, and they don't care if you have perfect pitch!"

4. You're allowed to give tips if you're not a parent. This was a hard one for me at first. While I love my job and love researching early literacy, I don't have any children. Why would caregivers listen while I tell them how to raise their child? The key is that you're not telling them how to raise their child. You're simply giving them information about how to develop the skills their child needs to get ready for reading and writing. You're never judging their parenting or telling them they're doing something wrong!

5. Be confident in your knowledge. There's a reason you're doing your job! You're an expert! Make sure you know the information that you're sharing with your caregivers. Research it and make sure there is information to back it up. Plus, really delving into the research behind your early literacy tips will just make you more knowledgeable about the topic! You might even find your tip for next week's storytime while you're investigating.

How do you share early literacy messages? Tell me your tips! Also, be sure to check out a round up of all the great early literacy posts on Jbrary at the end of the week!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Play, Baby, Play! – Paper Everywhere!

Kendra has also blogged about this process, but it's so much fun that I decided to steal her idea again. Seriously, if you do nothing else this summer, bring this out at least once in your storytime. I did it last summer and parent's still talk about it! It will definitely be making another appearance this year.

First, you need to get a bunch of shredded paper. Make friends with your business manager, or simply take out all those papers in your file cabinet that you're never ever going to use. You know the ones I'm talking about. The person before you wrote out every program they did by hand and you've never looked at them. Give them a second life in this program.

After getting a good amount of paper, you need to make sure you have the cleaning up supplies ready. Get a vacuum, a broom, and a dust pan. Find a sweet naive volunteer if you're very lucky.

Do your normal storytime jam (or make it all about the parachute if you'd prefer), and then tell the parents you're going to get crazy. Warn them that it will be a total disaster area, but you don't mind the mess and you just want people to have fun. I always encourage parents that this is something that they would most likely never do at home (unless they're really cool), so they should take full advantage of it here.

I lay out the parachute, get everyone to gather around, and then warm everyone up. We do a round of peek-a-boo, Itsy-Bitsy Spider, and Row, Row, Row Your Boat– then I dump out the paper. 

Everyone freezes at first. 

Then it becomes a total frenzy. You can sing another song if you want, but I choose to skip it. I just let everyone play with the parachute without instruction. After about 10 minutes of shaking and shrieking (the good kind), parents laid the parachute down and kids starting just playing with the paper.

We had one kid playing "SURPRISE" with the paper. A great game where you grab as much paper as your tiny hands will hold, throw them in the air, and yell "surprise". This was definitely a crowd favorite.

We had kids who wanted to see how much paper they could put on their head and their entire bodies. I had a parent come back a week later and say she found handfuls of paper in both her child's pockets and her own.  

After 30 minutes of chaos, I had to shoo everyone out so I could do a quick clean-up for my next storytime. I did the best I could and the next session came. After a great time was had by all, I started the real clean up. It took about an hour to clean up the entire room. 

It was totally worth it. So, why do we do a program like this? Using the parachute is a great way to build those core muscles, Grabbing tiny shreds of paper improves fine motor skills. The "SURPRISE" game involved imaginative storytelling because it eventually became all about a surprise birthday party. Also, it's just a lot of fun. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Summer Reading Program for Babies & Preschoolers

At La Crosse Public Library, we have a rocking Summer Reading Program. We typically sign up around 1,500 kids of varying ages and we have 3 different programs to choose from. One for preschoolers (anyone under the age of 4), elementary school kids (up to 5th grade), and teens (6th grade and up).

When I first came to La Crosse we did The Rubber Ducky Club. A handout was given to caregivers with 6 early literacy activities on it and they were encouraged to come back at the beginning of the month for another sheet and a rubber ducky. While this is a great program, it had been the same format for three years in a row and was starting to feel stale. I knew that next summer I wanted to make some changes.

SRP 2014 Game Card
Last year, instead of having preschoolers and their caregivers visit us once a month, I decided to make a fun game card encouraging two visits each month. On each visit they received a rhyme card to add to their collection. They qualified for a book after two visits, and usually we would see a drop in participation after that. Some caregivers found the game sheet confusing, and it definitely wasn't the most patron friendly. Participation was ok, but it still wasn't quite what I wanted.

Luckily, my lovely boss let me change the program again this year. Introducing the new and improved Summer Reading Program for little ones!

I chose to model the program directly with our school aged SRP. We sign the little one up and hand out a simple half sheets with 4 unique early literacy activities to complete each week. 

A fun activity for caregivers and children to do together, such as a maze or coloring, is on the other side. We have 10 weeks of SRP this year, so there are 10 different sheets to encourage weekly visits. We simply change the sheets out every Monday. They need to complete at least 4 sheets to earn their free book, and now they have an official reason to come in and check out books each week!

On each return visit children are given a sticker to cover our featured villain of the month and help save the library!

Here is a closer look at a few of the half-sheets. Happy Summer Reading everyone!


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