Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Storytime Toys for Babies & Infants

So you are in charge of an infant/baby storytime? Yay! It will hopefully become the favorite part of your day. Whether you have been doing these storytimes for 20 years or you just started last week, I want to encourage you to add playtime at the end of your storytime.

Babies learn by playing! When you include playtime during a storytime, it is a great opportunity to show parents some quality toys they can make or purchase. This is also a good time to simply remind parents to play with their child each day. Being a new mom/dad can be overwhelming and it's important for them to know why playing is so vital to little ones.

The most important thing to remember is to use what you have. Old puppets just laying around? Give them a quick wash and throw them in the circle. A ton of boxes that you've been saving and have no idea why? Make some shape sorters and drums with them!

If you are lucky enough to have some budget money set aside for storytime materials, here are some of my top baby toys I would suggest. I've linked where I purchased them in the captions. Disclaimer- I am receiving no money/reward/incentive to market these toys. I simply want to make your toy buying experience an easy one!

These blocks are great because they aren't
 just your traditional square shape.
Each block is a different letter and has
 a corresponding unique animal. 

Really soft fabric covered blocks-
perfect for infants. 

The first thing I knew I wanted to purchase was blocks. I decided to go with two sets. One for my babies (10-23 months) and one for my infants (0-10 months).

These are very sturdy and get thrown a ton.
They haven't begun to show any wear yet!
Next, on someones recommendation (I think the Show Me Librarian) I purchased these fun tubes that make a ton of noise. This is great for helping them work on fine motor skills and also beginning to understand gravity! Also, I know the feathers look like a total cop-out. I thought my kids wouldn't look twice at it since it didn't make noise. Nope. They are all equally loved and played with.

Rolling Shape Sorter
This shape sorter is by far the crowd favorite in storytime. Babies are constantly fighting over it and there are usually tears. I now put out two every storytime, but there are still groups fighting to use it. However, it is a great way to model sharing and patience to little ones. I am usually the moderator and hand out a shape to each child to figure out. It works for us, plus I'm showing the parents that just because the baby is angry/upset doesn't mean you need to be. They are fighting over the item because they don't know what sharing is. Someone has to show them how first– hopefully the parent.

These puppets are just ones that I've found in our storage
area. I have no idea where they were purchased. 
I also include an assortment of puppets for both my infants and toddlers. I include bigger sturdier ones for my babies, but I typically stick to small hand puppets for the infants. Some kids are terrified of puppets and that's ok! It's good for them to experience it in a safe setting where you can always take it away if it is too intense.

Stacking Cups on left.
Soft Rainbow Stacker on right. 
Stacking Rings on left.
Stacking Cups on right.

I include stacking rings and cups in both infant and baby storytime. My infant toys are on the left and baby toys are on the right. I did take away the wooden stand from the stacking ring. It made me way too nervous with my babies who were just learning how to walk. They are now more teething rings than anything, but the babies still love to grab them. Also, the stacking cups for my babies are a huge hit. They love to pretend to drink out of them and sometimes we pretend to all have tea. The parents usually like to pretend there is a more adult beverage in them though...

Sets from- Lakeshore
Constructive Playthings

I also include a variety of tactile balls in both infant and baby storytime. Just a word of warning– the ones on the left pick up everything from the floor. Including hair, lint, fabric, bubble residue, etc. They are also very hard to clean. I can't find where I purchased them from, so no link on those. You should take a pass on them anyways.

Picnic Basket &
Grocery Store Bag
I also have these fun kits that I use with my infants and babies. It is a great way to encourage parents to talk with their little ones. Some parents find it awkward and hard to talk to their babies,  so giving them concrete things to talk about, like "What would we bring on a picnic?" is a great way to help them overcome this fear.

Overall, I've been very happy with the toys I've purchased. I mix up the variety of toys I put out each storytime session. This way my parents and babies who come to 3-4 sessions in a year won't be seeing the same toys each time. I also throw out a ton of books at storytime before I put out any toys.

Seriously, please play with your babies at storytime.

What are some of your favorite storytime toys? Is there any that you would absolutely not recommend?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Early Literacy Center- Sensory Bags!

This month I decided to put some quick and easy sensory bags in the Play-Learn-Read center.

I found the inspiration for this at Mrs. Kelly's Kindergarten blog.

Instead of hair gel I decided to use aloe because it was on clearance at the store. I also added duct tape and double bagged the aloe. These held up for about a week before they needed to be replaced. They take less than 5 minutes to make though, so I definitely think it was worth it.

Adding food coloring and glitter like the original post recommends definitely provides the contrast you need.

I included a fun literacy tip and directions. The kids love it!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Baby Book Bees

When I first came to my library they were already offering a fabulous 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative. The name literally says it all. Basically, you encourage parents to read 1,000 books with their kids before kindergarten. This is a great initiative and the families in our area have responded very enthusiastically, but I felt like something was missing.

Our 1,000 Books program is marketed for children between the ages of 1-5. What about the babies under one? I've found that parents of infants are constantly looking for things to do. There are very few things for infants here, especially things that don't cost money. How could we better serve this population? The answer was Baby Book Bees.

Going off the model of 1,000 Books B4K, I decided to make it an initiative to get parents to read 100 books to their children before they turn one. Almost identical to our new 1,000 Books sheets, I made half-sheets for our parents with 25 shapes to fill in. On the back of each sheet there are four early literacy tips.

When a parent signs up, they are given a lovely yellow folder with information about the initiative, their first shape sheet, and a bib celebrating their enrollment.

Once the parent has read 25 books they come back and visit us. We make a huge fuss at the desk with lots of clapping, and then we give them stickers and a new sheet. They put their sticker on our 1000 Book Garden Wall on a matching bee.

Once they hit 100 books they get their own board book to keep. Plus, they are given a 100 book head-start on 1,000 Books B4K.

This is a wonderful program on so many levels. First, it creates at least 4 library visits by new parents. They are beginning to establish the tradition of coming to the library on a regular basis. It also is giving parents a powerful message of how important reading is to a child at any age. Plus, once the groundwork is laid for the program, it is not staff intensive at all!

To get the word out about this new initiative we decided to partner with the two local hospitals. Both hospitals give out a packet of information to each new mom during their hospital stay. We were able to get a half-sheet of information in these packets. They also agreed to put up posters in various offices that are visited frequently by new moms and in waiting rooms.

We decided we wanted to start with enough material for 200 participants and bought accordingly. We predicted we would get about 100 people enrolled within our first year. We officially launched a month ago and we have 28 people signed up! There was clearly a need for this in our community and we are overwhelmed with the great responses we've had from both parents and community members.

I applied for a Target Early Childhood Reading grant to get the initial funds. We were lucky enough to get chosen. If you have not looked at the grants before, please go visit. The grants are entirely online and the Target tech team is very helpful if you run into any glitches.

Are you offering anything for under ones? If not, you should consider Baby Book Bees!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Flannel Friday-- Make a Turkey!

Inspired by Miss Courtney Meets Bobo, I decided to adapt her Thanksgiving idea into our Early Literacy Center. In our ELC we have a magnetic/flannel board that we switch out every month. In October, we did a flannel decorating a pumpkin. This month, we decided to keep the holiday theme going and decorate a turkey! It is the easiest flannel activity I've ever made.

First, I made 8 feathers using different colors. Then, I simply made a turkey body. I found the clip art on google images and just copied it. None of the feathers are glued on, so they are always in different patterns, on random places of the turkey's body, and sometimes our turkey friend only has one feather on. I mean, if you have a zebra print feather, do you really need anything else?

I always include a quick tip for parents who won't read a full sheet of paper. 

For the parents who like reading more than one sentence, I also included some "Turkey Starters". I am really looking forward to hearing some turkey bedtime stories!


I think this will be a great activity to use during my baby storytime too. I am going to make enough feathers for each baby. Then, I will call them up by color. The babies love to touch the flannel board, so we'll see how chaotic it becomes!

Check out the Thanksgiving Edition of Flannel Friday over at 1234 More Storytimes!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Early Literacy iPads– Final Details

Interested in our initial planning for the iPads? Check it out here. Looking for apps? I listed some of my favorites here. Once again, I have to thank all of the great librarians who helped me with this process!

Unveiling the iPads

Before we put the iPads in the public space, I wanted to make sure our staff was completely comfortable with them. I left a two week period between the app downloads and our start date for staff to play with the iPad and get comfortable with the different apps.

Change is hard for some people. I decided that the best approach for my coworkers was a one-on-one demonstration. I personally scheduled a time with each staff member to show them how to lock the ipads, pick the app, shut them down, etc. This gave them plenty of opportunities to ask me questions and I could see where people were struggling. I also think this made it easier for people to approach me if they had additional questions about the iPads.  Plus, it gave me a great opportunity to explain why we were introducing iPads to our patrons!

In addition to the one-on-one time, I posted a "cheat sheet" at the reference desk for opening and closing procedures with the iPad. Putting in this extra time training the staff was definitely worth it.

We also made a rules sheet for the iPads. These are just our basic guidelines for what we expect to happen at the stands. Thanks again to Kelsey at Library Bonanza for letting me blatantly copy her design! 

Working out the Issues

After the launch, there was at least 1 issue a week with the iPads. Very minor ones, but issues none the less.

First, the headphones just weren't working for us. The case wouldn't close with the Y-splitter. Then, we had issues with kids ripping the headphones out by accident. In the end, we got rid of them completely. They are now kept at a volume of 2 or 3 bars and it is wonderful. It is loud enough for the parents and children to hear it, but not loud enough for us to hear it at the desk. Plus, I think it has made the parent/child interaction happen more naturally.

We also discovered a couple of apps that have semi-hidden ways to get to the app store. Since our wi-fi is disabled, it makes our screens just freeze up. We have since figured out a way to disable the buttons completely, or we have just taken the app out of rotation.

Next, the iPad stand didn't really cover the home button like advertised. There was a piece of plastic over it, but it would move if pushed too hard. Plus, there was a gap where little fingers could reach the button if they tried hard enough. They did. All of our iPads are locked on an app a day, so if they reached the button it wasn't a security issue, but it was annoying. We would have to go enter the passcode and reset the guided access. To fix this I put duct tape over the plastic home cover to make it move less. Then, I added poster tape to the iPad stand to make the tablet fit a little closer to the edge. This seems to have fixed the issue.

Now What?

Our iPads have officially been out for over a month now. The response has been overwhelming. They are constantly being used by both parents and children. Plus, the interaction that happens at the iPads is amazing. Parents are talking about colors, characters, shapes, etc, with their little ones. It is so fun to listen to the conversations from the desk.

Also, parents are asking for recommendations! We list our apps for the week next to the iPads and I've had a few different parents tell me they've downloaded their library favorites. In January, we will put 15-20 new apps into the rotation schedule and I'm already starting to scour the web for possibilities. This addition of new material will keep things fresh and interesting for both the children and parents that visit us weekly.

Now, for my soapbox moment...

At the end of the day, we are children librarians. We are the professionals that can tell parents great bedtime books, show them wonderful science experiments to do at home, or explain why reading is so essential to child development. Why shouldn't we tell them the great apps that are available too? Whether you personally like tablets or not, parents are still using them with their children. I think we are being presented with a wonderful opportunity to not only suggest great apps for parents, but also to educate parents about using technology with young children. The opportunities are there. It's up to us to take advantage of them.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Early Literacy iPads– Which apps are best?

Interested in our initial planning for the iPads? Check it out here. All the final details and improvements can be found here. Once again, I have to thank all of the great librarians who helped me with this process.

Picking Apps

This was definitely the hardest part of the process, but it was also the most fun! Deciding on apps can be extremely overwhelming. There are so many to choose from and you don't want to waste your money on horrible ones.

We decided that we wanted to lock the iPad on one app a day. This made it a bit more staff intensive by having us set it up each day, but it was definitely the right decision for our library. We have a huge issue with children staying on the AWE computers way over our time limit. Then, when parents make them leave they throw huge fits. We wanted to avoid this at all costs with the iPads. We really wanted it to be an item that was interesting for about 10-15 minutes, and then they would move on to something else.

I started by going to the Darien Library website and pouring over all of their resources. I then went back to Kelsey over at Library Bonanza and begged her for her list of apps. A similar begging email went out to about 5 other librarians.

Once I had all of this data compiled, I went through the list and looked up each app on the iTunes store. I didn't want to be stuck with apps I hated, so I tried to do as much research as possible before actually buying them. Sometimes though, it was still hard to tell if it would work for us, and I just took a chance and bought it.

I also looked at various app review websites for some additional purchases. Little eLit is a great place to start. They have great information and a truly ridiculous amount of it.

I also browsed though random "Free Apps of the Day" websites. For me, this proved to be a waste of time. I would usually download 1 or 2 each day, but only 1 of them made it into the final app rotation. There's usually a reason they're free. There are some really good free apps out there. You just have to sift through all the junk to find them. 

We made an initial app download of 48 apps. Some of these were free or discounted when we bought them, but others were full price. Once we did our bulk app purchase, I went through and personally played each game. I wanted to make sure the content was appropriate for our age range, and that the apps didn't have in-app purchases. I also checked each app to make sure it could be played horizontally. Since we wanted the iPads as secure as possible, we decided to permanently mount them horizontally.

The biggest surprise to me was that two apps just completely didn't work! One wasn't compatible with our iPad 4 and the other was simply broken. Luckily, iTunes refunded our money completely on those. After all of the above, about 12 of the apps were not useful to us. Some couldn't be played horizontally, and some were just too hard for our target age range. Two we got refunds for, but the others were just lessons learned.

Next, I made an app schedule for both branches and Main. I wanted our initial app purchase to last us until January, so I made sure apps didn't repeat on the same day of the week. That way a family who always came on Mondays would be getting a different app each week.

Here is a list of the apps I downloaded with a short description on each one. The bold titles are ones that did not make it into the final rotation.

Check back on Monday for what actually happened when we put all of our careful planning in action and unveiled the iPads to the public!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Early Literacy iPads– Planning

We now have iPads in the Children's Room! You can find Part 2- all about pick apps- here. Part 3- all about the final details and improvements- here. 

It was a time-intensive project from start to finish. So, to make it easier for readers and myself, I'm going to divide this into three sections– Planning, Picking Apps, and Final Steps. Hopefully, these posts will make it easier for other libraries to implement iPads!

I have to give many thanks to all of the wonderful people who helped me through this process. Kelsey over at Library Bonanza was a wonderful resource. Her blog post is full of fabulous information and she answered every single question I put in front of her. There were also numerous people I reached out to through list-servs. Thank you to everyone for all of your great answers and support!


Deciding on which tablet to use was the easiest part of this process. I was familiar with iPads and after a little research decided they would give us the most return for our money. Plus, I asked a lot of the fabulous people in the library world what they had and almost everyone answered iPad.

First, we had to decide how many iPads we realistically needed for our 3 libraries. All of our iPad money was raised through various community donors, so we had a very strict budget of what we could spend. After looking at our space and resources, we decided to install 1 iPad at each branch and 2 at the Main location. 

Next, we had to decide on where to actually put the iPads. We wanted them to be within our line of sight, but we also didn't want to get 1,000 questions a day about them. We currently have AWE computers directly behind our desk and people immediately yell for help when they are stuck. I'm a big believer in self-guidance and didn't want to have the same issue with the iPads. We eventually decided to put the iPads directly in our Early Literacy Center. It is far enough away that we can't hear every word that is being said, but we still can see everything they're doing. Plus, one of our security cameras looks directly into the space.

Finally, we had to decide on which display case to purchase. We knew we wanted them to be directly mounted on the wall, but we weren't sure about movement, security, etc. After asking about 15 different people, I chose to go with this one from Maclocks. It seemed to be the most durable, had the best reviews, and was reasonably priced. We also decided to purchase a heavy-duty screen protector. The thing about iPad stands is that they are all kind of awful. Almost every librarian I reached out to said, "We chose this one but it can be difficult/hard/impossible at times." We decided to just bite the bullet and hope for the best with our purchase. 

We were semi-successful. The stand is secure and mounts on the wall beautifully. However, the home button isn't really fully covered– little fingers can definitely still hit it. Plus, there was no cut-out for headphones. Luckily, our brave maintenance man drilled one for us that was just barely big enough to fit a Y-splitter in. We wanted each iPad to have 2 sets of headphones, since one of our main goals is to increase parent and child interaction.

When we got the case set-up it was really difficult to close. With the addition of the Y-splitter it became almost impossible. It felt like you were breaking the iPad when you squeezed to lock it up. We needed the Y-splitter though! No one wanted to listen to annoying iPad noises all day, right? (Hint: We no longer use headphones.) 

Check back on Thursday to see how I chose which apps to put on the iPads in the room!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gnome Hunting at the Library!

Our Summer Reading Program officially ended on August 2nd this year. However, the majority of participants came back over the next two weeks to pick up their grand prize (a book). We wanted to help transition these kids out of Summer Reading with an easy stealth program.

What is stealth programming? Check out Marge, Sara, or Amy for more details and some wonderful ideas.

The premise of our game was simple. Pick a stick, find the gnome, check out a book in the section, and put a dot on our door gnome.

To break it down just a little bit more....

Pick a Popsicle stick from the gnome jar. Each stick describes a gnome's hat and beard.

Find the gnome on a book shelf. We repeated the gnomes in picture, early reader, and chapter book. This way we could guide the kid to whatever was appropriate. We also had nonfiction gnomes that we designated with a dot on the stick. We would usually let kids look on their own for a few minutes before giving them hints.

The kid would bring back their stick, tell us where they found the gnome, and show us the book they found. Then, we would give them a sticker dot to put on the big door gnome. The dot was great as a reward without actually giving things out, plus it helps us keep track of our participants.

Over in the early literacy center, we "hid" six gnomes and asked for little ones to find them all and visit the desk. They were also given a dot to put on the door gnome.

The program was a smashing success. We filled up 4 gnomes in 4 weeks! We had over 400 participants! The best part? It took me about an hour of planning to run a month long program that kids loved.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Early Literacy Center: Colors!

This month I decided to tackle colors in the early literacy center!

I found inspiration for this activity over at Confessions of a Homeschooler. While I liked the paintbrush idea, I thought I would try it with crayons instead.

These were very simple to make. I simply made a crayon shape in publisher and then copied it in a variety of colors. I printed them all on cardstock, along with the corresponding word, and laminated them.

Then, I taped the words down and added magnets to the crayons.

I included a "Crayon Box" for children to put the crayons when they're done.

I also included a parent tip and directions for the activity.

I love sharing literacy center ideas that are inexpensive. Not every library has a huge budget, or one at all, and I want to show that you don't need to buy the $1,000 furniture to have a great space for little ones. What is your favorite inexpensive or free literacy activity?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Baby Storytime-Flowers

Check out what my typical storytime looks like here. All the words to my songs and rhymes can be found here.

Opening Song
Welcome Song

Opening Rhyme/Movement
Hands are Clapping

Early Literacy Tip
I have a list of all of the songs printed out in the back today. Feel free to grab a sheet on your way out. Singing is a great way to develop your little one's vocabulary and it's a great way to distract them when they get upset.

Shape Game!

Today, I hid a flower under the star. You can find out about this game here.

Row, Row, Row, Your Boat

Big Yellow Sunflower by Frances Barry
This book is excellent! Even though the title gives away the surprise at the end, the babies loved how big and bright it was. Definitely practice holding this book before you use it in storytime.

Itsy-Bitsy Spider

Where is Thumkin?

One Little Seed by Elaine Greenstein
This is a short book with some great vocabulary. Little ones can also play along as you are reading the book. (dig a hole, plant the seed, etc)

Giddy-up, Giddy-up


Nursery Rhyme
Little Bo Peep
My babies love the flannel rhymes now! All of the little ones who could walk, came up to me as I was doing it today. The majority of the parents are now repeating the rhymes with me too. I even heard parents saying nursery rhymes before storytime this week!

** I found this wonderful pattern at Jen in the Library who shared the great resource Mother Goose's playhouse :  toddler tales and nursery rhymes, with patterns for puppets and feltboards by Judy Sierra. My library had a copy! It's a great resource to find flannel pieces and get inspiration.**

Choral Reading
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. 
The babies have figured out the sequence of events in storytime and know when this is coming. I usually walk around the circle to hand out the books, but this week I had over half of the babies run up to me to get their book first. I also had multiple parents tell me they sing this every night to their baby.

Egg Shakers
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Baa, Baa, Black Sheep 

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

As I went to grab the toys this week, I had to push the flannel nursery rhyme pieces to the side. Two babies screamed and clapped when I touched the sheep. So of course, I did the nursery rhyme about 5 more times.

This was our last storytime for the session. I'm sad to see them go, but it has been a fabulous storytime session. I love seeing how much they've grown and matured in the short 5 weeks they've been coming to storytime. Whether it's doing the motions to Roly-Poly or simply holding a board books and turning the pages, I always point out to parents how proud they should be of their babies and themselves for being such fabulous parents!

I'm already excited for my Fall storytime sessions!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Baby Storytime – Flying

Check out what my typical storytime looks like here. All the words to my songs and rhymes can be found here

Opening Song
Welcome Song

Opening Rhyme/Movement
Hands are Clapping

Early Literacy Tip
Talking during stories is so important with little ones. If your baby loves a certain page on a book, then stay on that page. Talk about what you see on the page, what is happening, the colors you see, or anything you want to talk about. You want your baby to have fun reading!

Shape Game!

Today, I hid a bird under the triangle. Originally I had two bird books, but I decided I wanted to use Higher, Higher at the last minute. You can find out about this game here.

Roly Poly

Flip, Flap, Fly by Phyllis Root
This book is a little long, so I clipped quite a bit. The babies were really interested in the flannel board today and kept rubbing their hands, faces, and heads all over it while I was reading.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat 

Where is Thumkin?

Higher, Higher by Leslie Patricelli
This author definitely knows how to write a baby book. My little ones were in love with this and the parents read the words with me. We stopped on each page to talk about what our friend could see in her swing. The alien high-five was definitely the crowd favorite.

Giddy-up, Giddy-up


Nursery Rhyme
Little Bo Peep
My parents have definitely bought into this now. Everyone said the rhyme with me and some even played peek-a-boo with their little ones. Plus, I had little kids sitting in front of the flannel board waiting to feel the sheep.

** I found this wonderful pattern at Jen in the Library who shared the great resource Mother Goose's playhouse :  toddler tales and nursery rhymes, with patterns for puppets and feltboards by Judy Sierra. My library had a copy! It's a great resource to find flannel pieces and get inspiration.**

Choral Reading
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. 
I noticed quite a few parents stayed on certain pages rather than following along. It was great to see them talking to their child about the duck, sheep, etc. It was also nice to see that they really were listening to the tip!

Egg Shakers
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Baa, Baa, Black Sheep 

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom



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