Thursday, November 12, 2015

Early Literacy Center - A Monster Who Loves Cookies!

To go along with our newest bakery theme in our Play & Learn area, we wanted to make a fun tactile experience for little ones. After scouring the web and Pinterest, we realized that Cookie Monster was the obvious choice.

The La Crosse Public Library has been fortunate enough to receive a grant through DPI and Americorp. The grant provides the library with two workers who focus on early literacy and community building for a full year. This grant has been amazing and I'll give all the details in a later post. I'm mentioning it now because they did the work on this Play & Read theme and deserve the credit. 

For this project we re-purposed our plastic mailbox that we've used previously in our Early Literacy Center, and simply added a few decorations. The mailbox just so happened to be the perfect shade of blue!

We made laminated card stock cookies and turned our wall activity into both a color identification game and sorting activity.

In various places on the wall we included prompts for the caregivers and children to interact with Cookie Monster.

Of course, we also included an early literacy tip for caregivers. Explaining why these simple activities matter plays such an important part in early literacy awareness.

Best of all, this activity was free! We re-purposed everything from earlier Play & Learn activities, so the only new thing we needed to add was the construction paper on the mailbox and the fun cookies. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Books2Go- Daycare Outreach

Before I came to my current library, there was a dedicated Outreach Librarian position. Unfortunately, with budget cuts it was a position that was not filled after the librarian retired. This really hurt our relationship with local daycares since we could no longer visit them on a monthly basis. As much as we wanted to continue this outreach, there wasn't enough staff time to make it possible.

We provide a yearly preschool tour, themed around a book character, for daycares to come visit the library. However, we've realized the logistics of taking a field trip with 15-30 children, under the age of 5, can be a nightmare. The centers have to get permission slips, pay for a bus, and coordinate it around their already busy day. We also offered to come to each center once a year and provide an outreach storytime. While centers took advantage of this offering, they were disappointed that once a year was all our staff could feasible do with our reduced staff.

The department decided to emphasize outreach events at the centers when parents were in attendance during this transition period. Attending literacy nights, family days, and more- the department wanted to focus on bringing our literacy message to caregivers in person.

Luckily, our boss, Marge Loch-Wouters, developed a great initiative to keep the daycares supplied with books and use minimal staff time. Books2Go debuted in 2010 with 13 local daycares and Headstart opting into the program.

A weekly Books2Go cart- ready for checkout! 
Each month we deliver a bag of 10 books to every classroom. We check out each center's books on a library card that doesn't accrue fines. These cards are only used for Books2Go, and the centers do not know the barcode. We have separate child care provider cards they can obtain if they would like to check out books themselves. Making special library cards was an important way for us to keep track of the number of books each center had, and allowed us to see if any books were missing each month.

Some things that didn't work with this initiative:

  • Advertising- Each month we tried stuffing the bags with flyers for the centers to hang up, upcoming program flyers, or library card registrations. The next month we would find 95% of these items still in the bag. Eventually we realized we were wasting a lot of staff time and money photocopying things that no one was using.
  • Volunteers- Initially we wanted to use volunteers to deliver our books each week to the daycares. However, the majority of our volunteers are retired folks who we quickly realized could not physically lift over 40 pounds of books at each drop off location. Our volunteers also use their own vehicles for insurance reasons, and we quickly realized that this would be asking too much with all of our deliveries.
  • Emails- Most daycare workers are extremely overworked and underpaid. After trying to communicate via email for various reasons we quickly realized that most centers check their emails once a week at most. We've since learned that if we have important time sensitive information to convey (a change in delivery schedule, missing books, etc) we need to call them on the phone. 

Some of the biggest pros with this initiative:

  • Lost Books- Initially we expected that each center would lose books throughout the year, and we were willing to take this loss. However, we've been pleasantly surprised with how responsible the centers have been. Each center is so excited about this program, even five years later, that they take extra care to have the books ready for us during pick up day.
  • Day Care Relationship- We had high hopes that this monthly delivery service would start repairing the library's relationship with the local day care centers. While they knew we had lost the Outreach Librarian position they were still upset that we no longer could offer monthly outreach visits. This initiative has definitely helped to rebuild those relationships. It has been a great solution so far to our shrinking staff.
  • Circulation- We are happy that this program helps boost our circulation numbers each month, especially as we've been seeing a gradual decease in circulation numbers. We currently serve 17 sites and check out 720 books each month to our centers. That's over 8500 extra books we're circulation each year! 
A quick shout out to the various staff members, and former boss Marge Loch-Wouters, who were fountains of information in regards to this post, since I wasn't here when the initiative started. I asked Marge specifically for her biggest pro and con with this project and here was her response:

Pro: Book Exposure! Making sure that kids in care were exposed to a wide variety of books- both new and classing- on an ongoing basis was key. This was an important change from the book bins that had been left at the centers monthly. Each of the old bins had been developed with a grant over a decade before this initiative and the books shared with the kids were never updates. So providers and kids were being exposed to the same books every year. Having fresh books through Books2Go for kids and caregivers to discover was BIG!

Con: Adapting- Helping out child care community adapt to a change necessitated by budge cuts (the first of many ongoing cutback) was a big challenge. As a department, we looked at what we could sustain that would provide early literacy benefits no matter what future budgets were like.

Do any of you do special outreach initiatives to daycares beyond traditional storytimes? I would love to hear about them!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Play, Baby, Play! - Play Around at the Library!

During our most recent storytime break, I decided to hold some fun play groups at the library. I held them two weeks in a row during our normal storytime hour and they were a hit! For more fun activities, check out everything Kendra over at Read, Sing, Play does with her babies!

Each week I set out a variety of activities for the caregivers to engage in with their children. I tried to make sure that the majority of activity stations I provided were cheap and could be easily reproduced at home. The goal of the program was to encourage caregivers to play with their children, and hopefully continue that play at home. 

One of the most popular stations was our scarves station. I wrapped tissue boxes in paper and stuffed them full of scarves. Toddlers pulled out the scarves, pushed them back in, and repeated for a long time. Eventually they also realized they could unwrap the boxes too. Even after the first one was unwrapped and it was revealed to be a tissue box, they still shouted "SURPRISE!" every time a new one was opened. Kids are just the best. 

The bubble wrap wall is everything!
The bubble wrap wall was also crazy popular with both kids and caregivers. While some kids preferred stomping on it, others chose to roll. More kids then I expected decided to delicately pop the bubbles throughout the whole program.

This is a perfect stations for infants too. I heard amazing conversations happening at the wall about sounds and textures. Start saving your bubble wrap now!

Of course, this station was also pretty fabulous. I purchased the pool and the ball pit balls on Amazon, and filled up a blow up pool. I also added cushions to the bottom of the pool because I imagined littles jumping in head first and hitting the hard floor beneath. It was a good decision. I had one kid who literally laid in the pool for an entire hour. Multiple caregivers have come in to share pictures of their own pool pit at home!

For this station I simply taped ribbon to the bottom or a table and box. It was a fun tactile experience for little ones as they crawled though it. It is also great for imaginative play! Within the first ten minutes it quickly became a "car wash" with children lining up to go through the wash.

I had a variety of sensory bottles for littles to explore at one station. I had different objects in each bottle and kids loved shaking them up and watching the changes.

I also included these sensory writing bags as an activity. For more information on these, check out my blog post here.

Obviously I had to have a station with shaky eggs and dancing ribbons. The dance party music played at a reasonable volume during the entirety of the program.

And of course I had a station of comfy bean bags and books for caregivers to read with their kids.

This was such a fun program! Other than the ball pit balls (which are obviously reusable), we already owned all of the supplies. We had over 50 participants at each program and numerous requests to add more in the future. It was non-staff intensive, since the stations were meant to be done at everyone's own pace. It allowed our storytime families a chance to chat with one another, plus it helped our circulation on non-storytime weeks. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Webinar Opportunity- Successful Programming for Babies and Toddlers!

I have an webinar on Tuesday, September 22nd called "Successful Programming for Babies and Toddlers" and I think you should sign up!

Kendra (Read, Sing, Play) and I will be talking all about programming for babies and toddlers. We'll be sharing programs that have been successful for us, while also talking about lessons we've learned through the past few years.

We're even going to talk about things that haven't been featured on our blogs yet! Such as the fabulous bubble wrap wall you see above, and the ball pit below.

This is our passion in life, so it will definitely be entertaining. Plus, we'll even tell you jokes! What more could you want? We want to see you on Tuesday. Sign up here! 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Backpack Buddies!

Every year, we have a stealth  program during the month of August. This year we decided to do a school themed "Backpack Buddies"!

We wanted to give back to our local families with this program, so we decided to raffle off six backpacks at the end of the month.

To enter, kids simply had to check out books, and then come to the children's desk. We gave them each a pencil to write their name on (practicing those literary skills!) and a raffle entry. We had 3 separate "groups" the backpacks were for: PreK, K-2nd, and 3rd-5th. This let us purchase the most common supplies on each school list for the grade range. 

Do you all know how expensive school supplies are? I personally had no idea until we went on the purchasing run for all the items. Our caregivers told us over and over again how nice it was that there was even a possibility that they could win some free school supplies. My advice if you do something similar is to go school school in early July. We had parents offering us cash for the dry erase markers in the backpacks. Apparently the entire city was sold out!

Doing this program in August turned out to be pretty daunting. We are short-staffed, and were busier than usual during this normally slower month. Wrapping up summer reading, giving out summer reading prizes (books), helping kids complete their last minute summer reading lists, and this passive program was a little overwhelming. It seemed so simple and easy in theory, but with our staffing issues it was simply too much.

Next year we will definitely modify this program. We're hoping to partner with a local organization to purchase more backpacks and school supplies to give away. We also think we will have a "Back to School Bash" where we raffle off the backpacks during a program, instead of a month long activity.

Each winner we called was extremely excited for their backpack and supplies. Caregivers seemed even more excited then some of the kids! We had just over 900 entries total during the month, and while it was crazy we absolutely loved seeing the kids when they came to pick up their prize.

My absolute favorite moment came from one of our PreK winners. They are a loyal storytime family, and were extremely excited to be winners and get such a fun backpack. Later in the day, the mom called me to ask if we would mind if they donated the backpack to one of the local schools. She is a former teacher and remembered all of the kids who would show up for school without backpacks, and her little guys already had their own. Of course we said yes, and it made us so proud to call this family our patrons. We have some truly amazing people in our city.

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!


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