A few of my favourite (story time) things: If you’re happy and you know it

All right, I’m starting a series: A few of my favourite (story time) things. Here’s number one!

Variations on “If you’re happy and you know it” and other songs that everyone knows. You can literally sing virtually anything them–I’m not saying you won’t have to reorganize the words sometimes, but still–and everyone knows them already, so you don’t have to go through new song shock. I have invented songs for almost every story time theme I’ve ever used that you can sing to “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, “The Farmer in the Dell”, “London Bridge”, etc., and while a lot of them are highly forgettable, some of them are rather good! For example (to “If you’re happy…”):

There’s a mouse on my toe, brush it off!
There’s a mouse on my toe, brush it off!
There’s a mouse on my toe, and I wish that it would go,
There’s a mouse on my toe, brush it off!

There’s a mouse on my knee…
I wish that it would flee

There’s a mouse on my belly…
I wish it weren’t so smelly

There’s a mouse on my arm…
And it’s feeling rather warm

There’s a mouse on my chin…
And it’s making me grin

There’s a mouse on my nose…
It doesn’t smell like a rose

There’s a mouse on top of my head…
I think I’ll run away to bed.

Not profound stuff, but the kids love it, especially if you brush it off with great drama! And you can vary it with flies, spiders, ghosts, fleas, bugs, and anything else you like!

I always use this very simple song for playing with the parachute or scarves, to the tune of London Bridge:

We are waving up and down,
Up and down, up and down,
We are waving up and down,
My fair lady (or my dear baby, if you’re doing baby storytime)

We are waving very fast…(very popular, you have to repeat this one several times).
We are waving very slow…
We are waving way down low…
We are waving way up high…(at this point, if you are using a parachute, all the kids will get underneath so you might as well give up and play parachute peekaboo for awhile).


Reflections on 3D printing outreach

So, we’re all done our 3D printer outreach to the schools for now. Seven schools, about 1500 kids, and a lot of PLA filiment later, here are a few things I wish I’d known when we started out, and also some random interesting stuff!

1. Age: we ran this program for grades 2-8, because we assumed the technology was a little over the heads of anyone under age 7. It totally is (in fact, it is over the heads of anyone under age 9 at least), but the younger grades still had a blast, even if they don’t get it. I will definitely be offering it to K and Grade 1 as well in the Autumn. Also, the grade 8s, and to some extent the grade 7s, were pretty lame. With the exception of a handful of nerds, they are far too cool for 3D printing (although you can see when they come watch the printer up close that it’s just a pose, as you would expect!), and it’s pretty hard to get them interested in designing a mascot on 123D Sculpt. I’d probably skip that part with grade 8s in future, and maybe just give them a CAD lesson.

2. Male teachers are such a pain with a technology program! No offense, men, but if you’re in charge of a group of kids, it’s your role to sit back and make them behave themselves if necessary. Not ignore them and try to hijack the whole program and make it in line with your interests! (a couple of women did this too, but all the men did, and since we saw 6-8 male teachers vs about 45 female, that’s telling)

3. I did know this, but I wish I’d thought about it more: schools vary widely in the availability of technology and their willingness to try to help you/allow you to use it. We needed a projector and screen (or a smart board), wi-fi if possible and at least two outlets to plug the laptop and the printer into. This was made very clear when we sent out the invitations, and again when we booked and confirmed the visits. I would say about half of the schools made an effort to provide everything we needed. 1/4 of the others let us know in advance what they couldn’t provide, and the others made no effort at all, so we spent the first 10-15 running around getting everything organized, finding projectors, extension cords and so on. And several of the teachers didn’t believe they could log us onto the wi-fi, even though they were on the school board network that we’d been logged into in dozens of other classes!

4. If I were organizing it again, I’d want to send an interest survey out to teachers, to try and find out how interested their kids were, and so schedule the right amount of time. Yes, I know, at least 80% wouldn’t have time to fill it out, but if we’d known that for even a few classes, it would have been a big help. We asked for an hour, but in some cases we got as little as 25 minutes, and invariably, those were the most passionately interested classes!

A fabulous program

Not much time to blog currently, but if you do craft programs at a library, please consider this program: https://blogs.princeton.edu/popgoesthepage/cinderella-story/

I tried it on Thursday, ran it after school and called it The Fairy Godmother Workshop, and it was totally awesome. You will want to charge a small fee if you can, it’s a program that rises or falls largely based on how good your craft supplies are, so I charged $5 per kid and bought some really fabulous stickers, fancy paper, ribbon and netting, as well as raiding the library’s supply of lace and ribbon. Some things I learned:

You need at least two staff people who know exactly what they’re doing, no matter how many parents and helpers you have.

Doing dresses and crowns is too much, one or the other would be plenty.

Allow at least 2 hours for this program (I didn’t, and very much regret it).

Remind everyone at least three times that they have to leave the holes clear for lacing it up!

Have fun and be glamorous!

Story Time for Two Year Olds

So today, let’s visit my current specialty (in that it’s the program I do most often at this job), story time for two year olds. We call it Tales for Twos, and you can too (it’s not like we invented it)!

The main thing I notice about two year olds (as opposed to their younger or older selves), is that they have discovered shyness in a big way. And quietness. So sometimes story time with twos is very quiet at first (not necessarily, and usually not for the whole time, but they often take some warming up to get participatory). So let the parents know that they really have to participate, or even more than usual, you may be singing all by yourself, which is a little lonely!

As always, good opening and closing songs or rhymes that you repeat every week are necessary items on your program, my regular song is something I learned at my last library, and I’m not familiar with it anywhere online, but you can find lots of other good ones on youtube, or you can make one up! A colleague of mine at my first library made this opening rhyme up:

Up, down,
Turn around,
Touch the sky,
Touch the ground,
Wiggle fingers,
Wiggle toes,
Wiggle shoulders,
Say hello!

Very simple and you can do actions as big or as small as you like!

As to a story time format, my twos ones usually go like this:

Opening song
Name tag song (where we hand out name tags, since our program is pre-registered)
Short, interesting book
Noisy, active song
Quieter book
Quieter song or rhyme
Sometimes another book here
Then a very simple craft, usually colouring with stickers or something
Then some parachute time, or sometimes a simple obstacle course
Then our goodbye song.

It is, of course, open to change and sometimes we only read one book because they’re so crazy, and sometimes we read four, or have two or three and a flannel board (because I’m kind of a flannel board diva–not making them, but telling stories with them).

A couple of good themes (with books and some songs or rhymes):

Things that Go
Byron Barton, My Car and My Bus
Babs Bell, Sputter, Sputter, Sput
Jane Cabrera, The Wheels on the Bus
Songs/rhymes: there are various I’m a Little Pickup Truck, I’m a Train, etc. songs and rhymes out there, but I’ve never found any that work really well with my Twos. The best I’ve used is “This Little Train” from SurLaLune Storytime’s Train theme, but even it didn’t work too well. My favourite for this theme, other than the Wheels on the Bus, is to sing “If you’re a car/truck/train and you know it” (honk, stop, go, get a wash, etc.)–all my Twos seem to know If You’re Happy and You Know It, so we sing variations on that a lot.

Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Denise Fleming, In the Tall, Tall Grass
Petr Horacek, Butterfly, Butterfly: a Book of Colors
Songs and rhymes: Eeensy, Weensey Spider, the Ants Go Marching, Little Miss Muffet

Have fun!

Flannel Board Stories

A lot of people seem to find flannel boards terrifying. The thing to remember about flannel boards is that the flannel is kind of irrelevant–what matters is whether you can tell a story or not. That might make it sound even more terrifying, but it isn’t really. A little practise, a lot of funny voices and a few of your own phrases, and you too can tell flannel board stories. I have a couple that I’ve made myself, but mostly I just use pre-made ones–whatever my current library happens to own. I have a few rhymes and songs, but mostly folk and fairy tales. Here are a couple of things I learned from a wonderful and now retired librarian in Washington, DC, who was a storyteller par excellance and a few I’ve learned on my own:

1. Be flamboyant.
2. Be noisy (remember that story time is the one place that quiet never applies, at least for the person who’s presenting/performing it).
3. It’s perfectly okay to ‘cheat’ on your pieces–you are not expected to be the Rembrandt of felt board artists: cut them out of discarded books and glue felt on the back or trace shapes on to felt (or use an Accucut or similar machine, if you are lucky enough to have access to one–I have a lovely five little snowmen made mostly with an Accucut and glitter glue).
4. Repetition is never a bad thing. So what if you did it two weeks ago?
5. If you forget, make it up–just do it with confidence, and your audience will think it’s intentional.

Most of all, remember: chutzpah is your friend!

A decision (and summer reading club outreach)

Okay, I’ve decided I need to become serious about this. I will post something children’s-library related at least once a week, because otherwise having a blog is just silly!

  We’re in the middle of summer reading club promotion at the moment. Like many Canadian libraries, we use the TD Summer Reading Club, and at my library, we launch on the day school ends, which here in most of Ontario is this Thursday. Tomorrow I have my last class visit to promote the club, and by the end of my visits, we will have seen over 1,000 students, mostly grades K-3, but a few older kids as well. Judging by previous years, we are likely to end up with about 100 new participants from that 1,000 (not counting all the returnees), which is not bad at all. What do we do at school visits? I don’t really know what my staff does, but I make a fool of myself, which is exactly what the kids seem to enjoy! I tell jokes, I ask them what their favourite books are, and I read as many silly books (Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems and Weasels by Elys Dolan are this year’s favourites for grades 2 and up) as I can cram in. If possible, I also drop things a lot, wear large cool earrings and/or a bobbly headband, and otherwise behave in a manner entirely suitable to a children’s librarian, but not many other people. The awesome thing about visiting in schools is that you do not have to be authoritative. Leave that to the teachers, your job is to be amazingly fun!

A few story time tips

So, in my professional life, I’m a children’s librarian. And what’s more, I’m a children’s librarian who does a pretty awesome story time. My favourite thing is to walk into a room full of kids anywhere from 4-10 with a bag of books, and give them more fun with reading and singing than they ever knew was possible. If you’re an experienced children’s library staff person, you probably won’t learn much from me, but if you aren’t, yet need to read aloud to groups of kids, keep these things in mind.

1. Silly is always a good thing. My favourite brand of silly is Mo Willems (especially Elephant and Piggy) or Jan Thomas: you can read aloud There’s a Bird on my Head or The Doghouse to almost anyone, so long as you do it dramatically enough, and you will be a rockstar. I’ve done both books with kids up to grade six, and they all always think it’s awesome. This leads to my next thing:

2. A little (or a lot) of drama never hurts. Unless you’re reading aloud to infants, you should always really scream, shout, yell, roar or sing when the character in the book does. This works especially well with school groups, who aren’t used to apparently normal grownups suddenly making tons of noise.

3. You need to take Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes to every story-reading event you do for children four and up. And you need to make sure you know the song, really well, and be prepared to read this more than once. This is a book that gets grades K-3 classes on their feet screaming for more.

4. For grades 2 and up, Once Upon a Motorcycle Dude is a pretty awesome title. 

5. With babies, sing. Especially if it’s in a daycare setting where the babies outnumber the adults. Even if you aren’t much of a singer, learn some simple songs and just sing your heart out. 

6. Never underestimate the power of the parachute: they are awesome things to have at story time, and any old nonsense will do as a parachute song: I just sing things like “we wave it very fast”, “we wave it very slow”, etc. to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell, and everyone thinks it’s fabulous. A lot of baby bouncing rhymes work really well, too.

7. For a large group, a dramatically told flannel board story is a must. Just remember to be really loud, gesture a lot, and try and get some jokes for the adults to laugh at in (and I don’t mean inappropriate stuff, just little digs that the kids won’t necessarily understand), and have a good sappy happy ending. It doesn’t matter what your flannel board pieces look like, it matters how you tell the story.

8. For large story time groups (50+), have as many action songs as possible (and use a recording to sing along with if you can), do things like singing ABCs and spelling or counting on a flannel board, and don’t try to read too much–a couple of simple books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear… or I Went Walking plus a flannel board story are the limit. I did very successful story times for 50-250 people for several years in the US, and if you’d like a more detailed idea of what to do if you’re looking at crowds like that, don’t hesitate to contact me.

9. Never be afraid to just stop if something isn’t working.