Saturday, August 25, 2012

Story Times

Don't get me wrong, we love our library volunteers. From the wonderful folks who plan and execute adult programs, to the lady who quietly stamps discards and marks out bar codes and adds them to the shelves to be sold, we couldn't quite function without them. There are times, though, when well-meaning people offer their services to do something we a) can't legally have them do, or b) find the most enjoyable part of our job.
"Doing" story time definitely falls under the second category (working the circulation desk, which gives you access to people's personal information, would fall under the first). There are certainly times when we welcome guest readers, but most Children's Librarians are loathe to give up the 'fun' part of their job (why does no one ever offer to write my monthly reports?) There is also the tiny little detail that "doing" story time involves a bit more than sitting down with a picture book and a rapt audience. In fact, it is...and I have to say it on behalf of my fellow Children's Librarians...a bit insulting to boil down our college degrees, librarian certifications, and years of experience, to something anyone with a third grade reading level could do.
Oh, dear, I can't write that without sounding like I am looking for praise. I'm really not. What I do is not insanely complicated, and it's not something you have to be especially gifted or talented to do. It's not even something I do especially well, if you have been around enough other librarians to compare. It's just that, when people ask us what we did today, and we say we prepared for story times, they often look at us expectantly, waiting for us to say what we did with the other 7.5 hours of our day.
So, here are the steps I take to plan a typical story time, just to give a general idea. Every librarian does things differently, of course, vastly differently. Sometimes we have old favorites that we can pull out in ten minutes - but, before they became favorites, they probably took half a day to plan, also!
Step 1 - Theme. For the past few years, we have focused on a different letter each week. This year, I decided to go with favorite authors. This meant making a list of authors who had at least 3 or 4 picture books, making sure I had a balance of old and new, male and female, etc. I tried not to pay attention to ethnicity until the list was done, then checked for balance there. As I planned further, some authors came off the list, and enough others were added that I have next year taken care of, too!
Step 2 - Choosing Books and Subtheme(s)- Okay, so, for the first week, we have Mem Fox. I gathered all the books we had in our collection, and re-read each one. All her books are delightful, but some are too long for a story time. Some are not appropriate for the age group. Some are better when read one-on-one. I finally whittled it down to a handful that I really liked (this is VERY important - if you don't like them, the kids will be able to tell, and the whole thing will flop!) Then I looked for a subtheme - colors? Family? Repetition? There doesn't HAVE to be a subtheme every time. You don't HAVE to teach a reading or math or science concept every time, but it's nice if you do, and can help everything flow together.
I stumbled on my subtheme while doing the next step...
Step 3 - Author Research. Obviously not necessary if you aren't choosing by authors, but still fun. Many authors have their own web sites and/or blogs, and I hit the jackpot with Mem Fox. Seriously, when you are done here, go to and be prepared to lose the rest of your afternoon. My happiest find is that she gives the story behind many of her stories, and they are very definitely stories in and of themselves. Eureka! My subtheme is how authors choose what to write about, and how it isn't always easy but they don't give up.
I printed out a picture of her, jotted down some tidbits about her life kids might find interesting, and printed out her stories behind each of the books I had selected. 
Step 4 - Organize the Stories. When I looked at the story-behind-the-stories together, they created a natural flow and segue from book to book. Here is where I usually add some personal touches. This is very important. You do not want to just be a figure up in the front of the room reading a story, you want to be Miss A., who remembers that you lost your first tooth last week, and who has a silly little girl of her own who has the same sparkly red shoes you do. You want these children (and their parents) to feel absolutely comfortable asking where to find a certain book, or if you have any information on x, y, or z. You also want to model reading and writing skills to both the kids and their caregivers, and, you know what? When I tell a story about what my bad dog did, and then little Johnny tells me about something HIS dog did, we just worked on those skills! And it didn't hurt a bit!
Step 5 - Props? Again, something you don't HAVE to have, but kids are usually visual, tactile little creatures, so they can only help. Unless you bring your tortoises in for "Emma's Turtle", and they pee all over the stage, but that's another blog post. For this story time, which includes the story Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge,
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
I decided to bring in some items from home that hold memories for me. For Laura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living With Your Monster,
Laura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your Monster
a few weeks later, I made a large copy of the monster, attached it to a bigger board with Velcro tabs all around, and then made each of the items he will need, for the kids to add as they come up in the story.  That took about an hour to make - and will occupy ten minutes of story time, tops.
Step 6 - Craft/Activity. This one can take the longest to plan, just because it can be hard to find the right craft. It has to be something 2-3-year-olds can do with minimal help, but can't be so easy that they are finished too quickly. The materials should be inexpensive or already be on hand. Just coloring does not go over well with a large percentage of kids. There should be plenty of room for creativity. Perhaps most importantly, you don't want to overly annoy the custodian, or anyone who may be using the room after you.
I planned to end with Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes,
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes lap board book
and I wanted to do something with hand and possibly footprints. The problem is, we have done a million handprint projects for various Mothers' Days, and even if they would be new to the kids, I am bored with them. I cruised various favorite craft sites I have bookmarked, sent out a query on a list serve, and finally decided to make flowers, using our feet for leaves and hands for the flowers - which will segue nicely into next week's story time, when our Eve Bunting story time begins with Flower Garden.
Flower Garden
Step 7 - Gather/Prepare Supplies. I will have one row of tables for those who want to use paint, and one for those who prefer sticking with markers. Figure on 40 kids for now, and spend an hour painting stems on big paper, so those are already done. List the other things I will need to have out and ready: Paint in bowls, paint brushes or sponges, the prepared paper, wet and dry rags, big t-shirts to cover our clothes, markers, soap, a stool next to the sink. Some of these things are always in the craft room, the others go into a box along with the list, with the date neatly labeled. Pull the books I am reading now, so they aren't checked out when the time comes, and on the day of story time, pull all the rest of her books to display. Send myself an e-mail, reminding myself to bring props from home (and to call the people with llamas to see if I can have some fur to show when we do Anna Dewdney).
And there you have one hour-long story time (give or take). The planning part of it, anyway - all done in between helping patrons, writing reports, ordering books, and all the other things we do all day. The good part is - I enjoy all of that! I think every children's librarian needs to be a little scattered and a little anal-retentive at the same time. If that sounds like you, then you may want to consider becoming a children's librarian, so you can "do" your own story times - because you can't have mine! (And, R.S., I think you are both of those things in plenty, so stop sweating it! You'll be great!)

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Candy Bedroom - Who Could Argue With That?

C.'s room has been a hot air balloon/cars and trucks mash-up for a couple years, and was due for a change. We tossed a few ideas around, but his eyes didn't light up until I suggested his most recent movie obsession: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I thought it was a great idea until I started looking for things. Try Googling "candy bedroom" or any variation, and you get a lot of little-girl-pink things. Even Pinterest didn't have much under "candy decorations" or "giant candy" or even the movie title. That's okay, if there's one thing I know, it's candy!
All week, I have been spending my lunch hours making things, and today while C. was at school, unbeknownst to him, I put it all together.
Before - bed and window
I had already switched the bedspreads over from airplanes to a candy stripe, but I couldn't find any candy-themed material for a new valance. Then I realized I was missing an opportunity:
After - bed and window
Chocolate waterfall, with a chocolate river! The sheer curtain was $5, the river is a carpet remnant from the living room. Later I will add a floor-to-ceiling tube at the end of the river, with PVC pipe and brown paint. I'll attach it to the floor and ceiling with L-brackets, and possibly attach hooks for belts, light sabers, etc.
Here is a close-up of the giant candy:
Plastic bowls and plates ($2 for 4) hot-glued together, wrapped in cellophane from the giftwrap department, hung from hooks with fishing line. The one idea I did get from Pinterest! The candy bar is painted foam board.
The sign C. made himself at Grandma's - crayon pieces glued to a board and hit with a hair dryer for a while.
The closet doors had car and truck decals on them before. L.'s crib will go where you see the bookshelves, so I needed something that would look cool, but still be out of reach.
Before - closet
After - closet
 Lots of foam board here. The suckers are foam circles wrapped in fabric, and the stems are $1 pool noodles sliced in half. The candy orange slice and gumdrops are painted - each took about three layers of tempera paint. As soon as I put the third layer on, I dusted them with fake snow. When they were dry, I sprayed them with a cheap hairspray to 'set' the snow/sugar.
My plan was to attach everything with the hot glue gun, but IT WOULDN'T STICK! Minor panic, but screws went in just fine - I'll just need to cover those with paint later. I have more candy going on the bottom of the left-hand door, but it's still drying!
In the corner, I painted one of the funky trees you see in the chocolate river room.
I started this while L. was safely strapped into his high chair with a bowl of scrambled eggs. Then I put a chair in front of it. Then I let him down, stood on the chair, and started attaching wires to the wall (roll of wire $3, made a small loop at one end and screwed that into the wall.) Then L., in about half a second, crawled under the chair I was standing on, said "bah!", and smacked both hands into the blue, enamel paint. Before I could get off the chair, he had crawled back across the laminate tile floor, leaving a trail of bright blue handprints. Sigh.
S. was equally helpful all day. By the time Daddy called to check in, I told him if I got any more 'help', I was going to have to burn the house down and start over.
Anyways. The orange balls were some we already had a million of. I just made a hook on the free end of the wire and poked it through. I think they are higher than L. can reach in his crib, but I can unscrew them pretty easily if not!
The nice thing about these trees is that you can do them freehand, because they have no actual shape! I did draw the next one in pencil first, though:

Before - corner wall

And I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out:

After - corner wall

I will be adding white stripes when it dries.
I still have lots to do, mostly painting, and of course a Golden Ticket for the door, but this was all I had finished when it was time to pick up C. at school. I tried emphasizing to S. that she should not tell brother anything, and she made it almost all the way home. " have a 'prise for you! It's in your room, but it's a 'prise!" Well, he has been bugging me for so long, it wasn't hard to guess what we had done - the question was, would he like it?
I'm going to say "yes".


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Week in Review

Monday was the first day of school around here. We now have a first grader and a senior - how did that happen?!

There is reportedly a new girl in first grade. This is a very big deal when there were only four other kids in Kinder last year, all boys, and two have since moved away. C. sits next to her, and that was the very first thing I heard about when I asked how his day went. Then I asked her name. It' SUCH a boy!

No doubt a boy or two made mental note of M's name. Why can't they just stay six? This was taken outside the donut shop before school. M. and Daddy have had breakfast together every first day of school for the past thirteen years!

Of course, S. will NOT be left out of anything the big kids are doing, because she is a big kid, too. Sunday night as C. and I were packing his lunch together, she wailed, "I'm a first grader, too! I have to pack my lunch, too!" Thank goodness for extra lunch boxes. I told her with as much excitement as I could muster that she is now a "preschooler!" She was over the top with that news - whew, crisis averted!

Grandma even had a workbook waiting for her, but S. seems to have decided her curriculum should have more of a Special Ops slant.

Waaaaaaaaaay too proud of herself! Big sister was more upset than S. was, but she quickly took care of things:

Much better!

The rest of the school week went a little more smoothly, ending with a wet, rainy weekend. I stopped at Cadwalladers' * for a few ears of corn...7 dozen for $20.

* The web page isn't terribly up to date, but it will give you their contact info.

Not a bad deal - but what am I going to do with it all?

Fortunately, I had plenty of help in getting it all shucked.

Some helpers were more easily distracted than others.

Hey, what's in here?
Some were a little less help than others.

And some volunteers were politely turned down. And turned loose. Elsewhere.

I didn't get a picture of the skunk. Apparently the area outside my kitchen door is party central at night!

Cadwalladers don't spray with pesticides, which is nice. It does mean, however, that you will get the occasional - well, pest. Every time I came across a worm, S. would coo, "Ohhhhhhh, he's so cuuuuuuuuuute!" She was very happy that I was saving them in a jar. Let's not tell her I am saving them to feed to the geckos, 'kay?

Just cut the tips off, and the rest of the ear is perfectly good. Worms for the geckos, tips for the chickens, and the husks are drying to become chicken coop bedding. If you're squeamish, you should probably stick with grocery store produce. If you want your food to have some actual TASTE, though, get some of this!

Mmm...check out that color - with no artificial anything, thank-you very much. And the flavor! Daddy said it was some of the best corn on the cob he has had in ages. I have to agree. We gave away a bunch, ate a bunch, and still ended up with 3 dozen frozen on-the-cob (blanch for 4-6 minutes, flash freeze, then pack into freezer bags), two bags of off-the-cob, one bag of corn and bell peppers, and four bags of corn and bean salsa. I'm trying to use vacuum seal bags more. For foods with liquid in them, like the salsa, just freeze it with the bag open overnight, and then vacuum seal. More expensive than Ziplocs, but longer lasting, too!

We finished just in time to enjoy the rain:

Such a good big brother! I love that they play so well together.

How is her shirt dry???

Into dry clothes again, and on to baking. S. was big help with the chocolate cupcakes, which we had to make to go along with Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake.

And then, it was time for the fair! Lots of rides,

Note change of outfits again. There was some more playing outside in the interim.

Dang height rules.
I don't need no stinkin' help!

Checking the leg room.

S. kept screaming, "Can't somebody stop this thing?!?" while grinning and laughing hysterically. Fortunately, the ride operator chose to ignore her.

A brief moment when neither of them was stretched over the side, splashing in the water, with Mommy poised to jump in after them.

And, of course, there were animals:

S. was in LOVE with the goats.

She gave them all hugs (any that would let her), but this one was a definite favorite.

Looking around for something to feed her.

This morning she told Daddy that we shouldn't keep the raccoons, because "they would bite us," but that "we need a goat!" We have neighbors with pygmy goats, including a baby, and there is a near riot if I don't stop every morning so they can say hello to it. I have the feeling I know what our next pet will be...

This one was finding its own food.

S. had promised Daddy she would kiss a pig. This one is already smiling in anticipation. I didn't get a shot of the exact moment...

Just the afterward. They all look pretty pleased, though.