Category Archives: Children

Analog clocks

I’m worried that analog clocks, which I personally prefer to digital, will be going the way of the dinosaurs.

The computer sign-in sheet for the children’s room computers is on the end of the librarian’s desk; I have thoughtfully provided a pencil and an analog clock for kids to log the time when they sign in.  Thoughtfully, because I like to encourage kids to practice their clock reading skills.  But I do get a lot of grief from kids about this clock, and they frequently ask me what time it is.  For the younger ones, I talk them through how to tell the time on the clock.  Sometimes I talk the older kids through, too, but most often I encourage them to think about it for a minute and they usually get it.

Yesterday, an eighth grade girl (a regular in the children’s room) was signing in for the computer, and she casually asked me “What time is it?”

With a smile, I replied, “The clock is right there…”

“I know, but…”  [heavy, heavy sigh]

Me:  “Well, think about what time you get out of school, since you just got out, and see if that helps you figure it out.”

Another heavy sigh.

And then the boy next to her whispered, “It’s 2:26.”

I may lose this clock battle, and, more importantly, the analog clock might lose – sooner than we think.

Best art project ever…

Well, ok, maybe it’s not the *best* art project ever (how could I pick a favorite, really?), but today’s process art project was phenomenally fun, and also a great example of the cool things that you can do with art in a preschool storytime.

I’ve never been a fan of craft projects as part of storytime, since it pains me to limit the imagination of those beautiful four and five year old minds: one predetermined “right” final product teaches kids early on that there is a right way and wrong way with art.  How dismally depressing for the child who struggles to achieve the perfect final result while others are creating exactly what the teacher/librarian/adult prescribed.  And how limiting for those who are more dextrous, those who have the fine motor skills to really push their artistic bounds.

And so I’ve gone with process art projects, which have been incredibly fun and satisfying for everyone, adults and kids.  [Thanks, as usual, to Mary Ann Kohl and her book Preschool Art for providing the projects and the inspiration.]  Today we went with more of a group project than usual and made salad spinner art – page 217 in Kohl’s book – and I have to admit I was a little worried before storytime by how this project would work.  I never know exactly how many kids will be at the preschool storytime (today we had five), and it can be hard for kids of this age to work together and have patience while everyone has a turn creating.  But I also felt that it was important to try, and so we all shared one salad spinner to make our art.

It was fantastic.  Truly fantastic.  All five kids were great about taking turns, and everyone was fully involved in the process of each piece of art.  How would those two colors work put next to each other like that?  How would the super fast turning of the salad spinner by the child in charge affect the end result?  What about the child who chose to turn it slowly – would the paint look different than the super fast turning?  And, best of all, the questions about why the paint was doing what it was doing – moving us into a gentle discussion of force and motion.

It was so much fun, in fact, that even the adults were anxious to take a turn after the kids were finished.  One adult discovered the magic of turning the spinner first one way, then the next, which gave a completely different look to the paint on the paper.  Which then drove some of the kids to ask to make just one more, please, in which they experimented with alternating rotation and also with more bold placement of color on the page.  So we talked not just about art, but also about science and color mixing (I got out the color paddles from the STEM kit) and we also learned how to use an eye dropper.*

We kept at it for a full forty-five minutes, and I think many of the families will be going home and finding an old salad spinner to experiment with on their own.  It was awesome.

*  N.B.:  the eye droppers were the one change I made from Kohl’s directions in the book; we have eye droppers on hand, and I thought it would be cool to introduce the kids to using them.  And it worked!

In praise of elementary students

I never, never, never post on this blog from work – but I have to take a brief moment today to say “hurray!” for the three great classes that just visited from the elementary school.  Two second grade classes came for a visit together, and they were so fun and so well behaved – I had a great time with them.  And then a third grade class just came for a tour of the library, and I was blown away by how attentive they were and by what great questions they asked.

What a great morning I’ve had with these visiting students!  And I can’t wait to meet the terrific first and fourth graders who will be visiting me this afternoon!

Still here…

Yes, I’m still here – but I’m finding that my still-healing broken foot is limiting my evening creativity.  While at work, I think of things that would be awesome blog post topics: a very young child who says or does something charming, a book group that takes the book discussion to a new level, an idea for a new program.  But I can’t write blog posts at work, and by the time I get home I’m a bit cooked, mentally and physically, after stumping around at the library all day with the walking boot on my foot.

So here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks:

  • Lots of storytimes, which have been especially crowded now that the gloom of winter and cabin fever has set in for everyone.  Last week there were forty-one adults and kids at the Thursday storytime, which is about the limit of what we can fit into the story room.  But it’s such a nice group of attendees, all of whom participate enthusiastically.  There was a wonderful moment at one recent storytime where every single adult in the room was belting out (in harmony, of course!) “Where is Thumbkin?”.  Very very cool.
  • Lots of great book groups.  Of course I’ve waited too long to write up coherent retellings of each book group discussion, so I’ll just sum up each one quickly.  The 5th grade group read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, and eleven out of twelve kids disliked the book because it was “too slow.”  The teen book group read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, and while talking about what kind of book it is I discovered that most of the group had never heard of caviar, creme brulee, or Agatha Christie.  The 4th grade group discussed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, and they unanimously loved it.  (They were also happy to hear that a book they read earlier this year, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, was the winner of this year’s Newbery award.)  And the 6th grade group discussed Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, which they mostly loved; it interested me that they were all surprised to find out that Brian Selznick both wrote and illustrated the book – the group members thought that he was only the author.
  • And then there are the random things: sweet moments at the art portion of the storytime for 4’s & 5’s (a five year old discovering that he can “erase” his painting and start fresh, thus prolonging the creative experience); an eighteen month old finding his dancing legs and grinning ecstatically while bobbing up and down to some Zydeco; two sweet girls at the Create a Valentine program surprising me with Valentine cards (one said “Feel Better!” and the other – launched at my back – was emblazoned with “Guess Who???”…the artist finally came over and told me she had made it, since I was clearly confused); and the daily niceties of working in a small town filled with caring people.

Hopefully my foot will be fully healed soon (eight weeks and counting right now, this is a loooooooong process), but until then please forgive me if I have lapses of blog entries.  I’m still here!

Ah, I wish…

At this morning’s storytime, one mom told me that she was watching Downton Abbey yesterday, and she talked with her young daughter a bit about the show.  As the credits were rolling, the daughter asked her mom if that was where Abby the librarian lived. 

Ah, I wish…

Little Books

I’ve written many times before about my success stories using projects from MaryAnn Kohl’s book Preschool Art: It’s the Process, Not the Product – enough times that I’ve felt a bit redundant in my praise of Kohl and her book – but yesterday’s experience at storytime was good enough to warrant yet another post on the topic.

With my broken foot, I’ve struggled with how to continue with art projects in the weekly Art & Stories for 4’s & 5’s storytime.  Last week, I was still on crutches, so I thought long and hard and finally decided to go with an old standard project: rolls of paper laid out on the floor, kids lie on the paper, adults trace the outline of each child, and then the kids color in their tracings.  Huge success!  No set up for me – no tables, no stress, the parents did the tracings of the kids – and the kids kept going for forty-five minutes with their artwork.  (Of course, this makes total sense, since four and five year olds are still quite self-focused, and working on a self-portrait at that age completely fits their developmental level.)

So last week’s art project was terrific, and I was feeling the pressure yesterday to come up with a similarly awesome project.  But I’m still pretty gimpy: off the crutches, but hobbling around on a walking boot that comes up almost to my knee.  I knew I would be able to drag some tables out of the closet, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to sort through our stacks and stacks of awesome art supplies in order to set up a complex project.  What to do??!?!

A paper-only project seemed in order (especially since my coworker Carol, a recently retired teacher, had just donated three grocery bags full of the most gorgeous construction paper I have ever seen), so I opened up Kohl’s book, flipped to January’s projects as a starting point, and ka-bam.  There it was:  Little Books.  The only prep necessary was to use the paper cutter to cut some white copy paper down to half size, and also to cut some sheets of construction paper down to half size, and then I dug out pencils, markers, and some staplers.  The idea (without giving away Kohl’s project instructions – you REALLY should buy her book if you don’t already own it!) was to have the kids and their grownups work together to construct a little book.  Then the grownups stepped back and let the kids create the insides of the books.

Before we started on the project, I talked to the group about the process they would be going through.  One wise little boy, upon hearing that he would be creating a book, said, “But I don’t know how to write words!!!!”  And so I talked about how there are many wonderful books that tell their stories only with pictures, no words.  Perhaps, I suggested, if the kids knew how to write their names, they could do that, but otherwise they could just fill up the pages with pictures.

And they did.  And they kept going and going and going.  Some kids talked out loud as they created, telling anyone who would listen what their book was about, while other kids hunched over their creations so that no one could spy on their artwork as it was in process.  We started the project at 2:25, and several kids were still going strong at 3:15…and they would have kept going for quite a while if it hadn’t been time to pick up their older siblings at the elementary school.  Only a reassurance that there were markers and pencils at home to use kept these last artists from having a meltdown at having to step away from their book before it was finished.

Another huge success.  Now to find another project for next week that meets the criteria of helping a gimpy librarian run a great art project.  Thankfully, I have the resource to find that awesome project!

Happy Cookies

Two days ago we got invited to a party with the Stanley Cup at the Garden (the photo of Jim and me with the Cup is here), which was very, very cool.  While we were sitting at a table at the party, I noticed that the kids in attendance were totally jazzed about the special Bruins cookies that party guests could pick up after getting their photo taken.  “Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, “I know Jim and Bill and Judy and I aren’t going to eat our Bruins cookies…what if I brought them to the library and raffled them off to the library kids who come every day after school?  Hmmmmm…”  Especially perfect for a library, since the Bruins were the official sponsors of the Massachusetts summer reading program for the last three summers.

So I carefully carried home three of the cookies, making sure not to crack them or melt the frosting, and first thing yesterday morning I put them on display at the children’s desk with raffle tickets and a bucket (and the photo of me and Jim with the Cup), asking that only kids enter and that each kid only enter once.

And, boy, was that raffle a hit.  I had planned to draw the three winning names at 4:00 this afternoon, but one of my favorite fifth graders came up to me at 3:30 and said, “Abby.  When are you drawing the names for the cookies.”  Not a question, mind you, but a statement.  I told  her I was planning on 4:00, and she looked me in the eye and didn’t say anything.  “Are you leaving before 4?” I asked.  Yes was the answer, so I told her that I would just ask the other kids in the room if they had entered the raffle – to give everyone a fair shot – and that I would then draw the names.

A few minutes of happy chaos ensued, as the dozen or so afterschool kids swarmed the desk so that they could each fill out a raffle ticket.  I had thought that maybe I would duck into my office to quietly pull the winning names, but as I looked around it was obvious that was NOT an option: the crowd wanted to witness the drawing to be sure it was fair.  So I took a deep breath and pulled the name…of a child who wasn’t in attendance.  Time to move fast – the crowd looked ready to turn on me.  I drew the second name – of a fifth grade boy who clearly is a huge Bruins fan.  He chose his cookie (the Stanley Cup cookie) with triumph, and I drew the last name.  This time a sweet third grader won, and grinned from ear to ear as he chose his cookie (the Bruins banner).

Luckily, the non-winners were mostly older kids and all excellent sports, bearing their cookie loss with aplomb.  And joy, too, because it was such a fun spontaneous moment that none of us had expected on a rainy afternoon.  The fifth grade winner let his friends look at his cookie before leaving happily, and the third grader spent a good half hour looking at books on the shelves while holding tightly on to his cookie.

And then an hour or so later, the little girl whose name I drew first came in, and I asked her if she had gotten my phone message.  No, she said, looking puzzled, so I held up her cookie and told her that she had won.  She was so happy that she couldn’t speak – she went over to her mom with the cookie, all smiles and shining eyes.  The family stayed looking at books for a while, and the little girl held her cookie the whole time, cracking it a bit in the plastic bag while she thought out loud about how she would eat it: a little bit each night, with some ice cream.  Kind of reminded me of Frances holding the Chompo bar on her way home from the store…

All in all, it was much, much more fun than if we grownups had eaten the cookies Tuesday night! 

Wednesday was another day

So Monday’s storytime was a bit rough…but then I did the exact same storytime lesson plan on Wednesday, with a group of similar composition (i.e., ages and number of children), and it went very well.  Though the two stories I read were long, this group was able to stay attentive; though there are a fair number of newbies in the group, the group dynamic was focused for most of the twenty minutes.  This was good, since it reassured me that I’m not crazy and this lesson plan on hats can be used successfully with this group, but it also made me think that I should have changed tactics a bit more midway through the Monday storytime.  If I had stopped and deliberately encouraged everyone to stick it out, rather than keep rolling as if there weren’t a problem, if I had addressed the unraveling of the group directly, then perhaps the entire storytime could have been resurrected.  I did think about doing this, but I didn’t want any one parent to feel self-conscious or singled out, so I decided to just keep on going.

What is the best solution?  Stop and talk about the meltdown when it’s happening, or keep going and give the parents and caregivers time and freedom to address inattention without feeling singled out?  The “keep going” option has always, always worked for me before…but perhaps there are just times when it’s not the way to go.

About reading…and books…

I’m trying to squeeze some adult books back into my reading diet, and am currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma.  Today, after working the last Friday that the library will be open until the fall, I came home and chipped away at The Reading Promise (after falling asleep, book in hand, for a bit, since I couldn’t sleep last night and am pooped).  I really like the subject of the book – a father reading aloud to his daughter for eight years – and have enjoyed the book so far.  In my usual manner, though, I flipped to the end of the book after getting to page seventy-six this afternoon (I know, it’s a bad habit, but one I can’t seem to break) and read the account of how Ozma’s father left his position of school librarian under pressure from his principals.  Her father is clearly a man who values reading aloud, and was told by his principals (his work load had been doubled by the addition of a second school) that he could only read one picturebook to each class, for no more than five or ten minutes.  Ozma quotes her father as saying, “The most frustrating part…is that reading has become irrelevant.”

I know what he means, which saddens me, but I also do hold out some hope.  The truth in what he says is evidenced every day after school at the library where I work, which is a public library but located on the school campus, so that we get many students at the library after school lets out.  I hear from these elementary school students, over and over again, “Abby, I’m BORED!”  To which I suggest, gently, that they take a look at some of the great books in the children’s room.  And I often get rolled eyes in response, since what “I’m bored” really means here is, “The only internet-access computer in the children’s room that we’re allowed to play games on is being used by someone else.”  So then I’ll counter with a suggestion to look at one of the good children’s magazines that we have on the shelves, or perhaps even to do their homework.  But then comes a heavy sigh and a repetition of, “I’m bored.”  At those moments, I do feel like reading has become irrelevant for a certain portion of today’s kids.

But then I remind myself what I used to do after school each day, and it usually wasn’t read.  I liked to have a nice snack first thing after getting home, then sometimes I’d watch a bit of bad daytime T.V., then, if the weather was good, I’d go outside and either play with other kids in the neighborhood or play by myself in the backyard.  Or, if the weather was bad, I’d often do some kind of art project, like work on my collection of paper shoes (hand-decorated paper “slides” that were held together with staples).  Reading, though, was usually a weekend and vacation activity for me; but it wasn’t where I headed after a long day of sitting still at school.

And here’s where my hope for this rising generation of readers comes in:  I know many, many kids who come to the library after school who literally get lost in the stacks.  I’ll know that I’ve seen Brenda come in to the children’s room, but when her mom comes to pick her up, neither of us can find her.  Until we look through the stacks and find Brenda curled up against a bookshelf, nose in a book, completely oblivious to the world around her.  Brenda and her peers are far more dedicated readers than I ever was, and I turned out ok when it comes to reading.  So even though there is a push to have more technology instruction in schools, and even though some schools have emptied their libraries of books, I really do believe that there are enough passionate readers growing up in our society to keep books and reading alive and healthy for many more years.  And hopefully libraries, too.

The Lightning Thief…again…

It’s great that the book group members have nominated, voted on, and then chosen all of the books they have read and will be reading this school year, but this month I’m feeling a little gloomy personally about their choices.  Notice that I said “personally,” because I’m only talking about me – I think the choices are great for the kids in the groups.  Today we’re discussing The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, a book that has gotten a lot of reluctant boy readers very jazzed about reading.  And then they go on to read the rest of the series, and then other books, and it’s all good.  The Lightning Thief also introduces readers to Greek mythology, inspiring some to then go to the source and read “real” Greek mythology, which is very cool.  But, and this is where my personal opinion comes in, we’ve discussed this particular book in several book groups over the past few years, and I’m totally sick of discussing this book.  I’ve read it so many times that I didn’t even bother to re-read it this weekend – especially since I thought I might be nauseous if I did.  I have nothing against this book, I’m just tired of it.  And it doesn’t really lead to great book group discussions, at least it hasn’t in the past. 

So maybe I should have told the kids that we wouldn’t be reading it…but that doesn’t seem fair.  I wanted them to have ownership of their book choices, and the entire group was excited about this book.  If I had come in and said, “No, we’re not discussing that book,” then the whole tenor of the book selection process would have changed.  Which means that we’re discussing it today, and that it will probably come up again in some future group.  Arrgh.

And then the 6th grade choice for this month is another well-worn book group book, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  Yawn.  Again.