Friday, November 18, 2011

Mr Fox and Me

 Posted this on "The Library Lady Rants" last year, and thought it should be here instead.
BTW, I did find the original mask.....

I do lots of fox books in November--there are so many terrific stories that foxes tends to get 2 programs, especially since there are several books that involve foxes AND turkeys.

One of my favorite stories to do has always been "Mr Bun", as originally told by Heather Forrest--it's on her album "Sing Me A Story" and you can hear a sample of it HERE.  Years ago, we turned it into a puppet show and our talented assistant made us a bun puppet.

The story is basically a Russian version of "The Gingerbread Boy" and it ends with, you guessed it, a fox. But instead of using a fox puppet, our assistant made me a wonderful furry mask--complete with ears, nose, etc, and I put it on at the end of the show. It's been wonderful for doing this story as a storytelling with puppets thing for many years.

And now it's disappeared. Can't find it anywhere in my storage. And I couldn't make another one.
Or could I?

Not one like Jason made me. But back then, I didn't have the Internet and now I do.
Thanks to a pattern on a wonderful English site called Activity Village I found a "Fabulous Mr Fox" pattern.
I printed it and cut it out then, decided I could use it as the basis of a foam mask--like the ones I made this summer for various programs. Not sure I showed those on the blog, come to think of it.

This is their finished product.

And this is mine, though I haven't added the whiskers yet.
Not sure that I want to.

If you want to see more details, I've added a slideshow of the mask being made below.

But pretty good for someone who can't draw, hmm?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Toddler Programs, Or I Thrive On Chaos

Hey, someone's reading this blog! Got the following heart rending e-mail the other day:

Can you offer any tips on crowd control during toddler storytime? My preschool groups are great but the toddler/baby demographic has become out of control. What do you say to parents before and during storytime to keep them engaged??

Well, basically,I don't do toddler "storytimes". The one exception to this is the series of 4 programs I do every June, and that's for a limited group (20 max), age range 20-24 months (so they are nearly 2) and the same group each week. It's a controlled group, I know the kids and know the parents. I know who participates and who doesn't, which parents/nannies are treasures and which are pains in my toches who let their kids run amok or are purely there to hang out with other moms and will never look at a book on my shelf. I can plan accordingly.

The rest of the year it's a crapshoot. The ages of the kids vary from barely 12 month olds to the 23/24 month olds who really aren't toddlers any more. Their parents/caregivers range from those who really believe in what I do to those who are there because their employer has sent them there and/or they are using me as a free filller between the other programs these poor mites are scheduled into when they should be out in the park or home with a basket of toys and books!

My hat is off to those of you who use books in your toddler programs,  but I don't think that toddlers for the most part get much out of a group reading of a book unless ALL THE ADULTS PARTICIPATE AND INTERACT WITH THEIR CHILDREN.

Odds on that happening, in my experience (and yes, I've been around a bit) are low and from what I see of parents/caregivers, don't seem to be getting better with the years. Sigh....

So I do "Mother Goose Time", a half hour of songs, rhymes and games all designed to foster language development skills, which are part of the pre-reading process. It's all interactive, which to me is key in working with toddlers. And here's what I've learned the hard way:

1)Start your program by having all parents/caregivers TURN OFF THEIR PHONES.
Yes, I know that should be obvious, but it's not. I've had mothers/fathers/nannies texting, etc during programs and last spring had The Stupidest Mother I've Ever Dealt With (really) letting her child play with the phone during the program--and it started ringing!
I have taken to pulling out my phone and announcing that I'm shutting it off and that everyone else needs to do the same. "This is unplugged time with your child," is my favorite line.

2)Ask adults to put toys, books, etcetera, securely away.
Toddlers are distractable. Last week, one of the moms had a fascinating diaper bag shaped like a bee or something and one of the kids kept going over to pull on it. This morning there was an argument between 2 littles over a board book--I asked parents to put all books in their bags or behind them, and will remember to do the same next week, because this keeps happening with this particular group.

3)Limit books and focus on interactive activities
Insist on a book to set a "theme"? Fine,do that first, when there is still a chance some of the kids will focus on it. Then spend the remainder of your time in activities that engage parents/caregivers in interacting with their children. Rhymes and games require parental attention. Read a book and unless parents/caregivers are willing to actively engage, you have no way of drawing them in. On the other hand, games like "Pat A Cake"  and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" encourage parents to sing along and make hand gestures.

The most unfocused period of my programs is when I go round the circle with animal puppets for "Down on Grandpa's Farm". The kids love this, but because I am going one on one with individual kids, there's nothing for other kids or their parents to do, and the parents start to chat and ignore the kids more often than not. I wouldn't do it but they love the puppets and it's become a regular part of my routine. Speaking of which:

4)Routine: Repeat and Repeat Often
Yes, you (and parents/caregivers) may get tired of singing "The Wheels On the Bus" every week, but the kids love it and expect it. They thrive on routine and ritual, they NEED this kind of structure.
I personally sang "Chanukkah o Chanukkah" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" every night for about 6 months to my older girl when she was around 2. Ritual.Comfort music. When she was 5 and broke her leg she wanted me to sing her "Hush Little Baby" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", her bedtime lullabies for years <3
 Every week we play "Ring Around the Rosie" and repeat it at least twice and could probably do it 3-4 times. While I change rhymes week to week, these two plus a series of "bounce" rhymes are always a part of the program and it gives me a framework for anything else I throw into the program.  And we repeat each rhyme/game at least once, and applaud ourselves--the kids are good at that.
Toddler programs don't need themes. I do change rhymes with the seasons--we've been singing "The Pumpkin Song" since early October, for example, and I have rhymes for rainy days, rhymes for cold days, etcetera. But the core program remains constant. As a result, I don't have to plan heavily for Mother Goose Time.
No one has ever complained about the repetition, BTW, and I've been doing this for years to the point where in some families I am on the second or third child and with some of the nannies we've been through 2 or 3 families together!

5.Learn to Thrive On Chaos If you want nice quiet kids watching you raptly and/or participating just as you expect them to do, you will be miserable doing toddler time. Truthfully, you'll be miserable in any preschool story time (!) but toddler time is the one even skilled preschool programmers often hate/dread because it by nature is never going to be nice and smooth!
Be fully prepared for toddlers who wander around the room--as long as they're not poking/pushing/pulling hair of other kids, it's just toddler behavior.Fully expect to have inattentive kids, ones who participate and the very quiet ones who just sit there.
This last group, btw, are often the kids who go home and talk about what they did, but never say a word at programs!

Today at toddler time I had one little boy who loves to stand right in front of me and watch me, often saying "Hi!", an angelic looking little girl who likes to crawl under my table and is never still, a little girl in a ballet tutu skirt who kept pulling up her shirt and with her little pot belly looked like a "Troll Baby" doll and an almost 2 who cracked me up during "Wheels On the Bus" by the enthusiasm of his "SHHH!" sounds.

I get the little one who wants to play "Ring Around the Rosie" with ME, comments like "we sing that song all the time at home now", the joy of watching a solemn face break into a grin with a peekaboo game, the fun of watching a little boy say "dog" for every animal puppet and then suddenly one day recognize one of them as "duck!" and all the other fun that comes from watching the explosion of development that occurs in this second year of life.

Yup, it's chaos. But it's also a blast.
So have fun with it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Flannel Boards, Plus: "The Witch's Hat"

Some weeks ago, soon after I'd discovered the Flannel Friday folk and the Pinterest boards I wrote a post entitled "Flannel Board Free". My discussion there was really of the flannel board versus the magnet board, though I did mention that I've used them less and less.

But in thinking about the "when to flannelize?" question posed on this blog  I find myself instead wanting to talk about when NOT to flannelize.
I know this may not win me friends among the flannelers, but I am going to be the crank that I am :D and say that most of the time I don't think flannels SHOULD be used.

I admire the gorgeous flannel work I see on the blogs and the Pinterest boards. The detail, the workmanship, a lot of caring goes into them. But too many of them are for stories that have great illustrations and work just fine in the original version

And I think, in these days of the e-book, the DVD player in the car and all the rest, that librarians need more than ever to show the power of the book. To share it with our users to encourage them to do the same thing at home that we do at the library--read with the kids.

So when IS a flannel/magnet board useful?

1)For rhymes, songs and other storytime happenings that don't have a book to go with them. The sort of counting rhyme where you count down by taking away one item at a time--like "5 Little Pumpkins" or "Ten in the Bed" are great for this. The concrete objects can help you lead the song--but you also need to be pointing out to the kids that they have 5--or 10 fingers, depending on the rhyme and that they can count down with you, and there are other parts of the song/rhyme they can help with as well.

2)For books where the text is too small to work with a group, or where there's a great story, but the pictures are either too detailed or too scratchy to work with a group.

3) For any other book when you have a good answer to the key question: "What can I do by using a flannel board that I can't do by using the book?"

And if there's no real answer, probably you shouldn't be making a flannel board.

Here's the sort of book that IS ideal for the flannel board--though I like best to use the board in a combo with some props for this story. Too late for this Halloween, but something you could try next year!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Theme of the Week: It's Novem-Bear!

I am going to remind myself next year that post Halloween groups are zapped out from the excitement all the way through the week. Had a mom I really like tell me she was exhausted and it was SO  nice to come to story time and let ME lead things. Which was fine with her darling rascal of a boy (youngest and sweetest of her 3 sons),but with some of the other kids, NOT! Add to that a plethora of accompanying and unruly toddlers NOT being restrained by parents and caregivers, and well, it was a helluva week.

And then my "reading room" copy of one book was nowhere to be seen and the other disappeared during Wednesday's program and, to my knowledge is nowhere to be found. Sigh.......

But back to this week's theme, which was bears, since it is Novem-Bear:


I didn't use this book on Wednesday because I had a big enough crowd to move out of the story room onto the main floor, and this book isn't big and bold enough for that. But I did use it Tuesday. Most of the kids know this series by now, but this is the first and (I think) the best in the series, and they love to join in on the refrain: "But the bear...snored...ON!"

I fell in love with this book the day I met it and I've loved it ever since. The bold artwork is irresistible and worked even with a large crowd. Big Smelly Bear is every child who doesn't want to take a bath and Big Fluffy Bear is every sweet, forbearing (sorry)parent who has to convince her child to do so. I just wish that Teckentrup had allowed one final page revealing Bear in the pond--showing him in the pond gives away the ending!

Sometimes when things don't go well Tuesday and Wednesday I toss everything out for my Thursday afternoon crew. I really wanted something different to get this program going, and remembered at the 11th hour that I had a big book version of this story upstairs. It was a great way to open up, especially when at the end I could ask "But where was the bear?"  One of the kids knew that there is bear on the back cover, but that's just a shadow, so we discussed how you could fool someone by making a shape with your hands in a shadow!


"Sody Salleratus" has been one of my favorite stories to tell for many, many, years. I never get tired of it, because as I keep saying, a story is never the same way twice. I've told this story to school aged kids and here I especially enjoyed telling it with my 3 to 5 year old crowd on Thursday, but one tiny 2 on Wednesday did some of the most enthusiastic "One..Big...GULP!"s that I have ever seen!
My version is based on Margaret Read MacDonald's, and if you want to tell stories I'd recommend you hunt down "Twenty Tellable Tales" which is one of the books that really got me started as a storyteller. Terri Sloat has a good picture version of it as well--a patron mentioned they had borrowed it and recognized it as the story I'd told them last summer!

"The Bear Went Over the Mountain" is a natural here. You could use a flannel board for this I suppose, but I am perfectly happy having the kids make a fist of one hand as the bear and having it climb up their other arm. Then we shade our eyes for "to see what he could see", and point to our other arms for "the other side of the mountain"
"Big Brown Bear" is on Kira Willey's  "Dance for the Sun", the same place where I got "Making Apple Pie" for a September program. They are songs she uses in yoga for kids, and I modify them to use them with easy movements even my 2s can do. I also changed the last verse a little so that at the end the kids were curled up and sleeping in their caves--today's 3-5 year olds were extra good at that. You can get the words here and get part of the tune/download tracks at or CD Baby.

And now I am going to retreat into my cave--err, go home and make dinner. And tomorrow, think about next week's program!
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