Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What A Librarian Looks Like

My response to Garrison Keillor's stupid "Ruth Harrison,Reference Librarian" was to post my picture on "What A Librarian Looks Like" site-- and to write a post for "The Library Lady Rants", which you'll find HERE.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Recent Dribs and Drabs From Story Times: January

I have been trying to post some of what I've been doing at story times recently, but between daily life, dealing with the recent passing of my father-in-law, and various things at work, just never have managed to finish most of my posts.

So since I am going on a week's break from story times (need to rest my voice regularly, since I do up to 8 programs a week!) here's some of what I've been doing at programs since mid-January:

January: "Happy New Year (Months)
             "Year of the Dragon" (Chinese New Year)

I started a New Year of programs with a program about the months, and when I do that program I always include this book. It's out of print and I just bought a used copy in excellent condition to make sure I always have it.
This is my sort of book for a story time--the sort that holds lots of opportunity to get the kids physically involved with the story. We  "Jump for joy in January" and then go on to such things as making pretend mudpies in May, juggling pretend jacks in June and doing a dance in December. This year when it was July: "Join A Jubilee" we marched and I sang "Yankee Doodle"-with my oldest kids it really became quite a parade. And when it was "Admire an artist in August" we discussed what we'd like to draw at the beach. Even though I can't draw, I CAN pretend!

Where have you been all these years, Jim Gill? I happened to hear some clips of your music on a video about baby programs, fell in love with your music and got this album.  We did his "List of Dances" song, which offers directions (and then you do them all again in reverse order!) and "Let's Dance Now" for some free dancing, something that I am a big, big advocate of everyone doing with their kids--and no whining about how you have 2 left feet. I do and I go to ballet class twice a week anyway!

And I was looking for a video to post with this and found that my web associate Sharon "The Reading Chick" made a lovely banner to go with the "List of Dances" song and used it as a Flannel Friday entry last year!You can see it here

My Chinese New Year/Year of the Dragon was a bit of a bust. The stories were fine--got lots of Chinese tales to do--but I wanted to do a dragon dance and let the kids bang on musical instruments and make noise. This didn't work too well, partly because of the passivity of the families and partly because I just couldn't find THE perfect music! I can't say if this would have gone over better for my 3 and up set (probably would), because the death of my father-in-law put an end to my being at work that week. Hopefully next year I can try something similar and even more hopefully, next January will be a lot better!

And February's been a pretty good program month. Some new ways to do some favorite things of mine coming up in the next post!

Friday, February 10, 2012

NOT A Flannel Friday: Heart Art or I Am An Anarchist Librarian

This artwork  was created by a talented member of the library staff, based on "My Heart Is Like A Zoo". It's wonderful and I was tickled that she made it and I'm proud to display it on my small bulletin boards.

But I love what "my" kids did at story time this week far,far,better.

I pre-cut hearts because I couldn't buy them in assorted sizes and colors. I used a page from some craft on the web and xeroxed it onto construction paper and cut them out. But I also made the kids plain white copies of the page. I set out markers and scissors and glue sticks.

We read the book as the last book of the story hour and then we went out to the tables.

And this is what they made.Without patterns. Out of their own ideas.

There are birds and art inspired by the hearts. There's a heart with a face. There's a train and an incredible duck and a caterpillar worthy of an Eric Carle book.

And a "scary one eyed monster"!

There were 30 kids there and none of them did the same thing, including our triplet girls, one of whom was the very last child to finish her project.

 I think that their work says more about kids and art than anything else I could say.
So enjoy it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Plea For Creativity, Or: Crafts Are For the KIDS

Attention children's librarians and preschool teachers!

Yes, I mean you, the nice lady spending hours pre-assembling crafts that you expect the kids to put together perfectly, just like one of those kits from Oriental Trading or something.

Yes, you, the other nice lady who is carefully crafting the "model", the elephant with the perfectly placed trunk, the mouse with 2 nice symmetrical ears, the spring scene with the blue sky, green grass and red flowers.

You are spending far too much of your time on these projects and you are doing something that, if anything, is DETRIMENTAL to the development of the kids that you love.

I know, I know. You think that they need to learn that the grass is green, that the skies are blue, that rabbits have 2 ears and that hair goes on the top of the head and the mouth on the bottom.

You think that having done their craft, the children will give it to their parents with this sort of an attitude:
"Here's this dumb craft thing I made in 2 seconds. If you don't keep if forever, I will come to resent you"

Sorry to burst your happy rainbow bubble, but odds are, that craft is going to get scrunched into a backpack, abandoned on a library table or live in the car for months.

The ones that do get pinned to the fridge will stay there a while, then odds are they will be covered over by other projects, or disappear under the coupons and finally end up in the trash or the recycle.

As the mother of a pair of very creative daughters (and they get all their art talent from their dad, I'm not boasting on my behalf), I can tell you that after 17-odd years (eep!) of motherhood, most of those art projects disappeared long ago into that Great Repository of Kids Art in the sky.

I have certain, very treasured samples of their work--things that mean a lot to me. The rest?
Gone, baby, gone!

I bring this up because I want you to take a look at the title of this book and commit it to memory:

"Preschool Art:
It's the Process, Not the Product"

Take that as your mantra!

It's not about copying a model that looks just like yours. It's not about carefully gluing pre-cut pieces together, following directions step by step.

It's about learning to use scissors. Getting sticky with glue. Shaking glitter.  Learning to string beads onto a pipe cleaner.Squishing dough in your fingers.

It's about making the trees purple and the grass yellow, or coloring everything black. It's about deciding that the ears go on the back--and you like putting them there. Or deciding that the caterpillar you're making needs antennae that the librarian didn't think of--and making your own.
(True story, that one.) It's telling your mom, or your nanny or your teacher or your librarian all about your picture, and what it shows and why you're proud of it.

It's writing your name on that creation and showing it to someone, then promptly forgetting about it.

Preschool crafts teach fine motor skills, thinking skills, problem solving skills. They instill pride in kids for being able to do things themselves.
Doing cookie cutter crafts is doing nothing more than filling time. It isn't educational, it is counter-educational!

So what DO I recommend---after 20 years of crafts with preschoolers, usually on a shoestring budget?

1)Present crafts that work on the skills kids need. They need to learn to hold a crayon/market correctly. They need to learn to work with a scissors. They need to practice other fine motor skills. Skills, BTW, that you and the parents/caregivers already have. YOU don't need the practice.

2)Present crafts that allow kids to make choices. Do you want to make a red rabbit or a green one, Jacob?  What color do you want your cat's tail to be, Bella?  Let them pick their own color paper, their own colors to use. Somehow, they all eventually learn that the grass is generally green and the sky often blue. This is their play time. Let them PLAY!

3)Want to use a pattern? Fine. I've made lots of crafts where I've given the kids simple cardboard templates they can trace around with a marker, then cut them out, sometimes with a little help from a grownup. Kids usually LOVE cutting, and modern kids scissors work for both right handed and left handed kids.

4)Get asked by parents for a model? Tell them to ask their child. If things go together upside down and it looks right to that child, fine. It's their craft. Let them own their creation!

5)Collage related crafts are easy and adapt to just about any time of the year. If you insist on a pattern, use an outline--last week here I gave them a simple polar bear shape that they filled with cotton balls. But the kids used them different ways--several figured out how to unroll the cotton and used it that way.

Stickers, ribbons, foam shapes and torn paper of various textures are collage basics. I've also  used popcorn, dried beans, and shaped pasta of all kinds. And muffin cup liners in different sizes are great--they can be cut, smooshed flat or folded any way your kids can imagine it.

6) If the craft is so complicated the parents/caregivers are doing it, no matter how good it looks, it is NOT a good craft. Just give them a coloring sheet to take home and be done with it.

PS: Right now I am prepping stuff for a craft based on( what should have been a Caledecott Honor Book) Michael Hall's "My Heart Is Like A Zoo" . And I will admit that I am cutting out tons of hearts in advance, mainly because I couldn't find an easy source for lots of paper hearts, even at Valentine's Day!
I will also have some extra pages with hearts printed on them that the kids can color/cut their own way. Maybe even some heart stickers if I can unearth them.

There will be markers, glue and scissors but no examples, no models. The kids can cut them, fold them  paste them and turn them into any animal they can imagine.And if they don't all do animals that's fine with me. Will try to take some pictures tomorrow..........

Friday, February 3, 2012

Another REAL "Flannel Friday": Two Crows for "Three Craws"

I've had a version of this old Scots song running through my head for years--from some kids album or another--but have never used it. But for some reason I was singing it up in my story time storeroom the other day and decided I wanted to use it.

My initial thought was to make sewn felt finger puppets--and I did find a source for a nice pattern.  But then I decided to check the "Flannel Friday" boards on Pinterest, and sure enough, Library Quine, there in bonnie Scotland, had something I could use!

I went to the pattern she linked to, printed it out, cut out the pattern and with the help of some stiffened felt, an X-Acto knife, scissors and my trusty glue gun, made two crows in short order.

I only made two crows, because the way I sang this, the third crow "wasna there at'a". And when we got to that part, I opened my arms and shook my head and the kids and the parents really liked it.

Just for the heck of it, I am offering my sung version of this. I am not Scots of course, but a Jewish girl from New York City, however, we can roll our "rrrs" pretty well too, and this song wouldn't be any fun if you sang "Three crows, standing on a wall". Boring!

I used these with the leg holes, but I think I may try making legs for them and mounting them on sticks for the next time I want to use them. For use them again I will! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Let The Little Piggies Go Home: Or:It's Not Just About the Theme

I was thinking of my former colleague Linda. Lovely lady who'd worked in libraries for years as an assistant, went to library school and ended up as a children's librarian. She was wonderful with the kids, but had a minimal background in children's literature. She was childless, so she didn't even have experience in dealing with bedtime reading for her own offspring. So she really knew next to nothing about kids books--not even sure she'd done a kidlit course in grad school.

All the children's managers in our system used to get together once a month or so to do book order. We'd read book reviews we'd selected from places like Kirkus and Hornbook and SLJ and we could choose which books we wanted to order. And I have vivid memories of Linda's book selection methods.

If she had been asked for or was doing a certain topic--say squirrels, she would go into Amazon and get printouts for every title on the topic she could find. Never mind if they got awful reviews, Linda would bring them to meetings. And often she would buy a whole batch, even some of the bad ones.

I bring Linda up today because as someone who has been doing kids programs longer than some of the librarian blogging about their story times have been able to read on their own, I am appalled at some of the stuff I'm seeing them using for story times because they are doing a theme and it needs to fit that theme!

Bad piggyback songs--their own or ones they've culled from other sites. Flannel boards with stories they've created purely to fit the topic.

Don't get me wrong--there ARE some good creations. There's some talented writers out there. And the art work is often top notch. Being very untalented in that department, my hat is off to those who can.

But having spent 25+ years professionally reading kids stuff, I think I am reasonably qualified to tell Spam (the canned kind) work from Beluga caviar. And a lot of the stuff I'm seeing is Spammy.

Look, if you work in a library you have (I hope) access to the best children's books, the best children's music.

I certainly have. I read every picture book that comes into my library. EVERY DAMN ONE, and I have done so for 20 years. Because if I don't know my books, how can I help my patrons?
I do draw the line at series I hate. I've read one "Olivia" and that was plenty.
And I do the same for regular kids fiction and young adult books, BTW, though I've begun to shy off YA paranormal fiction and I don't do zombie books. Feh.....

It's taught me that children's writers--the good ones are probably the best writers in existence.
Via my patrons, my kids and their friends I've also seen what appalling dreck most kids are exposed to in their home libraries.

That's what librarians are here for--to promote a love of reading via quality literature. If not that, why not just go work in Barnes and Noble or the frickin' Disney Store?

You owe it to yourself and even more to your patrons to find the good stuff, use it and promote it.

Can't find books, fingerplays and a feltboard all to fit your theme about one-eyed crocodiles who live in Malibu, California?  Well, perhaps you need to broaden your topic.  Perhaps there are some alligator stories out there, a cool song or too.  Hey, "The Lady With the Alligator Purse" SORT of has an alligator in it, and the book w/the cool Nadine Westcott pictures is worth a giggle!  And there's Michel Doucet's wonderful song about "Sue", who shouldn't bathe in the bayou where the crocodile might eat her tous cru (naked!) on his "Hoogie-Boogie" album!

Or perhaps your fab story about the one eyed croc has him going to buy some designer chocolate chip cookies on Rodeo Drive. Bet you could lead away from that story into say, "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie".

There is way too much good stuff out there for librarians to spend their time creating mediocre stuff merely to fill a theme.

Better to do "If You're Happy and You Know It" or "The Wheels On the Bus" in their old, familiar forms then to rewrite them to fit every theme.

The kids LIKE the originals. They love recognizing songs they love and singing them over and over. If you are not a parent, you may not have learned this, but trust me, they do!
When SC, my older daughter, was 2, I sang her "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "Chanukkah O Chanukkah" every night straight for 2-3 months. Maybe longer. Really....

Kids need to learn the originals.Especially in this day and age when you'll often find that parents themselves don't know the originals!

The purpose of story time is not to create themes, but to create a love of reading and of books.
Good books!

And there's too much really good stuff to offer kids to waste time on less than stellar offerings.
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