Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"Purposeful Play"

You know, I've been at sessions at PLA and such by library districts that have created play spaces within their libraries. And I just read a piece on the ALA children's blog about another district doing so.

Even our central library has its play space now. I was over there last week and saw parents watching and even interacting a bit as their kids played in this separate area.

We don't HAVE a separate area in my library. But a few years ago I fell for the state's offer of an educational play center. Just install a long toy/block bookcase, filled with wonderful, thoughtful toys provided along with the bookcase. I'd try it.

The toys were in boxes, carefully marked and labeled with photos and words. Things for counting, things for matching. Stuff like that.

And our parents and nannies came in, let the babies and the toddlers and the preschoolers loose on the stuff, watched them dump it all over the floor, and then would either leave it as is, or just shove it into any random box.

Minimal interaction, minimal "purposeful play."

Several years later, all that remains of the state stuff is the toy shelf and a set of giant foam blocks. The blocks need to be replaced, because they are full of bitten (really) and torn spots.

I sent the rest of the stuff back to the state, and tried things that had fewer pieces and were more hands on. A toy kitchen that the Man built from a big cardboard box and a Little Tykes portable kitchen I found on Ebay. Pieces were constantly removed or stolen. The same for a Little People farm and doll house. Legos would be tossed all over the room instead of replaced in the basket on the Lego table.  Puzzle pieces scattered everywhere.

I was dumb enough to add Foamnasium play pieces, and they were loved. People brought their kids in to play, didn't monitor them, let them run amok while they chatted or stared at their phones.
There is a foam playroom at a nearby rec center, but THEY are allowed to charge a play fee, and it's an enclosed room. As a result, the nannies/parents preferred to come to me.

I laboriously set up play times in our YA section two mornings a week after programs. I would cover all the shelves with tarps to keep the kids from pulling books off the shelf, bring out a whole lot of toys, and have to clean it all up when they were gone again.  I tried doing the same in our story room. Again, time suck and nothing but nannies/moms setting kids to play and ignoring them.

Our room was being used as a play place and no more by most of these nannies and parents. They weren't reading to their kids. They weren't borrowing books!

So last year, when we had a major library renovation and I had to pack EVERYTHING away, I decided the toys would not come back as is.

The kitchen box was worn out, and went. The dishes were packed away. I gave the Little People farm and dollhouse to my daughters' old preschool, where I knew they would be loved.

The Foamnasium pieces now come out a few times a year for special "Baby/Toddler Obstacle Course" events. Otherwise, they are in storage.

So now the old foam blocks remain in the picture book area, along with a box of big plastic MegaBlox and a few of the type of puzzles that have few pieces, or have fixed pieces.

Our regular tables have a basket of Duplo blocks, and the basket is anchored to the table. There is another table with changing seasonal felt games--right now it is "Fall Tic Tac Toe."  And there is another table with felt pieces on it. Right now there are two pumpkins and a turkey body to work with, but all are sewn firmly to the felt table cover, because when I've made big fancy pieces like cars or buses, they have been taken. Really!

Putting things on the table means they don't go too far away--unless they are taken as above. And generally the nannies/parents have to sit with them. Even if they don't actually play, they are right there.

And when I am about enough to supervise, I roll drawing paper over a fourth table and set out crayons.

Ironically, this is when I get the most purposeful play. Because judging by the drawings left on the table, many of our parents and nannies indulge in some purposeful play themselves.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Many Years of Storytimes

I haven't written here in a while--I've been so busy DOING story times I seldom have the energy to write about them.

But the ever wonderful Mel of "Mel's Desk" wrote about 20 years of story times. And in starting a reply to her post, I realized I was writing one of my own.

I've done story times for 30+ years. The first few in New York were hampered by the well meaning but inhibiting teachings of the the NYPL training.

Then I came south, and began to work with Guitar Lady, a charismatic performer for preschoolers. She was a total pain to share an office with, had ego issues, but she KNEW how to work with small children, and working with her made me grow amazingly as a librarian.

And then she left, and I had to do all her programs, and was left to try to match what she's done.
I couldn't do what she did--not exactly, but in starting with what I knew, I found my voice.

Now 20 years later, I have an assistant now for the first time in 8 years, and I am teaching her to do story times. Now she's the one having the issue of trying to deal with MY popularity, because people are used to how I do things! 

She's not at all like me, she's quiet :D and restrained. But there are kids who may like that more than they like my bouncy style, and I try to remind her of that.

 Beginning story time people usually begin with simple stories and fingerplays/rhymes. If they are working in a place with an established routine, there may be opening and closing songs, or other program rituals that they will adapt. Guitar Lady hasn't worked with me in 20 years, but I still open story times by lighting a candle and saying a rhyme, and sing "Teddy Bear" as my final closing song, just as she used to do.

Then perhaps--flannel boards? I've talked about them before here. They're a good way of starting to get away from all book storytelling, though I wince at people "flannelizing" stories that can well be used on their own as books.

 Flannels can be a first step. Telling a story with props (and sometimes combined with flannels) or puppets goes further. And sometimes, it can even lead towards full storytelling. No props, just you and the audience, usually with something participatory if you're doing it for young children!

Music!  From playing a recording to singing acapella. Using rhythm instruments. Using scarves.
Getting up and moving--maybe even real dancing.

Bit by bit, you can go from a book and fingerplay old fashioned story time to something that incorporates so much stuff that your storage closet or room overflows with puppets, props and all sorts of tchotchkes that you keep stored away, waiting for their next turn in story time!

But beyond this is something far more important, and that's connecting with the families and  caregivers and making it a joyous experience for both yourself and your listeners.

Because that's what this is truly about. When a program is done with love and caring, it's bound to work.

With or without the bells and whistles.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

No, Little Piggy: On Piggyback Songs and Program Themes

 Note: This is an updated post. I wrote this a month ago, but after seeing some discussion on Story Time Underground's Facebook page, I realized I had a few things to add.  :D

There are few things more pathetic to me in children's librarianship than the earnest souls making up piggyback songs and using bad books because they've come up with a theme and feel everything needs to match.

News flash: No kid has ever said to me "Miss L, we're doing isosceles triangles today, so why are you doing a song about squares?"

Yes, this is an exaggeration--but my point is that you can do a story about shapes, then note that there were mice in the story and do a mouse rhyme.


I am not knocking themes. Quite the opposite. I LOVE THEMES!

I see a lot of people cheering on "no theme" story times, and I don't think that they get it.
Themes help me plan months work of programs.  I love keeping track of my themes, pulling them back out, changing up a few things and having a program ready to do. And looking for new material leads me to new songs, new games--sometimes all new themes!

My guess is that the "no theme" crowd have been doing earnest, perfectly matching programs that bore even them.  But the whole point of story times is to provide great educational experiences for kids. And that means using great books, great music, great finger plays and/or games. The best of the best.

And the sad fact is that most of the piggyback rhymes people make up to match their themes suck.

There ARE good piggyback songs. But generally, they're baby/toddler games to which you've added a tune. Good words can be turned into good songs. More about that in another post. 
Just use popular kids music that works well with your goals, even if it doesn't match. Grab at a vaguely relevant straw to lead into a game you've played before--and will play again.

They'll never sing that song about "service animals" again.
But they'll sing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" or "Head,Shoulders, Knees and Toes," or "The Wheels on the Bus," at your library, and then later they might sing it at preschool, at home with their parents.

Over and over again, loving it every time.

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