Painting in the library, or, Fortune Favours the Bold

As part of an Early Reader Book Club the group read Squish: Super Amoeba, by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.


Our book club meetings usually include an informal discussion and some themed activities. Since this was our last meeting I wanted to do something a bit special, and a bit out of the ordinary.

The answer? Paint.

Like many individuals who work with children, I’m afraid of paint. Paint gets everywhere. On kids. On clothes. On furniture. And in a library, on books. Paint is scary.

But, fears are meant to be challenged and thus overcome. So, I ventured on to Pinterest in search of painting activities that I could connect with our theme.

Sufficepaint1.jpg to say there’s a severe dearth of amoeba-related children’s craft activities out there on the internet.

I managed to find a few “germ” related activities (by the way, while I appreciate proper hygiene, I think we might be raising a generation of overly-paranoid germaphobes with some of these classroom activities….) that I thought I could adapt to make them amoeba-related, especially this one: blow painted germs. Kids use straws to blow water-thinned paint and create abstract designs.

To create our “amoebas”, the children traced their hands on pieces of paper to create amoebas like “Pod”, and traced their socked feet to paint3create amoebas like “Peggy”, while Squish we would simply draw free-hand in a cloud-like shape.

My coworker and I covered every inch of the children’s tables in newspaper. Now this part is key : DO NOT RELINQUISH CONTROL OF THE SOURCE OF PAINT. I carefully rationed out small amounts of paint to each child, which I think helped keep the mess making to a minimum, as each painter had a controlled amount with which to create.

I did this program with a group of 8 children, aged 7-8 years old, and it went smashingly. I made sure to tell the group that I was trusting them with potentially messy paint because I knew that they were grown-up enough to respect themselves, their space and each other. I wanted to set them up for success, rather than threaten them with potential punishment.

When it comes to paint, fortune favours the bold, so give it a go!


Circuit Bugs – STEM Activity

Another craft idea that was shared at the recent YAACS makerspace workshop was brought to us by Jen Lee, a children’s librarian with the Vancouver Public Library. Circuit bugs are a simple and fun way to introduce children to electricity and circuitry, and tie in well with a STEM-based curriculum.

Although the circuit bugs are simple to make, this craft is probably better suited for older kids, as the fiddly bits require some fine motor skills, and you’ll be working with electricity and circuits. Safety first, kids!


You can find full instructions on building circuit bugs here, and here


  • 2 LED Lights
  • Insulated Copper Magnet Wire
  • Batteries – CR2032 3V
  • Electrical Tape
  • Clothespins
  • Pipecleaners
  • Popsicle Sticks (Optional depending on your design)

Jen left us with some valuable tips:

  • Connecting the circuits can be fiddly, so it’s a good idea to keep your group size on the smaller side, and have extra teens/adults on hand to help out. Also, make sure to schedule plenty of time for this activity, so kids don’t feel rushed.
  • Affordable supplies can be found in the unlikeliest of places – Jen got a great deal on batteries at IKEA, and LED lights can be bought in bulk online. We’re all working with limited budgets these days, so it pays to do your research and shop around.
  • Make sure to order extra supplies in case some of the batteries or LED lights are duds, and have all the kids test their supplies before they start constructing their bugs.
  • There’s no on/off button, so if the kids leave their circuits connected the batteries will run out.

Sounds like a fun activity for teachers to share with science classes, too!

Language Fun Story Time – May 14, 2015

It was a lovely morning for a walk to the community health center for today’s LFST. For a children’s librarian a little fold-up trolley is a well used and well loved piece of equipment!


Today we shared a picture book that ticks all sorts of early literacy boxes – colors, numbers, sequencing, even parts of the body: Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd.


This lovely story builds nicely on the framework we set in a previous week’s program with Pete the Cat, and introduces additional colors and numbers. We have a few vocal dog lovers in the group as well, who were thrilled when we pulled out today’s story!

The highlight of today’s program was our furry little friend, Dog.


Because Dog’s Colorful Day is quite a long picture book for our group, and requires that the children sit and listen for an extended period of time, we decided to forgo the felt story component this week. Typically we use a picture book, a felt story, and a collection of toys and items to retell each story three times, but we wanted to make sure that every child had enough time to participate in the retelling, and didn’t want to have to rush anything, or anyone! Our children need a slower pace in order to get the most out of the program, which sometimes means adapting and altering our program.

While all the LFST kits are wonderful, this kit is particularly special, as it includes so many toys and items for the children to interact with and use to retell the story. There’s a chocolate bar, a purple marker, a little pot of dried-up blue paint, and more – check out that awesome bucket for giving Dog a bath at the end of the story, and that great chunk of astro-turf representing the green grass!


The little stuffed dog is pretty special too – he actually has little pieces of velcro attached to his fur.


The children use these velcro pieces to attached different pieces of coloured felt representing the different spots.


After reading the picture book we faithfully retold the story using the toys and felt spots, then played a game in which the children placed colours of their choice all over the dog. This gave the kids opportunities to practice colour and body part vocabulary and prepositions, as well as practice asking for things and expressing opinions.

For example, each child was asked, “which colour of spot do you want?” The child used his or her vocabulary to ask for a specific colour or indicate a preference, and was then asked where on the dog’s body they wanted to put the coloured spot. Children were encouraged to say “on his ear” or “on his tail”, with as much vocabulary and accuracy as was individually appropriate. The children delighted in putting coloured spots on dog’s nose or his tail, and we played this game several times to ensure that each child got a chance to participate. Even our more reticent children were more easily enticed this week. After all, who could resist this cuddly face?


It’s amazing to see the development in each child as they progress throughout the program – we have a number of children who were so shy at the beginning that they could barely whisper their names, but who are now enthusiastically shouting out the names of the different colours. You can see that their confidence is growing in leaps and bounds, which is in turn helping them get the most benefit out of each session.

Even I couldn’t resist this fluffy little guy!


Language Fun Story Time

Language Fun Story Time is back!

LFST is an adaptive story time for children with speech language challenges. To quote a VPL report,

For children with speech and language difficulties, attending regular Library Storytimes can be frustrating and overwhelming.

The pacing of the programs can be too fast for these kids and sometimes the children and their caregivers can feel uncomfortable in a large group when the child’s development is not typical. So to accommodate these children’s learning needs, a Vancouver Public Library children’s librarian and Vancouver Coastal Health speech language pathologist came together to create a unique program, Language Fun Storytime, for children who have speech and language difficulties regardless of any other diagnoses.

LFST participants are referred by their SLP, and the groups are kept small, typically with around 8-10 kids. Each week for 8-10 weeks, we explore one story three ways – as a picture book read-aloud, as a felt story, and with realia. The sessions are supportive and interactive, with every child encouraged to participate to the best of their individual abilities.

Each LFST kit contains a picture book, multiple smaller copies of the same book for participants to take home, handouts for families with extension activities, a felt story, puppets or toys, and usually a stamp.

kitEvery week participants are sent home with a copy of the week’s book, which they exchange the following week for the next story, allowing families to practice what they learn at LFST.

We start the program with a simple hello song, (Hello, friends!), which gives us a chance to practice everyone’s names, and helps the group connect. We then sing Roly Poly, as it’s fun, repetitive, and introduces great vocabulary.

Then it’s time to explore the week’s story.

We first read the story together, much as we would in a traditional story time. With LFST, it’s particularly important to be mindful of your speed when reading aloud, as the children benefit from a much slower pace.


We then reenact the story using felt characters. Each child is given a chance to place the felt pieces on the board as the SLP elicits speech.

Finally, we retell the story using stuffed animals, again giving each child an opportunity to participate in the retelling.


The program really emphasizes repetition, which is beneficial for all children, but particularly those with speech and language challenges.

Once we’ve finished telling the story, it’s time for a snack break! Even the snack portion of LFST is designed to help children build language skills. Children are asked which colour of plate and cup they want, and which healthy snacks they’d like. Expected outcomes are adapted to each child’s individual level, from full sentences to single mumbled words, and the atmosphere is always kept positive and supportive.


Snack time is also an opportunity for parents to connect with each other or ask the librarian and SLP questions.

We finish the hour-long session with a goodbye song, and of course, a stamp!

There really aren’t words to describe how incredibly meaningful and rewarding it is to participate in a program like this. Every week, you actually get to see the difference you’re making in a family’s life. Several of the children in this session were in my previous session, and it’s wonderful to see how much they’ve grown!

We’re known to get a little silly at LFST, too… 🙂


Ready, Set, Learn! – April 9, 2015

On Thursday I attended my first Ready Set Learn (RSL) event at a local elementary school. The school is only a few blocks from our branch, so I was able to enjoy the glorious spring weather on a short afternoon walk. Just look at that sky!

rsl5To quote the Vancouver School Board,

Ready, Set, Learn Programs take place in every elementary school in Vancouver and are open to families and caregivers with children who are 3 and 4 year olds. The purpose of the program is to give children and their families/caregivers resources and access to resources that will enable children to have rich learning experiences prior to entering formal schooling.

I was invited to attend the RSL as a community partner, and make a brief presentation about the importance of reading with young children, as well as promote some of the events and resources available at the library.

rsl1The event was held in the school’s gymnasium, and featured several community partners and speakers, including a community health nurse, a settlement worker, a support worker, and several translators. A number of stations were set up around the gym for children to play with while their parents listened to the speakers. My favourite station, of course, was the reading corner.

rsl4The kindergarten teacher had prepared a poster for me, and I created a little display with my library handouts. Standing beside it made me feel a little bit like a student at a science fair, waiting for the teacher to come and examine my project.

rsl2The event was only about an hour long, but the schedule was full, with a number of topics being covered, mostly by the kindergarten teacher. The topics were each designed to help parents and caregivers prepare their children for success in kindergarten. My spiel was topic 2: books!

rsl3I only had a few minutes to talk, so I decided to focus on the “3 C’s”, which were first developed by VPL librarian Gail Thomson.

  • Choice – Reading shouldn’t feel like a chore. Encourage your children to explore their interests and get them involved in picking which books to read together.
  • Cuddles – Reading together is a wonderful bonding experience, and gives you as a caregiver the opportunity to support your child’s literacy development. Make reading a fun and rewarding experience, and help your child associate reading with positive emotions and memories.
  • Conversation – Reading shouldn’t be a one-way experience. As you read with your child, stop and ask questions, and encourage them to do the same. For example: What do you think is going to happen next? How do you think she feels right now? Why do you think he said that? Do you agree with their decision? Encourage your child to interact with the text, explore what they are reading and express their thoughts, emotions and opinions.

I also touched on the importance of reading to a child in whatever language the caregiver is most comfortable with. Children benefit most from reading with a confident, enthusiastic adult, in any language. The library has children’s books in many different languages, as well as bilingual books, to support families.

rsl6There was time after the presentations for questions and chatting, and I was able to connect with a number of local families and introduce our story times and kids programs. Our multilingual children’s books don’t circulate as well as our English collection, particularly our Vietnamese collection, despite our large Vietnamese community. Being able to connect with individual parents in the community allowed me to promote the collections, while getting a better understanding of why parents might not be utilizing the resources.

Community outreach is my passion, and I believe it is vital that children’s librarian be active, engaged members of the community. By attending this event I was able to connect with families who for various reasons might never visit a library, and help support them and their children in a positive environment. I’m looking forward to my next outing!

I like to move it move it – or – physical literacy in storytimes

The expression most commonly used to describe my story time style is “high energy”. Children attending my programs spend most of our thirty minutes together in motion – singing, clapping their hands, tapping their toes, dancing, jumping, marching and moving their bodies. As anyone who has worked with children knows, they are designed to move!

It seems that I’m not the only one who believes in the importance of movement in early literacy. The “Welcome to Kindergarten” program has introduced a new station that emphasizes what they call “physical literacy”. The station uses a simple ball to show parents how easily movement can be introduced into their child’s play to help build and strengthen a number of different skills and abilities.


As librarians, teachers and early childhood educators know, movement supports the development of muscle strength and control, hand-eye coordination, balance, and fine motor skills. Physical games and activities can help children learn to share and take turns, and engage in cooperative play. Beyond the physical benefits of movement, children who engage in active learning have opportunities to practice following directions, build listening skills, develop vocabulary, enhance alphabet and number awareness and strengthen pattern recognition – all while having fun!


I like to incorporate physical literacy into every story time, but particularly when working with active, energetic toddlers and preschoolers. Rather than attempting to force children to sit still for long periods of time, which works against their natural inclination towards movement, I believe in channeling that energy into positive, educational activities that encourage active learning. Here are just a few examples of ways in which physical literacy can become a part of your story times:

“Tick tock tick tock”

This fun little ditty, which can also be used as a baby lap bounce, gets kids singing and jumping while practicing their counting skills.

“Here we go a-marching”

I couldn’t find a recording of this song, but the lyrics are pretty simple, and you can sing them to any tune you like! Here are just a few of the variations I typically do with my group.

Here we go a marching, marching, marching!

Here we go a marching, and then we stop!

Here we go a jumping, jumping, jumping!

Here we go a jumping, and then we stop!

Here we go a driving, driving, driving, driving!

Here we go a driving, and then we stop!

Here we go a flying, flying, flying!

Here we go a flying, and then we stop!

Here we go a swimming, swimming, swimming!

Here we go a swimming, and then we stop!

Children practice following directions in this fun, energetic song, stopping whatever action they’re doing when the leader says “stop!” I like to incorporate the ASL sign for “stop” into the song, and add as many verses as I feel fits the day’s energy levels!

“Roly poly”

This story time classic uses movement to reinforce vocabulary, helping children visualize opposites such as out and in, and up and down.

“The Elevator Song”

One of my absolute favourites, and a must for any story time I do! Energetic fun for all ages that gets kids jumping up and down, following directions and reinforcing opposites. Songs with actions help children learn to follow directions. It’s also just about the most fun you can have in a story time. If you haven’t take the elevator up and down with your story time crew yet, you don’t know what you’re missing!

“If You’re Happy and You Know It”

Another classic song that’s perfect for helping children practice following directions, as well as providing opportunities for vocabulary development. I like to include a wide range of different body parts when singing this song – children pat their heads, stick out their tongues, touch their toes, wiggle their ears, blink their eyes, tickle their elbows, and more! It’s also an ideal transition song – I can use it to get children to sit back down, line up, grab their backpacks, or do whatever else I need them to do – following directions is so much more fun when the directions are sung!

I really believe in actve, engaging story times that recognize the many different ways in which children learn. I also believe that story times should be fun – for children and librarians! What are some of your favourite ways to get kids moving and learning in story times?

Spring break school visit scavenger hunt!

Last week a group of grade 5-6-7 kids from a local spring break day camp came for a quick visit, and I threw together a simple scavenger hunt game to help introduce them to the library. A number of the kids in the group were identified as being at risk, and there was a real range of language levels, so the group leaders suggested that we keep any program simple and approachable.

To sweeten the deal, and encourage the kids to fully participate in the scavenger hunt, we of course had to have prizes available for the taking! I love being able to offer books as prizes – unfortunately many children never get to experience the joy of having their own books, and being able to choose a book off the prize truck never fails to bring out smiles in even the most reluctant young patrons.

The kids were encouraged to work together, and the prize winners were determined by a draw, so kids could work at their own pace. I also encouraged the kids to use their imaginations and think outside the box – when it came to finding a book about the past, for example, I accepted information books as well as novels or picture books set in the past!

We were able to welcome the group into the branch before regular open hours, so we had the entire branch to ourselves – which really came in handy as the kids got more and more excited (and voluble) as they filled in more and more of the spaces!

Here’s the quick little library scavenger hunt I whipped up for the kids!

scavenger hunt-page-001

Unwrap a Read!

I feel very festive today, as my desk is strewn with tape dispensers, scissors, gift tags, and rolls of wrapping paper. It’s “Unwrap a Read” time across the library system, and this morning I’ve been getting our branch’s display up and running.

The idea of “Unwrap a Read” is simple – it’s kind of like going on a blind date with a book. We wrap up some of our nicer, newer paperbacks in festive wrapping paper, then put a gift tag on them with a little clue that hints as to the content and genre of the book. Patrons check out the books using the self checkout machine, which can read the RFID tag through the wrapping paper. They then unwrap and read the book at home, and return it by the regular due date.

Mystery book Untitleddisplays are a great way of introducing patrons to new authors or titles that they might not otherwise consider checking out, and they look very pretty! Depending on the wrapping paper you use, “Unwrap a read” can be festive without being overtly “Christmas”, a nice touch in diverse communities where different holidays might be celebrated.

Our display is just for kids 7-12, though last year around Valentines day we did a “blind date with a book” display that had sections for kids, teens and adults, and included a little bookmark that patrons could use to “rate the date”, giving us feedback on the books.

Although we try to have clear and understandable signage, there are always patrons who don’t quite understand the nature of mystery book programs, and who merrily pick up a wrapped book and walk right out of the library, setting off all the gate alarms…


We planned it, and they came.

In honour of NaNoWriMo, my teen librarian colleague and I hosted a teen writing event. Local published YA author and NaNoWriMo participant Denise Jaden would give a presentation, take questions and lead a writing exercise, and we would continue the experience with more creative writing activities. There would be door prizes, everyone would leave with some free swag, and as with any teen event, there would be snacks.


We promoted the event on social media, plastered posters throughout the library and scattered handbills on every exposed surface. We bribed a few of our TLC members with service hours if they agreed to help set up and clean up for the event, which would ensure at least a few bodies in the room. But the real question was – would the teens come?

Well, come they did. 12 of them, to be exact. 12 participants, for a two-hour after-school writing workshop. We were impressed. And while some of the participants were familiar faces, there were a number of teens who had never been to a library event before, and who had heard about us from friends or through our marketing. Success!

The event itself went really smoothly. Denise is a very engaging speaker, and her writing exercise was pretty brilliant. I used the magazine clip out writing exercises I mentioned in a previous post, and the teens thought it was pretty hilarious. We shared our creations in small groups, and there was a lot of laughter, as the teens had come up with some pretty crazy characters.

We were also able to send every teen home with a book, which the teens were pretty stoked about. We get a lot of book donations from the public, which is pretty awesome. If we already have enough copies of a donated book in our system, we either sell the book in our book sale, which raises much-needed funds for the library, or we give the book away, either at a program or through outreach (at a food bank or shelter, for example). I love being able to send kids and teens home with their own books, particularly when working in challenged neighborhoods. The excitement in the teens’ eyes when I told them they could each pick a book was really pretty awesome. Adults may be wondering about the future of the printed word, but as far as most teens are concerned, there’s still something special about physical books.