Tips for Shy Storytime Groups

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I filled in for a colleague’s toddler storytime at a local daycare centre, and my goodness, talk about a tough crowd. Imagine a room full of adorable little toddlers staring at you as if you have two heads, shocked into complete silence by your terrifying visage.

Being the teacher I am, my first thought (after “woah, tough crowd”) was – this would make a great teachable moment!

And so, without further ado, here are a few thoughts on warming up shy storytime groups!

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Sharing names can be a great way to break the ice with a shy group of kids. One of my favourite name songs is Heckety Peckety Bumble Bee, because it gives you a lot of opportunities to practice the children’s names, but if the location you’re visiting has a favourite circle time name song, that’s even better. Being on a first name basis can warm up a frosty crowd, and can help make children feel welcome and included in the program. If the kids are too shy to tell you their name, they can whisper it to their group leader to say aloud for them, or ….

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A cute and friendly puppet can do wonders for winning over a nervous audience. A strange grownup might be scary, but a soft-spoken, fuzzy puppet can act as a non-threatening intermediary, especially if the puppet is shy too. Children who are too shy to speak directly to an unfamiliar adult might be willing to whisper their name to a cuddly stuffed animal, or whisper it the answer to a question. This leads nicely into another suggestion:

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Singing audience members’ favourite songs can be a great way to help elicit any kind of response from a group that feels practically catatonic. The tide in my shy toddler time started to turn when one of my little toddlers whispered to the puppet that he loved the alphabet song. Once again, shy kids can whisper their favourite songs to their group leaders or to the friendly puppet.

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If your audience members are reminiscent of deer caught in headlines, now is probably not the time to roll out your shiny new material, complete with complicated lyrics and hand actions. Think of yourself as a ’90s popstar on a comeback tour – audiences want to hear your classic material, not your new songs. Familiar, much-loved, well-known songs can be comforting and soothing for nervous little ones.

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My normal storytime approach is pretty high energy. I’m loud, I’m active, I bounce and jump and sing and make a lot of noise. With a shy group that’s already wondering where their beloved regular librarian is, my usual over-the-top, boisterous approach can lead to stunned silence at best, and terrified screams at worst (come on, who hasn’t made a kid cry in storytime?) Read the tone of the audience, and if your audience is quiet and nervous, like mine was, a quieter, gentler approach might be in order. It’s remarkable what a soft voice and a gentle smile can do to engage a reticent audience.

So, good luck to all my fellow substitute storytimers, and remember, sometimes your storytimes rock the house, and sometimes they…..don’t!

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Wire Tree Sculptures

I recently attended a makerspace workshop hosted by YAACS, the Young Adult and Children’s Services section of the BC Library Association. Three youth services librarians shared a number of simple, cost-effective crafts and activities to share with teens and tweens in the library.

A teen services librarian from the Burnaby Public Library, Rachel Yaroshuk, shared this beautiful and incredibly inexpensive craft, which she made with kids and teens at her library:  miniature wire tree sculptures!

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Supplies:

  • Thin wire (The lower the gauge, the easier it is to twist the wire)
  • Wire cutters / pliers
  • Rocks (for your base)
  • Hot glue gun (optional but recommended)
  • Tissue paper

You can find complete instructions for making a wire tree sculpture here, though for our craft we simply cut one long piece of copper wire and looped it over on itself, cutting the loops at the top and bottom to create our branches and roots. We also glued our roots to the rock, though if you’re working with kids this might be a job for the grown-ups in the room to take on.

We then used pieces of tissue paper to create little leaves and blossoms for our trees.

How cute is this craft?!? Wire can be purchased very inexpensively from home supply stories and electronics shops, and rocks can be found just about anywhere, making this a fantastic activity for budget-conscious librarians.

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Have you ever made a craft like this at your library? I’d love to know how it went!

Origami Madness, or, Why It’s OK to Suck

I facilitated an origami program as part of the spring break programming at my branch this week. Let me tell you, in no uncertain terms – when it comes to paper folding, I am the absolute worst. I am too clumsy, too impatient, too easily frustrated, not nearly detail-oriented enough, and far too easily distracted to be able to master something as fiddly as origami.

In the weeks before the program I was sweating. I looked at every origami book I could find, watched all sorts of Youtube tutorials, and scoured Pinterest trying to hone my paper folding craft.

In the end I managed to make a rather spiffy miniature Samurai helmet.

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And that was it.

When my origami program finally rolled around, things went from bad to worse. Not only was I still unable to fold anything other than Samurai helmets, there wasn’t a single child in the branch over the age of 9. Most of the kids in my program were 6-7 years old, with manual dexterity skills and attention spans to match. One instructor and a group of eager but impatient little kids. Not the ideal origami program scenario.

But you know what?

It all turned out alright in the end.

Sometimes, being absolutely rubbish at an activity can actually make you the best person to teach other people how to do it. You know that old saying, “those who can’t do, teach”? Turns out there’s some sense to it after all.

When something comes easily and naturally, it can be difficult to understand why other people find it so difficult or incomprehensible.

Because I found origami so difficult, I could empathize with the struggles of my participants. I focused on simple projects with limited steps – if I could do it, an impatient six-year-old could likely do it. No one felt stupid or unaccomplished at my program, or struggled to keep up with the instructor. Everyone worked at their own speed and at their own level, and everything any child made was a real accomplishment.

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Everything that’s not a samurai helmet was made by our librarian technician, Marianne. I can claim no credit for this adorable whale.

The children got to work with a grown-up who accepted her limitations with a smile and a complete lack of embarrassment. If I screwed up a project, I laughed, unfolded the paper, and started again. We learned to follow the different steps together.  I freely admitted that I wasn’t naturally talented, and made sure that everyone saw my many failures – failures are just a part of the learning process, after all! It was a fun afternoon, and I felt like a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was OK to suck at something after all.

So, whether it’s singing, coding, crafting, paper folding, or any other kind of activity, don’t worry too much about your natural ability or skill – being rubbish at something can actually be a blessing in disguise, allowing you to mentor your participants, empathize with their struggles, revel in their successes, and reinforce the importance of not taking life too seriously, and being able to laugh at yourself.

Learning to let go and go with the flow – with LEGO

The title’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? But it really does sum up what I learned while hosting a spring break LEGO event. The program is pretty simple: bring in a big tub of miscellaneous LEGO pieces, put out some LEGO books as inspiration, and let kids have at it.

Of course, things are never quite as simple as that.

“What am I supposed to build?”

“Am I doing this right?”

“Is my building good enough?”

Or, from a concerned parent, “am I allowed to help my child with their building?”

It’s easy to assume that all children will instinctively know what to do when presented with an open-ended project, whether it involves LEGO pieces, beads, plasticine or crayons and paper.

The reality, though, is that children (and their parents!) can sometimes struggle with the idea of undertaking of project with no specified outcome, and for which there is no correct answer. The idea of just making something for fun, without worrying about whether it’s “good enough” can be quite an unsettling experience.

What worked best for my group, I found, was leading by example. I dove into the tub of LEGO, pulled out pieces of different sizes and colours, and started to stick them together. First I built a little house. Then I took it all apart and just put pieces together at random, mixing colours and sizes to create a little abstract art installation. I smiled. I had fun.

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At first the children watched with some confusion, not quite sure what I was doing. Slowly, hesitantly, they ventured in to the tub of LEGO and started fishing out different pieces of their own, tentatively sticking them together on a LEGO board.

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Eventually the flood gates of inspiration opened, and I saw some beautiful and highly creative sculptures come to life all around me. I did still get the occasional question about the quality of a creation, but that’s natural – not everyone is a naturally confident creator. Still, my dubious kids had become a group of eager architects, working in hushed silence on their masterpieces.

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I guess all I’m trying to say is that you have to always be flexible when working with people, and be open to having your assumptions challenged and your expectations overturned. Be patient, and have fun. Your program might not run the way you expected, but with a smile and some understanding, you’ll get there in the end.

Thoughts on Public Speaking

They say that the two most common fears are death and public speaking…

This week I presented at two year-end school assemblies, speaking first to a group of 400 students, and then to another group of 300, which for a shy person is not the most natural environment. While practice definitely makes perfect (or at least less terrified), here are a few things I’ve learned about not being a knee-shaking public speaking mess and embracing your inner motivational speaker.

1. Don’t overthink things

I used to memorize my speeches so that I could recite them word-for-word. I thought that having a memorized speech would make me more confident in front of a crowd, as it meant I didn’t have to think of anything clever to say on the spot. While this strategy might work for some people, I’ve realized that I actually work best when I give myself a framework.

When I used to try and recite a specific speech in front of an audience, I would get so wrapped up in trying to remember the right words that my delivery would become forced and robotic – I couldn’t focus on anything other than the speech! Tying yourself too closely to a specific speech also means you can’t easily adapt things if your situation changes. At a recent assembly I was asked to cut my presentation from 5 minutes to just 2 – if had been relying delivering something exactly from memory, I would’ve struggled to quickly adjust it to meet my new parameters.

My strategy now is to outline the major points I want to cover in my speech, note any specific examples or facts I want to include, and give myself the freedom to adapt my speech when necessary. This means I still have some framework to hold on to as a support, but I can also focus on my audience and make sure I’m connecting with them.

2. Focus on the kids

School presentations can sometimes mean making a bit of a fool of yourself (in the best possible way, of course). You wear silly hats, make funny voices, dance about and sing ridiculous songs, all in the name of literacy. Putting on a silly show in front of 400+ people, including teachers, educators, administrators, and caregivers, can leave you feeling a bit self conscious! I know that my active, high energy, silly style of librarianship isn’t for everyone, and some traditionalists might turn up their noses when I step on the stage.

Is this hat too silly? I say neigh.

Is this hat too silly? I say neigh.

What helps me freely tap into my inner Charlotte Diamond in front of a big audience is to focus not on those grown ups, but on the kids in front of me. Grown ups might judge, disapprove, arch their eyebrows or smile condescendingly. Grown ups might make you feel silly for talking to a stuffed monkey at 31 years old. Kids, on the other hand, tend to think you’re awesome. Sure, they might think you’re making a fool of yourself, but you’re making an awesome fool of yourself. The kids are the ones that you’re there to serve, they’re the ones that matter. If your sparkly clothes or wild hair or crazy clothes help kids feel welcomed or included or excited about the library, than who cares what some stuffy old grown up thinks?

3. Wear the right clothes

The last thing you want to be worrying about when you’re up in front of 400 people is whether you wore the right clothes. For me, clothes need to be comfortable, moveable and reliable. I need clothes I know I can easily move in, without worrying about revealing more than I expected. My programs are all about movement, so this is particularly important for me!

Covered, comfortable, and ready to get silly.

Covered, comfortable, and ready to get silly.

Also…I’m not one of those ladylike women who “glow”. I sweat. Especially when I’m zoom, zoom, zooming all morning long. I need my clothes to be breathable, and to not show off sweat stains too badly, so I can wave my arms around with confidence.

4. Get to the point already!

Common sense here – kids aren’t designed to sit still for long periods of time. Get your point across quickly and simply. Have fun, of course, but don’t expect your kids to sit through your magnum opus. Admit it – you hate boring meetings as an adult, so don’t inflict them on the kids.

When in doubt, let a puppet do the talking.

When in doubt, let a puppet do the talking.

I’m definitely not a public speaking expert, and different people have different styles, but these are a few techniques that have helped me level up as a presenter!

Love and Letters from the Library Lounge

Remember the amazing program that the Community Librarian put on as part of 100 in 1 Day Vancouver?

We put on display some of the love letters people typed for us on those beautiful vintage typewriters.

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The letters were a beautiful mix of heartfelt and hilarious. I particularly loved this one – what I can say, we’re Canadian!

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And I had to include this letter, because story time gets a shout out 😉

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Aboriginal Day – June 21, 2015

What an amazing day.

So how’s this for a day at the office:

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A fellow librarian and I were honoured to be invited to participate in an Aboriginal Heritage Day celebration at a local park and community center.

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We were invited to set up shop in an authentic First Nations teepee.

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It was an incredible experience – it was a hot, hot, hot day outside, but inside the teepee we were cool and shaded, with a beautiful breeze that blew in from the base of the tent. It was without a doubt the most comfortable place to be in the entire festival!

We were initially invited to set up a storytelling tent, with librarians providing story times in a nontraditional setting. However neither of us have Aboriginal heritage, and we felt uncomfortable with the idea of telling traditional stories that could have deep significance for many people. Even with the purest of intentions we would not be able to do these stories justice.

In recognition of this, we turned our “story telling tent” into a “story tent”. Instead of leading conventional story times, we instead created a story space in which families could share stories together. We collected Aboriginal picture books from Canada and the United States, picture books featuring local animals, and little stuffed versions of local animals. We scattered the books and toys around the teepee, and invited families to come in and read and play together.

We took turns reading with small groups of children, or with individual children, which allowed us to model and share literacy tips with families. It was beautiful to see families interacting and exploring together.

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I also had a bit of a rock star moment when I heard an excited chorus of “Miss Jane!” coming from across the field. Several of my story time regulars had come to the festival as a group! We’re currently on a story time break, so it was lovely to see some of my little munchkins again, and they were delighted to not have to share me with 50 other children!

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It was an amazing experience to be a part of this celebration, and to be able to connect with families in such a unique and meaningful way. And really, how many librarians get to share stories in such a beautiful setting?

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Summer Reading Club School Visits – “Build It”

One of my talented colleagues came up with the idea of “building a story” with the children in the school she visits, to tie in with our “Build It” theme. She would pull words out of a bag to fill-in-the-blanks in her story, using silly words to make the children laugh, then getting them to help correct the story.

I loved this idea, and decided to do my own little spin on it by building a little robot who would help me tell the story, but who would need a bit of help from the audience.

Here he is!

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Dollar store wooden box, dollar store silver paint, googly eyes and some bits of wire from a recycled waffle maker. Isn’t he cute?

I visited a school today (and spoke to eight classes!), and told the children that my new robot was very eager to tell them a story about summer reading club, but that he sometimes had a little trouble getting the right answer.

I started with:

“One day the children of XYZ Academy visited the local library. The wanted to join the Summer….Reading….”  I dramatically opened the “robot” and pulled out a piece of paper with a single word printed on it, for the children to read, which said something outlandish, like “elephant”. I smiled at the children triumphantly, then acted surprised, did a double take, made a face, asked the children if was the correct answer, shook my head dramatically, asked them to help the robot, etcetera etcetera. I then repeated, repeated, and repeated, using different outlandish words to reinforce important aspects of Summer Reading Club (ex: “Summer Reading Club starts….. June 42! No, silly robot, it starts June 19!”)

I layered the papers with the printed answers inside the box in the order I wanted to use them in my story, so it was a simple case of pulling out a single paper at a time.

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While the kids thought the whole thing was hilarious (the robot said it would cost 1 million jellybeans to join SRC, and told them they would be awarded with a shiny new carrot at the end of the summer), it was also a good opportunity to talk about making mistakes, taking chances, asking for help, and not giving up. I made sure to encourage my “robot”, and we talked about how it’s OK to make mistakes or to not be perfect, as long as we always give it our all, and we never give up. We also talked about how we shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for help, just as the robot does.

Anyway, my little robot has been a simple, hilarious, portable little companion who has had the kids in stitches, but also helps reinforce some very positive messages.

YMCA Healthy Kids Day – June 7, 2015

On Sunday a colleague and I represented the library at a “Healthy Kids Day” information fair at the local YMCA.

We set up a booth filled with informational brochures and pamphlets, as well as a display showcasing some of the many free events and activities put on by the city library.

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With the start of Summer Reading Club only a few weeks away, this event was a good opportunity to bust out the ever-popular button machine and whip up some SRC buttons!

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To streamline the process a little bit we cut the button images in batches, and only had a few images for children to choose from. We then helped the children make their own buttons, which is always a thrilling experience for them. We also made some buttons ahead of time that families could just grab if they were in a hurry.

I somehow managed to fit another button on my colourful lanyard, which is always a great conversation starter when working with curious children.

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I love working at special events – I’m naturally pretty outgoing and I enjoy working with people, so I thrive in these sorts of environments.

Still, special event work is not for the faint of heart. The atmosphere at festivals and other events can be hectic and even chaotic, with people coming at you from every direction, often at the same time. Even the best-planned events will inevitably hit snags, and you really must be comfortable thinking on your feet and adapting to changing circumstances. Flexibility is key!

It also helps to be comfortable putting yourself out there. At some events people will find your booth with ease, but at others you might have to go searching for visitors. You might have to attract them to your table, particularly if you’re competing with a number of other booths. In these sort of situations it helps to be comfortable waving at strangers, starting up conversations with random people, attracting attention to yourself and potentially making a little bit of a fool of yourself. Not taking yourself too seriously is key!

Practice makes perfect, and with each event I attend I become more comfortable and more confident in my role. Being a children’s librarian really helps – if you’re comfortable making animal noises and dancing like a robot in front of a large crowd of 100+ people at story times, there’s very little that can phase you. 🙂

Love and Letters in the Library Lounge – June 6, 2015

One of the things I love about being a librarian is that I get to work with some insanely creative people, and participate in the most interesting programs.

Today is 100 in 1 Day Vancouver, which is:

“..a global festival of civic engagement returning to Metro Vancouver for its second year on June 6, 2015. Imagine the possibilities for our city if hundreds of people united to participate in small initiatives to spark change.”

Vancouver is sometimes thought of as a boring, unfriendly, unexciting city, and 100 in 1 Day is designed to help people engage with their city and with each other, explore new aspects of their city, and maybe have a little fun.

For our contribution to this initiative, our community librarian came up with: “Love and Letters in the Library Lounge – What do you love about your city, community or neighbours? Hang out and let us know though conversation or typewritten notes.”

The community librarian collected three beautiful vintage typewriters, and set up a comfy seating area outside the branch where people would be invited to type love letters to the city. People could then take their love letters home with them, or leave them at the library to be included in a display.

We set up a tent and had water available (bring your own cup!) to combat the heat, and put out tables, chairs, coffee tables (and coffee table books) and even plants to create a relaxing, inviting space.

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These vintage typewriters are gorgeous!

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I had to try my hand at typing a love letter to my city. I used an electric typewriter in a previous job, but that did little to help me wrangle these vintage beauties. Still, I did feel a bit like I was an extra in Mad Men for a few minutes.

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Just another fun project from your local library!