Bright Ideas | August 2017

Early Literacy Station Creation | Preschool Readiness & Skill Building | A Poetry Journey: Visiting the Poetry Foundation 

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Early Literacy Station

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree“Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Look What’s in the Children’s Room!” This is the message that greets visitors to the Plainville (Conn.) Public Library’s children’s room in a new interactive early-literacy station unveiled this past spring. In an effort to add more early-literacy learning opportunities to the library’s space, I developed the idea of turning an ordinary column into an interactive Chicka Chicka Boom Boom station, based on the popular children’s book by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. Through the support of a library fundraiser, the idea became a reality! Children’s staff met to discuss how exactly a plain, square column could be transformed into an eye-catching palm tree, and after much research and trial-and-error, a design was envisioned. 
The column was wrapped in paper and covered in clear tape, providing children a tactile experience while also protecting the “trunk.” Librarian Sue Theriault fused large green plastic bags into giant, texturized palm leaves and covered Styrofoam balls in painted paper to create coconuts, transforming the column into an illustration-inspired palm tree. Orange and pink dots decorate the station in a nod to the story’s page borders, and a felt-and-magnet board featuring large, colorful letters and numbers invites children to bring the story to life. 
The children’s staff has delightfully noted that patrons entering the room immediately recognize the display as the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree and are drawn to this previously unused space. The station is in front of the circulation desk, giving staff members the daily opportunity to observe young visitors reading the book, practicing naming letters, singing the ABC song, and spelling their names. The station’s popularity and the engagement it has created among children and their caregivers has inspired the staff to develop more learning opportunities within the children’s space; we hope it will inspire others to do the same!—Ericka Bajrami, head of youth services, Plainville (Conn.) Public Library

Preschool Readiness & Skill Building

scissors, construction paper, glue sticksOur library is involved with the Summit Education Initiative, a county-wide partnership working together to ensure that every child in Summit County, Ohio, is ready to start kindergarten. In response to this initiative, many children’s departments offer kindergarten readiness programming intended to showcase activities that families can do at home to build skills. Following a discussion with a neighbor who is an occupational therapist in local elementary schools, we reconsidered this type of one-and-done programming.
The occupational therapist related that one of the skills she remediates most is how to use scissors. The ability to use scissors develops the fine motor skills needed to hold a crayon or pencil. However, she warned that developing scissor skills does not magically occur when a pair of scissors lands in a child’s hand. Prior to attempting to squeeze and open scissors, children need to develop the muscles in their hands, work on hand-to-eye coordination, and practice moving their hands in opposite directions (bilateral coordination). These skills build on one another. They also take practice to master before moving to the next skill.
We’ve been incorporating these opportunities in story time for years. During toddler and preschool story times, hand strength is developed when we use bean bags. Hand-to-eye coordination is acquired when we throw scarves in the air and catch them. Bilateral coordination occurs when we use shakers or bells in both hands like maracas. With the push to help children prepare for kindergarten, we wanted to offer more frequent opportunities to develop these skills. In collaboration with my colleague Evie Kremyar, we developed a series of activities that built from the most basic skills to actually cutting with scissors. This Preschool Readiness Craft was offered after every toddler, preschool, and family story time in January, February, and March. Each activity was demonstrated to the caregivers at the beginning and end of story time. Tips for caregivers to assist, but not complete, each task were shared at this time, focusing on the process rather than the product. We repeated each of the skills for at least two to three weeks, changing the finished product, rather than the process, each week.

Family doing a craft project together

According to our occupational therapist neighbor, and from our own research, we learned the progression of skills needed to cut with scissors. First, children need to be able to rip paper. Believe it or not, this is not an innate skill. They tend to crumple the paper rather than to tear it. So we showed caregivers how to make a tiny tear in the paper to facilitate ripping. We also encouraged hand-over-hand demonstrations to show how to push and pull the paper to rip, developing muscle memory. After tearing with assistance, we asked the caregivers to allow the children to rip pieces by themselves. Once they had torn about a dozen pieces, the children glued them onto line-art images of hats or mittens, in essence “coloring” them.
Next, we put scissors in their hands. We were surprised that we had to demonstrate to caregivers how to hold scissors, and how to hold the paper properly: Thumbs are always up! Snipping is the skill we worked on.  We printed short lines, approximately the length of one squeeze on the scissors, with smiley faces at the end of each line. The preprinted papers were cut along the bottom of the lines so cutting could begin at the bottom edge. We also pre-punched holes in the top two corners and provided lengths of yarn so that caregivers could make necklaces out of their scissor work. The children were unexpectedly pleased to share their work this way. Since they liked showing their work in necklaces, we switched things up the next week. We put brightly colored drinking straws on the tables with lengths of plastic yarn. Children snipped the straws into “beads,” then strung their own necklaces. 
And last, construction paper strips were provided for the children to snip into pieces. The longer pieces were glued to the outline of a house or flower.  Then, smaller pieces were added inside the lines. As story time ended in March, our final craft was to glue the mosaic pieces onto kites, cut out the kites, then add yarn tails. Kids had fun “flying” their kites off of the climbing bridge we have on the children’s floor.
Our instinct was to tie the Preschool Readiness Craft to story times to harness a captive audience. In practice, the statistics were impressive. In January, the first month we offered the weekly crafts, 75.5% of story time participants stayed to do the crafts. In February, participation rose to 89.7%. And, in March, the final month of the trial run of the craft program, 97.9% were attending both story time and the craft. This success has encouraged us to expand the program this fall. We will focus, once again, on developing scissor skills. From there, we will add pre-writing activities like drawing in shaving cream with one finger and using a pincer grasp.—Nancy Messmore, children’s services librarian, Stow-Munroe Falls (Ohio) Public Library

A Poetry Journey

The Poetry Foundation LibraryWith so many amazing poetry resources, where do you start when you decide to create a poetry camp, a poetry club, or poetry school visit at the library? After a successful Tween Poetry Camp, I knew I wanted to continue offering poetry camps for all ages and continue to learn new poetry ideas for outreach into schools.   
At the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Katherine Litwin, library director at the Poetry Foundation, go on a tour of the foundation's library collection, and hear about its incredible programs. The foundation's library hosts amazing programs year-round, including a poetry scavenger hunt, poetry book club, annual poetry block party, POEMTIME, and more. The children’s collection started with a donation from Jack Prelutsky’s personal collection with over 3,000 items in 2006. Mary Ann Hoberman continued and donated books when she became the Children’s Poet Laureate in 2008. Now, with a full-time library director, annual purchases are growing, and the collection is expanding. Visitors to the foundation's online catalog can browse over 30,000 new and classic poetry books.     
While visiting the Poetry Foundation, I felt as if I were walking into a poem. Winding my way around a rhythm of trees, looking up and around, where a tall heavy door led into a land of poems, filling the mind with new, creative ideas. Luckily, you don’t have to visit Chicago to explore all the resources the Poetry Foundation has to offer. The Poetry Foundation website is the perfect place to start navigating your poetry experience - Listen! Learn! Read! And discover a new poetry program idea for your library.  
Discover something new while taking a tour of the Poetry Foundation website
Who will be your next favorite children’s poet? 
Looking for more poetry ideas to consider?
  • For children - Write your own poem inspired by Margarita Engle’s poetry and record it. 
  • Read past ALSC Blog posts filled with poetry websites, books, and program ideas. 
  • Create a children’s poetry day at your library. 
  • Plan a poetry scavenger hunt - my personal favorite idea from the Poetry Foundation! 
What poem will you discover at the Poetry Foundation Library online or in person?  (ALA is back in Chicago in 2020.)—Paige Bentley-Flannery, Community Librarian, Deschutes (Ore.) Public Library