Bright Ideas | February 2014

Literacy in the Park | STEM Kits at Multnomah County LibraryFun with Science! | Caterpillar Catastrophe  

Literacy in the Park 

Lit in the Park - A Summer Reading Pilot ProjectAs the noon hour approached during the summer of 2013, parks and apartment complexes across Boise and Garden City, Idaho, filled up with children coming for Picnic in the Park. The Idaho Foodbank has provided free lunch for children eighteen- years and younger during the summer for the past 15 years. If they were going to feed their stomachs, then the libraries could be feeding their minds. Several public libraries had partnered with the Foodbank in past years, but a new pilot program, Literacy in the Park, was coordinated by Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL) Read to Me team to have a consistent presence at each site. We had read the book, Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap, by Richard L. Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, and were inspired to do something to stop summer slide in our communities. 
The Foodbank provided lunch five days a week at 24 sites across Boise and Garden City to over 1,000 children daily. Foodbank staff utilized AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates and graciously allocated one of their 10 associate slots to work full-time for ten weeks on the Literacy in the Park program. ICfL staff worked with staff from Ada Community Library, Boise Public Library, and Garden City Public Library to plan activities and create a schedule to cover each of the sites one day per week. The summer associate covered five routes. With the team in place and a vision of what the program should look like, we set out to bring it to life.
Storytime - Volunteers and local librarians read stories to the children during lunch - Each week features a different book and themeThe anchor of the program, storytime, was carried out by both librarians and volunteers. Themes had been chosen for the ten weeks of the program that were loosely based on the Collaborative Summer Learning Program 2013 theme – “Dig In!” and tied in when possible with the mission of the Foodbank. Themes included: Libraries Rock! Delightful Dirt, Wonderful Worms, Amazing Animals, Healthy Food, Get Moving! Books are Fun, Gardens are Great, STEM is Super, and Summer Fun. Books and activities were chosen around those themes. Staff read one or two books, often incorporated a song or fingerplay, and then focused on the week’s enrichment activity and encouraging kids to take out books from the Little Libraries bins.
Community partners and volunteers were an integral part of the success of the program. Using and the AmeriCorps network, volunteers were recruited to support each route. We had a diverse group of volunteers participate. Over 500 volunteer hours were logged for the program, including the 40 hours per week the summer associate dedicated to the program. Local businesses donated everything from soil to seeds, and the Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial Organization donated jump ropes, magnifying glasses, mini-binoculars, pencils, and other supplies. 
Little Libraries were a hit with the children and their parents.  ICfL and the three library partners received over 2,000 gently-used books from community members, friends of staff, and partners.  They were sorted, cleaned, and stickered before being placed in plastic bins. New books were also placed through the Commission’s Summer Reading Underserved Program. A balance of board and picture books, early chapter books, and young adult books were included in each bin. A sticker on each book said “Read and Return,” and staff spent time explaining the concept of the book-lending program to children and parents – “We’d like to get the books back, but if we don’t we’re not going to sweat it.” On good weeks about 25 per cent of the books were returned.
We felt like we made an impact as we heard comments like this, “A mom told us that after seeing us last week, she took her kids to the library for the first time and got them library cards.  She herself hadn’t been to the library since she was a kid.” And as a child was picking out books he exclaimed, “I’m going to be reading all summer!” That’s exactly what we’d hoped to hear—that children were reading through the summer. Come for the food and stay for the books!
Watch our Powtoon presentation for Literacy in the Park highlights. 
For more information, check out the Summer Reading Guidebook from the Idaho Commission for Libraries.—Julie Armstrong, Americorps VISTA, Idaho Commission for Libraries

STEM Kits Prove Popular at Multnomah County Library 

Multnomah County Library, Portland, Ore., recently launched a new circulating collection called Discovery Kits: Science, Technology, Engineer, and Math that will provide opportunities for elementary school-age patrons and their families to experience hands-on exploration of specific concepts. This project is a pilot funded by The Library Foundation as a result of recent home school survey results. The library created 30 kits, featuring ten different themes and consulted with staff at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to vet the selected combinations of manipulatives, books, and suggested activities. Science, technology, engineering, and math supplemental education are high profile needs in the community, and hands-on materials have been shown to increase understanding and motivation in these subject areas. In an internal report, results of a survey of Multnomah County home schooled families, a circulating collection of education manipulatives was one of the top three requests. Since the launch, each kit is in constant circulation, with holds lists for all themes. The most popular topics are simple machines, basic math, magnetism, and geometry.--Katie O'Dell, Youth Services Director 

Fun with Science! 

photo of father and daughter doing experiment

Here at the Wilmette (Ill.) Public Library, we started hands-on science programming for elementary-aged children in summer 2012.  We were ready to bring the fun to our preschoolers and their parents – but how?  We wanted to work within the framework of Every Child Ready to Read, 2nd edition (ECRR2) to give our patrons a hands-on experience that would convince parents that:
  • * Science activities are fun
  • * You don’t have to be an expert; anyone can engage in scientific exploration at home
  • * Doing science activities at home can help kids build early literacy skills
We decided on a 90-minute drop-in program on a Saturday morning in our auditorium. We invited families with children ages 3-6 as well as area preschool providers.  We used a center-based model where families could engage in 5 different centers corresponding to the five early literacy practices outlined in ECRR2: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing.  Most of the centers were organized around a simplified version of the scientific method: ask, predict, try, observe, explain.  There was a sixth center for creating a small, ring-bound book to take home. The book included one page for each of the five centers. One side of each page gave information about the early literacy practice, using language taken directly from ECRR2 materials, and the other side provided suggestions for continuing the science activities at home. The activities were:
Talking: Test Halloween candy to see if it sinks or floats.
Singing: Use the “Press Here” iPad app to see how the scientific method can be applied to everyday situations, like figuring out how a musical game works.
Reading: Share nonfiction books together in a cozy reading area.
Writing: Make a nature journal.  Observe natural materials through a magnifying glass and record in the journal using age-appropriate writing and drawings.
Playing: Use colored vinegar in baking soda to formulate and answer your own question about color mixing or acids and bases.
The room was bustling, and it was great to see so many dads, moms, grandfathers, and grandmothers using scientific language to describe what their kids were doing.  All of the activities were a hit; at least one child named each as his or her favorite, with “Playing” and “Singing” garnering the most votes in our informal survey at the door.  We are now planning this as a yearly fall event, and we can’t wait for spring to have Fun with Math!—Karen Joshi, Wilmette (Ill.) Public Library 

The Great Caterpillar Catastrophe 

Child observes butterfly unfurlingWe felt worst for the caterpillars. In May, we’d ordered a dozen monarch caterpillars to arrive the week of July 8, for careful observation and NO TOUCHING by early elementary school kids on July 16.  We waited until July 12 to worry. “There’s been a die-off,” the woman on the phone explained. “We’re behind on shipping by four or five weeks.  Is that too long?”  
Some internet scrambling yielded painted lady caterpillars set to arrive by 3:00 on Tuesday, giving us a leisurely hour before the kids appeared.  Assembling our observation log, time-lapse videos of crumply wings unfolding from chrysalises, and emergence-cage project supplies, we hoped our Butterfly Bonanza would have guests of honor.  A morning delivery brought two small containers--slightly larger than a yogurt cup--with a sandy-colored artificial food product at the bottom.  And our much-anticipated caterpillars?  Little half-inch cuties, crushed to death underneath the food.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar revenged upon by a soy-based thistle alternative.  
Except!  On one disc of beige goo, a lone centimeter-long survivor inched in circles.  We gingerly transferred him to one of our now hilariously overabundant caterpillar habitats and carried the minuscule trooper into the program with 14 kids.  
Librarian releases butterfly in library gardenSince the activity clearly wouldn’t center on observing the caterpillars (not anymore), we talked about them instead.  We tapped into prior knowledge and chatted about caterpillar life cycles.  We watched the time lapse and and gaped as painted lady after painted lady unfurled from the pupae.  We colored bases for our habitats, awash with flowers that might make a butterfly feel at home.  And as the kids scribbled away, we brought them up two by two to make detailed observations about our itsy bitsy survivor, not mentioning that yesterday he had 11 unsquashed kin.  And when everyone had experienced the living grain of rice up close, we entered into a heated debate to name the little guy.  The result of many proposals and a run-off election: Spiky.  
Spiky took up residence on our children’s room desk, soon joined by replacements.  Our best beloved didn’t make it to butterfly-hood.  Neither did Spiky 2, his understudy.  In fact, only one painted lady caterpillar achieved butterfly status.  Our summer program, however, was still a success.  Our co-worker brought in 7 swallowtail caterpillars that she found on her parsley plants at home.  They were free, big, green and most importantly, alive. Our desk became a hub of activity and observation, just as we had hoped.  A few hours after each butterfly emerged we paraded the container out to the courtyard, followed by whoever was in the children’s room for a releasing ceremony.  Would we do a butterfly program again?  Maybe.  But perhaps we’ll just plant parsley and see what happens.—Mercy Garland and Robbin Friedman, Chappaqua (N.Y.) Library