Bright Ideas | February 2019

Baby Loves Disco | Summer Pen Pal Program | Resources for Endangered Species Day 

Baby Loves Disco

Parents and babies in library Holly Keen-Steele at the Jan Platt Library, part of the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative, has been hosting fun, educational story times at the library for just under a year (at this writing). These story times provide 20-25 minutes of engaging finger plays and board books to help educate parents on how to interact with their babies and help incite a love of reading early on in their kids’ lives. While these story times were definitely helping meet the literacy needs of the community, Holly wanted to deepen the parent-child connection and satisfy the children’s natural inclination to explore their surroundings. After securing community interest, “Baby Loves Disco” was born.

Baby Loves Disco is a monthly 25-minute, sensory-packed program for babies and their caregivers. Babies can explore sensory crawls, tug boxes, and soda box blocks to the lovely tunes of the Bee Gees and KC and the Sunshine Band.  The sensory crawls are created by taping together a variety of textures for the children to explore. Our current mat includes bubble wrap, bath mats, cardboard, and felt. The alternative “disco” mat includes reflective surfaces such as windshield reflectors topped with oscillating disco lights.

Additional activity stations center around hidden STEM principles. Babies can explore gravity by interacting with piles of shredded newsprint or by pulling and pushing ropes tied to a cardboard box.   Regardless of the hidden STEM lessons, each activity station encourages meaningful interactions between the caregivers and their children. Holly assists the facilitation of the interactions by providing adjectives and questions on cue cards around each activity station to help guide the caregivers’ experience. Open-ended questions like, “How does this cardboard feel?” and responses like, “I think it feels bumpy, corrugated, rough,” serve as a basis for creating an extensive vocabulary bank in the same way books such as Fancy Nancy encourage complex vocabulary development. It is of the utmost importance that caregivers get comfortable speaking with their children using complex words. The first three years of a child’s life are formative years for language development so it is important to give children a wide range of words to learn and use.

A number of libraries across the country have started receiving grant funding for similar programs on a larger scale. Brooklyn Public Library has regular play dates that encourage STEM play for babies and toddlers using what they dub as “play recipes.” Additional information on Brooklyn Public Library’s events and sample recipes can be found online.

At the end of the day, these classes are about making the library a place for caregivers and children to share meaningful connections. We have to reach beyond literary development and cheer on the inner-scientist of every baby, waddler, and toddler to ensure the next generation is comfortable asking questions and using empiricism to find answers. If nothing else, these classes serve as a great way to escape the monotony of the endless loop of Wiggles re-runs and indulge in listening to yesterday’s forgotten disco tunes for 25 minutes.—Tia Gurney, Tampa-Hillsborough (FL) Public Library

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Summer Pen Pal Program

Pen Pal Exchange banner in libraryIn the winter of 2017, an enthusiastic staff member proposed a Pen Pal program with children’s departments all across the country as one of our Summer Reading programs. I reached out to former co-workers from libraries I used to work who had taken on new jobs around the United States. “Hi,” I wrote. “I’m looking to find libraries from around the country who are interested in participating in a pen pal situation with my library, the Windsor Public Library in Windsor, Connecticut. I’ve reached out to librarians I know and have had a few friends suggest their local librarians; I’m excited to see how wide a range we can get.”

I knew from the start that I couldn’t propose a one-on-one exchange between kids. This would involve registration and the ultimate risk, that one child would stop responding and leave the other devastated.  I proposed it as a passive program, allowing for one time participation but also encouraging some children to check in and do it again on their next visit. Kids could draw pictures, write letters, and let other kids know what it’s like where they live, even if it was thousands of miles away.

The summer of 2017’s CSLP theme was Build a Better World. This was the PERFECT summer reading theme to introduce this program but still could work for libraries that were doing their own thing. I took my proposal to the ALSC electronic discussion list in May 2017. Mailbox for Pen Pals program

Fifty libraries signed up to participate the summer of 2017. We received tons of letters and even had a map on the wall where we pinned the towns our letters had come from. We had a gorgeous mailbox, designed by the same staff member who proposed the program, in which the kids could put their letters and pictures. And we had regular participation, so I was able to send out small bundles of two to four postcards/letters to 16 libraries in 15 different states. All-in-all I counted it as a success. 

When I sent out a call for participants in March 2018, I received sign-ups from about 100 libraries, with 27 states represented. My ultimate goal for the program is to get participation across all 50 states. This time I asked each library to indicate if they wanted a partner library, to mail freely to the whole list of participants, or a combination. I also had them indicate the age ranges who they served and that they felt would participate. By the end of August 2018, we were able to mail to about 27 libraries in 13 states. I followed up with a survey to all participating libraries and I’m relieved to have mostly positive feedback. I look forward to continuing fine-tuning the program for Summer 2019!—Shana Shea, Head of Children’s Services, Windsor (CT) Public Library

Editor's Note: Interested in participating with Windsor Public Library in their 2019 Summer Pen Pal Program? Find more information at: The program sign-up form is at

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Libraries Encouraged to Participate in Endangered Species Day 

Endangered Species DayCommunity and school libraries are encouraged to participate in the 14th annual Endangered Species Day on May 17, 2019.

First approved by the U.S. Senate in 2006, the purpose of Endangered Species Day is to expand awareness of the importance of endangered plant and animal species/habitat conservation, share success stories of species recovery, and the everyday actions people can take. Every year, Endangered Species Day events are held at school and public libraries, zoos, aquariums, parks, and other locations throughout the country.

Libraries can showcase their regular services and special programs, while also celebrating Endangered Species Day. Suggested activities include:

  • Creating a display of endangered species books and photos, and a map showing local/state species. The Endangered Species Day website will also include a series of endangered species conservation infographics that can be downloaded and printed for display purposes.
  • Inviting an expert to make a presentation.
  • Holding a story hour, reading excerpts from an endangered species book.
  • Providing children’s activities, such as a coloring table.

A variety of downloadable resources are available at the Endangered Species Day website, including event planning information, a reading list, color/activity sheets, bookmarks, stickers and other material.

Be sure to promote your event on the Endangered Species Day Directory or send your information to David Robinson, Endangered Species Day Director.

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