Bright Ideas | August 2021

Young Athletes Shine at the Library | NASA Astro Camps | New York Public Libraries and ROR Partner | Storytime, Philosophy, and Cookies

Special Olympics, Young Athletes, and an Award-Winning Library

New Brunswick Free Public Library is the recipient of the 2021 ALSC/Baker & Taylor Summer Reading Program Grant.

young boy playing with a ballI first heard about the Young Athletes program at the New Jersey Library Association Conference in the spring of 2016. The program appealed to me for a number of reasons. First, while it is open to children of all abilities, it is specifically geared toward the special needs population. This program is a way to bring families of special needs children into the library. Second, I like that it is an athletic program, both because physical activity is important for people of all ages and because athletic programs are not usually associated with libraries. Finally, there is no cost to the library to provide this program since the equipment is provided free by Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ).

After learning about the program, I ran it for the first time at my library in the fall of 2016, and then continued the program twice a year until March of 2020. In the past, we always held it in the library’s community room. We set up 5-6 different stations, with two children at each station. Each week we may replace one activity with another to focus on a new skill. Stations may include: dribbling and shooting a basketball, kicking and trapping a soccer ball, an obstacle course, a beanbag toss, a golf putting activity, swinging at a wiffle ball, floor hockey, and bowling, among other activities. The program runs once a week for five to eight weeks. In each 45-minute session the children and parents all begin by sitting in a circle and doing simple warm-up and stretching activities. Then the children, with their parents assisting, start at different stations and rotate about every six minutes until all children have had the opportunity to participate at all the stations. Everyone then returns to the circle for some final group activities, such as parachute play, scarf movement activities, or dance songs.

young boy playing hopscotchThis summer, we are offering Young Athletes for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. We also are holding the program outdoors for the first time ever. Families are required to wear masks and have their temperature taken prior to each session. We have extra masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes on hand. Another precaution is making sure that children have their own set of equipment for the activities. For example, if we use the basketball station and we have ten participants, then we will have 10 basketballs, each with a different colored spot painted on it. The child with the “red” ball, for example, can only use that ball; once they move to the next station, the “red” ball will be put away and not used again until the following week after it has been cleaned. As with many activities in the past year, the logistics will be a challenge, but the reward of being able to provide an outdoor, in-person program makes it a worthwhile endeavor.

I recommend Young Athletes as a great program for other libraries to run, both because the equipment is provided free and because it brings new families to the library. In addition, SONJ is very helpful and supportive. They provide free training, workshops, and webinars for the program administrators and they are also very responsive to questions and concerns.

Being part of the Young Athletes program is a rewarding experience. It is enjoyable to see the children learn new skills and improve each week. It is also great to see parents enjoying the activities with their children. Overall, the Young Athletes program provides a very positive environment where, as SONJ notes on its flyers, we are all celebrating what the children CAN do.

For more information on starting a program at your library, visit the Special Olympics “Young Athletes in Libraries" website.--Karen Stuppi, Children’s Librarian, New Brunswick Free Public Library, New Jersey

Back to top

Bringing NASA Astro Camps to the Library

space books and astronomy photosWe at the Alma Reaves Woods Watts Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library are one of only two libraries that are official summer NASA Astro Camps (the other is Grand Forks [North Dakota] Public Library.) As a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory archivist, and current children's librarian, I was excited the day I received a notice in my inbox that all I had to do was attend a day-long training and I could get support from Stennis Space Center for programs all summer. This was 2019, the 50th anniversary of Apollo, and I really wanted to do something NASA related anyway. 

I sent a hesitant email message, confessing I wasn't really a summer camp site; I only put on a weekly children's program, was I still eligible? I was so excited to hear that, as long as I could create ten programs during the summer, I was fine. The training was a demonstration of how to run all the programs, one at a time, along with a compilation binder containing all the lessons. That first year they also sent me goodies, beautiful certificates of completion, glossy pictures of the universe, etc. The best part was that I could take the one-page program descriptions and just plug and play, or I was able to customize the program to my collection or something I thought was cool. I had so much fun that first year that I continued last summer even though it was all online. I put up Instagram TV videos (check them out here: and had Zoom live sessions. I even had international attendees in 2020. 

To make things easier last summer, Stennis started hosting monthly meetings that offered news on the latest grant opportunities and gave Astro Camp sites the chance to check in and network. For any science super fans out there, this is a great program! Find out more at NASA's Astro Camp website or email Rebekah E. Blair.--Charlene Nichols, children’s librarian, Alma Reaves Woods Watts Branch, Los Angeles Public Library

Back to top

NYC Public Libraries and Reach Out and Read of Greater New York Collaborate during Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the past year challenging for everyone, including libraries and early literacy organizations. However, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens Public Library were still able to provide children with books and literacy resources to families – even when their doors were closed – by partnering with Reach Out and Read of Greater New York (ROR GNY).  

woman & child display their new bookKnowing that families did not have access to libraries and were not always visiting their pediatricians for their well-child visits, but were going in for COVID tests, ROR GNY expanded their existing relationship with NYC Health + Hospitals by working with the COVID-19 Test and Trace Corps, and looked to the three NYC library systems for help. They provided the hospitals with books to give to families and provided the NYC Health + Hospital’s Resource Navigators a 45-minute training about how they can advise parents to build early literacy skills with their young children.

Their training included children’s librarian basics, like how to encourage parents and caregivers to read, talk, sing, write, and play with their children every day, and the importance of building early literacy skills from birth.  

The Resource Navigators at the sites praised the efforts, saying families “really resonated with the positive messages the books were trying to convey” and “being presented with the option of books was a good surprise.” 

In addition to a book distribution at COVID testing sites, the Resource Navigators wanted to provide families who were quarantining with literacy activities. ROR GNY and the libraries provided books, crayons, art supplies, and activity sheets in their Take Care Kits, collections of resources that go out to families required to quarantine, with the help of City’s First Readers (CFR) – a collaboration of nonprofits and public libraries united to develop and deliver effective early childhood literacy programs.--Kristen Rocha Aldrich, Program Director, Reach Out and Read of Greater New York

Back to top

Storytime, Philosophy, and Cookies?

Philosophy and Cookies!Philosophy Storytime is a specialized storytime that uses picture books to spur philosophizing. It fulfills a need for critical thinking programs in the community and brings together two of my favorite things: storytime and philosophy! I began with an afterschool program called Philosophy and Cookies offered to grade school children. We would play a simple warm-up game to get the children vocal and then we would read a picture book. We would follow the book with a philosophical discussion fueled by cookies. When the pandemic shut down in-person programs, online Philosophy Storytime was born, and I was pleasantly surprised to have children attend without the allure of cookies.

Using picture books for philosophy was not my idea. A college professor named Thomas Wartenberg wrote an excellent book called, Big Ideas for Little Kids. The book explains how to teach philosophy with picture books. He includes examples and book modules, but there are many free book modules available on the Prindle Institute for Ethics website that use Professor Wartenberg’s outline. The book modules provide guidelines for the philosophy discussion along with questions to use. This wonderful, free resource makes the philosophy discussion far less intimidating while you get a feel for facilitated discussions.

Storytime practitioners are in a great position to offer excellent philosophy storytimes. We have the experience to pick out entertaining and age-appropriate books with which to maximize attention. We also have experience in delivering storytime while interacting with kids. The philosophy is just one benefit of this program. The skills children can practice during this program can translate to many aspects of life. The chance for children to practice transferring thoughts into words that others can comprehend is an empowering tool. It gives children the ability to use their voice and work their way through complex ideas. You’ll be amazed at the ideas children can both understand and ask questions about.—David Marsh, Youth Services Librarian, Rio Vista (CA) Library

Back to top