Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer School-Age Activity #1: All About String

When I first started at my previous library, I was put in charge of the young adult summer reading program. I didn't really get many teens, but I had, at times, as many as 40 tweens (ages 8 to 12 or so) attending my programs. I really miss those programs, so this summer, in addition to all that we do for our huge groups of babies and toddlers, I'm offering a school-age program once a week, on Mondays at 2:00. Today was the first one, and I have to admit that I am quite surprised by how well it went.

Things started off rocky. I found out early in the day that I'd be working alone in children's all day, because one person got sick and another had the day off. Then the camp group I was expecting called to cancel, just after I'd finished setting up the room for 40 kids. 2:00 arrived, and no one was here. I figured all my planning had gone to complete waste.

But at 2:10, suddenly, I had four kids in the room with me. By the end, there were at least ten in all.

Here are the activities we did, all about string.

The first thing we did, to break the ice, and get settled, was make string pictures. I put out a small basket of different lengths of yarn, some scissors, and some Scotch tape, and had the kids create whatever they wanted on a piece of manila cardstock. I offered this activity mainly because I was worried that Cat's Cradle and string figures, the main advertised focus of the program would be too difficult. I was right - and when preschoolers and toddlers wandered in, I was even more thankful. (My string picture, of a clown, is shown above. I made this at the same time the kids made theirs, rather than as an example ahead of time.)

When the kids were mostly done, I read a book about the origin and uses of string (A Piece of String is a Wonderful Thing by Judy Hindley (1993)). It was not a great book, and I was sorry that I didn't look for a better one from another branch, but even with its shortcomings, the older kids - ages 7 and up - really seemed interested in it, and kept moving closer to see the illustrations. It was kind of a bummer that the smaller kids couldn't sit quietly for the book, because I think that took away from the older kids' enjoyment, but it also could have been worse.

After the book, I told two string stories, one of which worked, and one of which didn't. The first was a story about a farmer and his yam harvest. The string was meant to come completely off my fingers at the end, but despite lots of practice it did not. The other was about an old woman and a bothersome mosquito. That one worked, but the kids didn't seem to get it. Both stories came from  this excellent resource, which I found by accident on Google.

A couple of the kids seemed really into the concept, but they soon got more interested in playing the game of Cat's Cradle. Thankfully, one of the oldest girls in the group (she was probably 10) already knew how to do it, so she showed half the group, while I helped the other half. While we found it pretty much impossible to get past that very first figure, the cat's cradle itself, we had fun trying to get that part just right. Then I taught all of the kids to make a figure called The Witch's Broom. (I learned Witch's Broom as a child, from the Klutz Cat's Cradle book. My library doesn't have it, but yours might!) Some of the kids got really frustrated and gave up right away, but others stuck with it and by the end, could do the entire thing in no time at all.

The string I used came from Michael's. It's a thick, soft string, and I prefer it over yarn or embroidery floss, which would have frayed too easily.  I (actually my husband) cut each string to be 58" long, which is apparently the standard length for a Cat's Cradle string.  When I did this same program at my previous library, I purchased the Cat's Cradle strings from Klutz, which cost $4.95 per package of three. I think buying them from Klutz is a better way to go, since they have the perfect size and texture, and they don't come untied, but I wouldn't do that unless I was expecting a very small group and had a very big craft budget! One of the kids complained some of the tricks weren't working because the string I gave them was too slippery, but I don't think that was actually the case. I think we all just needed more practice.

I was really nervous about this program, but I'm so thrilled at what a success it turned out to be. Cat's Cradle is one of those things that clicks better with some kids than others, so I was glad I had the alternate activity with the string pictures. I also think the structure of this program - an activity, a book, and then a different, related, activity worked nicely. The whole thing took about an hour, and kids all had a great time, even if they didn't quite get the hang of Witch's Broom. I'm looking forward to the rest of our scheduled activities, and I hope I'll learn some good approaches for school-age programs this Fall.

Baby/Toddler Lap Time (Ukulele Debut!), 6/22/12

On Friday morning, I debuted my ukulele at story time. After much debate about what to play and when, I decided to just do two songs right at the beginning of the session and then do the rest of story time the normal way.

Opening Song (with ukulele): Hello, how are you?
I played the first two verses on the ukulele, then did the three action verses a cappella and repeated the first verse with the ukulele. The tune is Skip To My Lou, the chords for which can be found here. (Those are in the key of C, I like to sing in the key of A, so I transposed everything.)

Song (with ukulele): Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
I played the entire song through twice. I play this one in A as well, but here it is in C.

The group was largely unfazed by the introduction of the ukulele. I brought a music stand with me, because I thought I might get nervous and forget the chords, and it clearly irritated someone, since they had moved it into a corner by the time I got into the room.  A couple of the nannies seemed more engaged than usual, but only one grandparent commented at all, and it was to tell me the instrument was beautiful. I will definitely be trying again tomorrow (Tuesday) to see if that crowd likes it any better.

Book: Higher, Higher by Leslie Patricelli (2009)

Song: Here We Go Up, Up, Up
I changed this song so it could be used as both an action rhyme and a simple fingerplay. The tune is Here We Go Looby Loo.

Here we go up, up, up (hands up)
Here we go down, down, down (reach for the ground)
Here we go shake, shake, shake (shake hands)
Here we go round and round (roll hands, or turn around)

Book: I Want to be An Astronaut by Byron Barton (1988)

Flannel Board Song: Five Astronauts Went Up in Space
I have to say, this is getting old already. I'm not doing it this coming week.  I would like to somehow make use of the fact that the astronauts have different colored suits, so I might have to write a new song.

Song: Head and Shoulders, Baby
This is my new favorite. 

Song: I'm a Little Teapot

Book: Hush, Little Baby by Shari Halpern (1997)

Song: Moon, Moon, Moon
The build-up to the punchline at the end of this song (that the moon looks like a pizza pie) is so slow-going, but the payoff is great every single time. I love giggling three year olds! 

Book: Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith, illustrated by Laura Dronzek
Oh, Friday session, you are so unkind to the fourth book. I love this story, and the illustrations are gorgeous, but I was pushing it asking them to listen to four books, even though I sang the third one. I am going to try using this book again,  definitely, but maybe with a more receptive crowd.

Song: Chickadee 

Song with Puppets: Goodnight by the Laurie Berkner Band
This song is a secret weapon. I sing it a cappella, because all my story times are a cappella now, and by the end of the first phrase, the room falls silent. I have had some people compliment my singing, so maybe that is part of it, but I really think it's the concept and tune of the song that just grab people unexpectedly. 

Song: We Wave Goodbye Like This

Genres in Children's Literature, LaTrobe University, Lecture 3: Picture Books for Older Readers

Genres in Children's Literature is a course taught by David Beagley at Australia's La Trobe University. Lectures from the Spring 2012 semester are available for download on iTunes U. As I listen to the lectures, I am recording my reflections and responses here on my blog. This post focuses on Lecture 3: Picture Books for Older Readers.

This lecture was of special interest to me because it talked about the developmental differences between small kids and teenagers, and how this has translated over the years in the world of children’s literature. The questions I am asked most often at the reference desk all revolve around these developmental differences. “Is my child old enough for...?” “Is this appropriate for a child reading at this grade level?” “Don’t you think a fifth grader should outgrow reading...” Often what I struggle with is this idea many parents have that they should always be reaching for more and more mature material, so their child can read above grade level or exceed the expectations of his or her teachers. I hear parents telling their kids every day that this or that book is babyish, or that this or that book has too many pictures to be considered “real.” What Beagley said in this lecture, though, is that there are picture books for older readers that are perfectly sophisticated and not just appropriate for older kids, but also actually inappropriate for the younger ones.

I think what I liked best in this lecture was Beagley’s statement that reading is an intellectual activity where the reader interprets what happens, and that reading is very much about cracking the author or illustrator’s “code” for understanding a given story. I have a tendency to share picture books in just one way, no matter the age of the kids. Hearing Beagley say that books for older kids have different story structures that actually demand more from their readers makes me reconsider how I present books to kids at different levels. Older kids might engage more with certain books if I give them the opportunity to deconstruct what the author has created and actually understand how it works. In general, I also look forward to writing some more picture book reviews  where I really consider not just words and pictures, but also color, layout, size, and all the other choices authors make in shaping their stories.

Want to listen along? Click here. Read about David Beagley here. Read my previous lecture responses here.
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