SmARTful Kids: Rainbow Jars

Newsletter description: SmARTful Kids, ages 2-3 with an adult: Play, draw, investigate, and explore new art styles and media in this process-oriented art class for Twos and Threes. Grown ups and kids should dress for a mess! Explore the way colors mix and combine and bring home your own Rainbow Jar, a soothing toy that keeps little hands occupied during quiet time.

This was a stellar event. I hosted 2 sessions, each with about 25 children (plus their adults and siblings). The focus of this series (other librarians here do sessions for 0-14 months and 15 – 23 months) is process-based artwork, so I led into our craft with a very short storytime:

Rainbow Jar

I bought a couple gigantic bags of pom-poms and clear plastic 8oz juice bottles from Amazon. I printed out these “rainbow jar” tags and set out all the supplies they needed: scissors, hole punches, pom-poms, and ribbons. These are the instructional handouts I gave to the adults. It was a huge success: kids really love these jars. It’s sometimes the simplest things that make the biggest impact!

Write Away

Easy, Free, and Rewarding: I love this program so much. Here’s a newsletter description:

“Stretch the imagination in this creative writing workshop! Launch your writing with themed story starters and fun activities.”

And a typical event outline, which I modify to be age appropriate for two different sessions:

Grades 3-4  //  Grades 5-8

  • Warm Up Activity
    • Choose something quick and fun that doesn’t require a ton of critical thinking.
    • This is a good spot for activities that introduce new vocabulary words.
  • Writing Challenge
    • Don’t make these static: never say something as basic as “write a story about BLANK.” The kids will be more engaged and successful if you lead an activity that guides them toward creativity, rather than an assignment that demands creativity upfront.
    • With grades 3-4, I usually do something that involves a picture book; I read, and they munch on snacks and listen, and they extend the story somehow.
    • With grades 5-8, I use an activity that draws on something they already know about, like dystopias or emojis or fanfiction.
  • Snack Break
    • Brain Food: cookies, pretzels, water. You know the drill.
  • Writing Challenge 2
    • Same guidelines as above, but this is a distinct second activity. Here are some that I’ve done:
      • Hang up emoji in a random order: they write one sentence of a story per emoji.
      • Read a picture book out loud, but don’t show them the cover or the pictures. They draw the cover.
      • Read a picture book out loud, but stop 75% of the way through. They write the ending.
      • Write the story of the day you were born: for an extra challenge, don’t use these words – baby, hospital, mother, father.
  • Sharing
    • Don’t force it, but always offer. Some kids like to share.

I don’t have a particular resource to recommend for designing the writing challenges and warm ups: the ones I’ve used have been my own invention, influenced strongly by my own experience as a writer, journaler, and reader. “Writing prompts” is a rich and varied google search, and as good a place as any to start out.

When you lead this program, and you’re giving the students time to write, it’s very important that you write along with them. Sit there, at the front of the room, visible to all, and do the challenge along with them. Offer to share what you wrote. Be prepared to jump up and help them when they get stuck. And be flexible – this isn’t school! If they’re stressed out, change the script so they’re having fun instead. The learning will follow!

Books That Rock: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Book-cover_Absolutely-AlmostWhat you need to tell readers: This is a realistic story for readers who liked Wonder & Counting By 7s. The main character loves donuts, comics, and his friends.

Main character: Albie, boy, age 11. Average intelligence, superhuman good friend.

#WNDB: Albie is mixed race – his father is white and his mother (and briefly present grandfather) are Korean.

Page Count: 288 (hardcover)

Recommend it to: Teachers, parents, and librarians especially. Also recommend to children grade 3-7 who like realistic stories about empathy and bullying and fiction with characters you want to know.

Booktalk This: Handbook For Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

HandbookFor-hc-c-stickerAn admirably sophisticated castle fantasy starring a disabled main character with a lot of action, magic, and charm. Handbook for Dragon Slayers is more nuanced in depicting the realities of castle life than most other middle grade castle fantasies, which made it easy to love. Many things are still given a simple treatment appropriate for the audience, but GRRM fans like me will wonder where all the men-at-arms are and why they don’t do anything to protect anyone, ever. Also the kingdom of Alder Brook is too small to swallow some of the plot points; it’s only about the size of Rhode Island, is home to dragons the size of horses and bigger (much bigger), and yet the princess has never seen one before? An animal that size has enormous hunting grounds I guarantee it, and if the castle estate of Alder Brook (where Mathilda lives) actually has 2,000 acres of farmland then yeah I would bet fighting off a hunting dragon or two is a common occurrence. And if you’re a tiny kingdom with a distinctive princess who uses a crutch, said princess can’t go incognito just by giving a fake name! “Oh I’m a noblewoman who’s got the exact same physical appearance and foot condition as the lost princess, but my name is totally not Mathilda, and no this nobleman and maid are not at all the same ones who were last seen helping the princess escape! They’re just a different nobleman and maid I swear we are different people LOL can we get a room in the stable next to our magical horses? And also don’t tell anyone about us? kthx” just… come on.

But. If you go into this book expecting that level of verisimilitude you’re going to have a bad time. If instead you go into it looking for a unique fantasy story of personal growth, friendship, and adventure in a mystical version of feudal Germany with an above-average representation of castle life, you’re going to be really happy. If you go into it looking for a story about a disabled person having an adventure and not being “fixed” and not having her disability define her personality, you’re going to have a great time.

Art Attack: Suncatchers

This is a really popular idea that I first found on Pinterest, where there are pretty much endless variations. I’ve done this project twice: once for Mother’s Day with butterflies, and again for an Apple-themed fall storytime. I like this project because it has an interactive, sensory process, but also a really beautiful product that stands out from all the other glue-sticks-and-construction-paper stuff that toddlers can make. Some of the strongest positive reactions I’ve gotten from parents have been to this art project; both times, all my extras went home with them for siblings or friends to finish.

For the butterflies, I hand cut the frames out of colored paper (crazy, I know – after this I swore to stick to die-cuts). Next, I cut my contact paper into 8×10 rectangles – smaller than the edge of the frame, but bigger than the butterfly. I peeled off the backing, stuck the butterfly frame to the contact paper, and reapplied the backing for storage until it was time for the program. To make the colored ‘glass,’ I used multicolored cellophane. I crinkled it, then cut each sheet into small, semi-random shapes. The process was exactly the same for the apples, but with the use of my friendly die cut machine.

If you run out of contact paper like I did with just a few frames left to prep, packing tape works well – it’s just much harder to set up since you have to line up all those strips of tape and it doesn’t come with a built-in non-stick backing.

Stuffed Animal Sleepover

I created this slideshow for a Stuffed Animal Sleepover at my previous library. We hosted this as a two-part registered event limited to 25 children. My partner and I hosted both events and took the photographs together; the evening after the Drop-Off event, I created this slideshow, which I told as a story at the Pick-Up event. When I do this again, I will certainly use a digital camera and a laptop with Power Point, but at the library where I worked at the time, those resources were not really an option. Instead, I took all the photos with an iPad Mini and used the FlowVella app to make the slide show.

Drop-Off event: Tuck in your animals and leave them at the library along with a short survey (we asked about the animal’s favorite games and foods, so we could take pictures that matched the child’s interests). We did a storytime-style event with a few songs and a book: The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty.

Pick-Up event: Enjoy a snack and watch a slideshow story of what your animal did in the library overnight. I told the story as the slideshow progressed; when it was over, they demanded an encore.

Hide and Seek: can you see the hidden stuffed animal?!

It was a truly enormous amount of work, but the overwhelming positive reactions from children and adults made up for that. More than one of the adults in attendance actually took the time to email the department and thank us for the excellent program. The slideshow presentation has since then managed to collect over 870 replays – I have no idea how it got so large, but I’m thrilled! If you’re interested in doing a Stuffed Animal Sleepover, be warned – it takes a lot of work to do it right, but your patrons will love you for it.

Minecraft Mania

big tree house

the challenge was “20 minutes to build a tree house,” grades 3-5.

Specs: Max registration of 20 participants (with a waitlist of 5). Two sessions for grades 3-5 and one for grades 6-8. We do this combination of three classes as often as possible based on the library’s schedule and the availability of the room/computers, which is usually 2 times per quarter.

Techs: We use Minecraft EDU software and the Lab computers (a set of laptops purchased by the library for program use). Each participant gets their own laptop and joins a shared Minecraft world (server) that is exclusive to the program.

Recs: You cannot run a Minecraft program ‘cold.’ The kids who sign up will eat you alive. You must spend significant time playing on your own first; an absolute minimum of 5 hours will give you enough familiarity with controls, materials, and situations to get by, but keep in mind that many of the kids who sign up will have been spending all of their allotted daily screen time on this for months, even years, and they will know more than you. The more you play, the better this program will go. If you don’t have five hours of off-desk time to spend in-game, give up this dream, or give it to someone who does.

As much as they may beg you, do not let them run wild for the whole session in PVP. It’s a waste of your valuable time and expensive resources. Create a curriculum for your Minecraft program that is worth the energy and expense required to present it to the public. Pick a STEAM objective to focus on and let your curriculum flow from that starting point:

  • Science: Set up a world where the children will act as scientific explorers of an uncharted world. Like real scientists, they need to Survive the elements, Discover new things about the environment, and Record their findings.
  • Technology: ComputerCraftEDU
  • Engineering: Build roller coasters, obstacle courses, or complex labyrinths using redstone.
  • Art: Challenge them to create pixel art or work together on a group build.
  • Math: Use a timer and do speed challenges – 5 minutes to build a symmetrical 4-sided pyramid; 10 minutes to build a circle; 15 minutes to build a sundial. Or, challenge them to make an in-game graph to represent data that you provide (or better yet, data they gather themselves). Don’t forget that Minecraft uses an X/Y/Z grid to create coordinates for every block: an easy, built-right-in math concept that you can use.

If you are struggling to generate ideas on your own, my favorite curriculum planning resource is the MinecraftEDU World Library. Even if you don’t have the EDU version of the game, you can still browse these user-created worlds for ideas that you can use in your own programs.

I hosted a similar program on a much smaller budget at my previous library. You can read about it here.