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!

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.

Storytime Theme: Playing the Hits

At the tail end of 2014, I started a new job. My first solo program was a Saturday storytime – a low key drop in program for families, with content aimed at ages 2-7. I had new parents, new children, and new co-workers to impress, so I decided to just play the hits: Raffi, egg shakers, Zoom Zoom Zoom, Little Mouse, and a book. Here’s my outline:

  1. Soft opening with board books
  2. Housekeeping and welcome
  3. Hello Songs
    1. Hello Friends
    2. I’m in the Mood for Singing
  4. Little Mouse
  5. Nursery Rhyme: Hickory Dickory Dock
  6. Story: Hickory Dickory Dog by Alison Murray
  7. Egg Shaker Songs
    1. I Can Make My Egg … (credit to a coworker. lyrics in the PDF)
    2. Egg Shakers UP
  8. Zoom Zoom Zoom
  9. Goodbye Song: Goodbye Friends

hickorydickorydogHickory Dickory Dog was not a runaway hit, but it was quite serviceable, and I liked the way it connected to the nursery rhyme. I sang everything a capella and made handouts with all of the song lyrics for grown ups, which let me keep this session zero-tech (aka: zero-stress). If you’d like to use it, here’s a PDF: Saturday Stories Song Lyrics.

My new library doesn’t include crafts with storytimes, and doing a program without one was eye-opening. Planning this program was just me spending half an hour listing all my favorite storytime activities and then another half an hour flipping through New Library’s filing cabinet full of flannels to see what I had to choose from. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy!

Storytime Theme: Dogs

Class: Toddler Time, summer 2014 – 9:30 and 11:00

Books: Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, Digger Dog by William Bee

The plan:

  1. Welcome songs
  2. Story #1: Digger Dog
  3. Silly song: B-I-N-G-O
  4. Rhyme: 5 Fat Sausages
  5. Shaker Songs
  6. Story #2: Harry the Dirty Dog (pretty heavily abridged – I paperclipped some pages together and mostly told the story along with the pictures, rather than reading the words, as it’s quite long and complicated for toddlers)
  7. Weekly wiggle: Where is doggie hiding?
  8. Song cube
  9. Goodbye songs
  10. Craft and playtime

How it went: Both books were truly spectacular hits. Digger Dog’s large fold-out pages got oohs, aahs, and laughs. Both books inspired spontaneous applause from toddlers and caregivers. I thought Harry would be too complex and long for this group, but it has clearly has the kind of charm that explains its place as a kid lit classic. As always, I made sure the song cube landed on Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!

I took craft inspiration from the cover of Harry the Dirty Dog:

harry the dirty dog


I created the canvas by hand-cutting black and white Harrys and gluing them to oversize construction paper in a rainbow of colors. Then I set out white and black paint and q-tips as brushes. This craft went over very well with parents, who liked the connection to a famous storybook.

To make the Harry silhouette, I drew Harry freehand on cardstock and used that as a stencil on black and white construction paper. It could also be done by tracing the image on the front cover (with or without increasing its size on a copy machine first). This craft takes a lot of cutting and gluing, which means it’s great for a time (like summer reading) when you have volunteers to help you prep.

Storytime Theme: Squirrels

Class: Toddler Time, two sessions 10-23-14

Books: Frisky Brisky Hippity Hop by Lurie/Head/White; The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri

frisky brisky

busy little squirrel


  1. Board Books
  2. Starter Songs: Hello Friends and Open, Shut Them
  3. Discussion: What does a squirrel look like? 2 eyes, 2 ears, pointy fingers, bushy tail, etc
  4. Story #1: Frisky Brisky Hippity Hop
  5. I Wake Up My Hands
  6. Scarf Songs
  7. Five Little Squirrels rhyme
  8. Story #2: The Busy Little Squirrel
  9. Little Mouse
  10. Song Dice
  11. Goodbye Song
  12. Craft and Playtime: squirrels with S tails (adapted from this pin)

photo 5

Five Little Squirrels (Velcro/Flannel story): Credit to Mystery Former Employee, as this one was in the filing cabinet ready to go before I ever started here.

My photo turned out kind of blurry so it’s hard to read the text. I made some slight alterations to it, and this is the version I used in class:

Five little squirrels with acorns to store, one went to sleep and then there were FOUR. Four little squirrels playing in a tree, one fell down and then there were THREE. Three little squirrels wondering what to do, one went home for dinner, then there were TWO. Two little squirrels, tossing acorns for fun, one went to the pumpkin patch, then there was ONE. One little squirrel, playing in the sun, he ran away, then there were NONE!

squirrel craft

My squirrel on the top; a toddler’s below.

The Ss were done on the die cut machine (then I hand-trimmed off the serifs), the squirrels and acorns were printed out and cut by hand.

How it went: The morning class only heard one book – the Tafuri title. I did use Frisky to show them photos of squirrels, though, when we talked about what a squirrel looks like. The late morning class heard both books, but missed out on Little Mouse (cut for time, since they were rowdy and we did some extra wiggle songs). This was a normal storytime – the kids had fun, the parents participated, everyone left happy!

iTots Storytime

This week I did two sessions of iTots Storytime, 10:00 and 1:30 on Thursday. At 1:30, I had my best session yet; at 10:00, by far my worst. Here’s what happened.



  1. Arrival time: Little Mouse, Little Mouse (velcro prop)
  2. Welcome song (Hello Friends)
  3. Warm up song: Zoom Zoom Zoom
  4. iPad Story: Another Monster at the End of This Book
  5. Egg Shakers
  6. Itsy Bitsy Spider (velcro prop)
  7. Dead Tree Story: I Broke My Trunk! by Mo Willems (velcro prop)
  8. Pin the Snout on Piggie
  9. Craft and Playtime: iPads, Flannel Board, and Paint with Water


There were 12 children and 10 adults at this session. Everything went fine up until the iPad story. A parent took it on themselves to move my flannel board/easel out of the way (even though I’d intentionally placed it off to the side) so I had to pause and pick up a bunch of things that fell as she slid it into the carpet. I didn’t foresee a problem with AMatEoTB, but it is not as good for sharing as the original “The Monster at the End of This Book.” I suspect two reasons – this group was bigger by 4 kids than my other iTots classes have averaged, and the biggest one I’ve had (we only register ten children for this class because of the messy, involved craft and the mechanics of sharing stories and free play on the iPads). Additionally, the page with the steel door was just too hard for the children to help me with. I ended up getting mobbed by excited little hands and I struggled to get order back after that, even though we worked out our energy with some energetic shaker songs and a rousing quadruple chorus of Itsy-Bitsy Spider. Pin the Snout on Piggie was a disaster – the kids were too excited and eager to take turns, and didn’t quite understand the game, and it just didn’t work at all. I got a lot of positive feedback from the parents; what I saw as uncontrolled, frantic, challenging, and barely-educational, they saw as different, innovative, and fun. No harm done, but I knew I could do better.


After a restorative lunch break and over an hour of re-planning, I came back with this:

  1. Arrival time: Little Mouse, Little Mouse (velcro prop)
  2. Welcome song (Hello Friends)
  3. Warm up song: Zoom Zoom Zoom
  4. iPad story: Goodnight Safari
  5. iPad group game: Animal Sounds
  6. Egg Shakers
  7. Itsy Bitsy Spider (velcro prop)
  8. Dead Tree Story: I Broke My Trunk! by Mo Willems (velcro prop)
  9. Five Little Monkeys (digital felt prop using Flannel Board)
  10. Craft and Playtime: iPads, Flannel Board, and Paint with Water

I knew the iPad story had to change. After a bit of scrambling, I landed on Goodnight Safari. This app needs some manipulation from you as the presenter to make it fun for older kids, but that’s easy: I encouraged them to make animal noises, predict the story, and help me tap to move it along. The more quiet, somber mood of this app let me control the room a lot more while the kids were still having fun. It’s a short story, so I paired it with Animal Sounds. Truly one of my favorite apps, this $.99 wonder lets you tap the image of an animal and hear its sound. I had the kids “use their listening ears” to guess what the animal was, then turned the iPad around to show the photo. There were some easy ones – cow, bird, lion – and some hard ones too: goat and dolphin both stumped them, but they loved it. This is a great app because it’s so very flexible. You can do dozens of animals for minutes on end, or just one or two for a super-quick game.  The other big change I made was to nix Pin the Snout on Piggie and replace it with a digital felt story. I used Felt Board to set the scene ahead of time and then manipulated it as I sang the rhyme. It went really well; I’ll explain it in detail in its own post.flannel photo

What did I learn today? That I’m a flexible programmer. That I learn from my mistakes. And that preschoolers can’t pin the tail on anything.