Author Archives for Annamarie Carlson

Science, Baby!

Before there was Play & Learn, there was the idea of Science, Baby. A presentation at an annual ALA Conference by Brooklyn Public Library about their Science Baby! program opened my eyes to how much more babies can do than what many baby storytime outlines imply. Babies are so much more than passive observers–their brains are developing faster than they ever will for the rest of their lives–combined. STEM concepts do not need to be limited to older children. In fact, babies are the perfect example of little scientists as they learn everything about the world:

Poster from Nerdy Baby

My own Science Baby! program finally became a reality during our winter storytime break in late December. Seventy babies and adults joined me for a morning of baby play with a STEM twist.

Activities were broken down into a few rough categories. They included:

Some of these stations just involved putting out an item, like mirrors for mirror play. Others involved some ahead of time creation, like the sensory bottles. Still more involved in-room setup, like attaching sticky contact paper to the wall and building the pool noodle counter by stringing pool noodle pieces to string tied between two chairs.

Each station included a front and back laminated handout explaining the value of the particular activity, what little ones are learning, conversation starters, and vocabulary to stretch conversations with little ones.

We had many older siblings join in the fun as well, particularly enjoying all of the building activities. The sticky contact paper, baby pool play, bubbles, pom pom drop, and sensory bottles were the most well-loved activities.

Most families stayed for about 45-50 minutes. I’m looking forward to bringing this back again someday!

Baby Storytime: Large Crowds

Our storytime crowds are large. Often, they are very large.

The above picture was a particularly busy day–possibly the busiest storytime we’ve had. That is a picture of toddler storytime (presented by my coworker)–we had 120 people come to storytime that day.

On an average week, each of our baby and toddler storytimes see somewhere between 40-100 visitors (this includes all people, so babies, siblings, and adults). Most of the time, our busier baby storytime has 60-80 attendees. Last week, I presented to a group of 111 visitors, with most children between 12-18 months.

Large crowds mean approaching storytime differently. Some immediate changes:

  • All of those amazing Jbrary name songs are definitely not happening.
  • Parachute play isn’t something I’ve ever been able to consider.
  • My manipulative options are limited, as I have to make sure we have enough to give every child an item (60+). Giving an item to every adult and child typically isn’t an option.
  • Activities have to focus on those larger babies and young toddlers, as they are the loud, active majority in the room.

While large crowds can feel like a struggle, remember that large crowds are actually AWESOME. Yes, they present problems and limitations, but large crowds mean your library is doing something right. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool, and someone, somewhere is talking about your program and telling others to come check it out. For us, the larger the storytime crowd, the higher percentage we have of first time visitors. We have the opportunity to turn all of those first-timers into lifelong users.

My library has talked about ways to limit these crowds. The most consistent response is a ticketing or reservation system. To me, these kinds of systems create barriers, especially to new patrons and patrons who speak a language other than English (the very patrons we need to be reaching the most). The patrons that understand and use reservation systems are our power users. They know us, they love us, they will vote for us in levies…but they are also almost always the families that are already reading aloud at home, who are also power users at nearby libraries, who attend anywhere from 3-7 storytimes a week in the surrounding communities. Our power users will continue to come to the library because they will understand they have to arrive early.

But that new family, that mom who might be coming out with her children for the first time in months, who arrives 10 minutes late because it was a challenge to get two kids under the age three out of the house on time, just got turned away at the door because she didn’t get to the library fifteen minutes before the program. All she remembers from her visit to the library is that she put in a ton of extra, exhausting work to get to there, and then the library told her she couldn’t even attend the program she was excited about. Her and her kids are left out. They leave and, very likely, don’t come back.

Tips for Large Crowds

I am no expert at handling large crowds, but there are some things that I’ve learned from experience.

You are doing better than you think.

After some of these extremely busy storytimes, I talk to parents who praise my classroom management skills and how well I handle the crowds. This often makes me feel a little odd because I tend to have these conversations the most when I feel like something was a complete mess. Parents don’t hear your inner maybe-not-so-nice words when you realize that your crowd is way over fire code, and this is the week you decided to try that new book whose rhythm you don’t quite have down.

Don’t panic.

Large crowds at baby storytimes in particular are not quite so bad because you don’t really have children attending without adults (like you might at preschool) and generally adults are a bit more engaged with their tiny children. The number of other adults in the room are an asset. It will all work out.

Adjust your plan accordingly.

I always have a powerpoint template with the words of rhymes, songs, books, and more. While this is very helpful at getting adults involved in the program, it can force me to a more strict structure than I would like when these surprise super-sized crowds appear.

If you are not using a powerpoint or similar tool that has your structure on display for everyone to see, you have the freedom to adjust what you want to do and what you want to skip.

If you are using a powerpoint–you still have that freedom. I skip slides every week. In weeks where we have very large crowds, that new rhyme I wanted to try for the first time that I know no parent in the room will be familiar with is just not happening. You can do more than skip slides though. The babies have no idea what is on the screen, and the adults are well aware that your crowd is extra large. Tell them that the powerpoint shows You Are New by Lucy Knisley, but due to our crowd size, we are going to sing Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz as a group instead. The parents get it, they don’t judge you, and they appreciate your flexibility. This isn’t that group of preschoolers who will ask 50 questions about why the book you are holding is not the book on the screen behind you.

If your crowd is active, use your body as a physical deterrent or barrier.

This is a common classroom management technique. At the beginning of my program, I tell everyone that I expect there to be movement during this program and that is fantastic. Older babies and toddlers are going to wander around the room, and I don’t expect parents to hold them down in their laps during storytime. I do ask, though, if kids start to try to crawl under my materials table, please redirect them for their own safety.

Making an announcement is often all it takes, but sometimes there is that active little one with an adult who isn’t paying attention, or it is just hard for an adult to make their way to the front of the room when there are 50 people between them and their toddler.

Last week, I had an extra energetic little one who was determined to belly crawl over two storage tubs underneath a table to reach the place I stashed puppets after using them. I am not sure where the adult was, but the easiest way to stop this from happening was to physically stand in front of the tubs until he got bored and wandered elsewhere. Yes, I am blocking the powerpoint for a few minutes, but the whole situation defused without me having to stop the storytime or say a word.

Aim for activities that appeal to the older end of your audience.

Our baby storytimes are designed for ages 0-24 months. We offer a lapsit for our prewalkers, but we allow everyone to attend out standard storytimes, so they have an option that fits their schedule.

Most of my attendees are about 18-24 months. These babies are essentially toddlers. They waddle, run, jump, laugh, sometimes talk, have a ferocious strength that lets them snatch puppets off your hand, and have no desire to sit still for 20-30 minutes.

My activities, and songs in particular, are often active to interest these older babies. There are no lullabies in my baby storytimes because there is never a moment where the audience is quiet and wants to rock or sway.

I do try to select activities that can be easily adapted across developmental abilities. I show a few ways to do a rhyme or adapt a song before starting it as a group. Slowly, Slowly is one of my favorites that is so easy to adapt to all abilities:

For the smallest babies (really any age), parents can crawl their fingers over the child slowly and then fast. Babies sitting on their own can be bounced at different speeds. Walkers can jump along.

Stand tall and hold everything up high.

Older babies, like toddlers, like to explore and they like to grab everything. We have a large rolling easel that has a flannelboard on one side. The whole structure is maybe 4 feet tall, meaning that any flannel pieces placed on it can be easily reached by small hands.

If you have a large crowd, stand, don’t sit. Hold books high. Have a mobile flannelboard (or cookie sheet for magnets). Hold it at least even with your head. Hold puppets high. This helps everyone see, but it also means that things aren’t getting snatched out of your hands.

Remove…everything.

Look at your space. Sit on the floor. What items are loose? What catches your eye? Are there curtains that would be great for hiding behind? Does that large rolling easel have appealing, brightly colored bars at the bottom that are perfect to climb in? Are those puppets peaking out from under the table? Is that bright red mobile speaker right at eye level?

Carefully look at your space and remove things that could become mass baby distractions. Once one baby notices something, they all soon follow. Babies on the Bus is never as interesting as that curtain another baby is waving frantically in the air.


I am by no means an expert at large crowds, and I know our library is not the only place to receive them. How do you handle them? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (1/6/20-1/12/20).

Annamarie’s Reading

Annamarie Top Titles include:

Note: Annamarie serves as chair of the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings Committee. Due to her position, she listens to and evaluates many audiobooks for children and teens. Annamarie never includes any of the audiobooks she listens to in her “What Are You Reading?” posts.

Michala’s Reading

Michala’s top titles include:

Note: .

Family Storytime Outline

These are the songs, rhymes, stories, and activities I used for a 25-minute family storytime, followed by 20 minutes of free play in December 2019.

We offer an unregistered family storytime every Saturday at 10 am. While this is designed for roughly ages 3-5, we expect an audience that includes all ages. For this storytime, I had about 55 attendees, spanning in age from newborns to upper elementary students.

Room Setup: Doors open about 5-8 minutes before storytime. Powerpoint slides are displayed on a smartboard at the front of the room with words to all songs and rhymes. As folks enter, two bubble machines are hard at work in the front of the room while baby songs play from the department iTunes account.

The powerpoint below includes more content than I actually used in this program. The material I actually used is listed below.

Welcome Song: Can’t Wait to Celebrate by Jim Gill
We clap our hands when we get together.
Clap our hands to celebrate.
We clap our hands when we get together.
My friends and I can hardly wait….

Continue with: Stamp Our Feet, Wave Hello, Bounce Up and Down, Clap Our Hands

Welcome Rhyme: Open Shut Them
Open, shut them; open, shut them;
Let your hands go clap, clap clap.
Open, shut them; open, shut them;
Drop them in your lap, lap, lap.

Walk them, walk them,
Walk them, walk them,
Right up to your chin, chin, chin.
Open up your little mouth,
But do not let them in!

Book: Get Out of My Bath! by Britta Teckentrup

Song: Elephants Have Wrinkles from When You Are Two

Flannel: Five Little Penguins
Five little penguins playing in the snow,
Slipping and sliding to and fro.

One looks up and yells “Oh no!”
“I see a great big ball of snow!”

Rolling down the hill it stopped with a splat.
All that’s left is a fuzzy hat!

Countdown to 0.

Song: Baby Shark by Pinkfong!

Movement Rhyme: Slowly, Slowly
Slowly, slowly, very slowly
Creeps the garden snail.
Slowly, slowly, very slowly
Up the wooden rail.

Quickly, quickly, very quickly
Runs the little mouse.
Quickly, quickly, very quickly
Round about the house.

Body Rhyme: Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Puppet Time: Retold abbreviated version of book Bark George using George box prop.

Song: Can You by the Wiggles

Flannel: Little Mouse
Little mouse, little mouse
Are you in the _________ house?

Closing Song: Shake Your Sillies Out from When You Are One

Discovery Time Activities: Discovery Time is 15-20 minutes of free-play at the end of storytime that encourages parents to have time to talk to one another and for parents to interact with their children. I try to include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to my wide age range as well as a mixture of purchased toys and items that parents can remake at home. This week’s activities included:

Baby Play: Puppet Time

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

If your library is anything like mine, you have a good stash of high quality puppets stashed away somewhere. These are probably frequently used by librarians in storytime–there are so many amazing puppet rhymes, books, and songs for all ages (check out my Bark George post for one of my favorites).

One of my coworkers asked a great question about a year ago–why do we leave the majority of these puppets locked away in cabinets most of the time? We may use 3-5 in an average storytime, leaving 50 puppets in storage. While we don’t want to put these often expensive puppets out in public areas for unsupervised free play–we are well aware of what happens to items left out for public use–these could be used as a play item in supervised, post-storytime play.

Puppets are an excellent tool for developing social and emotional skills in children of all ages. Puppets provide an easy way to grab the attention of little ones. Babies and toddlers like exploring their soft texture. Older toddlers can fit their hand inside of a puppet to make it move and interact with others, practicing social and fine motor skills.

There are a variety of ways to include puppets in your storytime, beyond the standard puppet rhymes. Consider:

  • Using puppets as a “manipulative”, just like you would use shaker eggs or scarves. Little ones can select a puppet from a bin (practicing making choices). Provide some questions for little ones and caregivers to answer together–“what animal is your puppet?”, “what sound does your puppet make?”, “what is your puppet’s name?”. End with a dancing song that makes it easy to include their new stuffed friend.
  • Put out a bin of puppets (or a baby pool of puppets) during storytime after play. Puppets naturally promote parent-child engagement while also providing some time for little ones to explore this item often reserved for adults.

Recommended Purchases

Our best puppets are from Folkmanis. You really cannot go wrong with their puppets, but some of my favorites from their current selection include:

Price: Use what you own. Folkmanis puppets are expensive (often $30+ each). Make sure to ask about discounts for buying in bulk–they have a deal allowing you to get 50% off all puppets if you agree to spend a certain amount (around $300-$400 after the discount).

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What animal did you pick?
  • What sound does this animal make?
  • How does the puppet feel?
  • Can you make the puppet talk?
  • Can you tickle the puppets head?
  • What can you do with the puppet?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Animal
Colorful
Fluffy
Friendly
Furry
Hand

Hidden
Jump
Laugh
Loud
Pet
Pretend

Quiet
Soft
Sound
Surprise
Tickle
Touch

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (12/30/19-1/5/20).

Annamarie’s Reading

Annamarie Top Titles include:

Note: Annamarie serves as chair of the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings Committee. Due to her position, she listens to and evaluates many audiobooks for children and teens. Annamarie never includes any of the audiobooks she listens to in her “What Are You Reading?” posts.

Michala’s Reading

Michala’s top titles include:

Note: .

Storytime Prop: Bark George

Funny stories are a staple of my storytimes. I love leaning into the humor of preschoolers, and I particularly like when a story can make parents snicker as well.

I like retelling stories in different formats, and I am always looking for books that can be retold with large props or puppets. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of flannel board story retellings. I do not have great vision, and I struggle to focus on (or even see) tiny flannel pieces. We often have large storytime crowds, and all I can think about when holding small items is that if I was sitting on a chair in the back of the room, I would have no idea what the librarian was holding up. The same goes for finger puppets.

Because of that, I look for ways to adapt things in a large scale way. The book Bark George by Jules Feiffer is a perfect story to retell with props. Essentially, the dog George makes various animal sounds that dogs don’t make (moo, quack, oink, etc.). When George goes to the vet, everyone realizes he has swallowed these animals. The vet pulls them out safe and sound. This continues until George barks again. At the very end of the story, George says a slightly ominous “hello.”

When I was in library school, I saw an amazing online post where a librarian took a giant dog stuffed animal (like one of those hanging above the impossible games at a fair) with a mouth that opened. She cut the seam inside the mouth and used some awesome sewing skills to make it possible to physically stuff the dog with animal puppets that can be pulled out as you reach that point in the story.

I unfortunately don’t have those sewing skills, but another amazing librarian blogger made a dog out of a box, and I copied their structure.

I found a large square box (about 18-20″ on each side). I taped the flaps and reinforced the seams with duct tape and shipping tape. I then cut a slit diagonally down two sides and about two-thirds of the way down the new “front” of the box using a box cutter.

This creates a “mouth” that can be opened easily for me to reach inside and find various animals.

I used brown butcher paper to wrap the box, aiming to keep all seams as invisible as possible. In this case, seams are located on the inside, bottom of the box, the back of the box, and underneath what eventually are covered by dog ears.

This was my second time making George, and I had learned a few lessons from the first time. Double sided tape and shipping tape were my main tools. In the past, I attempted to use hot glue, but that resulted in a lot of peeling over time.

After wrapping the box in brown paper, I worked on the smaller elements to create the dog face. I used dark brown construction paper for the ears.These wrapped around the front corners of the box, to cover the paper seams. Ears were secured with double sided tape.

From my first version of George, the ears were the element I had to replace the most often. I have debated laminating them, but I am not sure how the shiny ears would look on the overall box.

The rest of the dog face was created using black, pink, and white cardstock and black sharpie.

George is a staple in my family or preschool storytimes. I hide him in a large black garbage bag before it is time for him to make his debut, with 4-5 animal puppets inside. Since I tell the story myself, I pick whatever puppets are most readily available that make obvious animal sounds. Just make sure you remember what puppets you put inside–it was an interesting storytime the day that George said “oink” but hadn’t eaten a pig.

Do you have a favorite storytime prop? I’d love to learn about it in the comments!

Baby Play: Sensory Boards

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Sensory boards are not new. Babies love to explore different textures, some of which they may be experiencing for the first time. Sensory boards allow little ones to explore textures in a controlled environment, including small materials that would be choking hazards if loose but are interesting to explore when secured to a flat surface. Boards can lay flat on the floor, be propped against a wall, or can be free standing depending on what they are made out of.

I have a made a few sensory boards over the last few years, with my favorite versions visible in the pictures. Some of my personal tips:

  • I like using trifold boards, as these can stand up on their own in the middle of a room. Cutting them in half horizontally makes them more accessible for the smallest babies and make them more durable.
  • Colored trifold boards were a game changer for me. Having a colored background makes the textured materials on these boards that much more appealing to small hands and eyes.
  • Always, always check everything on your board before giving it to little ones. Babies have the strongest fingernails and are determined to tear everything off of your sensory boards. Hot glue can only do so much. Keep an eye on these during play too, especially if you have anything on the board that would be a choking hazard if removed.

I also have a second style of board that I made recently for a science/stem-focused baby play program, a textured shape board. While I wish this was a colored background, the white was what I had available at the time. It focuses on shape-based exploration, especially for toddlers and older babies.

How to Make

Materials: colored trifold board, hot glue, various textured surfaces

Steps:

  • Cut colored trifold board in half horizontally, so each piece can stand on its own.
  • Use a hot glue gun to attach pieces of various textured elements. Consider cutting textured pieces into shapes.

Cost: $5+

  • Colored Trifold Board
  • Various textured surfaces:
    • Pipe Cleaners
    • Pom Poms
    • Bottle Caps
    • Felt
    • Fur
    • Foam
    • Carpet
    • Styrofoam
    • Popsicle sticks
    • Bubble wrap
    • Glitter Paper
    • Pool Noodle Pieces
    • Foil
    • Lace
    • Tulle
    • Wood Shapes
    • Ribbon

Time to Make: 15 minutes

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Which texture is the softest?
  • Which texture is the roughest?
  • What color is that texture?
  • How does that texture feel?
  • What is this texture?
  • Which textures make a noise when you touch them?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bumpy
Coarse
Delicate
Dry
Fine
Firm

Fuzzy
Itchy
Jagged
Light
Loose
Reflective

Rough
Sandy
Silky
Smooth
Soft
Spongy

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (12/23/19-12/29/19).

Annamarie’s Reading

Annamarie Top Titles include:

Note: Annamarie serves as chair of the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings Committee. Due to her position, she listens to and evaluates many audiobooks for children and teens. Annamarie never includes any of the audiobooks she listens to in her “What Are You Reading?” posts.

Michala’s Reading

Michala’s top titles include:

Note: I am currently moving and have read no books this week…..I’ll catch you back in the next decade.

Favorite Baby Storytime Books

We all have our personal favorite storytime books. There are plenty of lists of best baby storytime books on the Internet–some of these work for me, some of them don’t. For one thing, we typically have large storytime crowds–a minimum of 40 people, often up to 80-90. With these crowds, I tend to avoid standard 6″ board books. I’ve thought about scanning in the pages and displaying them on my storytime powerpoint, but I like using a physical book for the younger kids (who often don’t have strong enough vision to see the screen).

Our large crowds are often made up mostly of ages 12-24 months, meaning our little ones often have less patience than some of their younger counterparts. I focus on selecting books that have repeated phrases we can read as a group or clear actions. I slip in more traditional stories sometimes, but those never go over as well as more action-based titles.

Finally, and most importantly, I choose books that work for me. For whatever reason, I have never been able to make Clip Clop by Nicola Smee work. I can’t seem to get the rhythm right, even though this should be a book that would be ideal for my storytime crowd and style (its available in big book format and has easy actions).

My personal go-to titles are included below. What are some of your go to baby storytime books?

The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz

Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera

For this title, I include the different verses on the PowerPoint behind me so the parents can join in. The first few times I read this book, parents, used to my style, joined in, but they repeated the traditional “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” verse for every page, overwhelming my reading voice (that happens with 40 parents reading along!). My slides look like this:

If You’re Happy and You Know It: Jungle Edition by James Warhola

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

Jump! by Scott M. Fischer

Ten Tiny Tickles by Karen Katz

Up!: How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones by Susan Hughes

The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell

Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn

Baby Faces Peekaboo! by Dawn Sirett

Peek-a-Baby by Karen Katz

Do Crocs Kiss? by Salina Yoon

Splish, Splash, Ducky! by Lucy Cousins

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