Storytime

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!

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

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

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

Baby Play: Sticky Paper

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.

Finding multiple ways to use one item is a staple for library programming, and something I try to do with baby play materials. Libraries only have so much money and so much storage space (as do parents). Our regular storytime space has floor-level windows that work perfectly for foam shape water play. Our larger programming space, which generally works better for our large crowds, unfortunately does not have windows. However, a similar activity can be recreated with contact paper taped to the wall, creating a sticky surface.

Foam shapes (also tissue paper and construction paper scraps) stick easily to contact paper. Little ones quickly realize that some things are too heavy to stick, helping them experiment with cause and effect. Older toddles can also practice identifying colors or shapes.

How to Make

Materials: contact paper, painter’s tape, scissors, objects to stick (foam shapes, construction paper, tissue paper, etc).

Steps:

  • Lay contact paper on floor in front of wall. Cut strip to preferred size.
  • Tape paper to wall with side that peels off facing you.
  • Once secure, peel off one piece of tape at a time to remove cover for sticky part of paper. Put each piece of tape back as you peel so that the paper doesn’t fall off the wall.
  • Consider additional pieces of contact paper as your wall space allows.
  • Put out objects to stick to paper.

Cost: $10+

  • Contact Paper Roll
  • Foam (if creating foam shapes)
  • Construction Paper (if using as sticky object)

Time to Make: <5 of prep, 5+ minutes of time immediately before program

Pro-Tip: Make sure to plan the time to tape up the paper before your storytime. The contact paper can be hard to wrangle.

Conversation Starters

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

  • What colors are you using?
  • What does the paper feel like?
  • Why did that fall off the paper?
  • What happens if you stick this to the paper?
  • Can you find some red paper?

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:

Adhere
Adhesive
Attach
Cling
Color
Fall

Fasten
Fix
Glue
Hold
Outline
Pattern

Shadow
Shape
Silhouette
Slump
Stay
Stick

Baby Play: Giant Balls

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.

As a child, did you ever longingly walk past those giant ball bins in the Walmart or Target play aisle? I did, and I imagine many little ones today do as well. While those giant balls are cheap, they are not fun to store or manage in a house filled with breakable items protected on high shelves from small hands. Since these balls are not ideal for many homes, they are perfect for baby play in the library, since we have the opportunity to provide adults and children with toys and activities they may not be able to experience at home.

These “giant” balls can be used for many purposes. If being rolled or tossed between an adult and child, they can help develop gross motor skills. These balls often have different textures, providing a sensory experience. The littlest babies enjoy being bounced on these balls, especially to the rhythm of music or the rhythm of words. In my crazy storytime dreams, every child is being bounced on one of these to our weekly bounce rhymes as we practice phonological awareness skills by focusing on the small parts of words. While I know that the storage required for that many balls is simply impossible at essentially any library (we often have 30-50 babies per storytime), this kind of activity can still be encouraged during after storytime play.

As little ones grow older, it is fascinating to watch them figure out new ways to use everyday play items as well. The toddler in the image above was working with dad to fill the muffin tray with ball pit balls. He asked for an orange ball–and she delivered.

Recommended Purchases

  • Giant Balls (toy aisle of any big-box store)
  • Storage Bag

Price: Typically $2-$5 a ball

Pro-Tip: See if your big-box store also sells storage bags for giant balls. I would like a mesh one that can be pulled closed, but I haven’t found that in my neighborhood, so we use extra large garbage bags from maintenance. They easily hold our four big balls, with the possibility of squeezing in one more.

Conversation Starters

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

  • Can you bounce on top of a ball with an adult’s help?
  • How does the ball feel?
  • What happens when you push the ball?
  • What color is the ball?
  • Can you stack two balls on top of each other?

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:

Big
Bouncy
Bound
Bump
Curve
Giant

Light
Push
Rebound
Ricochet
Roll
Rotate

Round
Shiny
Smooth
Sphere
Swivel
Throw

Baby Play: Mirror Play

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.

Once a baby’s vision develops, they love to look at faces, including their own. Starting around nine months of age, babies will begin to recognize their own reflection in a mirror. A great way to test this is to put a sticker on a mirror. If the baby tries to wipe their own face after looking in the mirror and seeing the sticker, they recognize that they are seeing themselves and not looking at a picture.

Baby-safe mirrors provide fantastic ways for parents and little ones to interact, from adults copying little one’s facial expressions to working together to identify basic body parts. With large mirrors, babies can sit in front of them while a parent moves an object behind the baby, helping the baby practice visual tracking with their eyes.

We currently don’t have enough mirrors to use these as storytime manipulatives, but I do put out our small collection during baby play time. While mirrors are not as large as some of our other toys, babies are still fascinated by them, particularly once they catch a glimpse of their own reflection.

Recommended Purchases

Price: $36 for 6 mirrors

Consider your audience size when determining how many mirrors you want to purchase, especially if you are also using these as manipulatives in storytimes. There are many fantastic mirror rhymes for during storytimes.

Possible Extension Purchases:

Personally, I prefer mirrors that do not have to be affixed to a wall, as these can easily be packed up after baby play, eliminating a distraction during storytimes and programs for older children.

Conversation Starters

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

  • What do you see in the mirror?
  • Can you find your eyes in the mirror?
  • What does the toy look like in the mirror?
  • What happens when the light bounces off the mirror?

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:

Body
Cheeks
Chin
Ear
Eyelashes
Eyes

Face
Hair
Head
Lips
Look
Mirror

Nose
Nostril
Reflection
Shoulders
Teeth
Watch

Wonderworks: Animals in Winter

Occasionally, I get the opportunity to fill in for other regular storytimes at my library. I don’t often have the chance to work with preschoolers, but last week I presented our weekly Wonderworks storytime. This STEM storytime is designed for ages 3-6 with a collection of station-based activities afterwards allowing attendees to explore that week’s theme.

Whenever I get a chance to present Wonderworks, I typically connect the theme to animals. Last week, we talked about what animals do in winter, particularly hibernation, adaptation, and migration.

There are many great books on this topic, but I was right in predicting that my audience would be young (it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we had a ton of first time families and mostly children that were either 2-3 or 7-8).

We used a big book to read Sleepy Bear by Lydia Dabcovich. While the book is quite simple for the intended age range of this program, we were able to talk about the illustrations and the behaviors of many of the animals on the pages. We had a lengthy conversation about how we know the seasons are changing, and what we saw in the pictures that reflected that.

The flannel rhyme “Five Little Penguins” was definitely the hit of the storytime. We didn’t get to the book Mother Bruce, which we were going to watch via the Weston Woods video, due to lack of time, which I expected.

My full storytime outline is below.

STEM Stations

After storytime, folks were welcome to participate in a variety of activities that allowed them to further explore that week’s theme. These included:

Animal Tracks in the Snow

I cut out accurately-sized outlines of a polar bear track, deer track, raccoon track, and bird track out of thin foam. Attendees used markers on white butcher paper to trace and color in animal tracks in the snow, with the option of practicing writing skills by writing the name of the animal beside the track they made.

Blubber Experiment

Whenever possible, I like to include a small “experiment” in Wonderworks station-based play, where kids can learn more about a topic, make a hypothesis, and then test their hypothesis to see if it was true.

This week, we learned about blubber. We talked about this briefly during storytime when we talked about how animals, like polar bears and penguins, adapt during winter.

A coworker brought me a small bag of ice just as station play was beginning, which I dumped into our pre-set bin of water. Three kids at a time stopped by my station. They put their hand in the water and determined that it was, in fact, cold. We talked about how many winter animals in the Arctic and Antarctic swim in much colder water than this every day.

They then could test out three possible blubber substitutes–cotton balls, powdered sugar, and shortening. Quart sized ziploc bags were lined with each substance, and another quart size bag was placed in the middle inside-out, with the bags duct taped shut. That way, the child’s hand was protected from both water and the blubber substitute.

This is where science failed me–according to the internet and my own tests of this experiment, shortening acts as the best insulator. For whatever reason that morning, all three substances provided the same amount of warmth. The idea of explaining blubber still worked overall, even if the specifics of the experiment didn’t quite work.

This was definitely a popular activity, though I did have to manage it the whole time, since water was involved and our audience skewed young.

Find the Goslings Scavenger Hunt

Ten goslings were hidden around our activity center, and little ones had to practice their counting skills to find them all.

Download geese to hide around your room or library here.

Polar Bear Craft

Art is far from my favorite subject, but I like to include something art related in station-based play. I would have preferred something a bit more open-ended, but since I knew I would have to stay with the experiment station, I included an activity that was a little more straightforward in this polar bear craft.

Preschoolers practiced their fine motor skills by cutting out their own polar bears, and many got creative in coloring their bears and camouflaging them to match their backgrounds.

Polar Bear Craft printable outlines can be downloaded below:

App Play: Endless Alphabet

My last station incorporated technology. The Endless Alphabet app is definitely expensive ($8.99), but it is a high-quality app that helps little ones expand their vocabulary and practice identifying letter and recognizing letter sounds. During the storytime, we used the app as a group to talk about the word “camouflage.” Attendees were free to explore the app and and vocabulary words they liked. All ipads were locked to only allow access to that app.

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