Early Lit Tips: Mind Your P’s And Q’s

While harvesting peas from my small, backyard garden this morning, I was reminded of one of my favorite ABC books, LMNO Peas by Keith Baker. Alphabet books are a natural choice for the Early Literacy Practice of Writing. Writing and reading go together. Early writing activities may not look like much, but they develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. They also help children make the connection between spoken and printed language.

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
Cover of LMNO Peas by Keith BakerThis book will bring a smile to the face of any parent who has ever heard their child slur these middle letters together as they sing the Alphabet Song. This book is populated by lively Peas whose actions match the letter on the page. To build letter recognition and promote writing skills, trace the letters on your child’s leg or palm as you read. Or guide their finger to trace the letters. Talk about what the peas are doing to build vocabulary, too. (Full review of LMNO Peas)

Rhymes and Songs
Finger plays are not only fun, they build fine motor skills, which are essential when the time comes for a child to learn to write. These two rhymes are classics for a reason!

The Eensy Weensy Spider

The Eensy Weensy Spider climbed up the water spout
(Put index finger to thumb of other hand, then twist hands to put other index finger to the other thumb. Repeat to make a climbing motion.)
Down came the rain (flutter fingers downward)
And washed the spider out. (Sweep hands out to your sides as if brushing away the spider.)
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain (Make a big sun with your arms over your head.)
And the Eensy Weensy Spider went up the spout again. (Repeat spider climbing.)

Repeat the song with the words “Great Big Spider.” This introduces the concept of size comparison.

Here is the Beehive

Here is the beehive. (Make a fist with one hand)
Where are the bees? (Wave other hand around fist.)
Hidden away where nobody sees. (Shrug shoulders)
Watch and you’ll see them
Come out of their hive.
One, two, three, four, five. (Bring out fingers from fist one at a time)
Buzz, buzz, buzz (This is your cue for tickling!)


Little ones of all ages can enjoy scribbling. Even babies who can’t hold a crayon yet can scribble with their fingers in soap suds, shaving cream, or finger paints. Provide your child with lots of opportunities for open ended scribbling and drawing. Keep it fun and avoid “correcting” what children do to help avoid frustration.

Label their world
To help children make the connection between written words and spoken words, label things with them. Ask them what they’ve drawn and write a caption. Or encourage them to “write” it. Don’t worry that they can’t make correct letter shapes or spell the words. It’s the concept that matters at this stage.

Learn more about the role of scribbling in learning to write: From Scribbling to Writing  from PBS station KERA in Texas.

For more books and ideas for promoting writing, check out my Bibliocommons book and resource list: Building Early Literacy with (Pre-)Writing Activities.

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Early Lit Tips: Under the Sea

Summer weather often brings thoughts of going to the beach. Children are often fascinated by the shells and creatures they encounter there. In honor of the recent World Oceans Day (June 8), lets learn more about animals that live under the sea.

Early Literacy Tip: As is true for nearly all of  the best picture books, Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef  supports multiple early literacy practices and skills. The most obvious is Singing. But it is also well-suited for Talking. Talking, telling stories, and stretching conversations are ways children learn new information, new vocabulary, and other early literacy skills. As always, if you have questions, ask your local children’s librarian – they’re early literacy experts!

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef  by Marianne Berkes. Illustrated by Jeanette Canyon.
Cover of Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Marianne BerkesIn this book, Marianne Berkes adapts the classic counting song, Over in the Meadow, to life in a coral reef, under the sea. The fun counting song includes lots of factual details about the coral reef habitat and the animals that live there. After singing the song, and counting the creatures, go back and look through the book more slowly, talking about the animals and their actions. This is a great way to build vocabulary by learning names of new animals and words for their actions. These sea creatures don’t just swim, they puff, grunt, and flutter. Berkes includes factual information about all of the animals in the back of the book. The beautiful, detailed illustrations invite you to linger over the pictures, talking about what you see. Between the counting and learning about life in a coral reef, there’s a lot of STEM content here, too.

I wrote a full review of this book for the Central Rappahannock Library’s website: Over in the Ocean by Marianne Berkes. For more books you can use and to build early literacy by talking and resources to learn more, check out my booklist: Building Early Literacy by Talking.

Rhymes and Songs
Continue counting and learning about sea creatures with these rhymes from Learning Wonders. They have a number of other rhymes available on the site as Free Curriculum*.

Five Little Fishes
Five little fishes swimming near the shore.
Swish went the waves. And then there were four.
Four little fishes, pretty as can be.
Swish went the waves. And then there were three.
Three little fishes, with a spot of blue.
Swish went the waves. Then there were two.
Two little fishes, swimming in the sun.
Swish went the waves. Then there was one.
One little fishy, swimming all alone.
I’ll put you in my gold fish bowl and take you home.

Octopus, Octopus
Octopus, octopus down in the sea.
How many arms can you show me?
Only one, or will it be two?
Why are all of these arms on you?
Will it be three or will it be four?
Oh, dear me! Are there really more?
Will it be five or will it be six?
I think that my eyes are playing tricks.
Will it be seven or will it be eight?
Tell me, octopus. I cannot wait.
Octopus, octopus down in the sea,
How many arms can you show me?
(Of course, the answer is eight!)

*I am not advocating purchase of kits from the Learning Wonders site. But they do deserve credit for the rhymes I found in their Free Curriculum section.

The first activity is adapted from a Preschool STEM Library Program created by Tina Ladika. You can find her complete Ocean and Beach Storytime on the Simply STEM wiki’s Preschool Page.

Make Waves
Hold opposite ends of a blue sheet or small plastic tablecloth. Better yet, get some friends and spread out around the sheet. Make waves by moving the sheet up and down. Play with the height and frequency of your waves as you pretend there is a breeze, getting faster and higher as the breeze gets stronger. Kids may want to go under the sheet and pretend to be fish under the waves.

Paper Plate Fish
Paper Plate Fish DecorationsThis is a super simple craft I used for a Preschool Storytime to create decorations for our Summer Reading Program. You can see them hanging in an ocean of blue streamers in our Children’s Area.

You’ll need a plain, old fashioned paper plate for each fish, glue or tape, scissors and crayons, markers, paint, stickers or anything else you want to use to decorate the fish. Cut a triangle shape from one end. That space is the mouth. Attach the triangle to the back end of the fish as the tail. Then decorate the fish however you would like. We punched a hole in the top of the completed fish and used yarn to hang them from the ceiling.

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Simply STEM – A New Wiki For Library Programming

Cover of STEM Lesson EssentialsMany people think that the purpose of STEM education and programming is to get kids to grow up to be engineers or scientists. But the authors of STEM Lesson Essentials: Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics describe the goal of S.T.E.M. education slightly differently:

“The main goal of STEM education is not for students to become mathematicians, scientists, technicians, or engineers; although it would be great if more of our youth had such aspirations. The goal is for all students to be able to function and thrive in our highly technological world–that is, to be STEM literate.” (p. 9)

Given the current emphasis on STEM, it’s not surprising that libraries are adding STEM components to their programming. After all, libraries already have large nonfiction collections. It makes sense to build programs around all aspects of our holdings, not just picture books or literature. We’re in the information business, not the Arts and Humanities business.

SimplySTEM wiki bannerThe problem when planning a STEM program is that many resources are oriented toward classroom use. Lesson plans for public libraries will necessarily be quite different. Librarians can often adapt activities intended for parents and families. But that can be time consuming and frustrating. If only there were an online collection of actual library programs. Well, now there is! It’s called Simply STEM.

The original source of lesson plans for Simply STEM was the assignments participants shared in an online course I took through ALSC called STEM Programs Made Easy. But I’m hoping that it will expand to become a large collection of program ideas and resources that will help Youth Services librarians provide quality STEM programs to children of all ages.

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Early Lit Tips: Let’s Go Bananas!

So often adults describe active children as little monkeys. Let’s celebrate that energy and fun-loving attitude with some of my favorite monkey books and rhymes.

These books are great read alouds and lend themselves to multiple early literacy practices, but today we’ll focus on playing. Playing is more than just fun. It is how children learn new concepts, including language.

Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree by Eileen Christelow
Cover of Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree by ChristelowFive mischievous little monkeys out on a picnic decide it would be fun to tease Mr. Crocodile. This is a great participatory book that always goes over well at Storytime. Children love to join in when the crocodile goes “SNAP!” Make it a game and have them use their arms to mimic crocodile jaws opening wide and snapping shut. When you re-read this book, as you know you will, make a game of trying to find where the disappearing monkeys are hidden.

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
Cover of Monkey and Me by Emily GravettThis is another Storytime favorite. A little girl and her stuffed monkey playfully relive a visit to the zoo. The repetitive text and singsong rhythm make it fun to read aloud. Be sure to have your little listeners playfully act out the different animals in the zoo! Use the book as a starting point to talk about animals. Ask what animal in the book they would like to see the most and what other animals they would visit at the zoo.

Rhymes and Songs
Rhymes and songs often lend themselves to play. These two songs let children play at being monkeys. Be sure to get silly as you act out the words! Feel free to add any motions you think of.

The Monkeys in the Zoo (sung to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus)

The monkeys in the zoo
Turn round and round,
Round and round,
Round and round.
The monkeys in the zoo
Turn round and round.
Just like I do!

Repeat with:

Touch their toes.
Rub their tummies.
Pat their heads.
Jump up and down.
Swing through the trees.

Ten Little Monkeys (To the tune of Ten Little Indians)

1 little, 2 little, 3 little monkeys,4 little, 5 little, 6 little monkeys,
7 little, 8 little, 9 little monkeys,
10 little monkeys
Swinging in the trees.

Repeat with:

Jumping up and down.
Turning round and round.
Shaking back and forth.


Take a favorite toy animal on an imaginary visit to the zoo or other fun place. You could head to the jungle or the park. Act out what you would do there just like the girl and her monkey in Monkey and Me.

Make a monkey mask

Make a monkey mask out of a paper plate and pretend to be a monkey.

Find out some facts about monkeys and share them as you play. The Animals page on the National Geographic website has great information about monkeys and lots of other animals. For some fun facts, check out these monkeys:

  • Howler Monkeys live in South America and have prehensile tails they can use to hang from the trees. Don’t miss the audio!
  • Proboscis Monkeys – Not only do they have an amazing nose, but these natives of Borneo are great swimmers!

Learn more about Playing and Early Literacy

Cover of Literacy Play by Sherrie West and Amy CoxThere are lots more ideas for activities in the book Literacy Play : Over 300 Dramatic Play Activities That Teach Pre-reading Skills by Sherrie West and Amy Cox. Click on the cover picture to check Worldcat and see if your library has a copy that you can borrow. Then get playing!

The Center for Early Literacy Learning has lots of activities on their website for building early literacy skills. Here are just a few that are based on playing:

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There Is Always A Learning Curve

SimplySTEM wiki bannerOkay, maybe if you do a project like setting up a wiki often enough that isn’t entirely true. But in my experience, since each project is different, you will encounter something new that makes you feel like a beginner all over again. This morning, I hit that point with the new wiki I created for sharing S.T.E.M. program ideas.

I’ve created several wikis on different platforms, some for MLIS classes, one for the Brussels Army Library, and one for Girl Scouts in Europe. Granted, they’ve all been on different platforms, but there have been a lot of similarities. When creating this wiki, I chose the platform I liked the best of those I have used, wikispaces. I like the polished appearance and ease of use. But this wiki is very different from those I’ve done previously, and wikispaces proved to have a significant drawback – storage space.

My previous wikis involved very few files and just a few pictures. But this wiki is file heavy. The core of the information is lesson plans created by students in the S.T.E.M. programming course I took this spring. I’ve been converting the documents into PDFs and uploading them to the wiki site. As I tried to upload a file on the Preschool Programs page, it wouldn’t take. No message as to what happened, just the site going through the motions of uploading but the file didn’t appear on the list. What?!? As far as I can figure out, I’ve hit the storage limit for a free account. It turns out that the limit is pretty small, just half a gigabyte.

I really don’t want to start the entire process over, especially since I’ve already shared the site address with people. So I need to store the files somewhere else and just link to them from the wiki. It’s not really any more work, other than having to redo the links for files I’ve already uploaded. Google Drive has 15 gigabytes of storage for free, so I think that is the way to go. Since I want the wiki to be completely public, I don’t want to tie the files to my email accounts. That way if I want to give someone else access to the file storage, I’m not also giving them access to my email.

So, I’m trying not to view this as a set back, but a positive. In addition to creating what I think is a pretty cool resource, I’ve learned something more about wiki creation. And learning new things is always good!

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Early Lit Tips: Take It Outside

June is Great Outdoors Month. With that in mind, and in celebration of National Trails Day on Saturday, June 1, let’s head outside this week.

Early Literacy Practice: Singing
Cover of We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Rosen and Oxenbury
One fun way to help build your child’s pre-literacy skills is through singing. Singing slows down language and there is often a different note for each syllable in a word. That helps children hear the smaller sounds in words, which will help them sound out words when the time comes for them to learn to read. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury is a great book for combining the theme of the great outdoors with a fun, singable story. If you feel unsure about how to sing a book, check out the Youtube video of Michael Rosen performing the story.

Rhymes and Songs
Nursery rhymes are also great for helping children hear the smaller sounds in words, building what is known as phonological awareness. They should also be fun! Many nursery rhymes also include hand motions, which can help build fine motor skills, and counting, which helps provide a basic foundation for later math literacy. Here are two outdoor-themed rhymes with hand motions.

Round and Round the Garden
Round and round the garden,
like a teddy bear.
(Trace a circle on child’s palm or tummy with your finger)

One step, two step
(Walk your fingers up the child’s arm)

Tickle under there
(Tickle child under the arms or chin)

Five Green and Speckled Frogs
Five green and speckled frogs       (hold up 5 fingers)
Sat on a speckled log                       (“sit” 5 fingers on other arm)
Eating some most delicious bugs
Yum! Yum!                                        (rub tummy)
One jumped into the pool               (hold up 1 finger)
Where it was nice and cool.
Then there were 4 green speckled frogs (hold up 4 fingers)
Glub! Glub!

Four green and speckled frogs . . .
Three green and speckled frogs . . .
Two green and speckled frogs . . .
One green and speckled frog . . . Then there were no green speckled frogs!

View of the grounds at Stratford Hall, VAHead out into your own backyard or find a nearby hiking trail and go on your own bear hunt. Make up your own version of the nursery rhyme based on what you encounter. Most importantly, just walk, explore, and talk about what you see. For some great ideas about how to encourage kids to use their senses on a nature walk, check out this post on Simple Kids: Explore Nature With Your Senses.

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Early Lit Tips: How Does Your Garden Grow?

Spring is a great time to explore the concepts of seeds and growing things. Here are some books, rhymes and an activity that will build both early literacy skills and introduce some science concepts as well.

Early Literacy Activity: Reading
Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow by Susan SheaReading together with children is the single most important thing you can do to promote early literacy. Reading together means interacting and talking about the book as you read. A great book to read together that explores the concept of growing things is Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan Shea. The question and answer format of this book lends itself to involving children in the reading process while the rhyming text and bright illustrations make it a fun experience as well.

Rhymes and Songs
The traditional rhyme, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary is an obvious choice for a gardening theme while The Gardener Plants the Seeds follows the growth of flowers from seeds to blooming.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

The Gardener Plants the Seeds (sung to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell)
The gardener plants the seeds.
The gardener plants the seeds.
High ho the derry oh,
The gardener plants the seeds.

Verse 2: The rain falls on the ground.
Verse 3: The sun shines bright and warm.
Verse 4: The seeds begin to grow.
Verse 5: The flowers smile at us.

Seedlings in homemade newspaper starter pots from Lindy's Cottage Hill BlogA great way for children to learn more about how seeds grow is to plant some and watch for themselves. If you have some newspaper and soil you have everything you need to create starter pots for flowers or vegetables. When the seedlings are big enough, just plant them directly in the ground or a larger pot, newspaper and all. Full directions with illustrations are available on the Cottage Hill blog.

If you want to go a step further and actually watch the seeds sprouting, try placing a damp (not soaking wet) cotton ball or folded paper towel in a resealable plastic sandwich bag. Put a seed or two on the damp cotton ball and seal the bag. Set it in an area that is bright, but not in direct sunlight so the seeds don’t get too hot in their makeshift greenhouse. Then watch the magic as roots start to grow and the seeds sprout. Radish and bean seeds work well for this.

This is the first in a series of posts for caregivers and librarians with tips, activities and books for promoting early literacy.

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Literacy – More Important Than Ever

Because Literacy In All Its Forms Is More Important Than Ever

Since I started this blog, I have often struggled to find a clear focus. As my professional experience grew and changed, my perspective and interests also changed. As I was re-evaluating my professional identity and career direction, I realized that issues about which I am passionate revolve around the idea of literacy. As our world becomes more technologically complex, literacy is becoming, if anything, more necessary on many levels.

What is literacy? Its root definition is the ability to read and write. For the purposes of this blog, I am defining literacy in its broadest sense. Basic literacy, reading and writing, provides a solid foundation on which to build other types of literacy. Clearly libraries have a role to play in Early Literacy, helping to ensure children are ready to learn to read when they start school. Information Literacy is another obvious area where libraries are important. But we can do so much more.

In previous posts, I’ve written about Information Literacy, Digital Literacy and Technological Literacy. I will continue to explore those topics. But I will also provide regular Early Literacy tips and activities. I will explore ways libraries can create programming to help build S.T.E.M. Literacy. As part of Digital Literacy, I will explore apps for both adults, teens and young children and discuss how to use technology is age-appropriate ways. My goal is to provide ideas for librarians as well as tools for everyone as they navigate life in our digital age.


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That Might Just Be Opportunity in Disguise

I was recently selected for a professional position that fell through after I had already resigned from my previous job. The reasons aren’t important. But the process forced me to re-evaluate my approach to librarianship and professional development. After briefly wallowing in my disappointment, I have come to realize that it was probably time to shake things up in my professional life and I should view this as an opportunity rather than a set back.

Two years ago I took a position as a substitute Youth Services Library Assistant. I had hopes that it would be a way to break in to the system and would lead to something better over time. I gradually added some regular hours and additional responsibilities, including Preschool Storytimes. But nothing better ever came through, and I found myself working two nights a week and two weekends a month plus whatever other hours I could grab as a sub. The crazy hours and constantly shifting schedule took a bigger toll on me than I realized. Add to that a weekly commute time of between 8 and 12 hours, and it’s no wonder outside endeavors like my blog suffered. I had great ideas. But never had the energy to pursue them. Yet I probably would not have actually taken the leap of quitting on my own.

I worked my last night yesterday, and I am a bit surprised at the level of relief I feel. I also feel energized and ready to dive in to more reading, book reviews and other projects. I hope to expand my blogging to include reviewing apps for children, exploring issues in S.T.E.M. programming, and promoting early literacy. But the really big project in the works is growing out of the S.T.E.M. Programs Made Easy course I took through ALSC this spring. I am going to be collecting our lesson plans and program ideas and creating a wiki. The wiki will be open for anyone to share their ideas, experiences and resources. In some ways I think this project may be a better demonstration of my professional skills than continuing to work night shifts on a teen reference desk as a para-professional.

I am not giving up on my dreams of a professional position in Youth Services. But I am feeling more positive and think I can turn this set back into something really positive.

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STEM Programming in Libraries


Scientist clip art by Phillip Martin

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Programs are a hot topic these days. There is a real push to offer more science and technology types of programs and events. It’s a trend in education and among non-profit organizations for children. But what role should libraries really play in this movement? After all, we’re about literature and books. Is this a fad that is going to fade away in a year or so after we’ve committed significant portions of our limited resources to it?

Sometimes, if you listen in on discussions among youth librarians, the importance of including STEM activities predominates so much that you might think that every program we are planning these days must be a STEM program. But just because we’re all talking about it so much, doesn’t mean that it has taken over or is going to do so. I think it is discussed so much because including STEM topics at all is a major change. If we were to look at library programs 2 or 3 years ago, how many would have included science or math at all?

Before I go further, let me say that I believe that STEM programming can “play nicely” with our more traditional programming. One does not preclude the other. In fact, we may find kids more receptive if we don’t advertise our STEM programs as being about science. Several years ago, I had the pleasure of being a leader for a Girl Scout Brownie troop of 2nd and 3rd graders. When I asked them if they wanted to do any of the science badges or activities they unanimously replied, “No!” But at one meeting, I included a hand-on science activity without telling them it was science. They loved it! They wanted to do more! But they had assumed science activities had to be like the textbook science they were doing in school, which they thought was boring. Instead, we learned about the phases of the moon using Oreo cookies (instructions courtesy of NASA). Guess what, two and four weeks later they could still tell you what they had learned! They went on to earn every science badge available.

But what does leading a Girl Scout troop have to do with offering STEM programs in libraries? Libraries are about information – not just certain types, but all information. We talk about teaching information literacy and digital literacy. STEM literacy is just another kind of literacy. It should not replace our early literacy, literature-based, or arts and crafts programming. But it can certainly enhance those programs. For example, a program on nocturnal animals (a suggested theme for the Dream Big Summer Reading Program at our library in 2012) could begin with reading aloud Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. Discussion of the book leads into scientific information on bats, including a game identifying which animals are nocturnal, diurnal, and crepuscular. End with a craft and you’ve hit arts, literature and science! And hopefully had some fun along the way.

Yes, there is a big push for STEM programming. But instead of seeing that as a threat or a burden, we could look at it as an opportunity. This is a way to enrich our existing youth programming, not replace it. And the truly huge benefit of the current focus on STEM is that fantastic, creative ideas are easy to find and community support is likely to be high. Who knows, maybe we can convince the public and politicians of our relevance if we can help further local STEM initiatives. Adding STEM to our program lineup may push some librarians out of their comfort zones. But the payoff in benefits for our children and teen library users could be huge.

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