STEM in Preschool Storytime

I really love STEAM. Which is a weird thing for an English major-turned-librarian to say, perhaps, but there’s something really satisfying about connecting traditional literacies to more recently recognized ones.

I’ve been connected with a lot of great resources through the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, City of Learning, and the Children’s Innovation Project. This week I decided to start pulling some of their information into a new setting – my preschool storytime.

The first week, I’ll admit I copied from the always super amazing Show Me Librarian. She has a showcase of STEAM programs for children, and the one about the Three Little Pigs was just perfect.

We had a small group, so once we danced with our imaginary hula hoops, read through The Three Little Pigs by Bernadette Watts, and retold the story together, we broke out the materials.

I encouraged parents to come down and build. Each child built three small houses – one out of bubble tea straws, one out of popsicle sticks, and one out of Duplos. The kids took about 20 minutes to build all three, though they could have taken much longer. What kid doesn’t like building?

But the real fun was in trying to blow them over. We all blew together and blow the straw buildings apart. Even the stick building fell down with just a good huff and puff (the Big Bad Wolf would be proud). But the Duplos, as predicted, didn’t budge even when we used the Super Big Bad Wolf (aka my blow dryer). The kids loved it. The parents loved it.

And that gave me my opening for talking about integrating more STEM into our storytime. Apparently, a few of the kids had been asking if we were going to do experiments ever since my PreK Art and Science program ended.

The parents are interested in pulling in some more STEAM concepts, and I’m excited to test some of the learning scaffolds that the  Children’s Innovation Project has been studying in an informal learning environment.

It’ll be a great experiment in its own right, and hopefully will lead to some really excellent learning and fun here at preschool storytime.

Stuffed Animal Sleepover

Stuffed animals hanging out

We hosted our first stuffed animal sleepover (a program where children have a storytime and leave their stuffed friend at the library overnight for photographed shenanigans).

Another program I inherited after a staff member left, I wasn’t entirely sure how this program would go. It was scheduled the week of Christmas, and we don’t have any other programming this week, so I was a little nervous about the timing.

We had a small group register – only about 6 kids, but they were all kids that knew me and the library well, something I found to be really important when they had to leave their stuffed animals in my care at the end of the storytime.

The storytime had been scheduled early in the morning – 10am, which isn’t something I’d repeat. It gave me lots of time to take pictures before the end of my shift, but it made it harder on the kids that had to leave their friends here for much longer than otherwise necessary.

We started with a registration form for the stuffed animal friends. It was simple enough, but let the kids share some great information about their animals. Here’s the form:

Child's Name, Friend's Name, Drawn Picture, Friend's Favorite COlor, Friend Likes To, What Child likes best about their friend, What the friend needs before bed

Once they had completed that, we did the storytime. Here’s the breakdown:

Children bring their stuffed animal into the room. We put a name tag on it and snap a picture of the child with their stuffed animal. The child also fills out a quick “questionnaire” to gather some information about their animal.

Books: I offered a choice to the group, but they ended up wanting to read all of them!

  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems
  • Waking Dragons by Jane Yolen
  • Found by Salina Yoon
  • Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas


Rockabye Bear by the Wiggles
We danced to this! 

Five in the Bed
There were five in the bed (Hold up five fingers)
And the little one said, “Roll over, roll over!” (Make rolling motion)
So they are rolled over and one fell out. (Hold up one finger & surprised face)
// Count down until
There was one in the bed (Hold up one finger)
And the little one said, “I’ve got it all to myself!” (Spread out arms) (via StorytimeKatie)

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground
Teddy bear, teddy bear, reach up high
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the sky
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch your knees
Teddy bear, teddy bear, sit down please

Little Stars
Little stars (fingerplay):
Little stars way up in the sky (hold hands up and wiggle fingers)/ little stars us so very high (stretch hands up higher and wiggle fingers)/ they twinkle brightly through the night but during the day they are out of sight! (pull hands down quickly and hide them behind your back)
(via Storytime All Stars)

Craft: Decorating a picture frame for the photo of the child and their stuffed animal. (I put the picture I took of the child and their friend into these frames for pickup the next day).

Closing: Tucking in their stuffed animal into the giant blanket (I’m bringing a fuzzy large one from home. Singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as a lullaby, then sneaking quietly out of the room.

After the kids left, we teamed up to take a bunch of pictures – next time I’ll ask a volunteer to help with this, since it took a little more time than I anticipated. But the pictures turned out great!

Stuffed animals reading from Kindle Stuffed animals covering books Stuffed animals on the computer Stuffed animals looking at pet lizard Stuffed animals raiding the vending machine Stuffed animals playing the piano Stuffed animals hanging out

PreK Art & Science: Little Blue and Little Yellow

Little Blue & Little Yellow via Chez Beeper Bebe

Little Blue & Little Yellow via Chez Beeper Bebe


Lionni, Leo. Little Blue and Little Yellow. 1947.

Mulder-Slater, Andrea. “Tasty Color Mixing.” KinderArt.


Copy of Little Blue and Little Yellow for each child.

For Frosting Station:

Blue food coloring

Yellow food coloring

Red food coloring

Vanilla frosting

1 paper plate/child

1 popsicle stick/child

Small garbage bags, cut into bibs

For Paint Station:

1 small plastic bag/child

Yellow tempura paint

Blue tempura paint

For Playdough Demo (If there’s enough playdough, can be a take home activity):


Blue playdough

Yellow playdough

Lots of handwipes


1 Day Before:

Make the blue and yellow playdough, if making your own. Use any recipe that won’t dry overnight.

Mix vanilla frosting with food coloring to create colored frostings.

Precut garbage bags into bibs, if necessary

Day of:

Put tablecloths/newspaper down in each activity area.

Set up paper plates at the frosting station. Put some of each color frosting in the frosting station for parents to help their kids with. Put supply of bibs at this station.

Get blue and yellow paints in small bottles if available, so children can more easily squirt them in themselves. If only large bottles are available, ask parents to help. Put plastic bags near the paint.


Read Little Blue and Little Yellow together. Try to have enough books for each child and parent to have a copy as well. I used the board book version to make it stand up a little better, as our “preschool” crowd often verges on toddler. If you have colored lenses, you can use these to help children see the combination of blue and yellow in a way that separates back out. When you’ve read the book, as about colors. What happened when little blue and little yellow hugged?

Reinforce color mixing by showing them the two balls of playdough. What will happen when you mix them together? Start with a small blue ball and a small yellow ball (have a backup of each handy for the end of the story.) Have the children walk back through the story with you. When blue and yellow hug, mix the dough together. What color is it now? What colors make green?

When you’ve retold the story, have them try some mixing of their own. For mess-squeamish settings, the paint in a plastic bag can be cleaner, and yet still a nice sensory way to have children squishily explore color mixing. Squirt some of each color into opposite corners of the bag and seal it shut – reinforce with tape if necessary. Children can then squish the bag to mix the paint colors, creating  spectrum of yellow, blue, and green.

At the frosting station, children can make a color wheel out of frosting on their plate. The addition of red at this table increases the number of colors they can have. Have a color wheel example on hand, but allow children to explain with color mixing in all forms. Let them take the plates home.

Parents and children can move between stations as they will.


What happens when blue and yellow mix?

What about other colors? Do they mix?

Can you mix other colors together to make blue, red or yellow? Why not?


These activities allow for some messy, sensory play that can still be contained in a library. Color is an easy way to introduce a variety of art activities that we will be doing in the coming weeks. Seeing that color works the same in various mediums (light, playdough, and paint) will help children feel more comfortable as they experiment with various art methods, as well as encouraging scientific observation and questioning. This is an easy way to help children who are used to normal library storytimes (the ones with books) transition into other learning activities and events at the library as well.

Try it!

Encourage parents to show children how color mixing works. When making pancakes, for instance, adding food coloring can change the dough, and thus the pancake. A tasty learning opportunity!

PreK Art & Science: Ice Painting

Ice Painting via Wadleigh Memorial Library

Ice Painting via Wadleigh Memorial Library


Schwake, Susan. “Ice Drawings.” Art Lab for Little Kids. 2013. p 36.

“Primary Colors.” Ok Go for Sesame Street. 2012. – 1:30 music video reinforcing primary colors as the basis of all color.


White Cover Stock

Food Coloring

Craft Sticks

Prepared Ice Cubes (See “Preparation”)

Egg Carton


1 week to 1 day before:

Fill an ice cube tray with water, dropping 5 or 6 drops of food coloring into each section based on the colors you want. Put the tray in the freezer. When half frozen, put craft sticks into each section to serve as handles. Leave some cubes without handles to be used directly with the hands

Day of:

Cover tables and area around tables with plastic table clothes or newspaper. Food coloring stains!

Transfer color cubes into egg cartons for easier access.

Set out card stock at each station, making sure each station has easy access to an egg carton full of color cubes.


Talk to students about color mixing. Some will have mixed colors last week in the Little Blue and Little Yellow day. Ask them what happens when you mix blue and yellow. When they realize it makes green, ask about other colors. What happens when you mix blue and red? Yellow and red?  Let them experiment with drawing a picture with the ice cubes, which will act like solid watercolors. Some may stick with the primary colors you’ve created, others may start by mixing. Explain that layering the colors mixes them, creating new colors, and encourage them to try this method. Encourage creativity and experimentation. For instance, does a green line look different if you go back over it a second time? What if you go over it with blue? Some students may begin to grasp the idea of primary and secondary colors.


What is a primary color?

What happens when you mix primary colors?

What happens when you add two lines of the same color?


This activity is focused on experimentation and experience. Children will create an artifact (their ice paintings) while discovering how colors interact with each other. While not all children will understand primary and secondary colors or the color wheel, this will form a concrete activity to begin thinking about this rather abstract concept.

Homeschool Art and Science: Gravity

Page from Jason Chin's Gravity: The Moon would drift away from the Earth.

Cover Image from Jason Chin’s Gravity, 2014.

A quick one-shot lesson plan from a juvenile art and science session I ran as an intern. I wrote this up in detail for a Teaching and Learning class during my MLIS.


Chin, Jason. Gravity. 2014.


For Gravity Drop:

Ping pong balls, marbles, Styrofoam balls, pencils, paper clips, erasers, crumpled papers, rubber balls, tissues, feathers, blocks, coins, Matchbox cars, stuffed animals, or any other object kids might want to drop

Eggs, if the experiment is done outdoors

For Art Activity:

Paper or other canvas material

Lid from a cardboard box – around the same size as the paper/canvas

Washable paint



For Gravity Drop:

Print “What Falls Faster” worksheets, 1/ child

For Art Activity:

Lay a paper or other canvas material inside the lid of a cardboard box. There should not be much extra room. If there is, make sure the canvas is secured flat against the bottom of the box so that the marbles can roll over it. Having paint in squirt bottles makes it easier to add to each box quickly.


Have two volunteers each pick an object. Ask the class which object will fall faster – which will hit the ground first. Record the guesses (hypotheses). Have the group count down from 3, with the volunteers dropping their object at the count of 0. Have the group watch to see which hit first. Was it the object they expected? Repeat this activity several times in order for students to make observations and hypotheses several times using different object comparisons. Have students draw each object and record which one fell faster.

(Note: As gravity will affect all objects equally, any discrepancy will be based on air resistance and the quickness of the volunteer in dropping them. If it becomes an issue, have the volunteers trade objects as a control.)

If facilities permit, have a chair or other platform available for those that want to be higher. A summer variation might include water balloons filled with different amounts of water.

Read Gravity. Ask students what they noticed in the book’s illustrations. What sorts of objects fall to earth? What happens when objects have no gravity? Where might there be little or no gravity? Ask them to think about environments where gravity might act differently for next week.

Start the Art Activity. Note that depending on class size, it may be wise to prepare more than one painting set. If possible, children should do this art project in groups of 2-4, although older students with more coordination may be able to do it on their own, particularly with smaller canvases.

Have students each hold a side of the box. Place the marbles inside the box and have them move the marbles by lifting and lowering the sides of the box. Remind them to keep the marble inside the box, but have them observe how the rate of movement changes depending on the amount of difference between the high end and the low end. (This will help prepare them for the simple machines unit). Once they seem to have a grasp of this (or when you are at least reasonably sure the marbles will stay in the box), add a squirt or dollop of paint to one section of the canvas. Have the students try to roll the marble through the paint and then around the canvas. After a few minutes add a second color, then a third if time allows.

Tell the students that this is gravity in action! Remind them to think about examples of places that gravity isn’t as strong.

Clean up and dismiss the class.


What is gravity?

What things fall?

What happened to each of the objects as they fell?

Why do you think that happened?

Is there any relationship between size and speed? Between weight and speed? Between height and weight and speed?

Can you categorize the items in any way at all?

Adaptations for Older or Younger Groups:

Older Groups:

Have students compare a flat piece of paper and a crumpled piece of paper in the discrepant activity. Begin to lead their thinking toward air resistance and mass, reminding them of the space occupied by air (and so the idea that air is “in the way” of gravity).

Begin to lead their thinking towards the idea of mass. Define Mass [How big an object is.] Clarify that objects with different masses will hit the ground at the same time if an outside force (like air resistance) does not affect them.

Younger Groups:

Students can skip the written explanation on the “What Falls Faster” worksheet. For PreK and K children, the teacher and other adults may be used in place of student volunteers for the drop experiment.

Other Notes:

Last week wrapped up the weather unit about tornadoes, including the building of a tornado tube. Students may remember that air filled up the bottom bottle (air pressure), and that water falls because it is heavier than air. Quickly reminding students of these comparisons and observations at the beginning of the class session may be beneficial and put them in the right mindset

Next week will be about defying gravity – floating in the water, jumping up, and the International Space Station. Consider leaving the items used in today’s dropping experiment for use in a water tank next week so that students can compare what happens when an object is dropped through air and when it’s dropped in water. What other forces are at work when something is dropped in water? What lifts it up? The movement up, and the amount of force it takes to escape gravity, will be the focus of discussion, aided by the use of the storybook Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, and culminating in the launch of a pop-bottle rocket with the group.

PreK Art and Science: Popsicle Stick Symmetry


Symmetrical Drop Butterflies via Splats, Scraps, and Glue Blobs
Symmetrical Drop Butterflies via Splats, Scraps, and Glue Blobs

Murphy, Stuart J. Let’s Fly a Kite. 2000.

“Making Shapes.” 2013.

Schwake, Susan. “Fold Me a Print.” Art Lab for Little Kids. 2013. p 76.


For the Mirror Demo:

Symmetry mirror

Household objects, some symmetrical, some not

For “Making Shapes” Take Home:

20 craft sticks/child

Markers in assorted colors

For “Fold Me a Print”:

Cover Stock


Poster Paint



Wash Water


1 Day before:

Prepare bags of 20 craft sticks each, along with instructions and one example set. Be ready to do this activity if there is time, but also make it understandable in case it’s a take home activity.

Day of:

Cover work area with newspapers/table cloths. Create an example of the folded print.

Lightly draw a line of symmetry on the card stock, some vertical, some horizontal.

Set up each station with easy access to a palette of paint, a piece of cardstock, and a paintbrush. Children may choose to use their fingers instead. Have hand wipes available if this is the case. Pre-fold some of the card stock for those who can’t quite fold, making it easier for them to get a good symmetrical fold.


Paraphrase Let’s Fly a Kite for the group. Some things are the same on both sides of a line – like the beach blanket, the kite, and the sandwich. What about some other household items? Hold up things like a fork, a mug, and a picture of a pizza. Are they symmetrical? Why? Show them the line of symmetry on each item using the mirror. For non-symmetrical items, have them say what’s wrong (e.g. there’s 2 handles on the mug).

For the activity, have children look for the line of symmetry on their card stock. Ask them to fold it in half. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it should be close, so ask adults to help as necessary. Explain that things that fold in half exactly are symmetrical. Tell them to paint on just one side of their folded line. They can paint any shape they’d like, but after each color, have them fold the paper in half on the line again. After the first print, they will begin to understand that the mirror image of the paint will appear on the other side of the line. They can continue painting until their design is complete.


What is symmetry?

Can you find a line of symmetry?


Children can apply their understanding of color mixing, learned the past 2 weeks, to this paint and print activity. Allowing them to see their painting after each piece of color added gives them insight into the process of symmetrical prints, and to printmaking in general.  Symmetry is an easy-to-demonstrate concept, but sometimes hard to grasp. By allowing them to see symmetry in things they create as well as things in the world around them, children will have a firmer understanding of this basic geometric concept.

Try it!

Have children hold their hands in front of them, thumb to thumb. Ask them if the shape made by their hands is symmetrical.  Show them that when they fold their hands together (palms pressing together), their hands line up perfectly – they are symmetrical, and the line of symmetry was the line between their thumbs. Are there other body parts that are symmetrical? Face? Feet? Ears?

Let There Be Moose

This is a Moose Cover

Some days, you plan everything and it just doesn’t work. Other days, you kind of forget about the fact that you’re actually running storytime until the day of… (I’ve never done that, don’t look at me like that…)

I grabbed some moose books. Yes, moose. We had just gotten “This is a Moose” by Richard T. Morris in, and that proud moose was perched atop the new picture books. It spoke to me, but was a little long for my toddlers. So I started searching.

There are SO MANY moose books.

Duck Duck Moose cover

I ended up using “Duck, Duck, Moose” by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, which is great for a small group. It only uses the three title words throughout the story, which leaves lots of room for interaction between the storyteller and the children as they figure out the story. The pictures tell of a very hyperactive moose who always seems to be messing up something that the ducks are doing. But when it’s revealed that the ducks are trying to set up a surprise party for moose, they can’t find him – he’s too sad that he’s in the way. But they good duck friends bring him back to the party – and there ain’t no party like a duck and moose party!

Fair warning: this book is a little small, so if you have a bigger group, you may not like this one.

Looking for a Moose coverWe also did “Looking for a Moose” by Phyllis Root. This is a kind of “Going on a bear hunt” in book form. All we know is we have never, ever, ever, seen a moose, and we really, really, really want to see one. The book takes you through hills and forests and swamps to look for moose. The kids loved this one – it gave them plenty of opportunity to look for signs that moose had been there, along with some great onomatopoeia and nonsense words.

We did some moose songs, too. They are sprinkled about the web (Check out my resources below, but this one went over best:

Action Rhyme : “Mr. Moose” (via The Door2Door Librarian)
Mr. Mr is very tall  (put hands to head for antlers)
His antlers touch the sky (hand high up in the air)
They make a real good resting place (put hands out to sides)
For birdies passing by (flap arms like wings)

Really, what I discovered from this is that kids love to make moose antlers with their hands. Since we did this song before the books, I encouraged them to put up antlers every time I said the word moose during the first book, and everytime they saw a moose clue in the second book. The loved it.

We had a moose craft, too – make your own antlers! We just made construction paper headbands and had them glue on wavy horns that the adults cut out, but they really enjoyed getting to be moose for the rest of the day.

Harris County Public Library Moose Storytime
Storytime with Miss Mollie Moose Storytime
Delta Township District Library Moose Storytime

STEAM Three Ways: Silly Putty

Neon Slime

Cover Image via PaperPolaroid.

Library staff are often crunched for time, particularly in the youth services department (although I may be biased here). To that end, getting the supplies and planning for a single science activity that can be used in multiple age groups has a real, measurable time and budget savings. It’s important that these activities not only be adaptable in practice, but also in interest level. So to kick off this new occasional blog feature, I thought I should start with something everyone loves: silly putty.

I have a love of making silly putty. It’s fun, it’s easy, and you can change it up to suit the lesson you’re trying to convey. I tend to use the very simple glue/Borax mix. (I know, I know, it’s not actually silly putty. I’ll address the chemical difference in the “Teen Program” section.)

Basic recipe:

– 1 8 oz bottle of Elmer’s glue (brand is weirdly important here)

– 1/2 cup warm water, supersaturated with Borax (just mix in Borax until it starts to settle out of the solution)

– a plastic bag

NOTE: I don’t ever measure it out as they do here. I tend to put some glue and some supersaturated Borax solution into a Dixie cup and stir. If it’s too hard, add more glue, if it’s too soft and sticky, add more Borax solution.

Preschool Program:

I used this silly putty for part of my color mixing curriculum. This recipe creates a white silly putty, but with a few quick drops of food coloring into the glue before adding the Borax, the kids saw how adding a bit of yellow to the red completely changed the color of their silly putty. After mixing it up initially, children can take their finished silly putty and mix it together. Create a batch of blue and a batch of yellow? Try to play with them together until you get some green putty. I’ve used homemade playdough for the same exercise, but this BOUNCES!

School Age Program:

My school age programs run grades 2-4 and 5-7. There’s a huge range of science knowledge here, so I tend to keep my explanations pretty basic to allow for differences in school curriculum.

So let’s talk simple science. The FAQs on the Elmer’s Glue site and this excerpt from Steve Spangler Science both use the spaghetti model of polymers:

In simplest terms, a polymer is a long chain of molecules. You can use the example of cooking spaghetti to better understand why this polymer behaves in the way it does. When a pile of freshly cooked spaghetti comes out of the hot water and into the bowl, the strands flow like a liquid from the pan to the bowl. This is because the spaghetti strands are slippery and slide over one another. After awhile, the water drains off of the pasta and the strands start to stick together. The spaghetti takes on a rubbery texture. Wait a little while longer for all of the water to evaporate and the pile of spaghetti turns into a solid mass — drop it on the floor and watch it bounce.

Polyvinyl Acetate and Borax reaction
An illustration of the PVA (glue) and Borax reaction. © The University of Edinburgh

I haven’t ever actually used spaghetti to illustrate this point, but depending on the program, you may want to. The reason why Elmer’s glue is sticky are the polymer chains it contains, and this illustration really clearly demonstrates how these polymer chains behave when they are lubricated (the wet glue in the bottle) and when they are dry (the solid, bouncy lump of spaghetti).

It may take students a bit to understand this, depending on their grade level. Words like “molecule” and “element” might be beyond some of the younger students, so creating a glossary can be helpful.

For this age group, I often have them try to see if they can make a batch of “gak” – really stringy, liquidy putty, and a bouncy ball. Students can experiment with different ratios of glue to Borax solution, and might discover a few more tricks about how to make the solution more solid. For instance, the more you mix a batch of silly putty, the harder it will get. Want to know why, or have curious school age kids who do? Check out the teen program below.
Teen Program:

Silly putty is great for a low-key program or a planned science class. Low key allows them to just work out their over-scheduled lives with a toy they probably had as kids. It feeds into the maker mentality because they made the thing they used to have to buy, as well as reinforcing the engineering design process as they try to make the silly putty just the right consistency. If you want hard science though, here’s what makes our Elmer’s/Borax silly putty tick.

Louisiana State University has a great explanation (with graphics!) of what’s happening:

Elmer’s Glue is made up of polyvinyl acetate, which reacts with water to some extent to replace some of the acetate groups with OH (alcohol) groups. The B-OH groups on the borax molecules react with the acetate groups on the glue molecules (relatively long polymer chains) to eliminate acetic acid and form new bonds between the borax and two glue molecules. The linking of two glue molecules via one borax molecule is called polymer cross-linking and it makes a bigger polymer molecule, which is now less liquid-like and more solid.

A model of polyvinyl acetate, the reactive ingredient in the Elmer’s glue.           Copyright © Azim Laiwalla, UCLA SEE-LA GK-12 Program, University of California, Los Angeles

…Many of these borax cross-links occur to “glom” together many polymer molecules turning them into a pliable solid “silly putty”. This really isn’t the silly putty you buy in the store, since it will dry out. Real silly putty is an organosiloxane polymer that doesn’t have any water in it so it doesn’t dry out.

Polyvinyl Acetate crosslinking  with Borax
Illustration and structural formula for the crosslinked Borax/Polyvinayl Acetate result. Copyright © CSACNAS Student Chapter at Texas State University

Get all that? If not, don’t worry – this explanation is about on par with my high school organic chemistry class (and required a lot of refresher before I understood it myself. Essentially, the strings of PVA “spaghetti” get held together by the Boron molecule, holding them in place. The more places that the Boron connects PVA chains, the sturdier the structure and the more solid the silly putty.

Try this activity to give teens (and school age groups, if they’re advanced enough) a clearer picture of how the Borax binds the PVA, also from LSU:

Have about 6 groups of 4 students hold hands and form glue chains. Have them walk around the room. These are your PVA chains.

Then send out 6 individual students to act as borax molecules to grab onto two glue chains – one with each hand. Tell the glue chains that once they are grabbed onto by the borax students that they shouldn’t try to break free. This should result in all the glue chains being linked together by the borax molecules (students). Now that all the students are linked together they represent the more solid “silly putty” that was formed in the experiment. This is a rather good physical analogy to the chemistry going on.

Quick note: while I’ve used the term Polyvinyl acetate, the reaction with water in glue creates polyvinyl alcohol. Dr. Richard Barrans from the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy at the Argonne National Laboratory put the difference between the two like this: “Poly(vinyl alcohol) is a polymer with the repeating unit (CH2-CHOH). Polyvinyl acetate is similar, except that it has an acetic acid ester in the place of the alcohol group: (CH2-CHOCOCH3). Polyvinyl alcohol is actually made from polyvinyl acetate, by cleaving the acetate ester.”  Down to brass tacks, both PVAs make our silly putty.

Interesting to note that the side effect of this reaction is the creation of acetic acid, which, when diluted, is better known as white vinegar. This can lead to further experimentation with acids/bases in your silly putty. For instance, what happens if you mix baking soda into it? Will it bubble and fizz like a baking soda/vinegar volcano?

Wrap up

Have other ideas for making this silly putty recipe appeal to various ages? Let me know. My library does class structures for a lot of the STEAM programs, so explanations and iterative experimentation are important. How do you do STEAM at your library? Any STEAM activities you wish you had better explanation for, or knew how to use with other age groups?

Getting Some Jbrary Love

In web life, there’s those moments where you’re like – I’ve made it! When a former Twitter account crossed 1000 followers (now defunct), I squeed. When @neilhimself tweeted back at me, I jumped up and down. And now Jbrary has linked to me. The happiness spike is quite high, to say the least.

One of the things I love about the library world is how open we are about sharing resources and information. Jbrary has been an amazing help to me as I get set up as a youth services librarian. They took me from terrified before my first solo storytime, to slightly less terrified (a major accomplishment). If you’ve never checked them out before, try it now. It’s well worth looking through if you work with young kids as a teacher, librarian, or caregiver.

I’ll keep posting – I’ve got a lot to live up to now!

Mud Painting, or How do I use this chocolate pudding before it goes bad?

I do biweekly visits to a local after school program that has about 12 kids, grades K-6. While there, I read a couple stories and do an activity. In the past, we’ve done things like build rockets out of pipe insulator and duct tape and a rocket launcher out of PVC pipe as well as a version of the marshmallow challenge (complete with faux-earthquake). I try to stick to solid all-ages activities, while still teaching them some STEM concepts.

Today was a bit more arts and crafts, although I think the kids loved it. We had been cleaning out the kids supplies, and discovered some pudding cups that had a month left on them. A coworker mentioned mud painting, and the idea was born.

I read The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems. The kids had almost all heard of Mo Willems and his pigeon, so there was an understanding of how the book worked. It’s just interactive enough to get them to really settle into the story, and isn’t so simple that the older kids zone out.

I did a quick follow up with Harry the Dirty Dog, which the older kids politely sat through while the younger kids really got into it. They were really upset when Harry’s family didn’t recognize him. Overall, a decent storytime for a large age range.

But then I revealed the activity. So much happiness.

I laid out a big tablecloth on the floor for the kids and handed out sheets of white construction paper. Then each kid got a chocolate pudding cup.

I told them it was finger painting, and that they weren’t allowed to touch their clothes or each other, or in fact anything other than their paper. Surprisingly, they listened, and we only had one dollop on the carpet (it was a really old carpet, so I was told it was fine).

There was a thin line between using the pudding to paint and using it to eat. In the end, we handed out LOTS of paper towels and spoons so they could finish up.

I’ll be in for a special Halloween program there next week for Halloween, which will be pretty science-y, so it was a nice change up to do some art with them.

The picture isn’t mine (I never remember to take pictures), and was done with paintbrushes and actual mud by the wonderful ladies over at Sunflower Storytime.

Mud Painting
Mud Painting

Music and Movement – Revamped

I’ve gotten a crash course this week in running children’s programming, and so far it seems to be going ok. I’ve gotta hand it to all the children’s librarians I’ve worked with in the past though – this stuff can be exhausting! I just finished up a Music and Movement storytime, and while I didn’t run out of breath, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t close.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about why we do storytimes lately, and what we should expect from the littlest patrons. That background was something I missed in library school, since I didn’t focus on children and youth. It’s been helpful as I plan more programs though. Today’s Music and Movement was a lot more structured than the one I ran two weeks ago, and I’ve found a few rhymes that will help the kids stick with me as we learn about rhythm and movement. The previous librarian focused a lot on music appreciation. I may tie into that at some point, but while the kids and I are just getting settled in, we’re focusing on dance and how to coordinate their bodies. Things like the chicken dance are silly but fun, while doing the Bees Knees dance (where you put your hands on your knees, then cross them as your bring your knees together, uncrossing them as you bring your knees straight again) was beyond my group. Hey – it’s a really coordination heavy move, and they were confused even by what I was demonstrating to them.

I also gave the parents a handout with the rhymes on them, along with little bits of information about what we were doing. It let them sing along when their kids couldn’t, and also gave them a heads up about why rhythm is important, even to literacy. Using rhythm sticks to tap along to rhymes as well as songs allows kids to hear the rhythm of speech, breaking words into syllables and sentences into pieces. This is helpful when they learn to read, because it allows them to tackle one part of the sentence at a time.

No one registered for the program today, but I had 3 drop ins, which was just about the right amount for testing things out. I borrowed heavily from the internet. Thanks, children’s librarians of the web! Especially Jbrary. I’ve tried to cite sources when I pulled them directly from the web. Lots of things are just received knowledge, though, so if you see I missed someone, let me know!

Music and Movement 9/18/2014 – Intro to Rhythm Sticks

Entry Music: From Classical Clubhouse Dance AlongLes Patineurs by Waldteufel (7:48)

This song title translates to “The Skaters,” and you can imagine figure skaters sailing along or doing great leaps into the air depending on the movement in the song. While the kids won’t know this the first week, it can be a great way to get them thinking about how music can tell a story without words. Today the song started a little late, since I didn’t think anyone was coming, but the kids liked pretending they were ice skating for the first minute or two of the song.

Explain as parents and children come in that the music will go through a lot of changes. See if the children can move the way the music does (soft and slow, big and dramatic, etc.) If this doesn’t happen right away, that’s fine. The kids will hear this piece a lot over the next few weeks. After the waltz, there’s a big dramatic finish with violins and cellos. 

Welcome song: This is the Way We Wave Hello

Once we got everyone settled down from their ice skating adventure, I introduced myself. One of the children had seen me before, but the others were new, and only remembered the librarian who ran the program before me. They were a weensy bit skeptical of me at first, but it seemed to go away as the program went on.

Tune: Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

This is the way we wave hello, wave hello, wave hello
This is the way we wave hello – hello, hello, hello!

This is the way we clap hello…
This is the way we whisper hello…
This is the way we tap hello…

Via Story Time Secrets.

Rhythm Sticks

Since this is our first time with rhythm sticks, I’ll pull 2 out to show everyone how to use them. I’ve avoided a lot of things that encourage partner play today, because our attendance is usually young toddler. Parents are encouraged to help young children tap, but not to take over. Children will naturally tap the sticks together – and then tap them on everything else. Watch them carefully, and if the sticks become too much, cut short this section.

Once the sticks are passed out, give everyone a moment to get used to them. For some kids, they’ll be unwieldy, so it may take a long minute to adjust. Once we’re all settled in. Try to get them to tap slowly together, then up high, down low, quickly…

The first song is set to the same tune as the hello song. Since this is all new to the kids, this will help them learn it the first few weeks.

This is the Way We Tap Our Sticks

To the tune of Mulberry Bush:

This is the way we tap our sticks, tap our sticks, tap our sticks
This is the way we tap our sticks so early in the morning!
This is the way we rub our sticks, rub our sticks, rub our sticks
This is the way we rub our sticks so early in the morning!
This is the way we tap our knees, tap our knees, tap our knees
This is the way we tap our knees so early in the morning!

Via Read Sing Play.

I lost my place in this song at one point, but the kids didn’t miss a beat. Thank goodness for familiar melodies!

Tap Your Sticks

Tap your sticks in the air with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks on the floor with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks in the air with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks on the floor with a 1-2-3

Tap your sticks to the left with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks to the right with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks to the left with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks to the right with a 1-2-3

(I got this rhyme from Hap Palmer’s Rhythms on Parade CD.  Check out this YouTube clip)

Via Anne’s Library Life.

I did this one as a chant, because the music wasn’t familiar with everyone and I didn’t have the CD. I may get it though, because the music video in the link provided by Anne makes me think it will be a worthy addition.

Rhythm Stick Bingo

There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o!
B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O
and Bingo was his name-o!

(we tapped our sticks for the B-I-N-G-O part)

Via Anne’s Library Life.

They loved this one! Everyone knew the Bingo song, and tapping slow during the sentence and quicker while we spelled Bingo seemed to be  favorite. We did this one twice.



Ok, I’ll admit, Jbrary saved my life here. They have a great page of scarf songs that I borrowed heavily from. And they come with videos!

We Wave Our Scarves Together

To the tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”

We wave our scarves together, we wave our scarves together
We wave our scarves together, because it’s fun to do.
Spoken: We wave them up high (in a high voice)
We wave them down low (in a low voice)
We wave them in the middle (in a normal voice)
Sing: Because it’s fun to do.

We throw our scarves together…

Another song we did twice because the kids were loving it. The voice modulation when we did things high and when we did things low was fun for everyone.

One Bright Scarf: To the tune of “Bouncing up and down” or “Michael Finnegan”

One bright scarf waiting for the wind to blow (bounce the scarf in front of you)
Wiggle it high and wiggle it low (wiggle it above your head, then near the floor)
Shake it fast and shake it slow (fast then slow)
(Hide the scarf behind your back, under your knee, etc.)
Where did it go?

So… I couldn’t get my head around this melody, so we did this as a rhyme again. The kids didn’t care, and the parents probably just think I’m tone deaf. I’m not, but something’s gotta give, apparently. We turned this into a hiding game, where the kids would hide their scarves, then immediately come to look for mine. I tucked it into my pocket once, and they pulled it out when they found it, to the delight of everyone.

Dancing with Scarves

Each child got a second scarf here, and we danced to Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” for a few minutes. We played with different ways to move so the scarf would float or fly or look like wings. The girls loved this. The boy, again, not so much. We may try something with the toddler trucks for him in a couple weeks to see if it encourages him to move.

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going very soon
If you want to take a trip
Hop on board my rocket ship
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon
In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Blastoff!

We do this song in Baby and Toddler Storytimes, too, so this was a nice carryover. Jbrary has this song, but we always do it with scarves, letting our scarves be rockets for us, flying them across the sky and blasting them off after the countdown. With an older group that’s payting attention, we do a second blastoff with a 10 second countdown.

Coordination and Dancing

This was a free form bit. I put on a Kidz Bop CD at the recommendation of a previous librarian, but my kids weren’t really into free movement, so I made up some coordination challenges for them. We danced like chickens and shook our hands left and right and tapped our toes. They followed along wonderfully, but the song wasn’t anything they cared about. I might use something else next time.

Goodbye Song: If you’re happy and you know it
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!

If you’re happy and you know it, wave goodbye
If you’re happy and you know it, wave goodbye
If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it, wave goodbye!


I was pretty nervous after this, but the parents were very supportive. One of them, the one who had come during the previous librarian’s time here, had driven a fair distance to get here, but said it was completely worth it and she would come again next time. That made me feel so much better about it. We’ll work with rhythm sticks again next time, so the kids get a chance to get used to them. Overall, a good time was had by all.

Music and Movement – Bees, Elephants, and Bean Bags

My very first solo children’s program at the library!

Age Group: Preschool/Pre K (Toddlers and babies are also welcome and can benefit, though not all activities will be within their developmental range)

Length of Program: 30-45 minutes

Description: In this program young children will learn delightful songs, dances, musical language and activities to enhance developmental concepts such as keeping a steady beat, timing, coordination, listening, literacy, motor skills, language skills, and much more.

Recommended Materials:

  • Shakers (one for each child)
  • Bean Bag Activities & Coordination Skills by Georgianna Liccione Stewart
  • Classical Clubhouse: Dance Along
  • KIDZ BOP (I used Volume 24)


Welcome – 5 minutes

This was my first program, and the first time that most of the parents had seen me, so I took the time to introduce myself to the parents and the children, which helped with a couple of the shyer kids.

Warm up – 5 minutes

Action Rhyme: Tall as a Tree
Tall as a tree,
Wide as a house,
Thin as a pin,
Small as a mouse!
Credit: Ellyn Brancato (Though I’m not sure where she got it from)

We did this one about 6 times. Each time, a few more stragglers came in, so the kids who were already there enjoyed showing the newcomers how to do the rhyme. No one was quite ready to repeat it with me this time, but we’ll do it again next week, too. They really got into this one and the Move Like Different Animals rhyme below.

Song:  Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee
(To the rhythm of “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear…”)
(Use your finger as a bumblebee to do each movement)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing all around. (Move your finger slowly in front of you)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing on the ground. (Move your finger slowly close to the ground)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing up so high. (Move your finger slowly by the top of your head)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing in the sky. (Move your finger quickly as high as you can reach)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing past your toes. (Move your finger quickly close to the ground)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing on your nose. (Move your finger to your nose)

Credit: AnnesLibraryLife with movements added by me

I had a bumblebee glove puppet that I used for this, which the kids liked watching. We only did this one twice, since it seemed to lose them a little bit.

Rhyme: Move like different animals

I can stretch like a kitten
I can hop like a frog
I can swim like a turtle
I can shake like a dog
I can sway like a snake
I can flap like a bat
I can reach like a monkey
I can move like that!

Credit: Mel’s Desk

Since this one was the transition from the stretches to the idea of moving like an animal, we spent a little extra time on this one. Unsolicited, some of the kids suggested other animals that might perform the same actions – Hop like a bunny was a popular suggestion, as was Flap like a bird. That association really helped with the discussion about what other animals might have similar dances in the Move to Music section.

Move to Music – 20 minutes

Explain the piece of music to the children – that it was inspired by the way animals move. Encourage the children to move like the animal would during the music. You should move along too!

Classical Clubhouse: Dance Along CD – Saint-Saens, The Elephant (Carnival of the Animals) – 1:20

Are there other animals that might move like this music sounds?

Classical Clubhouse: Dance Along CD – Rimsky-Korsakov, Flight of the Bumblebee (The Tale of Tsar Saltan) – 1:22

What animal is this? How does a bumblebee move?

How does the music sound different? Fast or slow? Low or high? Soft or loud?

Pass out the shakers and listen to the Flight of the Bumblebee again, pretending that the shakers are bees flying around.

This section went really well. The more energetic kids tended to prefer the Flight of the Bumblebee, while a few of the quieter kids preferred The Elephant. I don’t know whether that dichotomy would hold up outside my group, but it was an interesting observation. The parents seemed to like the inclusion of classical music here, so we might use other sections in future Music and Movement sessi0ns.

Bean Bag Activities – 15 minutes

Get out 1 beanbag and have everyone sit in a circle

Bean Bag Activities & Coordination Skills CD – Pass the Bean Bag (Slow and Fast) – 2:30

Have the children each take 1 beanbag

Practice balancing the beanbag on various body parts (nose, head, elbow, foot)

Put the beanbags away, use a goodbye song if necessary.

I’ll admit that this isn’t the order I did it in – it’s the order I wish I had done it in. I was having one of those nerves-get-the-best-of-you moments, and accidentally had each of the kids take a beanbag first – it was really hard to get them to put them back while I kept mine out. They were really creative about how to balance the beanbags though. They were pretty silly at this point, and we tried balancing it on our elbows, knees, feet, toes, ears… you name it, they wanted to try it.

Freeze Dance – 5-10 minutes

Pick a selection of songs from a favorite recent Kidz Bop CD.  Explain that we dance when the music is playing, but freeze like an icicle when the music ends. Start the music and dance along with the kids, then pause it so they freeze. (No one gets out in this game.)

I wish I had a 3 CD changer (or an MP3 player to create a playlist) in order to make the transitions between CDs easier. I lost a lot of attention even in the few moments it took me to change the CD. While they were into this dance party, they weren’t really into the freeze part. We’ll keep trying.


A few more notes:

Since this was my first program (and my second day), a lot of the kids were unsure of me, and I think it was a little clear that I was unsure of myself. I was the only Youth Services staff member in today, so there wasn’t any backup, which was both a blessing and a curse. The kids learned to engage with me, and several of them stayed after and got books from me or asked me about the train set, which was nice after the initial shyness. The next one is in 2 weeks, so I’ll have a bit more time to prepare for it.

Overall, I think it went very well, despite my nervousness. Kids are very forgiving of flaws as long as you own up to being silly, and parents are understanding as long as you’re engaging with their children. I’ll look into creating a custom CD or bringing speakers I can plug into my phone for an MP3 playlist.  Also – don’t wear long jeans for this program. I was a sweaty mess.