Programming for Preschoolers: Take a Tip from Preschool Centers

photo from Alternative Heat (http://www.flickr.com/photos/alternative_heat/) via http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
photo from Alternative Heat (http://www.flickr.com/photos/alternative_heat/) via http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When I was still teaching preschool (oh how I love to talk about when I taught preschool) one of the early literacy tactics we employed was to integrate literature and literacy skills into every center. This meant having books with building themes in the block center, books about nature in the science center, having pads of paper to write shopping lists and recipes down in the dramatic play center, etc and so forth.

Are you familiar with the centers in a preschool classroom? Many youth departments now have set ups similar to a preschool classroom, including block play, dramatic play and puppet stages. If your youth space is lacking distinct areas for different kinds of play, you might want to consider changing things around to allow for these play spaces. If you’re not familiar with preschool classroom centers and how classrooms are arranged, here are a few links:

NAEYC guide to setting up literacy rich classroom centers
Centers in a preschool classroom
Introduction to Preschool Classroom Centers

Now, if you’re stymied for some “beyond story time” programs for three to five year olds, just take those varied centers and start creating programs based on them.

Here are just a few ideas from some of the “centers” you’d find in a preschool classroom.

Discovery, Sensory, and Science

STE(A)M is a buzzword that can potentially get concerned parents into your programs. In certain communities, you need to promote programs as being enriching and academically rigorous to get buy-in from families.

For any science, cooking or making program, try to have the recipes or steps printed–with accompanying picture instructions–to amp the early literacy.

  • Invest in a sensory table, which you can fill with sand, colored rice, moon sand, cotton balls–the possibilities are endless!
  • Have a mixing & “cooking” program where you make  flubber or playdough.
  • Write or draw in shaving cream
  • Play with a light table
  • Mix up bubble solution and make giant bubbles
  • Do a “sink or float” program

Writing Center

Writing is just as important an early literacy skill as letter recognition, phonemic awareness and print awareness. Fine motor skills and being able to hold a writing utensil correctly is an important skill to have for Kindergarten as well.

  • For any program, have kids write their own names on name tags or on a (large) sign-in sheet
  • Practice writing with different media, including  crayons, markers, paintbrushes, colored pencils; write on chalkboards, white boards, and tablets, too
  • For a more sensory experience,– in rice, shaving cream, or tracing letters on sandpaper

Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is the perfect opportunity for children to try out different characters, work through difficult emotions in a safe space, and “…it remains an integral part of the developmental learning process by allowing children to develop skills in such areas as abstract thinking, literacy, math, and social studies, in a timely, natural manner.” (x)

Further, the ability to retell a story verbally or using props is a CCSS benchmark from Kindergarten up. Helping kids retell stories and get a handle on narrative structure–beginning, middle, end, etc–makes for a perfect preschool program.

  • An easy “unprogram” would be to gather toys, puppets, props and costumes for 5-6 well known fairy tales. Station them in your programming room or even all around your Youth Space. Have staff available to read the stories if kids aren’t familiar, then encourage the kids to use the props to retell the story, even changing it if they like.
  • Another unprogram would be to create a dramatic play center if you don’t have one. Create a house, grocery store, post office, shopping mall, farm, or restaurant, and stock it with books about those places. Have lots of paper and writing tools available to create shopping lists, menus, take orders, or whatever else the kids want to create.

Building/Block Center

Fine and gross motor skills are developed in the block center, depending on whether you use large wooden or cardboard blocks or smaller duplo sets. Seeding this program with related picture books, both fiction and non-fiction (Iggy Peck, Architect, any and all construction books, Lego guides), will give kids ideas without being prescriptive. Include toys and props with your block program, and kids will also engage in dramatic play.

These are just some suggestions, and often play centers and areas will intersect. For example, dramatic play will often happen in the block area, and building will often happen during dramatic play. It’s easy to work math into dramatic play (How many bears are there? How long do you think it would take to climb a beanstalk to the sky?) and work writing in science (write a question you want to answer, or draw something you’re observing). Retelling stories overlaps literacy activities with dramatic play. By using centers as a starting point for programs beyond storytime, it allows you to have one main focus, to which you can add and tweak as suits your mood and your audience.

Also, nothing precludes you from adding elements of different centers into your story time if you want. Instead of a craft at the end of story time, why not give the kids costumes and props and a chance to act out the stories you just shared? Or do a science experiment? The possibilities are endless and there’s no one way to do it.

Make It So

madeit

 

As she so often does,  hit the nail on the head with her post Everything Old is New Again.

I wonder, how many libraries with MAKERSPACES consulted their youth departments before creating this BRAND NEW THING? Because, seriously, been there, done that, have the stained shirt to prove it.

Some of you might argue that maker spaces are more digital, or involve power tools, or whatever. To which I reply, So certain types of making are better than others? Our flannel stories, origami programs, bookmaking and playdough are inferior to flashier, decidedly more masculine forms of making?

Same old story–when women do it, it is easier, lesser, and undervalued. As soon as a dude says it’s cool to print a robot out of plastic, then it’s something.

Which is not to say I don’t like the Maker/DIY movement. Just that…maybe ask for help from people who’ve built their entire careers around it. They might have something to teach  you. And by might, I mean definitely.

Play @ your library: Playdough Party

Want to have one of the most successful library programs ever? Make playdough.

We did this program with 3-8 year olds, but I can see this working with even older kids, up through middle school–it’s all how you market it. It’s a great program to do at the library because, sadly, I think a lot of kids don’t get to engage in messy play at home because parents don’t want to face the clean-up.

Before we made the playdough we retold the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with finger puppets because the story uses a lot of descriptive vocabulary–hot, cold, slow, fast, hard, soft—and I thought it was a fun way to launch into the program.

We made the following three recipes, making sure to talk about different textures, scents, temperatures, and other properties. Then we let the kids spend a lot of time playing and building, and allowed them to take home as much playdough as they wanted. We also printed out the recipes for parents to take home if they chose.

(I found the recipes at prekinders.com, which is my new favorite website. There are many more recipes up there, so choose your favorite.)

Kool-Aid Play Dough

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 package of Kool-Aid
1 cup hot water
Combine ingredients and mix.

Coffee Play Dough

2 cups used coffee grounds
1 and 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup salt
water
flour
Mix all ingredients until pliable. Add water, flour as needed to achieve a working consistency.

Oatmeal Play Dough

1 part flour
1 part water
2 parts oatmeal
Mix well and knead

Read more: http://prekinders.com/play-dough-recipes/#ixzz20Ka4QwZv

Muffins with Mom

Years ago, at one of my first library jobs, I had a weekend morning program that I called “Doughnuts with Dad.” I believe it was around father’s day, but it might not have been. All I did was brew some coffee, buy some doughnuts and juice, gussy up the tables with some table cloths, throw out some toys, crafts, and books, and I called it a program. Dads and kids of all ages came to eat, drink, and be merry. I circulated, talking to families, promoting our programs, and generally just having a lovely time.

I’ve done this at my current place of work several times now, and I’ve expanded it to include a Mother’s Day version I call “Muffins with Mom.” (One year it was Milkshakes with Mom. That was a nightmare. The milkshakes, I mean.) It’s the same gist as Doughnuts, but around Mother’s Day and with muffins.This year in addition to our cute Mum themed craft, we also took pictures of Moms and kids and I’m going to be turning them into custom READ posters. I also had some leftover blank board books from National Library Week, and a couple of moms actually used them to write their own family books!

Which is another thing I like about this program–if you can get your library to market it outside of just the children’s department, it’s a great inter-generational program. Crafts and treats aren’t just for kids! We actually had an adult mother and child pair, and I was so happy to see them! And allowing the adults to do the craft projects was great fun, and has great value for everyone. Why should kids be the only ones who get to enjoy the relaxation of coloring, cutting and gluing? If you have enough supplies, go ahead and let the grown ups join in!

I like these kinds of programs for several other reasons, too. I like that it’s on the weekend, which I think is a time that many librarians don’t think to do programs. I think for a lot of families, weekends are just a better time to come out. Often people don’t want to go out again on a weeknight if they don’t have to, and the pull will have to be pretty spectacular to get them in the doors–I’m thinking Lego Master Builders or a magic show. But the weekend is a little less hectic for some families, and a good time to try some programming. I’ve noticed we get some of our regulars, but I’ve also noticed a lot of people that I never see at any other programs.

Another thing I like is that it’s a passive program, where I can relax (to a degree) and interact with people without being on stage. So often as a children’s librarian I have to be “on” which really taxes my normally introverted personality. At these programs, I am still on but in a much more low key way, being a hostess and making sure everyone gets coffee, a pastry, and has enough materials for their craft project.

I also like this program because it allows people to do something nice for Mother’s Day that is free. So many places offer expensive Mother’s Day brunches and the like, which not everyone can afford. I always make sure to have nice food (this year we got some donations, which always help), something that’s nicer than what people might buy for themselves, just to make it special.

This is what I like to spend time and money on, rather than ebooks*. I think it’s a smart investment.

*I’m mad about ebooks and all the time librarians spend talking about them and thinking about them and blah blah blah and this is my passive aggressive way of complaining about them.

Beginning Reader Storytime, Art Adventure: The Final Countdown

So now the kids have their backgrounds and their characters.

Then they just had to glue them down and voila! Their very own Eric Carle-esque creations!

Has anyone else managed to do a long term author/illustrator based program like this one? Ours went off pretty well; for those with attendance concerns, this is a registered program and we did stress that regular attendance was important, but for kids who missed some sessions we just caught them up as best we could, and no one seemed the worse for it.

If you’re interested in my Beginning Readers Storytimes, I’ve begun collecting them under their very own category, so they should be much easier to find.

Beginning Reader Storytime: The Write Stuff

During this session of beginning reader storytime, we’ve been focusing on writing. We wrote on dry erase boards, created an alphabet book where we wrote words, made letters out of pretzel twists, and this week we wrote in shaving cream, which was, frankly, just a whole lot of fun in addition to being a great outside of the box literacy activity. For the entire 15-20 minutes we played and wrote in the shaving cream, the kids and parents were laughing up a storm. (If you do this, you might want to remind parents to keep their shaving cream at home extra out of reach for a little bit, lest it tempt their kids.) Next week we’re going to be writing in rice, which is another great way for kids who aren’t great with conventional writing materials to practice writing.

Even with all of the typing we do, handwriting is still an important skill in our culture that has many benefits beyond simply communicating. Writing is also one of the five Every Child Ready to Read skills. How do you foster writing in your library?

Beginning Reader Storytime: Art Adventure, Stage Two

Watercolor "character"

For the second stage of our Eric Carle Art Adventure, we used watercolors on heavy paper. I gave kids the choice to draw something first, or just paint and draw and cut out a creature next week. Most of the kids just went ahead and painted. We talked a bit about how the watercolors were different than the acrylic paints that we used for the backgrounds.

Next time, they’ll add details with colored pencils and cut out their characters.

Storytime Specials

About every other month at my library we present what we call a Storytime Special, which is a 45 minute program for 4-8 year olds that includes stories, a treat and a craft centered around a theme. I like to use these programs to stretch stories in different ways, or to give the kids and their parents a somewhat fancy and free outing, or to simply entertain myself.

Themes have included Frog and Toad Tea Party, Colorlicious (a more gender-neutral Pinkalicious program), Winter Wonderland, Shark Versus Train, Hot Dogs (there are so many encased meat picture books, you guys), and many more. I’m going to write up all the materials for the individual programs, but for now here’s a sampling from them to show you how we do:

Colorlicious Tea Party
Frog and Toad Tea Party

You can see more videos from these programs on my youtube channel as well.

Beginning Readers Storytime: Art Adventure

After having my Beginning Readers Storytime for several sessions, I began to feel a familiar feeling: boredom. I was bored. I needed something new, exciting, thrilling. I needed to challenge myself.

Yet, I am not completely insane. The program was popular and well-attended, and people looked forward to it. I didn’t want to sabotage that. So what could I do?

I decided to tweak. (Not like a meth head. As in, to fine-tune or adjust a complex system. Because, yo, storytime is a complex system if ever I saw one.) I would keep the name, the day, the time, and the basic format–but this time around, the literacy activities would be replaced by art activities. Which, when you think about it, are literacy activities. There’s a rich, fun vocabulary in the art word: brush; stroke; acrylic; watercolor; collage; paste. Using a paint brush or colored pencil to draw develops the same fine motor skills that one uses when writing. And, of course, we began each sessions by reading aloud a  picture book with beautiful art  to serve as inspiration for our own art projects, specifically the collage technique of one Eric Carle. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

This is a five week series. Week one we talked about the project and I gave everyone time to peruse Eric Carle’s books and other picture books that use collage. The second week we painted our backgrounds onto our very own canvases (foam board from the craft store). I’ll talk about the next steps in further posts.

How about you? Do you use art in your storytimes–art, rather than just a craft? Do you ever get BORED?