Babies Need Words Every Day!

babies need words header

Babies Need Words!

It is critical that as librarians, we all work on bridging the 3o million word gap. I know.  When you hear 30 million words it seems almost insurmountable and certainly it seems out of your hand as a librarian.  But the fact is, we can start bridging that gap in our every day programs and interactions with kids. Throughout our libraries and communities we can model behavior for parents and caregivers on how they too can bridge that gap in simple and FUN ways.

BUT HOW DO YOU START! ALSC has your back!  ALSC has created Babies Need Words Every Day – a simple, engaging campaign that gives you and your library beautiful and FREE resources to start bridging this gap. Even better, ALSC has tied all of it into the five early literacy skills of: TALK, SING, READ, WRITE, PLAY.  Many of you probably already incorporate those practices into your storytimes, language to caregivers, and decoration in your library.  With Babies Need Words Every Day you can use that language to show caregivers that bridging the word gap really is simple.

ALSC is hosting an amazing blog tour through some of the best library blogs IN EXISTENCE to introduce this campaign in a hands-on, real life way. If you want tons of decorating ideas and program ideas, make sure you check out all the stops. The tour is also a chance to spotlight some of the 8 FREE POSTERS that are part of the initiative.

Today, I am sharing this awesome poster for PLAY!

every day play-page-001

As many of you know, one of my library’s most popular programs is our Music & Movement.  We have four sessions a week at our main library and branch – each program has attendance between 30-70 people (sometimes more.)  Why?  Because it’s so much fun to use MUSIC to PLAY!  One of the things I love about this poster is that it really spotlights how singing and dancing are PLAY.  Too often, caregivers forget that things like singing songs to babies to soothe them or to help them with eating/sleeping are forms of PLAY and ways to develop literacy skills. ALSO THEY ARE FUN.  One of the parts I love the most about these posters is that it really shows how fun and easy bridging the gap can be.

We encourage caregivers to sing to their babies in a few important ways:

  • We model singing loudly and with joy. Look, the thing is – I am probably tone deaf.  I cannot carry a tune and I have a horrible voice.  But one of the most important things I do is sing loudly and with joy.  I model for caregivers that you don’t have to be Carrie Underwood – you just have to show your child that you love to sing and it’s a joy.  Get over your self-conscious.  Kids love to hear songs – they don’t care about pitch!
  • Related: don’t be embarrassed if you forget the words while you’re singing or doing rhymes.  Sometimes when I mess up (a familiar tune with new words, for instance) I will take a minute to stop and laugh and to tell the caregivers that it’s OK to get mixed up and start over.  I also tell them sometimes that happens when we sing familiar tunes (like Frère Jacques) with different sets of words but that’s OK, it helps our kids see that many words can match tunes, which helps them start to understand syllables and rhymes – important early literacy building blocks!
  • We encourage caregivers to sing in their native language/familiar folk songs from their own cultures.  We have a lot of caregivers who are English Language Learners, but we want to let them know that they can build their children’s literacy through singing and play in any language.  We share folksongs in other languages (like Ong Tal Sam, a Korean song about Spring) and encourage caregivers to sing.

This makes singing play and that’s a great step in helping babies build their word banks!

I can’t WAIT to hang these posters up all around my library both in our play and program areas and in our bathrooms. Did I mention THERE’S EIGHT OF THEM AND THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL AND FREEEEEE! (and in English and Spanish!)

Since we live in a smaller town. I also plan to take them around my community and hand them out to pediatrician’s offices and local day cares.  EVERYONE loves free posters and this is a great way to encourage caregivers to engage in the early literacy practices in a fun way while bridging that gap – and it makes them think of the library too.

ALSC has also created a booklist, a talking points guide, a press release, a letter to possible community partners and more.  AND IT’S ALL FREE.  Check it out on their Babies Need Words site (which also has all the posters in different sizes.)

Make sure you check out all the stops on the Babies Need Words blog tour – I promise you will come away with tons of new ideas. (and you’ll find some new bloggers to inspire you – so honored to be in this awesome company!)  Thank you so much to the ALSC  Early Childhood Programs and Services committee for organizing this tour, especially their splendid chair, Brooke Newberry.

AND an extra thank you to ALSC for launching this initiative – I’m so proud to be an ALSC member because they not only care about kids but create fun, useful, beautiful projects like this. You can find out more about ALSC (and how to join) at their website.

What do YOU think about Babies Need Words?  How do you think you might use these awesome resources at your library or in your community? What fun ways have you found to encourage your patrons and caregivers to TALK, SING, READ, WRITE, AND PLAY at your library as they bridge the word gap? Leave me a comment or chat with me about it on Twitter.


Baby Storytime!

Many moons ago we got a patron comment that the person loved our storytimes for their older kids, but their younger child was too little for “flashcards and long stories.” (I like to sometimes start older kid storytime sessions with color/shape/animal flashcards to have the kids make sounds, guess shapes, etc.) This was a real turning moment for me because I connected deeply with it.

Our storytimes were all mixed up, we tried to jam both age sessions (0-2 and then 3-5) on the same day, it never worked.  I knew we had a gap, I knew this patron had hit on something true.  And I knew we could be doing MORE.

I wanted something for the babies, you see.

I was reading a lot of blogs from my favorite, most inspirational librarians about their baby programs and it gave me some good foundation and the confidence to make a program that worked for my library and my staff.

So, you should start there!

Baby Storytime by Storytime Katie

Baby Storytime by Reading with Red

Baby Storytime from Mel’s Desk

Amazing round-up of Baby Storytime resources from Jbrary

Add into that one important revelation from a casual conversation with my dearest Cory – there was no reason to have these storytimes on the same day.  So, we split Baby Time away from Toddler Time and started working on our messaging to parents – this is a different program, and it’s JUST for babies!  Join us, won’t you? The different days really helped and if you can manage that as your library, it’s my first tip.


  • We have Baby Time once a week.
  • It’s open to ages 0-24 months, but it often skews to the younger .
  • We do NOT keep out older siblings (how could you?) but we do not gear the program to them.  We sometimes set out some toys or books off to the side for the older kids but we don’t mind trying to get them involved with the actual program (as you’ll see).
  • We don’t have registration for any of our storytimes, this is a drop-in.  We have it immediately after our morning Baby Dance program to get the crowd already in the library.
  • We spend 15-20 minutes doing rhymes and songs.
  • We usually get through about 7-10 rhymes and bounces per session.
  • We repeat rhyme/bounce twice.
  • Sometimes we use scarves or shakers, but we keep the program mostly prop free to concentrate on the bouncing, singing, and caregiver/baby interaction.
  • Once we’ve completed out set of rhymes and bounces, we put out board books and toys and just let the caregivers and babies play.
  • A staff member sticks around – at least at the beginning – to offer some tips about interacting with books and learning through play.
  • But we also just like to give the caregivers and  babies time to socialize and play without us there, so we don’t feel obliged to be there talking and leading the whole time.


Here’s how we set the room up


Parents like the chairs and it’s good for lap bouncing!



Staff sits up front right next to our magnetic flannelboard/whiteboard. We use it in a lot of ways and it helps focus the class.  Here’s a shot of the main use during session:


Most of our rhymes are written out (by my awesome co-worker Chelsie who has great handwriting, lucky!) or printed out via Word on multiple sheets to create a poster.  We then use old posters to back them and display them through the session to give caregivers the words to follow along.  This is absolutely critical, I think. If you want caregiver participation, you have to give them the words.  This is a good visual.  We’re definitely looking at projecting the words using Powerpoint and one of our projectos. [and I’d LOVE to move to having some rhymes in Chinese (that’s our largest language outside of English) included when we do that too.] Here’s some more samples:


People really love The Grand Old Duke of York and it’s a ton of fun!


We can fit more than one rhyme per poster.

Some other favorite and frequently used bounces & rhymes:

Mother, Father, Uncle John

Let’s Go Riding In An Elevator

Where Oh Where Are Baby’s Fingers?

Here We Go Up, Up, Up

We also have a specific, permanent Baby Time cart, which always helps.


Here’s where we keep the books, the toys, the odds and ends. Let’s take a closer look!


Save up and get some stackable cups!!  I spent $12 for four sets at Tuesday Morning and they are such a hit.  The babies love to stack them, clap them together, try to fit them inside of each other.  Caregivers easily see how they encourage dialogue and word-building.  Love these cups.


Interactive blocks from Ross.  I got two sets of these, total of six, and they have activities and textures on every side and stack according to shapes.  These are a huge win because they are EASILY CLEANABLE (not true for all blocks) a little bit bigger so easier to hold for little hands and very interactive in a variety of ways.

Here they are together.  And you know one of the OTHER favorite toys?  The bins!  They are all from the Dollar Tree and babies LOVE to experiment with taking things in and out and playing with the storage bins themselves!



Sensory balls!  I bought sets at Costco and Target (yes Target!) and they are beloved. They weren’t cheap (nor were they TOO expensive) but we get a ton of use out of them.  These balls are another popular favorites.  They encourage interaction and play and caregivers start talking about them almost immediately.  Like the blocks, they are easy to clean (yay) and really encourage exploration for the babies.

BOOKS! We have a special set of board books JUST for Baby Time.  We try to have a mix, many are culled from donations or bought from the Dollar Tree. I like simple books with big pictures and easy vocabulary, as they fit the Baby Time crowd better than longer board book stories. I know many places have sets of board books and do choral readings.  I am not ruling out adding that to our Baby Time … but I also wanted to just START and the easiest way to just start was to round up some board books and encourage one on one sharing with caregivers and babies and then GO.  And that’s proven to be a beloved part of the routine.  No one seems to need choral readings of one titles and it really makes the book sharing more intimate.  If you’re nervous about getting a whole set of one title or don’t have the funds?  Don’t let that stop you! The important part is putting the books out there and sharing what you know about how caregivers can share the books with babies. We pour out two buckets of books and magic happens!


Remember I said we don’t tell older siblings to leave?  One tip I picked up while I was building my Baby Time skills was to have dolls on hand for the older sibilings.  (Yes, I’m talking about 3-5 year olds here!) If we have an older kid who wants to be PART of Baby Time, we have a bucket of dollies to encourage them to participate by following along with their own baby. I ask them to be a helper and a leader for the babies and they love this. First, this is adorable.  Second, it encourages play and keeps them (somewhat!) focused on the program.  What’s not to love?  We bought a case of these dollies from Dollar Tree (as you know, I often buy from them in bulk!) and they can even work for the babies during play.


And, of course, I have to have a baby of my own!  How else can I lead the activities?  Our baby is named Eebee.  He’s an real branded character, but most people aren’t familiar with him.  I won two Eebee’s at an ALA raffle YEARS ago and once we started Baby Time, I knew he was my perfect baby!


Yes, grown-ups don’t always like him and sort of find him creepy.  But babies LOVE him and are drawn to him.  I love him because, unlike many stuffies or baby dolls, he has EVERY thing we sing about (well not a bellybutton, sadly) to the babies.  Note his clearly articulated fingers, toes, nose, and ears!  Now, when I say and sing these I am really modeling to caregivers. We also carry Eebee through the department right before the program begins, cradling him like a baby, to invite people to the program.  They have become familiar with him, so he signals to even our non English speaking patrons that BABY TIME BABY FUN BABY BOUNCE time is happening.


You can!  You really can!  I think my whole staff had some trepidation about Baby Time.  I know I did!  It felt like it was never going to work or that we were wasting time and not connecting.  We we worried we’d never get the right age to come or that it wasn’t “program-y” enough.  Yes, there were bumps.  Yes, patrons didn’t instantly get what we were doing.  But after just a few sessions, parents (and staff) could see the babies really laughing and smiling and loving the bounces and it just felt right.

The most common refrain about Baby Time is: no one does it the same way.  This is true!  And don’t be afraid of that! Try something out.  I was SO WORRIED because we didn’t read books (even just one!) or do choral readings of the same board book but it didn’t ruin our Baby Time or make it useless, it just made us work harder to connect caregivers with the rhymes and bounces and it gave us a new way to explain that the library isn’t just books and building early literacy skills didn’t have to center ONLY around books.

I’m so glad we started Baby Time.  It has been a learning experience – heck, it still is.  If you don’t have a baby time … start one NOW!  You don’t need to learn a thousand rhymes or buy a thousand things: get two sets of stacking cups, a handful of board books, and use 6 of the rhymes in this post and you’re READY TO GO.

We don’t get huge crowds for Baby Time, but we can average 6-12 grown-ups per session, which ends up with a room full of bouncing, laughing, LEARNING babies.  What could be better?

Do you have a Baby Time?  I want to hear all about it and see pics and learn about what works for you and what your patrons love and learn from it!  I want to hear about your successes, your failures, and your plans! Leave me a comment or chat with me on Twitter about it.

If you haven’t started Baby Time, have no fear! Eebee and I believe in you!



A Few Recent Storytime Hits

I have many posts in the works that I promise to get posted in May!  BUT I wanted to make sure I got something posted for April so I could keep my streak of posting going. In the spirit of my December post of BOOKS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO I thought a fun and quick post would be a round-up of some books I’ve done in storytime over the past few months that have been really big hits.  I LOVE posts and recommendations on Twitter or Facebook, it always gives me new ideas and is there anything better than finding a new storytime book?  So why not share some of mine? Here’s some of my recent favorites.


How Hippo Says Hello and How Gator Says Good-bye by Abigail Samoun, illustrated by Sarah Watts These simple board books follow animals as they travel the world and learn to say “hello” and “good-bye” in a seven languages from Spanish to Arabic. The pictures share famous landmarks and each page has a simple one word with pronunciation.  I did these as opener/closer for a storytime and my international parents LOVED IT.  One of the moms squeezed her little girl into a joyous hug  with a huge smile when we got to India.  Lots of fun and a great way to introduce new vocabulary and a global touch to storytimes.  Please and Thank You are on the way.


WazDot? written and illustrated by Michael Slack A deceptively simple book about a little alien who finds himself on a farm this actually appealed to a huge range of kids. Kids LOVE guessing books and in this one they get to see outlined shadows to predict what will be on the next page.  My little kids loved it and the slightly older toddlers loved the noises and reactions from the little alien.  And they allllllll loved saying “Wazzzzzzzzz dot?!” as we turned the pages. The alien runs off from his school again (“Ooooh!” they whispered) and heads to  … town, leaving my kids begging for the sequel.


Why Are You Doing That? by Elisa Amado, illustrated bu Manuel Monroy Another predictive text with a few more words, this one still worked with a large age range.  A little boy named Chepito wanders around his house and neighborhood and asks the adults who are feeding chickens, tilling soil, and making food, “Why are you doing that?” The kids loved talking about what they saw and hearing the answers.  In our smaller town, it was great to have a book with a rural setting (“do you know anyone who raises their own chickens?”) and of course the diversity of the characters and their world was a big plus.  Lots of fun to pause and ask “And what do you think Chepito asked?” you can imagine what they shouted back!


Edgar’s Second Word by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Priscilla Burris This is a book I used with our older storytime session since it’s slightly longer.  Our older session (Ready, Set, Read) is for kids 4-7 so they are ready for longer stories with more plots, so this was a perfect fit.  Poor Hazel, her baby brother Edgar isn’t fun at all – he cries and throws fits and never wants to play.  But maybe Edgar is paying more attention (as he grows) than Hazel expects. The kids and parents both loved this – from seeing Edgar misbehave to the cute illustrations.  And, naturally, when Edgar says his second word and he and Hazel share a moment of sibling closeness, EVERYONE was grinning.  Big and little sibling loved this one.  It was part of a sibling storytime that was a lot of fun.

very big carrot

The Very Big Carrot written and illustrated by Satoe Tone The only problem with this book was the size – it’s a little smaller than a traditional picture book, but the illustrations are so luscious and detailed and weird. I took the time to walk it through the crowd. Some rabbits find a VERY BIG CARROT and can’t figure out what to do with it.  Should they make it into a plane? A beautiful house?  What if they …. “EAT IT! EAT IT! EAT IT!” screamed every kid in the room.  This was a nice treat in a bunny storytime.

bears bath

Bears in the Bath by Shirley Parenteau, illustrated by David Walker If you’re not using the BEARS series in storytime, you’re missing out.  So far there’s Bears on Chairs, Bears in Bed, and Bears and a Birthday.  They are fun, short, rhyming books about a set of four bears who make trouble.  The bears are each easily identified by color and the text is predictive and the right amount of silly. I used this one as part of a bath storytime (the older kids also got really into Who’s in the Tub by Sylvie Jones – but the younger ones didn’t quite get that one) and it was a big hit because of the muddy bears who just DON’T want a bath.  ALL of these books are great for storytime: the rhyme, the easy to fit multiple themes, the bears, the colors all lend themselves to re-telling and easy audience participation.4

SO!  There are just a few of my recent storytime hits – a few surprises (that weird carrot book!) with some familiar faces (the bears are back!) It’s always fun to try to figure out what worked with each crowd and why AND to take some chances to see how books will come alive with different ages and crowds.  That’s the magic of storytime and learning and learning every time.

What are some of YOUR recent storytime successes?  What are some books that surprised you or new books that worked in great ways?  Are there books you are looking forward to sharing? I think knowing what other people have used/tried/succeeded with (and even sometimes failed with…) in their real-life storytimes is the BEST kind of sharing and the BEST way to find new material, so I’d love to hear from you about some of your recent experiences. Leave a comment here or chat with me on Twitter.


Early Literacy Storytime Check-In

One of the most successful programs at my library this summer is Ready, Set, Read! our early literacy storytime for 4-6 year olds.  We started this program last summer (and have continued it once a month during the school year…with very small attendance, but still!  We kept at it!)  and had such success we brought it back again this summer.  The good news is the audience this year is EVEN LARGER and we’ve had some truly amazing and engaged crowds.  We offer this storytime once a week and we have never had a crowd of less than 25 kids.  This is a storytime that gets parents engaged, keeps older kids (we have 7-9 year old siblings coming and participating too because it’s so fun!)

I wrote all about why we decided to launch Ready, Set, Read! and what a program is like last summer. But I thought now was a good time to do an update on how it’s going, especially since it’s almost doubled in size since last year.

The set-up remains the same: sing songs, do fingerplays, do some dancing, read books, play games and do letter activities.  It’s just a really fun storytime to present and, I think, for the kids to participate in.  I think that’s a big part of the appeal – they are learning and they are building their early literacy but we’re also just having fun!

I’ve gotten so many of these great ideas from fellow librarians and bloggers (check out my blog roll for some of my favorites!) and I want to thank everyone who shares their ideas – please keep it up!  I also get tons of ideas from browsing homeschool blogs and Pinboards. I keep lots of them organized on my own Early Literacy Pinboard, where you’ll find lots of my resources (especially printables) for programs new, old, and upcoming.

This year we’ve really concentrated on the letter awareness.  We done lots of letter awareness and print practice. One week we worked on matching.  We had kids make matches for split up site words and numbers in hanging wall-charts and they played simple memory games.  (I found these Pick A Pair games at the Dollar Tree and they are perfect for this age group because, unlike most memory games, they only have 12 possible matches.  It’s much less intimidating for little kids.)



One week we did stories and songs about shapes and then did a color and shape bingo, which the kids loooooved.  It was a great chance to engage with conversations like, “You have a red heart, but the card says blue heart, so you can’t cover it on your bingo card.  Keep listening, you’re doing a great job!” I got this bingo kit with five small cards from, you guessed it, the Dollar Tree and we enlarged and laminated them so lots of kids could play at once.  We used pompoms as the covering pieces, which they loved.


I found a great activity called Laundry Letters at one of my favorite homeschooling blogs (as I mentioned: if you’re ever looking for great resources about early literacy and learning to read, browse homeschool blogs.  I get lots of ideas from them!)  One of my staff members had already created a template for t-shirts, so she just wrote up some new ones with alphabets.  We laminated them and then had our summer volunteers cut them out and label our clothespins.  The kids then worked on matching upper and lower cases.  We strung “clotheslines” nice and low for them to come match and hang up t-shirts. (Melissa Depper’s great post on how clothespins can be important to development also pushed this one along – you can’t see it but, of course, the clothespins have matching letters on them.)  They looooooooved this activity and it was fun to do something a little more advanced, not just the alphabet but understanding about upper and lower cases.


After that activity we did some upper and lower case practice sheets (cutting and pasting including, build those muscles!) that I bought off Teachers Pay Teachers.  As I’ve mentioned, we use Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher’s Notebook a lot in the summer – they have great, cheap, clear, usable resources. If you’ve never explored their resources, you should.

We’ve also done activities about ducks and chicks and created and colored mini-books about counting and working on our scissors and pasting skills.  (I found these awesome cut and paste practice books at, well the Dollar Tree, and we reproduced them.  They are easy to build storytimes around thanks to their cute characters and the kids love scissors and glue time.)

I built my storytime on MONSTERS!  I used the amazing Pinboard about Monsters from the goddess at Jbrary for inspiration. (yes, besides videos the Dana and Lindsey also do Pinterest boards.  Is there anything they can’t do?) That’s where I found the Letter Monster at Storytime with Miss Tara. I loved him and knew he would be perfect for the letter recognition.  Miss Tara’s is awesome and made out of felt … but we just whipped one up out of butcher paper on the morning of the program.  It was easy and the kids loved him too. We said the alphabet about 26 times, because we started over for each kid.  The parents might have been a little exasperated but the kids LOVED shouting out the alphabet and I talked to parents about how important actually saying not only singing the alphabet. We used magnetic letters on with our monster taped up to the magnet side of our whiteboard.


After our letter monster activity, we read two monster books: Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austin and the classic Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley which they loved so much they were falling out of their chairs.

Then we all stood up and played along to If You’re A Monster and You Know It by Rebecca and Ed Emberley.  Just when they couldn’t GET more excited, we wrapped it up by dancing along to Monster Boogie by Laurie Berkner. We did it twice and they would have done it ten times more.  But then it was time for our activity.

I found roll and cover activities on one of my sweeps through Pinterest and since our kids have been displaying lots of interest in numbers and numeracy, I decided I wanted to incorporate one.  It’s a basic kindergarten math activity since it helps kids connected the different ways numbers are written.  I found some simple roll and cover AND roll and color pages with monsters and then some simple addition and subtraction pages for our kids who were a little farther along. We set out our billion pairs of dice (most of them borrowed from my boyfriend the gamer  but we also  bought several sets of big foam dice from, er, The Dollar Tree.)

addition roll and cover

roll and color


(yes some of the sheets are supposedly Easter sheets but no one notice, they just looked monster-y)  We laminated some of them and let the kids play with Goldfish crackers on those.  For the older kids it was good, but the younger ones just wanted to eat, hah. (We had pompoms on hand for allergies or kids who didn’t want the goldfish – pompoms are great markers for littles.)

The kids figured it out pretty quickly and it was interesting to see them counting the marks on the dice then connecting that sum with the numbers. We let them take the roll and color sheets home to play. (Almost all of our Ready, Set, Read! programs have a take home worksheet or project of some kind.)

We only have three more summer sessions of Ready, Set, Read! left but I we’re going to be handing out info about the school year sessions and hopefully that will help.  Even if it doesn’t, it’s still an amazing addition to our summer line-up and I just love that so many patrons love it.  It helps develop staff’s storytime and early literacy skills not just for the program but in general.  We also really relish all the chances we get to educate parents and caregivers about early literacy. This makes them more likely to engage with us about EVERYTHING. (last week a parent asked me for a recommendation for an adult book for herself since “your our librarian!”) It keeps parents and families coming in and it even makes our other younger ages storytimes a little less chaotic.

Have you been developing an early literacy or family storytime at your library?  If so, do you run it differently than you do your younger storytimes?  What kind of games, activities, and crafts do you provide?  What kind of feedback do you hear from your patrons?  What themes have been hits at your library lately? Do you have any questions about our Ready, Set, Read! program I didn’t answer here or you want more info about?  Leave me a comment here or let’s talk about it on Twitter!


Music & Movement – BABY DANCE!


Without a doubt, the most popular program our library provides is our Music & Movement program.  It’s SO popular that we have it four times a week, including a session at our branch library. And even having it four times a week isn’t enough, we could have it every day and people would come.  We get 30-100 people (children and adults) at EACH PROGRAM. (especially in summer, the attendance skyrockets.) Music & Movement or, as it’s informally known, BABY DANCE is our best attended and loved program for many reasons.  One of them is that we relish the fun of it all and we let it be one wild and crazy time – it’s not a program where we crack down on rules. Another is that it really is a program that shows off the library as a community space: families come and hang out, new immigrant parents meet other new immigrant parents, it helps connect people.

Those are two of the most important keys for M&M’s success.  But there’s more!


I swear on all the things I love I really am going to write a professional article about all this for submission to Children & Libraries.  I am.  And I want all of you, dear readers, to keep holding me to that! I want you to keep asking about it and keep telling me to write it.  FOR REAL.  But at the same time I also see tons of posts and requests for playlists and, well. not only do I want to share BUT … maybe writing a playlist will help get me in gear for the REAL article and get some discussion going that can motivate me into writing it!

SO!  This is going to be a post with JUST SOME of my playlist favorites.  However!  I am only one of the people who presents this program at my library – different staff has different favorite songs and even different regular songs. (But you should know WHAT your co-presenters do, because while the kids will begin to recognize you by “your” songs they will also feel free to request other songs they love/know.  So stay on the same page, discuss songs you use and why often!)   And, hey, even different days and different crowds (is it an older crowd?  A bigger crowd?  A rowdier crowd?) can change a playlist in a second.

Some general notes:

  • All staff who present have moved to using playslists on either our phones or iPods, which means we can have hours of songs to choose from.  I can’t recommend this enough – it really frees you up.
  • We don’t use a microphone … yet.  It’s a possibility for the future.  Right now, we plug right into speakers, turn it all up, sing our hearts out, and go. (and, yes, we sing along – not always, but often.  Be prepared to belt this out even if, like me, you have the worst voice.)
  • We DO use props: parachutes, scarves, rhythm sticks, and even 100+ bath sponges (a Dollar Tree 2 for $1 score!). We also use instruments (we have a lot of great instruments purchased with funds from our Friends – they LOVE to be hit up for programs like this!) but those can be SO tricky when we have HUGE crowds.  The patrons love them but, oh, it’s such chaos getting them all handed out and avoiding stampedes and the like. Sometimes we just have to leave them out.
  • We have this program before the library opens, which helps with worrying about noise.  We also have it on Saturdays, which is a really popular day for whole families to attend.
  • Each session is about 30 minutes, but we never feel bad if one needs to only be 20 minutes or sometimes goes 35 minutes.
  • Where do we get the music? We’re always browsing, looking for Parent’s Choice Awards, watching YouTube videos. This whole program was created to spotlight our music collection, so my library a lot of children’s music we’re always promoting to patrons! We LOVE Kimbo Educational and if you’re not familiar with their great catalog, take some time to browse because they have tons of wonderful educational music.


With that: you will notice I use A LOT of children’s music, educational music, and even “old” children’s music.  

This program does not exist to make sure the parents have a magical rock concert experience.  This program is here for kids.  Sure, we sometimes throw in contemporary music , especially for instrument or stick songs, but this program works because we do listen-and-follow-and-learn songs, because we find out elbows and knees and toes, because this is predictable, repeatable,  music – many would even say formulaic – that is not confusing to children and is easy to follow along. (and along and along and along … did I mention we have it four times a week?)

If that isn’t your dance party groove, that’s fine.  But that’s how ours work, by and large, and it works well.

I have about 35-40 songs in my playlist so I have lots of selections.  While we love repetition, we also try to add new songs. For this sample playlist, I have included samples or audio of the songs I’m discussing and album titles as needed.

Personally, I always start with the same five songs.  I call this my warm-up and I think it helps set some familiarity up and get everyone ready to listen and follow and say HELLO!


Good Morning by Greg & Steve

Simple and classic, we clap all the way through and say hello to all our friends and talk about what we will do together and sing, sing, sing.

Reach for the Ceiling
Roll Your Hands  by Carol Hammett

Both from the amazingly named Toddlers on Parade – great and simple listen and follow.

Wheels on the Bus

Choose your version!  The kids LOVE this one, go WILD for it.  I can also connect the rolling our hands in the song before to rolling our wheels on the bus.

The Music in Me by Greg & Steve (from Fun & Games)

Another good listen and follow but now with new sounds that MAKE grown-ups participate as they start to drift off – whistling, snapping!


Here’s where I switch it up depending on audiences.  Some favorites:

Jump, Jump by Joanie Leeds

AKA the song I shared at Guerilla Storytime in Summer 2013.  This one gets them going and is pure delight for an older crowd.  Not much for babies to do but bounce but, man, until you’ve seen about 30 toddlers going to town on this one you just haven’t lived. (scroll down to I’m A Rock Star for the sample)

There’s A Little Wheel Turnin’ in My Heart and The Airplane Song by the legendary Laurie Berkner

I could do a whole program with JUST Laurie Berkner songs.  But my most often used in this portion are For Wheel  we have good practice singing the refrain and with “wheel turning.”  They scream with glee when we WAKE UP from sleeping to the truck honking.  Airplane Song is one that’s actually requested by our kids.  They love to put their arms out and be planes and, in our town of frequent travelers and often moved families, everyone likes the bit about “come sit down in your own hometown.” And though I don’t use them as regularly, I also suggest My Energy (great for burning off energy) and Monster Boogie. (better in smaller, older groups.)

Clap, Clap, Clap and Shoo Fly by Carole Peterson

I think Carole Peterson deserves a much bigger audience.  We get great responses from these songs, they’re nicely paced and have the actions repeated many times so the kids can really master them.  Clap is from Sticky Bubblegum and Shoo Fly (love that banjo!) is from Dancing Feet.  But she’s got tons of great songs, I highly recommend her.

Arms Up! by William Janiak

A big Kimbo hit.  This might be THE most known song across the whole program, because almost all presenters use it.  It’s basically perfect: fun movements that are a little complicated, good beat, lots of repetition. Our crowds love this song, it’s challenging (watching them balance on one leg!) but familiar too.  I’ve had at least three parents email about “what’s the song with the arms up?” because their kids want to hear it – even on vacation.

Let’s Shake by Dan Zanes

I listen to Dan Zanes’s children and folk music just because I love it.  But ,any of them are also great for programs.  If you’re having a special one-off Toddler Dance Party, I think it’d be incomplete without this song.  Listen to it several times ahead and practice your versions of the dances mentioned and then get ready to rock.  (from Catch that Train – and, yes, the album version has much less jammin’ and gets straight to the song.)


After we’re warmed up and we’ve done two-four songs, we move on to the props: scarves, sticks, parachute, or sponges.  I have a few regulars for these.


Mariposa Ole  by Dan Zanes & Barbara Brousal

Sure, it’s all in Spanish.  But many of our patrons understand Spanish.  And everyone feels the rhythm.  You can also hold your sticks up high and make butterflies as you tap along to the guitar.

Three Little Birds covered by Elizabeth Mitchell

MY PERFECT STICKS SONG.  Elizabeth Mitchell is a treasure!  She was the first children’s artist carried on Smithsonian’s Folkways label and her latest album Blue Clouds has illustrations from Remy Charlip and liner notes from some dude named Brian Selznick.  So, you know.  This song – oooooh, I love to belt this out to the kids (every little thing’s gonna be all right!) and they love to click along to this version of it, having sticks on the song really helps them with following the cues and the music.  Just delightful on every level. If you’re looking for really magical folk music (from several cultures) for children, Elizabeth Mitchell is a must.


I could lie and tell you I use lots of cool body identification/color identification songs for scarves.  But I don’t.  I’ve gotten better about using them for some play before we launch into the song, I think that’s really helped (especially for the babies). But 99.9% of the time use the same song and it’s a ton of fun.

Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz) by Laurie Berkner

We get to dance and shake our scarves, we go down low to our toes and then pop up high to the sky when she says BUZZ, we get to make the buzzzzzz ourselves as we trail scarves along for peek-a-boo. It never fails me!

I don’t really use the parachute since I don’t like the space we’re in and I worry about parent participation, but my co-workers usually use either a popular music song or just skip music and do narration.

After a single song using the sticks or scarves (I usually do one or the other, not both) we move right on to the instruments.


This is a hugely popular part of the program.   However, we’ve recently stopped putting out the instruments during summer because we just have too huge of a crowd and here’s an area where the chaos works against us.  That is to say: we have a toddler stampede and it’s not good.  No matter how much we beg for help, parents just don’t seem to engage in this, so we have tons of kids running for instruments.  Sometimes we try holding on to the bins and then passing them out ourselves but with huge numbers that’s difficult.  If YOU have a better instrument distribution plan, I’d love to hear it!

Instruments are a great time to do a popular music song so we’ve done everything from Gangnam Style (our Korean parents loved this!) to Happy. We also did I Want to Dance With Somebody when Whitney Houston died and the Ghostbusters theme when Harold Ramis died.

With the instruments (and the sponges) I almost always do a start and stop/freeze song.  It’s good practice for the kids for listening to musical cues and understanding “stop” and “go” and it’s easier to hear the “freeze” part when instruments are involved.  And boy do they love it when they get to start playing again.  My favorite is by my bros Greg & Steve.

The Freeze by Greg and Steve

Cleaning up from instruments always takes time, even if there are no major crying incidents involved. So, this is a good chance to practice saying “see you next time” to the instruments, singing the clean-up song, and giving all the kids loads of praise for being such good helpers!


By this time. we’re just about wrapping up the half hour.  Each of the presenters has their own goodbye song.  I use something simple and easy to sing along with.  I sing Twinkle!

Twinkle, Twinkle from Six Little Ducks by Kimbo

 I think you could do any version of this song: it makes a nice closer and gives everyone a chance to stretch and cool down.  But I use a specific one because there’s about 30 seconds of instrumental in it after the first verse of Twinkle and I use that time to talk to the crowd.  I tell them what a great time we had “singing, talking, playing, and growing!” and how I am SO PROUD of them.  Then, right before we sing another verse I say, “You’re all superstars!  Let’s sing together, friends!” They LOVE this part and so do I – it’s great reinforcement of everything we’ve just learned and it’s a chance to make the kids feel really special and excited about what they’ve just learned.

And, hopefully, it makes them want to come back for more!

There you have it!  A basic (well perhaps a little more than basic …) overview of a typical Music & Movement program.  Do you have a program like this at your library?  If you don’t, seriously consider it.  Why?  It’s more than just how it can supplement your other early literacy programs and storytimes.  It’s more than just how it will boost your statistics.  I think every library should offer this program because of how I’ve seen it foster and create community in our library, because of how I have seen it turn the library into THE destination for families to network and connect.  THAT’S what I’ve come to accept about the chaos and exhaustion and disorganization of M&M as I get frustrated with it all – this program makes our library a community builder and that’s worth it all.

Also, dancing babies.

Now!  Keep pressuring me to write and present MORE about this!  I’ll rely on you!  And talk to me about YOUR library dance parties and toddler music programs.  What do you do?  What works?  What do your patrons love?  Are there questions about Music & Movement that I didn’t answer?  What else do you want to know about what we do and how we do it? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)


Ready, Set, Read – Launching Early Literacy Storytime

Yikes – you can totally tell summer reading chaos has eaten my life!  Back in March I resolved to bring my blog back to life and commit myself to posting regularly.  I’ve been doing pretty well with it (and it’s turned out to be much more satisfying than I remembered!) but then, of course, came the SUMMER READING CRUSH and I started to backslide!  So, I’m recommitting to my promise to blog.  Honestly, I won’t be able to post AS regularly, but I am vowing to still keep posting.  IN FACT I am vowing to blog about summer reading!  There’s so much about our program changing this year, I want to document it all – what works and what doesn’t.

The first place to start is with READY, SET, READ – a program we launched this summer (two sessions so far) designed to reinvent our storytime offerings for ages 0-6.  Our problem was, I am sure, not unique to our library.  We had two storytime offerings on Thursday morning: a 0-3 baby storytime we called “wigglers” and a 3-5 storytime we called “walkers”.  The problem was, as I am sure you can guess,  that these ages got all mixed up and amorphous and we weren’t ever really doing an “older” kid storytime and the older kids were distracting in the baby storytime and on and on.   I knew something had to be done … but what?

Let me take a minute here to tell you how my professional life was forever changed by meeting the indescribably inspiring Katie Salo.

Katie and Me and PennyI first met Katie in 2011.  (Here we are at Midwinter 2012, hanging out with Kevin Henke’s Penny!) She was, without a doubt, one of the best early literacy librarians I had ever met.  She runs the amazing blog Storytime Katie – which if you’re not using as a resource, you’re missing out.  The way she approaches storytime was nothing short of revelatory for me.  “Whoa,” I thought, “I wish *I* could do that!” It was certainly reinvigorating and through reading Katie’s blog I was introduced to dozens of other amazing and committed early literacy librarians.

There’s that.

But it was more than that: it was the fact that Katie  is ALSO one of the best teen librarians I know. She’s intimately familiar with YA lit and she runs great programs for her teens.

When I met Katie, I realized that I could no longer say to myself, “Sure, you struggle with the early literacy part of your job, but you’re AMAZING with teens, which is your strength!” I am not a teen librarian – I am a youth services librarian and it is my responsibility to be amazing, innovative, and committed to all my patrons, ages 0-18. And once I saw how good Katie was at both parts of her job?  I knew I had to commit to trying to be like her.

My early literacy journey has not been easy! Library service to 7-18 year olds comes easy to me.  I can wing it.  I can improvise.  I can engage easily. I am not afraid, in short.  But that 0-6 contingent – oh,  I’ve struggled.  It takes research, careful planning, reading lots of blogs and professional literature, and asking for lots of guidance and help.  But luckily, like Katie, everyone has been more than willing to help and share.

Here are some of the librarians who were (and remain!) the most inspirational to me as I embarked on my early literacy journey:

Hi Miss Julie

Mel’s Desk

Read Sing Play

The Show Me Librarian

the many amazing contributors at the ALSC blog

and the countless people I interact, follow, and converse with daily on Twitter, who are always there to offer ideas and encouragement.

With these motivations in place, I decided summer was the perfect time to finally do something about all that storytime overlap, both for the 0-3 year old crowd, who were missing out on their own focused time AND for our older crowd.  Using Katie’s Growing Readers and Julie’s Beginning Readers as my inspiration, my library launched READY, SET, READ as a pilot program.



 (We’re using an image of a stoplight from ClipArt as the logo – it’s simple to grasp and fits our theme and title.)

In just the two sessions we’ve offered, it’s been a great hit.  We’ve had an older crowd both times, age appropriate to what we’ve been advertising and what our focus goal was.  I’ve focused on including a longer fingerplay and a short craft, neither of which we do at our 0-3 storytime.  I’ve also read longer books, which is such a treat!  Here’s a general outline of how the last two weeks have gone and what I’ve learned.

Week 1: Caterpillars

We all arrived and introduced ourselves.  Some kids even spelled their names, but I didn’t want to pressure others who might not have all their letters yet.

I talked about how today’s theme was caterpillars and we were going to read stories and sing songs and even make a project about caterpillars.  (I also mentioned that we were going to learn new words, which gave some of the older and more developed kids, a chance to immediately shout out CHRYSALIS!!!!)

Our first book was Arabella Miller’s Tiny Caterpillar by Clare Jarrett












And then we learned the fingerplay for Caterpillarwhich I found on YouTube and practiced until I had it memorized!  With the help of my student worker, we sang this to the kids a few times and then let them sing along.  To encourage parents to keep practicing (and hopefully learn new fingerplays) one of their take homes was a print-out of the lyrics and a way to find the YouTube video.

Then we read our second book: Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin, Jr.













This is a relatively simple counting book, but it was great to read this with an older group because we got to really dig into Ehlert’s awesome pictures and attention to detail in each illustration.  We practiced the words for the flowers and animals, I asked the kids to name animals they saw, we talked about how each caterpillar looked, we looked at the other words on the page, we described what each caterpillar was doing.

When our books were done, we did a simple craft that helped me burn through some of our million pompoms!


This was a great chance to talk about colors, texture, and sizes and to practice squeezing just the right amount of glue. (The greatest of all challenges for littles!)

We went back to our seats and gave our caterpillars a chance to dry and practice singing the fingerplay a few more times.

The first week was a great success, we had lots of immediate, positive feedback from parents and the kids all seemed to have a great time.  All together there were about 14 kids in attendance.

Even though it went well, I still learned lessons for the next time!

Week Two: Apples


Apple books

In the first session my mistake was not having enough books for everyone to check out and look at.  Also, they make a good decoration: for the kids I think it’s exciting and encouraging to see so many books. So, for week two I made sure we had lots of books about apples and apple pies, including some non-fiction.

Lesson #2: Include a welcoming song. I wanted a firmer way to establish storytime was starting and a song was the perfect choice.  Twitter really came through for me, giving me lots of suggestions.  I’m not sure I’ll use the same song every time, but it did set the mood.

Lesson # 3: Maybe don’t do a project that needs time to dry. Now this is not to say I won’t ever do another craft with glue, but if I do, I’ll structure the book/fingerplay/craft differently. The caterpillars were still drying when we were done, so that wasn’t the best, timing-wise.

For week two, I followed the same outline.  (This time with a welcome song!) We again read a book, did our fingerplay, read another book, and then did our craft.

Our first book was Ducking for Apples by Lynne Berry










Another fun book to do with an older crowd, lots of talk about rhymes and predicting what words might rhyme next.

Our fingerplay was the classic Two Apples.  Using the awesome resources from Hennepin County Library, I again made a handout for take home featuring the lyrics and a way to find the video.

Then we read One Red Apple by Harriet Ziefert.












And moved on to our project.  This week, I chose to make a mini-book.  I found a FREE template on Teachers Pay Teachers (can’t live without it as a resource!) for a mini-book about apples and had our volunteers assemble it.  Here’s an example of what our book looked like.


Then the kids each colored their own book. It’s full of simple, repetitive sight words – perfect for the program.  I was worried the kids wouldn’t be into this, but they loved it.  They loved the sight words and they loved the colors (some colored according to the caption, others didn’t).  I heard several kids asking their parents to read them the book and I heard others already reciting some of the sentences.  Also, I think this a great, empowering take-home: their own books!

A struggle this week was I chose to move them out of our smaller storytime room to a larger area to color.  This was great because it gave them more space to work and encouraged their parents and little siblings to come over and participate too … but it wasn’t so great because it was harder to get them to focus for an official closing and to look at the books we had available.   Maybe that’s a trade-off worth making, however, to let them work at their own pace and have lots of room.

We had another good crowd of around 12-14 kids, some returns and some new faces.  Of course, I wrung my hands over the kids who didn’t come back (what if they hated the first week??!) but that’s just my nature!   I felt, again, like we’d really did something different and important and it was great to connect with and reach out to these older kids.

Now we’re headed into week three!  My colleague Melissa will be making her Ready, Set, Read debut and I’m excited to see what she learns and tries and what works and doesn’t.  There are so many things I want to try next!

Ready, Set, Read is, for me, a challenge.  I have to put in a lot of work with it and I KNOW that I am still learning and will still need lots of guidance and support.  But I know I can do it!  I know I need to try!  I’ve seen the benefits – it doesn’t just make me feel like a better librarian, it makes me happy I’m really addressing a community need.  And I know I have an amazing professional learning network – full of librarians like Katie – to show me how it can be done and encourage me along the way.

Do YOU do an early literacy storytime or a similar program?  How have you handled the challenges of different ages at storytime?  What tips and tricks and lessons of your own do you have to share for any programs geared at this age?

I’m off to learn my next set of fingerplays 🙂 but I can’t wait for the conversation to continue …