Kids’ STEM Workshop: Engino Simple Machines

Wow! Give kids a challenge (and don’t tell them that it is hard) and watch them create for you! That is the lesson I learned by offer a STEM program using Engino toy parts to build simple machines. Our kids both followed the directions, and free built. Engino toy parts are a cross between Legos and Knex, and they are a little bit harder to work with than either of those toys. Lots of fine motor skills were needed. I ran this program with 5th graders, 2nd graders, and an all ages program. All of the groups were able to build the simple Experimental Car, and then enjoyed some free build time.

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A Little House Party at the Public Library!

“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.” So begins Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in an autobiographical series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about growing up in 1800’s American. 150 years later, the Little House stories and activities are still wildly popular. And what better way to celebrate Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Birthday than to have a party at the public library as one of our Family Super Saturday events?

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Dr. Seuss Storytime!

In the mood for a Dr. Seuss Storytime! Me too! With Read Across America Day coming up, why not celebrate!

It can be hard to find Seuss books that are short enough for a Storytime crowd. In the end, I chose:



Dr. Seuss’s ABC
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?
Hop on Pop ( I read pages 1-31, ending with, “No Pat No, Don’t Sit on That!”)
Green Eggs and Ham (I read pages 1-25 and then skipped to page 49 and read till the end.)
My Many Colored Days

How it went: 

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What to do when you are sick on a Storytime morning….

This Wednesday I woke up with a sick stomach and only about five hours of sleep. It was a Storytime morning, so I immediately went into, “What are we going to do if I cannot make it into the library?” mode. We do not have a staff person set up to take over Storytime if I am not there on Wednesdays, so if I do not come in, Storytime would not happen. I have a very wonderful director, and after a few texts, she told me stay home. My director has respect for me, the Children’s department, and what Storytime means for our library as a whole, not just a single program. And, I am incredibly thankful to work with her, both as our director, and as a person. I ended up being able to pull myself together (I knew that I was not suffering from anything that would be contagious), and went into Storytime anyway. The kids and parents had a great time, but the experience prompted me to post a question of the Storytime Underground Facebook page asking my colleagues how they handle a similar situations. 56 librarians responded. Missing a Storytime, as I read, is something that we all worry about. It can mean losing momentum with our programming numbers, and other consequences. Yet, some of the solutions and proactive plans that I read made me want to share my colleague’s wisdom.

To summarize the 66 comments, here is some of the best advise that my fellow children librarians shared:

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Storytime: The Mitten Week 4

The Mitten: Week 4


In the Snow by Sharon Phillips Denslow
Clifford’s First Snow Day by Norman Bridwell
The Mitten by Jan Brett (to hold up)

This is our final week for the telling of the tale, “The Mitten”! I think that having one consistent story for a whole month helps the Storytime kids gain knowledge and experience with stories through review, and it also shows the parents how a simple story can be retold and enjoyed in different ways. It is also a way for the kids to be more active in the telling of the story, and I can layer in actions and repeat-after-me-phrases that I could not do if I was sharing new stories all the time. I also like to bring some theater in the form of play for the final week in the telling of the story, and this week we used masks that Jan Brett made available on her website for our props that each child was able to hold for our final telling of the story! Thank you Lynette, one of university interns, who made printed, laminated, and cut the masks out for us! We did not glue sticks on the back of the masks. I think sticks can make homemade masks harder for little hands to hold.

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Taking a break to Play at the Public Library

The benefits of play time for children has been long researched, observed, and promoted by educators, doctors, teachers, and librarians. Written in 2012, this article, “The Importance of Play, Particularly Constructive Play, in Public Library” written by Sue McCleaf Nespeca and published by the American Library Association is an excellent resource for making the case for the importance of play.

Play is even one of the five “magic” words in early child literacy (Write, Talk, Read, Sing, and Play) that we promote in our Storytimes and early literacy education. However, it can be one of the more difficult ones to bring out in the library in our regular Storytime (and similar program) sessions. So how we do add more play time to our library programming? I believe that children’s programs work best when they work as family programs that bring the family together, and families together. To that end, how can Play Time not only promote early literacy, healthy social skills, but also build relationships between child parents and caregivers at the same time?

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Murder at the Public Library! Oh My!

Have older students coming to your public library, and you want to do something more memorable than simply giving them a tour and some reading time? Would you like a fun, 30 minute program that would have your students racing to every section of the library, and learning lessons about where resources in your library are located in the process? Would you like to do all this, for no money needed? Well, I have the program for you! Introducing “Murder at the Public Library! Oh My!”

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“Doodling” Around at the Public Library!

This past Saturday we offered a “Doodling is for Everyone” Family Super Saturday program. Our program was ridiculously easy to prep for and it costed us nothing to offer. Although this was a fun Family Super Saturday, in future I think I will use this ideas as a passive program. To prep, a volunteer cut out maybe 100 3.5″ squares of drawing paper and sharpened our drawing pencils. I had three books on doodling designs on the tables in our programming room. When people came, I showed them the doodling and Zentangle books we had available on the tables and told everyone that “You just have a small piece of paper to fill. Do not worry about coming up with a perfect idea right away. Try something new that you usually do not try when you doodle. These books have lots of ideas to get you started!” I was surprised that everyone who came settled in very quickly and went to work. We doodled for an hour and only stopped because the library was closing. I also realized after about 5 minutes that I needed to sit down and doodle with everyone. It was not okay for me to just introduce them to the activity, I needed to be there doodling myself and talking with the kids and parents every few moments about their designs. It was a good reminder for me about how important it is to be “present” at every program and available for questions and to build relationships with the patrons who come!

For more ideas, Karissa in the Library blog also has a great write-up on a doodling program she offered.

If I was to offer this again, I would probably want to have more doodling books available, or even print off some adult coloring sheets and have those out as doodling examples. I also think next year we will try to offer our large family program the second Saturday in January (instead of the 3rd week in January like we did this year). It seemed like adults parents/caregivers were getting cabin fever last week and our library was alive with kids and families returning and checking out books. A parent even asked me if we had a program last Saturday, and when I told it was next week, they seemed disappointed. Last year I offered a “Kids’ Winter Crafts Open House” Family Super Saturday on the second Saturday in January, and it was very well attended. This year we did not see as great of an attendance, so I am not sure if it was because the program that was less interesting, or if the third Saturday in January is a tired time for families and they do not want to leave home to go out and do things.  So, I will keep tabs on this, and see if it is a hidden programming opportunity date in my community!

Have you offered a doodling program before? What went well, and what would you like to see changed and offered differently?

Kids’ STEM Workshop: Marble Maze (Push and Pull Physics!)

Put kids and marbles together and you automatically have a great time planned. Add a few lessons about Push and Pull, and you have an experiment in physics that combines fine motor skills, creative design, an understanding of force, and lots of marbles that went home with happy families. We held this program as a our second Workshop in January of 2017.

The skinny: This was a super fun program, although it was one of our shortest ones yet. I talked with the kids for about 15 minutes giving them some background in forces, balance, and push and pull physics. Then, I turned the kids loose on building their own marble runs. It only took the kids 15 minutes to design their own, which was much less time than I expected. In the future, I will try to combine this with a second activity to stretch it out, because I do like these workshops to go for 45-60 minutes. It was budget friendly, with supplies left over for me to do this again during our summer reading program.

Inspiration: I found this idea on Buggy and Buddy Blog. Her photos were so engaging that I thought, “We can try that!”

Cost: About $0.25 per child. I ordered a large box of Wikki Stix from Amazon for $23 (this box should serve 156 children, so we will certainly be doing this project again to go through it all!). I also ordered a large bag of Soak-Proof Foam Dinner plates ($4) so that the kids would have something sturdy to build on, and these plates had high edges. I also purchased three packs of 50 marbles for $1 at the Dollar Tree. We also used tape and scraps of construction paper that we had on hand. Each child received one plate, one marble, three of the Wikki Stix, and free access to the paper, markers, scissors, and tape.

Foam Plates
Scrap construction paper
Wikki Stix

STEM at work: Building a marble run on a paper plate, which is meant to be held and moved back and forth to make the marble go on the desired path gives children an opportunity to experiment with physics principals, Newton’s First Law, the force of gravity, and creative engineering through original designs. To keep it focused, I decided to talk about the forces of Push and Pull.

Set up: To keep the kids on track (and not using more supplies than they needed) I took the time to prepare individual bags and place settings for each child. That way we did not have to fight about which color or Wikki Stix each child wanted. In each bag I placed 3 of the Wikki Stix, all in different colors and 1 marble. I set up the tables so that each table had five plates with the prepared bags, and I also pre-cut a piece of blue painter’s tape about 8 inches long and stuck it to the table. That way, each child has the materials they needed. I also pre-cut about 200 strips of paper approximately 1″ by 4″ to use for building arches and guards for their marbles. The paper strips were placed on the tables in pie tins so that the kids could grab them and use them at will.

Resources: I used the book, Give it a Push! Give it a Pull! A Look at Forces by Jennifer Boothroyd.

How it went: I brought all the kids and families into our Storytime/Programming Room. The kids sat on our magic carpet and I started off by placing a toy bus on the table. I asked the kids what the bus was doing. (Correct answer: nothing!) I then gave the bus a push. Now what is it doing? (Moving!) Why? One girl answered, “Because of the wheels!”) Really? I turned the bus on its side and gave it another push which sent it a few feet away. We got to the part that it was moving because I pushed it. I then pulled the bus over to me, and the kids go that it moved because I pulled it. Push=move something away from the force. Pull=moves something closer to the force.

I then took out our book,  Give it a Push! Give it a Pull! A Look at Forces by Jennifer Boothroyd. I try to use a book at least for a few moments every Workshop because it shows that literacy and STEM go together in fostering curiosity! I did not read every page of this book. Instead, I prepared some post-it notes and I placed them on pages where I wanted to ask the kids questions. This helped keep the book engaging, and kids and me asking questions about what we were reading.

After finishing the book, I showed the kids the marble run that I had created, and how they would be tilting the plate to push and pull and marble towards them, or away from them, for the marble to go through its maze. I had the kids count and time me to see how long it would take me for my marble to go through the maze that I had created. (Answer: 6 seconds!)

I then had kids volunteer to bring the tables out from the corner of the room and into the center. One little girl was frustrated with her partners who were not lifting the table and she said, “Why is this table not moving?” I could not help it, and I had to answer as I went to give them a hand, “Because we are not applying enough force”. J I have found out that kids love to help me set up and take down the programming room after a program, and this is an important time for me to build positive relationships with them by thanking them for helping.

With the tables in place, the kids were ready to build! Like I said above, it only took them about 15 mintues to finished their maze. Then, the kids raced each other to see who could make their marble go through the maze fastest. I am getting smarter at this, and after the program I asked the kids to give me back and sandwich bag that held their marble and three Wikki Stix. I can re-use the bag, which cuts down on waste and cost! Some kids wanted to keep their bag, though, so their marble did not get lost on the way home, which was fine.

Another STEM Workshop in the books! Stay tuned for our February Workshops: Human Heart Science and Write Your Name in Computer Code!




Can we find more books like that?

Quick resource that sparked some reading empowerment (and totally impressed a library mom). Last week a parent came in to the library and told me about her son who finds the skill reading easy (he reads above his grade level), but just has a hard time getting into books. She was looking for chapter books that he may enjoy and was asking my advise and help. She told me her son had just finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and loved it. “Can we find more books like that?” You bet! And, a handy tool to make that happen has been created in a free online visual guide!

The web resource,  Literature Map-The Tourist Map of Literature works by asking you to type the name of any author into it’s search bar. I showed my library mom how to find the site and search for Roald Dahl. A whole screen comes up with your featured author in the center, and different authors who are similar in some way to the author that you searched for floating around your featured author’s name. My image above and below is what the “map” looks like after searching for Roald Dahl. The closer the author’s names are to each other, the more they have in common in their writing, and the more likely the reader is to find a new author to enjoy. Click on any of the author’s names that come up and a new map will be created featuring that author in the center of the map, and new authors to discover. It gets addicting to keep clicking on authors and discovering new maps and ideas of what to read next. I was introduced to this by the Youth Services Librarian at my library before me, and it has consistently been a fun and impressive resource to show kids and parents/caregivers. And, today, it helped a mom feel more empowered to help find books for her son that he would enjoy reading.

And, in case you are a fan, Life Hacker blog published a post on Literature Map with their “Find Authors with Literature Map” article.

What are your favorite resources for readers advisory?





Dewey Decimal Signage…

Beautifying the library space is always something that is in the back of my mind. I have visions for projects to make our children’s library “feel as magical as Disneyland”, but then life comes in. And patrons. And books that need to be shelved. And programs that need to be planned for. But this project is one that I was able to finish, and it was surprisingly cost efficient to complete.

I found this image online of the Dewey Decimal System explained in images and knew it was what we wanted to have in our room over our non-fiction bookcases. After a little bit of poking about online I was able to locate the designer of the images as Maggie Appleton and sent her note. She was incredibly gracious to write back:

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Kids’ STEM Workshop: Computer Coding with Scratch!


I had heard about computer coding being done at libraries for several months before attending the 2016 Wisconsin Library Association session: ”A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Coding Go Down” session lead by Tessa Michaelson Schmidt, Ryan Claringbolde, and Jen Fait. I did not really understand what tools may be out there to offer coding at our library, or how we could begin offering coding in my rural community with a library budget that is already limited. However, this session opened up my imagination to what could be possible in my community. Why not have kids coding computers at their public library? These same children that I talk with during my school visits, see playing games on the library computers, watch play sports at community games, and create music on their instruments or through their voice the school band or choir will be the future adult consumers. Why not teach them to be a producer, and not just a consumer of media? And, could I find a creative way to do it that would also be FREE of offer (no laptop or computer purchasing required)? Could there also be a hidden partnership opportunity with my schools linked in this somewhere? I think so!

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Kids’ STEM Workshop: Bats in Flight!

Who loves bats? You know, those amazing mammals that fly, eat mosquitoes and harmful insects to farmer’s crops, and represent good luck when seen in China? How do those bats fly and swoop in the air, so much more agile than birds? Better yet, can we make a simulation of a bat that also swoops like the real thing? You bet we can, in Kids’ STEM Workshops!

The skinny: This program totally came from an area science teacher. I asked her if she had ideas for October themed programs, and she came in and gave me the template to make this project. Although there is lots of folklore and fears associated with bats, they are an important part of our natural diversity with important jobs to do. They also are mammals that fly, and their unique wing design allows them to swoop and dive mid-air, something that birds simply cannot do. Our activity made a model of a bat with a challenge: can you make this paper bat swoop and fly like a real bat? Best yet, this program cost us $0 to offer and it filled our library with swooping bats and a lesson about flight!

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Storytime: The “Mitten” Week Two

I try to pick one new folk tale each month and present that story in my Storytime by choosing different books from different authors and illustrators who interpret the basic story each a little differently. In January, we are learning the folk tale, The Mitten. I have noticed that the kids enjoy knowing at least one of the stories as the month goes on, and I am able to layer in more interaction (ask the kids to join me in telling the story, acting it out, repeating after me, and making predictions) because the kids know what is going to happen. This lesson plan shows our second week on the folk tale, The Mitten.

Second week of January Storytime
The Mitten: Week Two

The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt
Snowballs by Lois Ehlert
Red Sled by Lita Judge
Spot’s Snowy Day by Eric Hill

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