Parachute ideas for all kinds of programs!

Stumped for ideas for using the parachute at storytime?

Think outside the picture books stacks!

Here are some great ideas for incorporating material from other areas of your collection.

Want to make your own clip art?

Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started!

Some easy ways to spice up your site!

Be sure to suggest your favorites in the comments!

Ideas for incorporating factual materials into storytime

There is lots of great nonfiction for kids out there. If I missed your favorite, leave a comment!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Roll a Storytime!

Here's an idea that lots of librarians already do and that I know at least one person has posted for Flannel Friday before (sorry, can't remember who!). I've heard it called "Roll-a-Rhyme" most frequently. Basically, you make a big die (singular of dice!) and roll it. Whatever comes up, is the nursery rhyme that you sing/say.You can build a box out of cardboard. I actually bought mine from Discount School Supply. I'm pretty sure I didn't pay $36, and I don't think I got number cards with them, but it was a few years ago. I made the nursery rhyme cards in Publisher. The dice have vinyl pockets so you can change the contents really easily.

Another idea is to put different movements on there. You can use animal movements. DSS's come with kids pretending to be different letters of the alphabet like this:
Other ideas for these dice: Put different colors and whoever is wearing that color has to stand up. Or touch their nose or lick their elbow. Whatever. Use different shapes and have the kids practice making those shapes with their bodies.With letters--if your name starts with the letter or contains it, for older kids. Or at home with your own little one, you could practice drawing the shapes, letters, etc.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tweaking the Children's Department

One of the things I love to do is make small little tweaks in my kids' department. It's amazing to me how moving even a small collection can have a big impact. It shakes the patrons out of their comfort zones and let's them see the department with new eyes. Here's an example of one we did earlier this month: moving the J Kits from the back wall of the picture book area to front and center right, where we used to have the BIG books.

Before, the kits were sort of fading into the wall, which you can kind of see in this extremely grainy photo (sorry, I forgot to take a before photo and had to crop some kids out of an older one).

After switching the Kits with the Big Books, we're looking like this:

The wall behind the big books is looking pretty empty, so I ordered a Pete the Cat poster from ALA. It's here and framed, just waiting for my boss to hang it. 

And here's a close up of the new-to-us (our other branch is now interfiling picture books with CDs in with the regular picture books and offered it to us) kit rack: 

I am hoping the kits will get a lot more use here, now that they are in a much more visible location. If they don't start circulating more during the rest of the year, my plan is to to remove them from the bags and interfile them with the rest of the picture books, as our other branch is already doing. We do have a large number of teachers and homeschooling families that I think would like to use these with their students, if only they knew we had them! By the way, I am still crazy about the turtle sandbox we use for board book storage

P.S. As some of you know already, I've taken a new job with a county system here in Michigan. I'm going to be working in the children's department at their main branch starting next week! I'm really excited about my new library and looking forward to working with my new co-workers (if any of them are reading this, HI!!). I will certainly miss my the staff and patrons at my current library though. As far as the blog goes, it might be quiet around here until I get settled in at my new library. I'm looking forward to sharing the great things my new system's youth staff are up to with all of you.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bringing Your Blog to the Next Level

Over in the Flannel Friday Facebook group, we've been discussing how to spruce up a blog in Blogger. I've been using Blogger for about 6.5 years (started as a student in library school), so I feel pretty confident in it. I've considered moving my blog over to Wordpress but everything is already set up using Google products and at this point I'm not interested in switching things up.

Anyway, a member was looking for some ideas to improve to function and appearance of her blog, so I thought I would share my suggestions to her (and some more for when she feels comfortable) with everyone. A lot of people have started blogs because of Flannel Friday, so I'm hoping some of these ideas will be helpful for anyone who is interested in upgrading their blog. Lisa wrote a really great post about some of the more beginning things you can do to enhance your blog, but I want to talk about some of the more advanced options.

If you're just getting started...
The most important thing from a reader's perspective is good content. Before you start promoting your blog, take the time to write a few posts so that once people stumble upon your blog there will be some things for them to read. Then they can evaluate whether they want to continue to hear what you have to say by subscribing via email or RSS. (By the way, since Google announced it's shutting down Google Reader, I've switched to Feedly and really like it so far. Feedly reminds me a lot of Pinterest in design. I'm a visual person and can get through the content a lot faster. I've gone and added a bunch more feeds since I can read them faster.)

Another recommendation I make a lot is to consider scheduling posts. I write a lot of blog posts in one sitting  (especially Flannel Friday ones) and then I sit down and change the dates so that when they're published, they will be spread-out. You can find out what your post's URL will be by clicking on the Permalink section of the post settings on the right when you're writing a post. I just copy and paste that and give it to that week's host. I often write 5 or more Flannel Friday posts in one day, since everything (felt board, iPhone for pictures, etc.) is out and ready. Then I will change the dates so that the posts will last a whole month.

Help your readers find the content they want easily
Also, think of what would make good categories for what you are writing about. You might decide to break posts into storytime age groups (baby, toddler, preschool, school-age, etc.), or into themes (apples, winter, penguins). There are a lot of possibilities and only you know what will work best for your blog. Look at what other bloggers with similar content are using. In Blogger, you can assign labels (also known as tags) to posts to make it easier to find similar things. Here's Google's help page for that.

Another way to display similar items is to install the LinkWithin widget on your blog. You will have to copy and paste some HTML code into your Blogger site to do this, but it is really worth it. It will take a few hours to go through your site, so don't worry if it doesn't display properly immediately. This is free, requires no registration, and walks you through the steps.

Lastly, don't forget to link to previous posts when you are writing new ones! This will help readers who are new find older posts that they may be interested in and remind readers who've been with you a long time to check out some older content.

Maximizing Pinterest Potential
I honestly think Pinterest has been the best thing to ever happen to my blog, in terms of adding new readers. Since it started, I have tried to be better about adding a watermark with my blog's name and what the photo is about. Like Lisa, I add my watermarks in Picasa but I only use the web version through Google+. I try to put an image in every post, because while you can pin text-only things to Pinterest, it is much, much harder to do so. So I either whip up something in Microsoft Paint or find something from the free library over at Open Clip Art (where all the images in this post are from).

Another thing I have done is install a button that puts a "pin it" button on any image. This was really easy to install once I found the right spot, although since I have that fancy image slider on the main page I had to ask my brother-in-law for help to adapt the "pin it" code without breaking that code.  section in your HTML code) and I think it's really cool! It even adds the right URL even if people are your main blog page and not the actual post. 

I also keep an eye on what is being pinned from my site by looking at the Pinterest source page for my blog. Then I adapt what I'm posting to what is getting the best response on Pinterest, in the comments, etc. One thing to think about with Pinterest is whether you want to include downloadable patterns. I like to host mine in my Teachers Pay Teachers store because then I can see how many people downloaded them. It's because I'm nosy that I have a TPT store, not because I'm greedy. I've only made one actual sale! Ha.

Looking at Statistics
Blogger incorporates some basic statistics for you to look at. You can see how many people (and from which countries) visited your blog on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc. basic. You can also see which posts are most popular. That will give you an idea of what content people are looking for and then you can customize more posts on that. Most importantly, you will be able to see where most of your traffic is coming from, whether it's Google, Pinterest, or something else entirely. If you participate in Flannel Friday, the odds are good that much of your traffic will be from those 2 sites.

If you are interested in seeing more detailed information about who is reading your blog, I recommend giving Feedburner, another Google product, a try. You will be able to see statistics for how many people subscribe to your blog via RSS and how many get emails when you update. Google walks you through setting Feedburner up here. Every year I set a goal for how many RSS and email subscriptions I want to reach. Last year I doubled my goal!

If Feedburner is not enough, you can get very detailed stats by signing up for Google Analytics, but I think it's overkill for a simple storytime blog. I had it set up for my blog but I never checked it and since I don't run ads on my blog, I don't need it. Feedburner suffices for me.

Pinterest also has an analytics tool, which I just installed, so I can't really talk about it yet. You do need to verify your site, which for those of us running Blogger or Wordpress means you need to insert a meta tag into your HTML. You are given a unique piece of code to edit into your site. I did find that I needed to add after the code Pinterest supplied for Blogger to accept that code. ALWAYS, always, always download a copy of your HTML before you start tinkering with it. That way you can revert back to the prior version easily. As far as I know my analytics can be viewed by anyone, so feel free to check it out.

Promoting Your Blog
I've found that the best ways to promote your blog are as follows (in no particular order):
  • Leave thoughtful comments on other blogs. Don't ask them to read your blog, but if you leave the URL in the commentator information section, there's a good chance the blogger (and many of the other commentators) will stop over and check it out. The more people who read the blog, the more likely it is that some of them will stop over. On the other hand, if fewer people read the blog, then your comment won't get lost in pages and pages of comments.
  • Set Feedburner up to autotweet when you have a new post. 
  • Be active on Pinterest and don't be afraid to pin your own posts. Don't do 40 posts in one day, but add them to relevant categories sparingly. 
  • Respond to comments when people write them! You don't have to reply to ones that say something like "Cute!" but if someone takes the time to write a substantive comment, why wouldn't you want to encourage them to do it again? 
Getting more advanced
I've been interested lately in learning how to do more and harder things on my blog. It took a couple of hours and a lot of Googling to install, but I'm really proud of my current blog template. It is a free template from Btemplates. I had to customize the HTML to change the rotating images at the top, remove some of the "widgets" on the side that I didn't want, and personalize the social media buttons so you can email me or find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Btemplates walks you through the installation process but then you have to figure out how to personalize the code on your own. I like Webmonkey's HTML cheat sheet. I do lots of CTRL-F to find the proper lines that need to be changed. And sometimes I call my brother-in-law, a web developer, and beg for help.

I hope this is helpful information for you! I'm starting to follow some blogs for ideas about how to write more engaging content and also for marketing my blog. I'm not interested in trying to make money off this or any other blog, I figure it is also good to read up on best practices for social media as I also do Facebook posts for my library. Plus, I just find it an interesting topic. I would love for companies to stop offering me "opportunities" to advertise their skateboarding shoes (true story) on this blog though. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Go Away, Big Green Monster! Draw and Tell

Kristine's Flannel Friday post last week reminded me that I'd been meaning to see if I could figure out how to do a Go Away, Big Green Monster! draw and tell story. I'm a big fan of Ed Emberley's work so this is my attempt at a tribute to his work (don't laugh).

I won't be sharing the text with this book, but the drawing instructions couldn't be easier. I mostly followed the order of the book except one thing that has always bothered me about this book is that the eyes come before the face which makes absolutely no sense, right? RIGHT?

1) Face. I've used a green background for my face. I drew this on the computer instead of lugging out a white board from storage, but you could get away with just drawing a circle with a green marker. Don't color it in, just draw the outline.

2) Eyes. With a yellow marker, draw two circles. Fill them in. You can put a another black circle in the middle for the pupil, as I have. Or not. I do think it adds something of a realistic effect.

3) Nose. Draw a long oval shape vertically with a green marker. Fill it in.

4) Mouth. Draw a long oval horizontally with a red marker. Fill it in. Erase a few triangles for teeth.

5) Ears. Draw 2 squiggles on the far sides of the eyes with a black marker.

6) Hair. Draw some squiggles with a purple marker for hair.

Then, as it's time to GO AWAY for the big green monster and you can take an eraser to your beautiful frightening creation.

Erase in the opposite order:
1) Hair.
2) Ears.
3) Mouth
4) Nose
5) Eyes
6) Face


With a story like this one that many children already know and love, I like to repeat at each storytime during a 6-week session. It's a fast one, but there are lots of ways to tell it. It adds an element of continuity to a session to repeat stories, but it also shows parents & caregivers that storytime is about bringing the stories to life. So, for example, you could structure your sesion like this:

  1. Read the story from the book the first week
  2. Tell the story as a flannelboard
  3. Do a draw and tell story
  4. Tell the story with a monster puppet (I've done it with both of those) 
  5. Tell the story with a prop like Kristine made
  6. Read the story from the book again the last week

Monday, March 18, 2013

Storytime Inspiration: Alphabet Blocks

Recently my lovely sister gave my family a huge tote of hand me down toys for our daughter. Since Nora already has lots of toys, I've been going through them to see what could be used at work now or when she outgrows them. The first one I want to share is a set of Fisher Price's Peek a Blocks. These are alphabet blocks that appear to have been discontinued, which is too bad because they have a lot of potential for library use.

The blocks could be used to inspire new storytime themes (throw them all in a bag and pick one out randomly) or to introduce your Letter of the Day, especially if you use an alphabet storytime model. Also some of the blocks have actions to manipulate or make a noise when you push a button.  They each have different textures on the outsides as well.

Here's the letters I have:

Ice Cream
Nest of birds
Train (you can actually turn the train in a circle through a tunnel!)

I couldn't find any online stores selling these anymore (my niece probably got these in 2009-2010), but it looks like Fisher Price still makes smaller, themed sets like these barnyard ones. They don't appear to have the letters on them though. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

" The Dog and His Bone" Shadow Puppet Story

The quickest story we performed at our shadow puppet show over winter break was Aesop's "The Dog and His Bone." This is the first one I made and I thought it was great for getting comfortable with the process of making and using shadow puppets for an overhead projector. You could also easily do this show behind a screen. For our purposes, we wanted to perform all the stories using the same methods for simplicity and space reasons.

Like I said, this one was easy to make. I used the patterns in Judy Sierra's Fantastic Theater. I copied the patterns for this story (the dog and the bone) from page 68 onto plain paper and traced it onto black cardstock. Then I cut them out and taped a flexible drinking straw to them. For the text, I like the version found in Jerry Pinkney's collection.

For the backdrop, I used a copyright-free bridge image from Open Clip Art. I cut and pasted it into Publisher, where I adjusted the size. Then I printed out on a transparency sheet (make sure you buy inkjet safe ones if you're using an inkjet printer!!) and drew the water in with blue permanent marker. I could have drawn the water in on the computer but I like the effect the hand-drawn water has.

Happy Second Birthday, Flannel Friday! If you missed it, I wrote last week about "What Flannel Friday Means to Me." 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Women's History Month

I'm late getting this on my blog, but we put up a display to celebrate Women's History Month (March). To make the sign, I found a list of famous American women and turned it into a wordle. I really like how the Wordle itself turned out. Then I pulled some of our biographies of accomplished women. It's right next to the checkout and catches a lot of eyes. Here's my sign, if you'd like to use it.

P.S. That's my desk in the background (the computer by my red coat), if you were wondering where I write these posts (it's allowed at my work, but I know everyone isn't so lucky). 

Friday, March 08, 2013

Guest Post: What Flannel Friday Means to Me by Amanda Murray

The following is a guest post from Amanda Murray about her appreciation for Flannel Friday. Amanda is a stay at home mom and early childhood educator in Canada. 

Hello Everyone!

I'm Amanda Murray and I joined the Flannel Friday community about a month ago.  I am a stay-at-home-mom of a sweet, lively 4 yr. old son and a smart, wonderful 11 yr. old daughter. (seen here reading a book together :-) I am also an ECE with a passion for early literacy (and numeracy), storytime, and learning through play (and an avid reader with a serious addiction to books of all kinds).  I am getting ready to offer nursery school and parent-child Mother Goose / storytime-type programs part time from my home. I found Flannel Friday while browsing Pinterest for ideas to include in my upcoming programs.
Amanda's daughter and son enjoy a story together
When I first stumbled onto FF I was giddy with excitement and became completely obsessed for about a week (in a very healthy, non-stalkery kind of way :-)  It was like finding buried treasure!  I blog-hopped like crazy, went back through old round-ups and FB posts - just drinking up all of the creative ideas for storytime fun - and left several comments on the Flannel Friday FB page (which I don't usually do)

I loved all of the fabulous ideas that I found at FF, but it was more than that.  I had also discovered some good quality "learning through play" blogs around the same time but I didn't feel a pull to immerse myself in them the way I had with FF, and I wondered why. 

To solve this mystery I sat back and observed the feelings I got from offering a suggestion in response to a FB post or leaving an encouraging comment after reading a terrific blog post (and getting replies - how exciting!) and I recognized the feeling from a long time ago.  It was the same buzz of excitement and commraderie that I felt when sharing ideas with colleagues in the child care centre where I used to work,  or better yet when one of the staff brought in a new resource book with patterns for flannels or circle / storytime props and games (in the pre-blog days). That always caused a happy frenzy of activity as everyone set about adding to their collections of circle /storytime goodies.

I really love being a SAHM (for almost 12 years now-yikes!) and I cherish the time I have spent raising my children, playing and learning with them each day - but it has been lonely for me on some level.  I have really missed sharing ideas with people that get deliriously excited about fabulous new children's books, or a fun new finger play, or a circle / story prop with moving parts (that makes your group "ooh!" & "ah!") or a genius way to flannelize a favourite story.  I have missed having a sense of belonging to a community with a shared purpose, and having like-minded friends to bounce ideas around with and encourage and support each other.  Flannel Friday has given this back to me :-)

Amy Koester shares her opinions about peer sourcing on her blog Show Me Librarian (Feb. 26/13) and I couldn't agree more! We all benefit in so many ways by sharing, collaborating and evolving ideas back and forth with peers. Flannel Friday is a treasure trove of fabulous ideas and so much more! The members here are warm & welcoming to newcomers, and offer a go-to place for advice, suggestions and encouragement to anyone who wishes to follow or participate.  I am so grateful to have found all of you and this creative and caring community, and I am looking forward to getting to know you better. You have created something very special!  Thank you!!!

Amanda Murray
Rookie Flannel Friday-er

P.S. I also love all of the new sources of inspiration and information that I learn about through FF - the library-based sites etc. that I wasn't aware of before :-)

Amanda also passed along photos of some of her flannel sets to share here. I always like to see other people's work... so inspiring! 

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Amanda, and we're glad you found us too!

What Flannel Friday Means to Me

A while back, Sharon challenged us to write about what Flannel Friday means to us. Next week we'll be celebrating FF's 2nd birthday, so this is a great time to reflect on what an experience it has been for us all. I wrote a novel, so I won't blame anyone for skimming this post!

I've been a Flannel Fridayer since the beginning, and it has had an amazing impact on my professional development and on my career in general. My desire to continue participating in Flannel Friday has led to me continually trying to outdo myself. I always want to step my game up for storytelling. I started doing felt and magnet boards. Now I've tried making my own shadow puppets and writing my own draw and tell stories. I'm happier because I love being creative and trying new things. My storytime families love seeing something different too.

I have learned a lot about using social media for professional purposes too. Way back in 2011, we started the Flannel Friday Pinterest boards, almost by accident. Now that account has over 4,000 followers! I love that we are reaching librarians, daycare providers, preschool teachers, and students who are interested in working in these fields. Most importantly, people are being inspired to introduce storytelling to the children in their communities. I see a lot of job ads in youth services that are looking for skills in the social media arena, and being involved in Flannel Friday is a great way to develop your resume.

Flannel Friday is a fun marriage of traditional storytelling and contemporary communication. We have people who have used iPhone/iPad apps in their storytimes, and then we have people who stick to felt. I love the combination of the tactile experience for the kids of touching the felt while also appealing to the 21st century love of gadgets. I am very curious to see what the future holds for digital storytelling.

On a personal level, I have made a lot of friends through the Flannel Friday group. I am so excited to get together with them in Chicago for ALA this summer. I have been able to celebrate many successes (my own and those of others) with some very incredible people. I have been able to work through some of my frustrations as well to the most sympathetic of ears.

Thank you everyone for reading my blog. Please know that I am touched beyond words by your comments and emails.

Monday, March 04, 2013

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

Like many other youth librarians, I'm currently planning a Star Wars party for the kids in my town on May 4th. I thought I'd share what we have planned so far, in the hopes that you will all make suggestions for how to achieve maximum awesomeness. We are planning a station-based program, in the hopes of creating some sort of order, as we have had a lot of kids register already and are still 2 months away from this program!

I have submitted requests from the 501st Legion and the Rebel Alliance  (thanks for the tip on this, Julie!) and am hoping that we will have some live "characters" (read: fans in homemade costumes) from the Star Wars series at our event. I am not promoting that they will be here, in case it doesn't work out. I did print out these masks and we'll let the kids try them on and take pictures either way.

Station 1: Dress a teddy bear like an Ewok (idea also from Julie). If I have time, I hope to get enough props that they can do Princess Leia and some of the other characters as well, even though they don't look as much like teddy bears as Ewoks.

Station 2: Make a Yoda paper bag puppets. I drew my own patterns for paper bag puppets inspired by some illustrations of the Star Wars characters I saw when I was Googling around for ideas.  My husband was very unhappy that I printed Yoda off on purple paper, even when I explained that we had just gotten that new paper color in and I wanted to see if black ink was visible enough on it. I did promise to color poor Yoda green, and I did.

Station 3: Make your own light sabers. We are using instructions from Disney Family that have a printable hilt and then use a sheet of poster board and a paper towel roll.

Station 4: STEM Star Wars experiment with characters and friction! I saw this fun friction experiment on a Teachers Pay Teachers Store. I'm going to adapt it for a library setting (we can't have kids running out to the parking lot to attempt it on the blacktop, but I will use different textures we have in the building like the carpet, books, laminated posterboard, etc.) This is a free download, but you do have to have a Teachers Pay Teachers account (also free). If I wind up having to cut something for time and/or space reasons, this will be what gets axed.

Station 5: Character photoshoot with masks, and hopefully with costumed characters. We'll see what happens.

Snacks: Yoda Soda (green sherbet and Sprite) and "lightsabers" (pretzel rods). Also planning on "encasing" a Han Solo figurine in "carbonite" AKA Jello.

I'm collecting ideas in the comments here and I also have a bunch on my Star Wars Pinterest board that I've been planning from. 

Friday, March 01, 2013

"The Ant and the Grasshopper" Shadow Puppets

Ant and the Grasshopper in Summer
Are you sick of shadow puppets yet? I am definitely not! Here is the last of my shadow puppet posts. You've already seen my versions of Arthur's Nose and Mother Mother I Feel Sick Send for the Doctor Quick Quick Quick, and today I'm sharing "The Ant and the Grasshopper." This is a perfect story for summer reading, if you're doing the "Dig Into Reading" theme.

Ant and the Grasshopper in Winter
I was inspired by Nancy Renfro's Storytelling with Puppets.  I drew the two backgrounds (above and below ground) as well as the grasshopper and two different versions of the ant in Paint. The drawings are based on those in Renfro's book.

I printed these on overhead transparency sheets using our laser printer. If you make them, make sure you are using the right kind of transparency sheet for your printer. A laser printer sheet in an ink jet printer will never dry and it will be Smear City.

If you're looking for the text to this story, any volume of Aesop's fables should have it. Also Rebecca and Ed Emberley recently published a gorgeous version as well.

Looking for more Dig Into Reading ideas? I've compiled mine here. Flannel Friday is rounding up tons of ideas for Dig Into Reading today too, so look for that on Lisa's blog.

Don't forget that the Pennsylvania Library Association is organizing a free webinar on planning summer reading programs this coming Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST. I'm going to be one of the speakers on the panel, so this is an utterly shameless plug.