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From Small Town to Big City

Long time, no see, amiright?

First came summer reading and then came something exciting. I moved from a small city in North Carolina to Baltimore! (You can collectively say “oooo-ahhhh” now.)

As you might imagine, it’s been a huge adjustment and I wanted to start my writing ventures off again by talking a little about what that process looks like.

First, there’s getting used to living in a place with a much, much denser population. Even though Baltimore is actually somewhat small, there are a lot of people packed into the area. Combined with a very old infrastructure (indirect routes, poor road conditions, and precious little parking) and tons of pedestrians, basically any errand that takes me out of my neighborhood takes two or three times longer than it would have in a smaller city. I’m also contending with being a very sensitive introvert. I’m outgoing, but having people crowded around me in a grocery store or being in a noisy restaurant makes me anxious. I’ve had to find ways to cope with that.

For work, that means I’ve done a lot of driving around, figuring out alternate routes to work and getting to know the lay of land in my branch’s corner of the city. I’ve also familiarized myself with public transportation routes in case of emergencies and to help patrons find their way to us.

For me, balancing my life got a little trickier. Having to spend more time running errands, doing more planning when I go out with my husband (finding out where to park mostly), dealing with a much higher cost of living and a lower salary, and setting aside time for self-care was initially taxing work. Ultimately, I rely more heavily on my husband now as a partner, which is a good development, but I’m also learning to regularly stop myself before a weekend and gauge how I’m feeling. Am I missing my time in nature? Maybe I need to plan to spend a day outside the city, hiking or walking along the bay. Am I missing quality time with my dogs? They can come too. Am I stuck in a rut of cleaning and meal prepping the whole weekend? It’s time to make a date of doing something new.

There was also a huge change in culture. I went from living and working in a place that was mostly white, Christian, and conservative to a place where I was in a cultural minority as a white woman. Baltimore is rich in diversity and it’s a pretty liberal city. I want to write a lot about what’s it been like to work through such a huge transition and especially about working with populations with experiences that couldn’t be more different from mine. Let me just say for now that it’s been an amazing journey and it’s one that’s freed me to become the kind of librarian I’ve always wanted to be.

Adjusting to being a very small part of a large urban library has been the most challenging process. In my last position, I had meetings once a month with our director, I was close allies with city managers, and I was able to swing by and talk to our county manager when he was available. I had friends in different departments of our county government, and I felt deeply connected to the work we were all doing for our patrons and citizens. In my current position, I often don’t know about important library initiatives until the last minute or until after they’ve passed. Our administrative structure is so vast and complicated that I barely know who does what beyond my own branch manager. There are also smaller things to adjust to like a work culture that doesn’t necessarily get to know patrons who are with us regularly, a deeper divide between librarian staff and circulation assistants, a greater emphasis on policy enforcement, and the presence and influence of a security guard. Learning how to use my voice and to show some leadership under these circumstances has been discouraging at times, but I always fall back on my love for my work and for the families I’m serving.

I’ll be back soon to talk a little more about transitioning and some things I’ve done to be successful. Until then, xo!

 

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Part One: My Día de los Niños Experience

About two years ago,  I was just getting the hang of things in my first librarian position in a new area for me. The librarian before me established a storytime for every Saturday that was mostly attended by one or two families every other week. Despite having low attendance, it was a well-loved program for those who did participate, and very often the families that came were immigrants still learning English. We had a Chinese family, but mostly we had a few Latino families who rotated coming with their school-age kids.

A couple months into my job, I was stopped while I was packing up after a storytime and headed back into the library. The man identified himself as a city official and then commented that we seemed to have a lot of Mexicans coming to the library. He made some further uncomfortable remarks to me that made me question how much I wanted to stay in the area if a public servant could feel confident saying those things to me. I powered through, but I’ve never forgotten that moment. It was the first time I’d encountered outspoken racism and the first time someone had tried to pressure me for it.

As a new joint chief for Storytime Underground, I’ve had the benefit of networking with six other amazing professional women, two of whom (Mary and Holly) are fluent Spanish speakers. They’ve helped me learn about building more inclusive programs and because of them, I decided to include activities in Spanish in every storytime, even when there are no Spanish-speaking families present. As I build relationships with families more and more unlike myself, I find myself wanting the challenge of diversity in my professional life every day.

So when Día offered mini-grants to celebrate their 20th anniversary, I went for it. My library system has never celebrated Día de los Niños before this year, and in fact, we’ve really only ever done one other big program targeting Latino families. I wanted to see us step up and show our commitment to this community by investing in a festival to blow everyone’s minds.

When applying for the grant, I made a rookie mistake. I thought about what our library system needed rather than what the community wanted and what resources were available. We are in the beginning stages of offering more services for babies and toddlers and I wanted something that could help the Latino community discover these new services. That’s not really a terrible motivation, but I learned while planning this event that starting with what you want is not the best way to go.

Initially my plan was to host a Community Baby Festival, but after the grant application was accepted and I started building the event, it evolved into something a little different, but better.

More on this to come, but here’s a sneak peek.

 

storyteller

 

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Storytime and Child Development: Imitating Sounds

Storytime&Child Development

 

It’s time for imitating sounds!

Just like last week’s post on walking with support, this is another one of those posts that almost seems silly to me because it’s so easy to observe and support in storytime. Anyone who’s done a baby storytime knows how much babies love repeating animal sounds and sounds from things that go, but why is it important to storytime and child development?

At this age, babies are really ramping up the building blocks of language and communication. They’re going from making less intelligible sounds like cooing and gurgling to making intentional ones that get our attention. They’re recognizing that some sounds create a favorable reaction and they can remember what sound to make to cause an adult to, say, pick them up or feed them. They’re also beginning to experiment with the way sentences work. You might hear them raise their voices while babbling like they’re asking a question or you might hear them grunt the sounds when they’re grumpy.

When it comes to storytime, I love to give lots of opportunities for adults and their babies to interact by imitating my sounds. Babies will be especially good at one or two syllable words with strong vowel sounds, which means that animal and things that go books are amazing! Even if the text doesn’t call for it, take some time to point to the pictures and say “What does this [this] say? [speak the sound]. Can you say [sound?]”

It’s also a really great time for practicing the way that sentences sound. Books that ask questions in the text and give answers are outstanding for this. Also, can I just recommend Moo by David LaRochelle 100 times?! It is absolutely perfect for supporting imitation because it’s just a simple sound that all babies can make, but said in lots of different ways. Plus! It’s guaranteed to make your adults chuckle.

 

When babies are babbling to you or even beginning to say their first words, it’s also really important to use it as an opportunity to model scaffolding in our conversations.

I like to do this during playtime most of all. When babies wander over to me and babble, I like to respond with a short reply. “Yes, the blue ball goes, ‘bounce, bounce.'” It takes some practice, but I always try to think of a word to end my sentence that can stick with them. Babies want to know names for things and they really like to speak the sounds it makes, so I often focus on that. Sometimes a baby or two will really get a kick out of saying their name, too. I often reply with what toys are near or what they are doing.

Baby: Edmund.
Me: Edmund is walking so fast, fast, fast.

Baby: Ava!
Me: Yes, Ava is making a tower!
Ava: To-wer.

I’ve seen parents really pick up on this practice with very little coaching from me and it can help tremendously with speech development. This is a really magical time when you can see first words appearing and my observation has been that adults really start to swell with pride and become even more involved in the learning process after that.

 

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Dino Mania! A Spring Break Program

School Age

 

The month of March was hectic for me at work. I had so many programs and collaborations going on that I didn’t get a whole of time to plan and prepare for any of them. Never good! Luckily I planned this program to be pretty simple. It was Spring Break, and that meant families would be looking for easy ways to spend quality time together. Since I was going for easy for me, too, I decided to make it a family movie day with some activities to extend on the experience.

I showed The Good Dinosaur, which was a new release, and created a few stations and activities to explore before the movie. Here are my stations.

dinodig

Dino Excavation Station

I found some dinosaur figures in the party favor section of my local Wal-Mart and bought a few packs. I buried each pack in a bowl of chocolate pudding with a marshmallow surface. There were wipes at each bowl to allow kids to wipe off the dinos before they took them to a table to identify them.

dino ID

Dino Safari

dinomask-safari

For this station, kids donned a mask, picked up their search sheet, and went searching around the library for those dinosaurs. Since this program was in the council chambers that’s connected to this library, the safari was a tricky way to get them into the library to look around and count them in our door count.

Kids got to keep their masks, which were also found in the party favor section at Wal-Mart. (Bookmarks above them are dinosaur-shaped and leftover from another program.)

Cave Painting

cavepainting

I set up a few tables in the room and draped them with black tablecloths to create “caves.” I explained that our movie would have a cave man and that humans used to make paintings as a way to tell stories. I asked them to create their own stories inside the caves.

These activities took around 20 minutes for most families to complete and when I saw that everyone was finishing up, I started our movie.

dinomovie

As the opening credits were playing, I pointed out exits and explained that no one’s feelings would be hurt should anyone choose to leave early. There were some preschoolers in my crowd and I said this to make them feel a little more empowered if (and when) those children got bored and disruptive.

The Good Dinosaur is not the most exciting kids’ movie I’ve ever seen. I watched it the weekend before the program and considered choosing another movie instead, but thought that since I’d advertised for this one already, I’d better stick with it. My advice would be to pass on this one as a program pick.

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Storytime and Child Development: Walking with Support

Storytime&Child Development

 

I’m finally back with some more content in my storytime and child development series. Hooray! I’ve loved thinking more deeply about how my practices in storytime not only build on early literacy, but the development of the whole child, too. Thinking about stages in more specific terms has made me realize that there are all kinds of ways that I can adapt any storytime to be more beneficial to the ages present.

Today I’m leaving the 4-8 months stage and moving into 8-12 months and I’m starting with one of the major, easily recognizable developments: walking with support.

By eight months, most children will be sitting up independently and beginning to walk around by pulling themselves up on higher surfaces like chairs and tables or a pair of helpful hands.

It takes a lot of confidence to walk totally independently and practicing with support is sort of like riding a bicycle with training wheels. Working in a time to walk during storytime can be a fun way to work out wiggles that even babies can get AND help build that confidence.

In my storytimes, I often pause between my two books or after my second book to do…A BABY PARADE. What is that? Well, basically I give all the families a scarf and I start bopping around the room to music. Adults with children who can walk might walk with their kids or stand and dance together. Where children need support, parents might help them stand and walk by holding their hands. With littler ones, adults can bounce them in their laps or standing with them on a hip and singing.

When I first introduced this element of baby storytime, I explained for awhile that a baby parade had a few purposes:

  1. To encourage connection to music and rhythm which are very beneficial as early math concepts and even in fostering a sense of community and empathy.
  2. To introduce new vocabulary through singing and listening to the words.
  3. To build those motor skills and confidence with the movements.
  4. For little ones who love to dance, it supports creativity.

For this age, I like to pick music that parents will like instead of picking music intended just for children. I think it’s a great way to show adults that everything is an opportunity to help their baby grow and they can enjoy it at the same time.

Here’s my list of favorite songs:

  • Three Little Birds- Bob Marley
  • Day O- Raffi
  • Ain’t No Mountain High Enough- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
  • All You Need Is Love- The Beatles
  • Dancing in the Moonlight- King Harvest
  • 1234- Feist

All of these have a strong bouncing or swaying rhythm and most are really recognizable to the adults, so they like to sing them.

This is a really cute, fun part of my baby storytimes and adults love using it as a time to connect to each other, too. Give it a try!