A couple weeks ago, I had my sheepdog puppet out, meeting and greeting the kids coming into my storytime. They were all hugging and squeezing the puppet, and in all the cuteness, I couldn’t help but remember how I felt trying to walk my two dogs in a neighborhood packed with kids playing in the streets.
My dogs love kids, and at first I was game to allow kids who asked nicely to pet them. Often, though, the kids would try to rub my dogs’ faces or ride their bikes over to them or any other number of things that cause dogs to freak. After a few uncomfortable encounters, I just stopped letting the kids pet them altogether. I didn’t fear that my dogs would bite them, but I didn’t want to be responsible for reinforcing bad dog manners and/or educating the kids about properly petting dogs.
Flash forward to my observations with the puppet, where I decided that this could be the avenue for that education. I emailed a local obedience center and got a speedy reply from a lady saying that she would love to bring a therapy dog to my storytime and show the kids some basic dog manners.
I was a little worried that some children would be afraid of the dog or someone would be allergic and it could lead to a complaint, but I’ve experienced nothing but support from my group. I took the risk and it paid off. The dog was the star of the show today, and I was so proud of how my crowd (ages to birth to 7) listened to the speaker and restrained themselves from being all over our furry visitor. They learned a few things: 1) Always ask the owner if you can pet her dog. 2) Always walk to a dog and let her smell you before you try to pet. 3) Pet under the chin first, then around the ears, and then on top of the head.
After this brief instruction, I helped the children line-up (something most of my kids are still mastering), and everyone got to practice. The dog was a peach and even gave out little kisses on the cheek.
After the practice, the speaker quickly reminded the kids of the three rules and off she went.
I went to a song/dance and got everyone focused and energized again. Then we settled down for a book. To make sure I had everyone’s attention, we sang If You’re Ready for a Story (from Storytime Katie!). I transitioned by reading the uber-classic, Bark, George.
After this, I did another song and played my sneaky freeze version of Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. If you haven’t heard of this, you just stop on a body part and hold the word. It makes kids listen carefully and helps with impulse control if they want to do it all at once.
To be fair, I balanced out the dog activities with a book about a sly cat: Feathers for Lunch.
The book labels all kinds of birds, and I was surprised to find my crowd knew them pretty well.
After the bird mischief, I opened an app on my iPad and played the sounds of a few different birds and animals from the Animal Sounds app.
My kids were getting antsy at this point, so I cut to my craft.
I’ve been gently scouring the pages of Books in Motion by Julie Dietzel-Glair lately. In it, she describes an activity where, while you read a book, the kids create their own art about something from the book. I liked the idea, but adapted it slightly for this storytime. I gave everyone paper and crayons and asked them to sprawl out on the floor. Then, while I played calm, instrumental music, I walked around and described a pet. They drew as I described a pretty generic animal (two pointy ears, round eyes, a small, round nose…) and somehow, magically, they all pictured a cat.
The activity went better than I’d imagined because the kids actually stayed quiet and listened. It was great.
Afterward, I handed out animal crackers and let the kids hang out and socialize.
I’m pretty pleased with how it went overall. It was a laid back storytime, and that has been hard to come by this summer, especially with my mixed-age crowd. Hooray!