Work What You’ve Got: Clunky Wooden Puzzles


I’m starting a series of posts on how to add value back to the toys, activities, and props that we’ve all come to take for granted. If you have children in your life, chances are that you have some old standbys lying around, and if you’re anything like the librarians, teachers, and parents I know, you’d rather use what you have than spend more money and take up more storage space with new items.

Allow me to demonstrate.

This Christmas, a well-meaning relative gifted some puzzles to my library, and being that our library system as a whole is not lacking in these chunky, wooden puzzles, I was a little underwhelmed.

farm puzzle

I have a very real lack of storage space at my library, so I decided that I needed to find a use for these puzzles. I swapped out older ones and placed others near the adult computers as boredom busters for little ones, but it wasn’t too long before I got an idea to use the farm set for an early literacy station.

I thought, “Lots of parents have these. Why don’t I extend this simple activity into a rich, early literacy experience?”

So a teammate and I got cracking on making it into a full-fledged station. Here’s what we came up with.

farm match

At the end of our picture books aisles, you’ll find this display. The photos are attached to a picture frame (the size of a poster board) by velcro and can be flipped over to reveal which puzzle piece goes with the photos.

This activity begs for conversation that will help children gain practical knowledge about where food comes from, where animals live, what baby animals are called, and more. Meaningful conversation between adults and little ones will almost always include new and diverse vocabulary. Can you imagine a dad explaining to his toddler how a horse’s hooves need to be cleaned? Or that some chickens lay white eggs and others lay brown?

So take those puzzle pieces out of their boxes or shapes and re-use them for play!

Have you beefed up any of your standbys in your library, center, or home?


Big and Little Storytime

In storytime lately, I’ve been working through a six week series on the theme of sizes. It’s not really my favorite theme, but I’m doing my best to work with it since it’s expected that we all follow the same theme system-wide.

sizes books

Sing: Open, shut them

(Okay, I do this song all the time for three reasons. One, almost every child seems to know it. Two, I can repeat it a little faster each time to challenge all ages. Three, my ESL families have it down now and they love knowing the words.)

Sing: This is big (From Mel!)

Go over rules with Applesauce, my horse puppet

Sing: If You’re Ready for a Story

Read: The Biggest Thing in the Ocean

(I include a board book or baby-appropriate picture book in almost every line-up because I have kiddos 0-5, but I stopped in this one to talk about the different sea animals for the older kids. It was cute for the whole crowd.)

Sing/dance: Goldfish by Laurie Berkner

Read: Little Pig Joins the Band

(Not perfect for storytime but so great for introducing band/orchestra instruments!)

Peek a boo Orchestra app

(I downloaded the lite version of this app and that came with 5 or 6 different instruments. The instrument plays first behind a curtain and then is revealed when you tap the screen. We talked about the sizes of the instruments and I demonstrated how you would play each in pantomine. The kids found this fascinating.)

Sing: 5 Little Ducklings

Read: 5 Little Chicks

Sing: Old MacDonald with animal “puppets”

(You can see my animals in the corner of the books picture. I gave one to all the kids and asked them to stand up and make their animal sounds when it was time. It was not my favorite activity. Some of the kids whined because they –of course– wanted to be horses instead and to be honest, I kind of hate singing Old MacDonald. I tend to lose my place in this song if I lose concentration.)

Read: Big and Little

(This is a really cool book where there are fold out pages and simple text, but it’s definitely more preschool-y. You think an elephant is climbing a diving board to jump into a tiny cup of water, but it turns out that she’s a tiny elephant. The kids were like, “you just blew my mind!”)

Play Little Mouse, Little Mouse

Craft and playtime


Our rooster/chicken puppet was a big hit.