Early Literacy Storytime: Scarves and Letters

Although children’s gross motor and fine motor skills are both developing all the time, many fine motor skills take more patience and cognitive development than gross motor skills. Think of a baby who can mush applesauce around on her tray (arms) before she can pick up a Cheerio (fingers). In addition, small muscles get tired more quickly than big ones (could you hang from the monkey bars longer from your hands or your knees?). Using arm and body motion activities to is a way to introduce children to letter-shape or directional concepts while they are still working on learning how to hold and use crayons and pencils with confidence.

Using scarves is one way to introduce purposeful movements into storytime. We often use scarves and open-ended activities with music, but we can use them in more directed ways too. We want to be careful to do so in age-appropriate ways, though. Here are a few ideas:


Encourage the walkers to move their scarves up high and down low and around in a circle. Can they “swim” their scarf like a fish through the air? Can they drag their scarf like a snake on the floor? Encourage parents of babies to see if their children will grasp the scarf. Parents can help their babies move their baby’s arms and watch the scarf move, or pull gently on the other end of the scarf in a little game of tug of war. They could also tie it gently around an ankle and prop the baby so they can see what happens when they kick their feet.


Have the children move their scarves in different ways. Some ideas are: from high to low, from low to high, in a rainbow (arc over their heads), upside down rainbow or a smile (a big “u” shape in front of their bodies), a big circle (whole arm), a little circle (just moving forearm or wrist), bumps (little humps from left to right), zigzag (like a Z, from top to bottom, or like a W from left to right). These are all line shapes that make up letters, but without requiring letter knowledge yet from our little ones.


You can encourage preschool children to hold the scarf between their pointer finger and their thumb—this is a “pincher grip” and good for fine motor development. Make letter shapes in the air together. You could write a letter first on a whiteboard to give the kids something to copy. Say aloud the movements as you go. “Let’s make an M! Start down on this side of your body, now go straight up! Move down to the middle by your tummy! Now go up to the other side! Now move down to this side of your body.” OR, “Let’s make an O! An O is like a circle, it goes around and around! Start at the top! Go around to the top again!”

When you’re done, collect the scarves and say something like this to the adults: “Grownups, when you and your kids play with scarves or ribbons or magic wands, your children are developing their arm muscles and starting to learn about lines and shapes. These muscles and concepts will help them when they are learning to write. Playing with your children will help them get ready to read and write.”

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Research Link: Recht & Leslie

Why does Every Child Ready to Read 2 make such a big deal about background knowledge?

Because what a child understands of the subject they are reading about can make or break their ability to comprehend the passage, instead of just “sounding out” the words.

When I present to adults about early literacy, one of my favorite research bits* to share with them is a 1988 study by Recht & Leslie called “Effect of prior knowledge on good and poor readers’ memory of text.” (D. R. Recht & L. Leslie, in Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 16-20.) In it they found that poor readers who knew a lot about baseball OUTSCORED good readers who did not know a lot about baseball–when they were reading about baseball.


We see this all the time at the library! Think of the kids who aren’t “good readers” but will take home every book in your collection about monster trucks, or puppies, or fairy tales, or Saturn. The more we can share about the world with our preschoolers, the more they will know about a zillion different subjects when they sit down to read in school. And the more they know before they start, the more that what they read will make sense to them. AND the more they can make sense out of what they read, the more motivated they will be to keep reading. Keeping kids reading is important, of course, because that’s how true fluency with reading is built: by reading many, many, many texts for many different purposes.

Daniel Willingham, an author and psychology professor who researches cognitive psychology as it applies to K-16 education, wrote a great post describing this and another study.

Look for opportunities to share nonfiction in your storytimes, tablet sessions, or other preschool programs. When you do, take a minute to share with the grownups the power of background knowledge!

*I wish I could remember how I learned about this study. I went back and looked at the ECRR1 materials, thinking it was on their “further reading” handouts, but I didn’t see it there. Maybe someone told me about it, maybe I stumbled across it in another article, but I can’t remember. Would love to credit whoever brought it to my attention! #librarianfail

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Early Literacy Storytime: Simon Says

Children who go to school knowing the parts of a book and how to turn pages can jump right in and start working on learning how to decode and sound words out. Children who haven’t spent time with books must first use valuable classroom time to lay the groundwork of learning what print is and how books work.

You can play “Simon Says” with books in your storytime. Gather enough board books for every child to have one–they don’t have to be the same title. Hand them out when you’re ready to play. Give them some instructions for playing, for example, “In Simon Says, I tell you to do something, and you do it. But the trick is, you ONLY do what I say IF I say Simon Says first. Let’s try it! Simon Says…put your book on your head! That’s right! I said Simon Says so you do what I say. Let’s try again. Put your book on the floor. Oops! I didn’t say Simon Says so you don’t do what I say. OK, here we go!” Don’t worry about penalties for getting it wrong! Just say, “Oh no!” and go on to the next command.

With younger kids, Simon Says can be pretty tricky. Skip it if you think it will be more frustrating than fun. Instead, play “Follow the Leader,” and ask them to do what you do. Call out what you’re doing as you do it. Use some ideas just for fun and some that prompt the kids to manipulate the books.

Updated 6/24 afternoon: So the SAME MORNING I have this post scheduled, the amazing Cate sends a link to this article out on Twitter: Simon Says: Why Is This Game So Hard for Young Kids? Simon Says really IS tricky, even for big kids, so please trust your instincts for what will work with your group! My main goal here is to find a fun way to get books into kids’ hands during storytime, and not just in our own. Another tactic is to let babies play with books. What other ways could we do this?

Here are some sample commands:

Put the book on your head
Sit on the book
Give the book to your grownup
Hold the book in both hands
Open the cover
Show me the back cover
Hold the book right-side-up
Turn to the very last page

With older children, you could do things like:

Open the book and point to a word
Open the book and point to an illustration
Point to the title

After you’ve played a few rounds, say something like this to the adults: “Grownups, every time you read to your child or let them look through books by themselves, they are learning all about how books work. This helps them become a good reader because if they already know how to use a book before they go to school, they can skip all that and focus on learning how to read. Reading with your child helps them get ready to read.”

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Storytime Resources Page: Update 2

Another round of blogs newly added to the Storytime Resources page and Google Custom Search!

Lovin’ the Library
–Hannah has just a few posts up so far but she’s showing great interest in trying out different ideas for storytime, including puppets, flannels, and gross-motor activities!

Fun with Friends at Storytime
–Since joining the Flannel Friday crew last year Kathryn has been super generous at sharing a lot of flannel ideas and rhyme adaptations. I love that she recommends a lot of books along the way for her themes!

A Librarian Less Ordinary
–Fun posts from a school librarian! I think what I love most is is how often Mrs Todd links back to the bloggers and posts that inspire her–a great way to find even more blogs to follow!

What Is Bridget Reading?
–Read Bridget for her zillions of book reviews, of course, but she also has been a Flannel Friday contributor and host since our first year, so there’s lots of flannelboard ideas too! (WHY didn’t I link her a long time ago? smh)

Madly, Madam Librarian
–A new blog by a new early literacy specialist! Check out Kelly’s posts for all kinds of book reviews, baby storytime writeups, and her first Flannel Friday!

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Starting the Resources Update (Again)


So I’ve been inching towards a massive update of the Storytime Resources page for at LEAST a year now, and those of you who have sent in your blogs and pages to be added have been super patient waiting for me to get on the ball. I have realized that there’s no way I can do this all at once, so over the next couple of months I will work on it a little at a time. I’ll post semi-regularly with the new sites I’m adding both to the page and to the Custom Google Search.

Here’s the first batch!

Cockburn Libraries: YPS Amazing Shares
–from Australia! Check out recent posts with bread painting, National Simultaneous Storytime (I *wish* we had this in the US!), and their baby storytime “Pram Jam” writeups!

Miss Meg’s Storytime
–Miss Meg just celebrated one year of her great blog! Visit her for her Flannel Friday contributions and storytime plans, a printable version of her planning template, and how it felt to tackle baby storytime for the first time.

The Lion is a Bookworm
–Carrie’s blog is a wonderful mix of storytime plans, youth services musings, bulletin board ideas, and program outlines…all from her very first year of her first library job!

Library Village
–The three smart ladies at the Library Village have packed 100 posts into their first year of blogging! LOTS of storytime plans for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, LOTS of Flannel Friday ideas, plus great posts such as their recent round up of top tips for successful storytimes.

Literary Commentary
–Miss Kim has been blogging for a couple of years now and has a really nice collection of storytime plans, book reviews, program writeups, and craft ideas. Plus she ninjas for Storytime Underground, hooray!

Story Time with Songs and Rhymes
–Dawn is the author of a series of great picture books that introduce sign language vocabulary to kids and families. Her whole blog is a treat, with lots of early literacy tips related to signing, but she also has a series of posts specifically with storytime plans that incorporate signing, if you want to start there.

Laughter and Literacy
–Just a few posts here so far (because she’s also writing her library’s sweet early literacy blog at Laugh Play Read), but a good variety of all-ages ideas to start!

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Flannel Friday: Zingy

Zingy Flannelboard

I have been in love with Paola Opal’s books for a few years now. They are perfect first stories for very young toddlers: they are very short and they feature child protagonists, of course, but unlike many board books, they are also true narratives, with a real story arc and a problem that must be solved. AND the problem is solved BY the child character. How awesome is that?

ANYWAY. I used Zingy in a Bird storytime and made this flannel to go along with. After we read the book, I put the flowers on the board one by one, chatting a little: “Oh, here’s a daisy, and this one looks like a star, and this one has four red petals.” I stacked one flower so Zingy was peeking out behind it and put them both on the board at the same time…you could see a wing, or a beak sticking out past the flower. Then when all the flowers were up, I said, “Where’s Zingy?”

The older toddlers in my birth-24 months baby storytime can usually see where Zingy is, or if not, I often have a big brother or sister who is THRILLED to be able to spot Zingy for the group.

We do this a few times, talking all the while. “The red flower is next to the blue one, and the blue one is next to the yellow one…” And “I can tell Zingy is behind the purple flower because his wing is showing, look!”

The idea with the babies is not so much to have them “get the right answer” as it is to play “peekaboo” and model a lot of ongoing chatter for the adults. But with older kids, you could size the pieces so that Zingy could be completely hidden behind a flower, and then give clues: “Zingy is hiding behind a flower that’s the same color as a stop sign.”

I’m not including a pattern because the pictures are so bold and simple that I just used the illustrations as my pattern book. I started with a black shape for the background and built the images on top of it.

I’m looking forward to doing more sets for more of Opal’s books!

Happy Flannel Friday! The Roundup is at Mollie’s place this week. For more about Flannel Friday, you can always check out the website or our Pinterest.

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Nominations are Open for the 2015 Bell Awards!

Whoop! Nominations are now open for the 2015 CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards for Early Literacy!


You remember me yammering on last year about the Bell Awards, I am sure. If not, the CLEL Bell Awards are a new way to recognize picture books that provide excellent support of early literacy development in young children. They are a project of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy and intended as a tool for all sorts of early literacy advocacy efforts (from storytime to outreach to community partner education).

We are looking for high-quality picture books with a clear connection to reading, writing, singing, talking, or playing, published between November 16, 2013, and November 15, 2014.

Anyone (yes, you!) may nominate a title using this form.

Read more about the full selection criteria and check out last year’s winners for some great examples.

To see what’s been nominated already, read the 2015 nominations lists.

We will announce the 2015 Bell Awards on February 5, 2015, with one title in each of five categories, representing an early literacy practice: Read, Write, Sing, Talk, and Play.

We can’t wait to see what books have caught your eye!

For more information, visit the Bell Awards pages or contact the Selection Committee at clelbellawards@gmail.com. Or ask me here on Mel’s Desk! I’m chairing the Selection Committee again this year and SUPER excited to get going!

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Advice for a New Supervisor (aka Me)

colorful toy gears

With just one week under my belt at my new job, I am barely starting to put all the pieces together and figure out all the things I am going to need to learn and to do in the next year. Looming especially large in my thoughts is the awareness that this is my first supervisory position, and I have a lot to learn about what good supervision looks like and feels like from this end of the equation.

My dad, who spent 40 years in sales, management, and training, says, “Set clear expectations, train well, and don’t hover.”

My 16-year-old daughter says, “Don’t give pep talks.” [When I asked why, she said she'd rather be DOING her job or task than be "getting motivated" to do it.]

What do you have to share? What’s something your best bosses have in common? What’s your strongest point as a supervisor? What could you do better with better supervision? What do you wish you knew before your first supervisory job?

I’m grateful for your advice and wisdom!

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Baby Storytime: Spring and Rain

Here’s another baby storytime! I borrowed half of it from one of my Mother Goose storytimes.



BOOK: Duckie’s Rainbow by BARRY

FLANNEL SONG: If It’s Raining Outside
Sing to: If You’re Happy and You Know It

If it’s raining outside, wear your boots,
If it’s raining outside, wear your boots,
If it’s raining outside, then your boots will keep you dry
If it’s raining outside, wear your boots.

…wear your coat
…wear your hat
…bring your umbella

FLANNEL SONG: Down Around the Corner
Sing to: Five Little Ducks Went Out to Play
Photo of 5 Umbrellas Clip Art

Down around the corner at the neighborhood shop
Were five umbrellas with their points on top
Along came someone with a nickel to pay
And they bought the blue umbrella and they took it away.

FLANNEL SONG: A Hunting We Will Go*
Today we used animals that don’t mind getting wet, like frog/log, fish/dish, snail/scale, and duck/truck.

One of the things that happens when you sing simple nursery rhymes to your children is that they gain practice listening to simple sentence structures. Hearing the same short sentences over and over helps children recognize the patterns that our sentences form.

This is a big book from Creative Teaching Press that I found in our outreach collection. It’s the little nursery rhyme that goes, “Rain on the green grass, rain on the tree…” It has simple cut-paper illustrations and is great for baby storytime.

BOUNCE: One Misty Moisty Morning
Have the grownups bounce their babies on their laps, then gently grab their babies’ chins when you say “strap beneath his chin.”

One misty moisty morning
When cloudy was the weather
I chanced to meet an old man
Clothed all in leather

Clothed all in leather
With a strap beneath his chin
How do you do and how do you do
And how do you do again?

ACTION SONG: The Itsy Bitsy Spider

ACTION RHYME: This is Big Big Big*

CLOSING SONG: Sneeze Game*

*Check out the My Baby Storytime page for the words and/or citations for these weekly activities!

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Early Literacy Storytime: Here Come the Animals

One of the things that helps children get ready to write is building strong muscles in their shoulders, because these muscles provide stability to the smaller muscles in the forearms and hands. More stability means less effort is needed to complete fine motor tasks.

Activities that simply allow the shoulders and arms to bear some of the weight of the child’s body will help develop these muscles (like climbing walls and monkey bars on the playground). But an easy way to do that in storytime is to walk like animals!

In any animal storytime, invite the children to pretend to be animals with you. Engage their shoulder muscles by channeling:

  • Bears! Start on hands and knees, then lift knees off the ground so you are walking on all fours with both hands and feet taking steps.
  • Crabs! Sit on your bottom, feet flat on the floor in front of you, and put your hands on the floor behind you. Lift your bottom up so that only your hands and feet are on the ground. Can you take steps forwards, backwards, and sideways? Tricky!
  • Snakes! Lie on your tummy, then push with your hands and arms so your shoulders and head are up off the ground. This is like a cobra yoga pose.
  • Lizards! Lie on your tummy, and use your elbows and knees to wiggle yourself forward while keeping your tummy low to the ground, like a baby’s commando crawl.
  • Prairie dogs! (or meerkats!) Start on your hands and knees, then push off with your hands so you are kneeling up on your knees and looking around. See any danger yet? Better hide! Fall forward onto your hands again!

    When you are done playing, say something like this to the grown-ups: “Parents, when you play active games like this with your child, they develop arm and shoulder muscles that give support to their hands and wrists. More support means they will be able to write and draw more confidently and more precisely.”

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