Beyond “5 Little Whatsits”

You know what I’m talking about! Scarecrows, jellybeans, pandas, roses…How many sets of five do you think you have counted in your storytime career? “Five little owls by the old barn door/One flew away, and then there were four.”

These are great standbys, and they fit every storytime, but sometimes I just kind of hit the wall. I can’t always get excited about “Four little thingummies playing happily” or “One little whosis having so much fun.” So I’m trying to branch out a little.

But the “Five Little” rhymes are so good at filling up little nooks and crannies of a storytime plan! What am I doing to help fill the gaps?

One thing I’m doing is ditching the rhyming piece. Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of rhymes in my storytimes, because they are lots of fun and great for building preschoolers’ phonological awareness skills.

But I’m not worried about making every single thing I do on the flannel board be a rhyme. Talking with kids about pictures and ideas, and asking them open-ended questions, and giving them time to answer, are also excellent ways to build children’s language skills. This type of dialog also lets you model to the caregivers how they can talk with their kids, too.

Here’s an example: I went into Microsoft Word clip art and found 5 photo images of familiar tools.

Instead of using them to recite “5 Little Tools,” I just put them all on the board. Sometimes I’ll say, “Wow, look, our workbench is a little messy! We better clean up our tools. Let’s start by cleaning up the tool that you use to hit nails. Which tool is that?” I give the kids time to answer, or tell me about the time THEY used a hammer, or to tell us that Uncle Andy has a hammer…you know how it goes! Then I say, “Right! You use a hammer to hit nails! This is the hammer.”

Or instead of establishing a clean-up scenario, I might just say, “Our last book was about building a house. Here’s some tools you might use to build a house! Which tool is the level? Do you know?”

Another way to start is to pick up a tool and say, “This tool is a saw. What do you know about saws? Right! Saws are very sharp and cut wood.”

Either way, there’s no rhyme to memorize, and the kids get a chance to really engage with you about something related to your storytime theme. Easy-peasy. Other things you could “clean up” might be toys, or clothes, or tableware. What else?

Another type of non-rhyme flannelboard I’ve put together is the astronaut and his spacesuit!

I might say, “If you were in outer space, you’d have to wear some special clothes! What do you think you’d have to wear?” Then one by one, we’d talk about the helmet, boots, and gloves, and finally I would put out the astronaut, all suited up. (I’ve done this with the babies, even, by emphasizing body parts: “This is a helmet! You wear a helmet on your head. Where is your head?”)

What other sets of clothes and equipment could you do? I have a cowboy set! What about a king or queen, with a robe, crown, and scepter? This is great for vocabulary building!

A final non-rhyme flannel board I’ve used is the Guessing Game. I have a few of these now!

In one type, I laminate clip art images, or color copies from a book’s illustrations, or make lift the flap houses. I put them all on the board, with a small image tucked behind one of the pieces. For the houses, I put a picture under one of the door flaps.

Then I say, “Blue Bird, are you in the red tree? Which tree has red leaves?” Or, “Puppy Dog, are you in the green house?” We just keep looking until we find them!

For another type of guessing game, I used clip art to make several sets of one big animal and one small animal in matching pairs. I’ll put the big animals all on the flannel board, then show the kids one of the small animals. “Little bear, can you find your Mommy? Is this the mommy bear? No! This is the big blue whale! Here is the mommy bear! She is brown just like her baby.”

I’ll never stop using the “Five Little Whatsits” rhymes completely, but by not using them as often, I’m keeping them fresher for my storytime kids–and for me.

(Ed. 11/11: I am no longer sharing my clip art files due to copyright concerns, so I’ve taken down the link to the files. However, if you search in Microsoft Word clip art you may find the original imeages I started with.)

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9 Responses to Beyond “5 Little Whatsits”

  1. Anna says:

    Isn’t it amazingly easy to get into a rut? And the answers that seem so mind blowing can just be so simple! Thanks for sharing your ideas. It’s such a great profession for collaboration.

  2. Melissa says:

    Thank you! I agree–I get so many really practical, usable, and dynamic ideas from my colleagues. It always makes me feel good to share back!

  3. Sarah V. says:

    Melissa – I found your blog a few days ago and I really appreciate it! A great resource! This entry in particular… YES! Freedom from silly “5 little awkward rhymes” – hooray!

    Some of my colleagues and I have been working on a flannelboard wiki. I included the link here in case you would consider adding it to your “storytime resources” section. It’s a total work-in-progress right now, and probably always will be =) so I am starting to figure out how to share it. I hope you don’t mind that I also added your blog to its page of resources.

  4. Melissa says:

    Hi Sarah, I would love to add your wiki to the resources page! Thanks so much for sharing it. And of course I’m flattered that you included this blog in your list! Thanks for visiting…let me know if there’s something you’d like to see here that I haven’t gotten to talking about yet!

  5. Thank You! I enjoy learning of ways to enhance my storytime from you website. We can learn from colleagues what works best for them and tweek it to fit into our library storytime.

  6. I love fives rhymes, but we rarely do them with a flannelboard. We generally do them whole-body action, cuz that’s how we roll. One thing I like to do with the flannelboard is use it to help with nonfiction. Now, this only works if you’ve got A. a group you know pretty well and B. no more than about 20 kids. I copy and laminate pictures from the nonfiction title – Cathryn Sill and Steve Jenkins titles work best – and hand them out to the kids. They watch in breathless anticipation until we come to “their part” and then they put their piece on the flannelboard.

  7. Melissa says:

    Wow, these are both SUPER ideas! I love juicing up the interactivity of the 5s rhymes by acting them out–they can be pretty passive for the kids otherwise. And what a great idea for using images for nonfiction books for flannelboards! I love the idea of using non-fiction in storytime to mix things up and to introduce different types of literature (and new background knowledge) to the kids, and giving them a job that will help them stay focused is brilliant. I am definitely going to pass this on to the storytime providers at my library! Thanks Jennifer!

  8. Vicki Kouchnerkavich says:

    This summer during our outdoor Family Storytime, I used props a couple of times. For Judy Sierra’s “The Sleepy Little Alphabet” I passed out magnetic alphabet letters(the frig kind) to each child ahead of the book. They were asked to listen for their letter and bring it forward to place on the magnetic board while I read the story. I also used the Ellison machine to make flannel pieces all using different colors, asking them to watch for their color while I read another book-which I can’t recall right now. Sometimes it gets the not quite so interesting books but great books a boost in your story times.

  9. Melissa says:

    I love ideas for keeping the kids involved & engaged! So much better for them & their brains than just sitting & watching! Thank you!

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