Category Archives: Story Time

Becoming a Storytime Producer, by Tom Schween

My name is Tom Schween and I have always been fascinated with musical television commercials and music videos (so YouTube playlists make me very happy). I also began collecting children’s picture books when I was a toddler. I got my undergraduate degree in advertising from Loyola and had the good fortune to work on Madison Avenue (as an Account Executive at BBDO) and in Times Square (as a Promo Producer at MTV) in my twenties.

In my thirties I left New York to go west. I took a job working behind the scenes with a musical theater company and studied recreation/leisure at San Francisco State. During this course I was given the greatest academic assignment ever, to volunteer at doing anything I wanted to do for fun. I wanted to read to kids.

During my story reader training for the Oakland Public Library’s Books for Wider Horizons program I was bitten by the storytime bug. Through storytime, I realized I could use my expertise as an advertising and promo producer to promote the values found in children’s picture books and music (versus promoting soft drinks and MTV values). Over the past ten years I have conducted over a thousand storytime enrichment programs in classrooms across the Bay Area.

I look at storytime through the eyes of a producer. Producing musical storytime is a lot like producing musical commercials, musical theater, and music television. You do it in layers: script, visuals, actions, music, and special (magical) effects. It’s your job to find and employ the best tools for each of these layers. By looking at storytime beat by beat, you can weave a program that transfixes your audience. You combine these layers in a live setting to create a dynamic and highly textured sensory (story, music, and movement) experience that ebbs and flows in response to your audience’s needs (check out my Magic Carpet Handbook for how I do this). As Irving Mills wrote, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!”

Once I realized that I could help others produce entertaining children’s programs, I enrolled in SJSU’s School of Library and Information Science. At SJSU I am now working toward becoming a “go to” expert on producing effective and relevant storytime programs for young children in the digital age. I look at storytime first through the eyes of a producer and a showman, and second as a student of child development and new media. I am interested in producing: 1) programs that entertain and engage audiences; 2) programs that are effective because they take into account the whole child; and 3) programs that employ digital tools in a healthy and appropriate way.

I recently co-authored a presentation that I want to share with the Little eLit community along with my thanks to Cen Campbell and the Little eLit team for their pioneering work in digital storytime. I hope you find it helpful and informative. The presentation is entitled “Digital Storytime: A New Frontier in Early Literacy.”

For my digital storytime music video recommendations, check out the Children’s MusicVideoWOW collection at StorytimeWOW.com. You can find blog posts about each of these videos in the sidebar menu.

Finally, here’s a bit of fun for you. It’s my “great musical commercials” YouTube playlist. Enjoy!

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An iPad-enhanced Storytime, by Awnali Mills and Rachel Sharpe

This is the story of an iPad enhanced storytime, told by colleagues Awnali Mills and Rachel Sharpe.

Awnali: I was getting ready to do a bird-themed storytime and found the book Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray. It follows two children as they listen to various birds in their yard and watch a silent robin on its nest until its eggs hatch. The book verbalizes the calls of the various birds and contrasts them to the silent nesting bird.

As I was reading over the story, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could play these birdcalls for the kids?” I tried finding birdcall apps to work on my iPad in an unobtrusive way. No dice. I tried downloading individual bird calls, but that didn’t work well either. Frustrated, I reached out to my colleague Rachel Sharpe to see if she could conjure a technological brainstorm. She did!

Rachel: I searched the Internet for free, downloadable birdcalls and struck gold with a math professor’s website from SUNY (the site has been around since 1997!). The birdcalls are registered under a creative commons license (CC BY-NC 3.0), so I was able to download most of what I needed and modify them to fit my needs. For the rest, I used www.foundsounds.com.

Once I had my collection of birdcalls, I used Windows Movie Maker to arrange the sounds. Because I was working with sounds, not video, I had to add 90 seconds of a blank title screen to act as the video portion of the movie. I added the sounds, repeating some of the shorter ones, and left three seconds between each bird call to act as a buffer.

When all the sounds were in place, I saved the video and uploaded it to zamzar.com, a file conversion site. Zamzar quickly converted the file to an .mp3, erasing the video portion of the file and just keeping the audio. Voila! I quickly attached that file to an email and shipped it off to Awnali.

Awnali: Rachel’s .mp3 worked beautifully on the computer, but I needed it on my iPad. Following some instructions I found online, I downloaded Dropbox onto my computer and iPad and used the app to download and transfer the birdcalls .mp3. Success!

I practiced manipulating the iPad while reading the book aloud several times to make sure that it worked seamlessly. I learned that the three-second interval Rachel had inserted was just enough time to read most of the lines without stopping, and it was easy to pause playback for longer lines.

I had the .mp3 open and ready to go before the kids arrived (playing it from Dropbox).  I held the book in one hand and operated the iPad with the other. This worked perfectly. As soon as the children heard the birdcalls, they gasped and looked at their parents, who smiled at them. When one little girl heard the catbird call, she piped up, “What was that??” Because the catbird does, in fact, sound like a cat! This combined to create the charming effect of walking through the woods listening to and watching birds. When I asked, “Do you see the_____ bird?” The kids excitedly assured me that they did. I couldn’t have asked for a better effect.

Undoubtedly, straightforward apps are much easier to utilize. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be limited to only the content supplied by others. In the true spirit of makers, we stepped out of the box, developed an idea, collaborated with others, and utilized numerous technologies to produce a beautifully enhanced storytime—no app needed.

Awnali Mills works in the Children’s Dept. of a public library and she gets the snot scared out of her by sudden loud sounds coming out of apps she’s trying out. She blogs at The Librarian is on the Loose.

Rachel Sharpe works in the children’s department of a public library and has permanent dibs on the department’s iPad.

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Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Pre-Literacy in Storytime for Toddlers: Using Felt Board by Software Smoothie, by Katrina Bergen

When I was the children’s librarian at the Dixon Public Library my favorite iPad app for story time was Felt Board by Software Smoothie. Since leaving that position, I have been in a teacher preparation program that requires iPads and the use of apps in the classroom. Preliteracy as well as literacy instruction is emphasized. In reviewing the concept of Same and Different, an important precursor to organizing the visual world and learning to read, I thought of Felt Board and the fun ways children can recognize and distinguish shapes, letters, numbers, colors, size, etc. The Sesame Street song “One of These Things is Not Like the Others” started running through my head over and over again – a great sound track for a Felt Board presentation. Here’s a demonstration:

Katrina Bergen, student, CalstateTEACH
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Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Traditional Digital Musical Storytime, by Tom Schween

Digital technology is an exciting new tool in the magical storytime treasure chest that I may choose to take out and play with when the situation calls for it. I want to identify those opportunities and push storytime services forward into new territory.

Photo credit to Janice Gartin

Photo credit to Janice Gartin

My musical storytime today integrates edited soundtracks for each program, children’s sing/move/play-alongs, musical transitions, background music, sound effects, instruments, and theatrical props. I utilize new media tools such as my iPhone, iTunes playlists, wired and wireless speaker devices (bluetooth), Garage Band sound effects, and apps. I am also very keen on finding ways to seamlessly use screens and integrate visual technology.

Stories, songs, and serving up make believe to make learning delightful for children during their wonder years is what storytime is all about (at its core). I am conscious not to make the technology I use the focus. When technology interferes with keeping listeners engaged, it does them a disservice.

New media provides us with new vessels for tried and true early-literacy storytime practices, like reading-aloud, singing-along, and felt-board storytelling. Using technology also has the added benefit of cultivating family computer and media literacy. Storytime, with the addition of new audio-visual layers, has the potential to simultaneously cultivate multiple literacies through the imaginative delivery of both traditional and digital materials.

Photo credit to Ricardo Sfeir and Sandra Chow-Zhang

Photo credit to Ricardo Sfeir and Sandra Chow-Zhang

21st century technology not only offers exciting new options for my storytime repertoire, it’s also a powerful way to promote the benefits of library storytime and at-home reading routines to caregivers. Now is the time to utilize new media tools (such as ebooks, apps, audio playlists, and digital audio and video channels) to expand storytime into digital native turf.

In digital storytime, I can still root today’s young children in tradition. But by looking beyond storytime technophobia, I believe I may reach and teach them even better while cultivating the next generation of storytime devotees (who will undoubtedly take storytime to even greater heights).

 
Over the past eight years, Tom Schween has delivered more than a thousand musical storytime programs to pre-k classrooms across the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a graduate student studying the crossroads of children’s librarianship and technology at San Jose State University. Tom began volunteering as a certified story reader with Oakland Public Library’s “Books for Wider Horizons” in 2006. He became a licensed Kindermusik educator in 2009, currently works as a principle backstage technician at Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon in San Francisco, and wrote a free online guide to storytime called the Magic Carpet Handbook at www.storytimewow.com/preschool-storytime.
 
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Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

iPad Apps in Storytime at Upper Hudson Library System

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.04.34 PMThe Upper Hudson Library System in New York state is a regional/cooperative library system that includes 29 independent public libraries. UHLS Youth and Family Services Manager Mary Fellows opted to tackle the topic of young children and new media with these libraries by creating an excellent primer on using iPad apps in storytimes. This resource, which Mary has graciously allowed us to share in full, can serve as inspiration, motivation, and a model for youth services staff at these–and, truly, any–libraries to wade into using new media with intentionality in youth services. Bookmark this resource!

Sago Mini Monsters, an app review by Carissa Christner

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.07.34 PM

Sago Mini has created many delightful toy-apps for young children. Last week, I had an opportunity to use Sago Mini Monsters in storytime at my library and everyone loved it!  Gameplay is simple:

1.  Drag a monster silhouette up from the primordial goo at the bottom of the screen.

2. Decorate the monster using your finger to draw in one of 5 colors.

3. Tap on the checkmark to tell the game you’re done drawing on the monster and your monster will grow eyes, horns and a mouth (although if you don’t like those, you can pluck them off and different features will grow in their place).

4. Feed the monster foods that pop up from the goo (could be cake, could be a boot…)

5. After the monster has eaten, its teeth look quite dirty, so it’s time to brush!

6. Pull more accessories up from the goo (a hat! a bandaid! a lightning bolt! the options are vast.) and finish designing your monster.

7. Take a picture (or don’t) and tap on the checkmark when you’re ready to meet a new monster.

I love this app for the open-ended (but not overwhelmingly option-heavy) art play and for the silliness factor that makes users of all ages giggle. The storytime kids loved telling me how to design the monster (What color should we choose next? Should we draw spots? Stripes? Squiggles? Where should we put this mustache? Do you like these eyeballs?) and they loved watching it eat crazy food and brushing its teeth.  One mom told me that her daughter loves to use the app and then go into the bathroom and brush her own teeth.  Every time. Hooray for the sneaky health lesson!

For a limited time, it’s free in the app store (all decked out for Halloween!), so grab it while you can. Read about the other monster apps I used in my storytime here. Make your own Sago Mini Monster finger puppets by downloading the pdf’s here (then printing them at 25% and adding a strip of paper at the bottom to wrap around your finger).

Digital Storytime Training Resources, by April Mazza

In my role as an Advisor for Youth & School Library Services at the Massachusetts Library System, I like to highlight innovative programming and services to the libraries in our state. One way to do this is by having our own local talent present for their peers. When I saw Clara Hendricks’ post on Little eLit back in December, I immediately asked her if she would be willing to do a training for us at her home library. She enthusiastically said “yes” and even let us record the presentation! You can view the videos and grab Clara’s handouts at our MLS Guide: http://guides.masslibsystem.org/digitalstorytime

We’ve also added all sorts of resources for using tablets in your library, from accessibility issues to app review sources, and of course we feature Little eLit!

Clara’s program was so popular we offered it again this fall to rave reviews. People really like to see the use of storytime apps and eBooks in action. Clara also does an amazing job of explaining the librarians’ role as model and mentor for children and families as they navigate using this technology. We are so thrilled to share this with our libraries, so I hope it helps to share it with an even wider audience!

 

April Mazza is Advisory for Youth & School Library Services at the Massachusetts Library System.
 
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Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

New App Storytime in Madison, Wisconsin

Little eLit regular, Carissa Christner began a new app-based storytime series at the Madison Public Library last month.  Read more about it (and learn why it’s called the Supper Club) on her blog here. 

Storytime 2.0 at the Wellesley Free Library: An Update, by Clara Hendricks

Since October 2013, when we launched our app-advisory and iPad storytime programs, I have led seven sessions of Storytime 2.0, an iPad-integrated storytime for children ages 3-6 with a parent; three programs to teach parents about using apps with children (Raising “App-y” Readers, for parents of pre-readers, and Raising “App-y” Learners, for parents of elementary school students); and collaborated on nine themed app-advisory lists (available on our apps page)!

Storytime 2.0 has continued to be a popular program. We have developed a core group of regulars, as well as new faces who join us each time.  The majority of the participants tend to be 3 years old, but we do get some older and younger children as well.
From this first year of offering the program, I can offer the following advice and suggestions:

  • Use the device for more than book apps!  While we have enjoyed many book apps projected on the big screen (favorites have included: Barnyard Dance, Do you know which ones will grow?, Go Away, Big Green Monster, The Monster at the End of This Book, and Piccadilly’s Circus), iPads and other tablets are such versatile devices that it is great to use them for things that simply don’t translate to paper.  My favorite thing to do is showcase non-book apps that create a participatory storytime environment.  Each storytime session I use at least one app where the kids get to decide how to manipulate the game or activity.  Based on my theme for that day, I have used: Mini-U: The Kitchen (the product sorter activity), Feed the Animals, Toca Kitchen and Toca Kitchen Monsters, and, perhaps the most versatile, Animal Sounds.  I have used this app within rhymes, in games, or simply having the children go around and name what animal they want to hear.  These games and activities are a high point of my programs.  Yes, I use the iPad to enhance the program in other ways, projecting song lyrics, doing felt board rhymes, and reading one or two book apps per session, but I think that these activities are the most unique aspect of the storytime.
  • Speaking of felt boards, I learned early on that the felt board apps (Felt Board and Mother Goose on the Loose) are much more fun and effective when you move the pieces within the app while doing the song or rhyme.  You can capture still images and use them as a slideshow, but manipulating the pieces as you go is a much more interactive experience.
  • After the storytime I handed out a list of the apps (and books) I used during that particular storytime.  I also added to this list related apps that can be used at home.  That way when I had a great app that related to the theme, but couldn’t figure out any way to use it in storytime, I still got to recommend it for home use to the parents and caregivers.
  • Kids still love the hands-on stuff!  During one of storytimes I handed out felt food pieces and read the book Lunch by Denise Fleming with a mouse puppet, letting each child come up and “feed” their food to the puppet. They thought it was hilarious!  Several children mentioned to their parents that it was their favorite part of the program.  So when planning, don’t forget that the storytime should be a nice blend of on-screen and non-screen.

We will continue on with our three-pronged approach (app advisory lists, parent-education, and storytimes) in the fall, as well as hopefully rolling out wall-mounted iPads in the children’s room.

Clara Hendricks is a Children’s Librarian at the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, MA.
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Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Finger Works Pro: Amazing in Storytime, by Awnali Mills

It can be difficult to find great activities to do for a Fourth of July storytime, but Finger Works Pro: Amazing was a perfect find for me. I managed to download it when it was free and have enjoyed playing with it ever since, vowing that I would somehow find a way to work it into storytime even though it has no apparent literary value.

Purple two fingers Red following

I could do this!

Then, I was looking for activities to incorporate into my Fourth of July storytime, and remembered this app. It was perfect for a play time activity, and very “fireworkish”. The app is simple. Soft music plays while tiny points of light with little tails roam across the screen, much like a large school of fish. Ah, but when you touch the screen, those lights begin to follow the movement of your fingers, or respond to stationary touch by creating beautiful fireworks-like formations, while the lights gradually change colors. I could literally sit for hours playing with this.

yellow three fingers Purple one finger

Many of my storytime kids don’t have a lot of access to technology, so this was a great introductory app to help them figure out that they could touch the screen and that it would respond to them. The kids were anxious to get their hands on it. I held the iPad and directed the kids to take turns. Up to two kids could touch it at a time, and it was neat to see the interactions created on the app by the different touches.

Green following Red three fingers

Awnali Mills works in the Children’s Dept. of a public library and she gets the snot scared out of her by sudden loud sounds coming out of apps she’s trying out. She blogs at The Librarian is on the Loose.
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Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.