Beyond the 5 Practices: How Storytime Helps Kids Get Ready for Success in School and Life

19 Oct

Hi all! Today I had the pleasure of presenting on executive (“soft”) skills development in storytime at the Nevada Library Association Conference. It was a wonderful opportunity and I am grateful to everyone who attended and SHARED their storytime best practices that help children become better human beings! At any rate, here’s the presentation. I try very hard to NOT include a lot of text on my slides, so some of these may be hard to figure out, but as soon as I’m able I’ll post a summary of the presentation to give you more information. In the meantime, though, here’s an idea of WHAT executive function is, why it’s important for children to develop these skills (SPOILER: they’re a better predictor of success in school than IQ) and how our storytimes are helping children develop these skills. (SPOILER NUMBER 2: LOTS of what we do helps develop executive function!)



Soft Skills and Storytime Part 2: Perspective-Taking

29 Mar

[If you need a refresher on what “soft skills” are and why they’re important for early child development visit my first post in the series. Thanks!]

I’ve lived abroad three times; four, if you count Canada (go, T.O.!). I lived in Ottobrunn, West Germany (it was still delineated at the time) when I was very young, spent a summer living with a family in Algorta, Spain in right after I graduated High School, and spent four months with a wonderful family in San José, Costa Rica, in my junior year of college. Each experience was unique and interesting, and very different from my “normal” life in the U.S. One thing I definitely learned was perspective: seeing things from another’s point of view.

The second “soft skill” I’d like to talk about helping young kids develop in storytime is perspective-taking. Everyone, kids and adults alike, can benefit from the ability to see things from another’s point of view, and understanding that just because something is different, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. “Flexible thinking” is the ability to make connections between our known world and the unknown; seeing similarities between the two.

We encourage this skill in a number of ways:

  • Choosing a variety of books in storytime that are not only mirrors (reflect our audience’s experience) but also windows (allow them to see something outside their experience). I saw the impact of having books that are mirrors once when giving away books to a group of preschoolers; one young girl, when choosing her book, saw Anna Quinn’s Lola at the Library and, eyes wide, said “I want THAT one.” Lola in the book looked EXACTLY like this little girl. She was the only African-American child in that class and I’m sure wasn’t used to seeing herself represented in stories. But at that moment, she was, and her awe and happiness were clear. She matters. She’s worth having her story told in a book. This is why the “We Need Diverse Books” movement is so important. They say that the benefits of reading diverse books include:
  • They reflect the world and people of the world
  • They teach respect for all cultural groups
  • They serve as a window and a mirror and as an example of how to interact in the world
  • They show that despite differences, all people share common feelings and aspirations
  • They can create a wider curiosity for the world
  • They prepare children for the real world
  • They enrich educational experiences
  • Allowing children to assist in storytelling – pretending to be a character (“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”), moving like an animal, figuring out how a character would react, making predictions – all of these help children grow their imaginations and try out new roles in a safe place.
  • We can ask lots of questions while reading a story that help a child think more deeply about the perspectives of others. For example, ask: “how is Bobby the same as you?” “Why do you think he feels sad?” “Have you ever felt sad? What made you feel sad?” My friend Melissa suggested asking “What would happen if you changed one thing in the story?” Preschools often talk about having children make connections when hearing stories. Text to text (connecting one book to another), text to self (connecting the book to one’s own experience), and text to world (connecting the book to the wider world they know). In storytime we can do the same, and encourage through questions.

How else might you encourage perspective-taking in storytime? How would you talk to parents about this skill? Please share your comments!


“Soft Skills” and Storytime Part 1: Self Control

26 Mar

Recently, I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Kimberlee Kiehl, Executive Director of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (the place where Smithsonian staff can send their kids!) speak about non-traditional learning opportunities in early childhood. The Center uses the museums as classrooms, and encourages children to learn by “building upon past knowledge and experience.” They focus less on rote learning and instead work to build executive function skills – the “soft skills” that allow us to learn and think and grow into successful humans. They include self-regulation (or self-control), critical thinking, perspective taking, problem solving, persistence, and more.

These skills are extremely important to a child’s development – as much or even more so than the ability to count, identify letters and colors, and other knowledge that we work to build in the early years. Dr. James Heckman, nobel prize-winning economist, and his colleagues studied these skills and found that they “predict success in life, that they causally produce that success, and that programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in an effective portfolio of public policies.” In other words, soft skills are a better predictor of a child growing into a successful adult than knowing one’s abc’s.

I’ve been thinking about how we help children develop these skills in the library – especially in storytime – and so I decided to write about each skill and what we can (and do) do in storytime to help children develop these skills. It’s yet another selling point for storytime as a great resource for parents and caregivers to help their children prepare for formal schooling.

The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child defines executive function and self regulation as:

the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

So, let’s talk about that last one: controlling impulses. Self-control. Self-regulation. Something I completely lack when faced with a bag of potato chips. And this kitty is exhibiting well:


Self control includes the ability to pay attention, stay on task, regulate one’s body, and carefully look and listen, and sort information.

How do we develop help young children develop their self-control in storytime?

  • Ask them to try and sit and listen. We know they can’t do this for very long periods of time, but the more they practice, the better they get. We’re also asking them to focus on the task at hand – listening and paying attention to the book or activity
  • Ask them to keep their hands to themselves. That’s regulating one’s own body and not giving in to the impulse of putting their hands on their neighbor’s head/your flannelboard pieces/the puppet/whatever it is they really want to touch.
  • Ask them to answer questions about the book – especially when we’re asking them to look at the pictures and identify  objects or actions. If they have to find something on the page, I like to have them “use their words” to explain where it is, rather than pointing and saying “there!”. Vocabulary-building, y’all. 
  • Taking turns. It’s HARD for a young person to wait until it’s their turn to answer a question or put a piece on the flannel board. But we’re asking them to try, and they’re learning. 
  • Through movement activities, like a “freeze dance,” they’re having to regulate the movements of their bodies. Dancing requires them to figure out their place in space (proprioception!) compared to others and how to move themselves without bumping into others. If you’ve ever done the “Sleeping Bunnies” song and seen the storytime rug turn into a mosh pit, that’s your kids trying to figure out and regulate their bodies. 

As always, storytime is a great time to remind parents and caregivers how their children are developing not only cognitive skills but also these great soft skills. You might include soft skills in your early learning reminders/tips so everyone knows just how much learning is happening. 

I think this is also a great reminder to be patient with our young kids. They are learning, practicing, and figuring out their bodies and minds. 

How else do you encourage self-control in storytime? Please share! And look for part 2 of this series coming soon….





13 Mar

Earlier this week a tweet came across my feed saying that my blog, along with several others (including my awesome friends Kendra, Melissa and Brooke), was mentioned in a School Library Journal article as one of the best early learning blogs.

WHAT. *cue happy dance*


See this kitty? I’m as happy as this kitty. 

Well, color me tickled pink. I am SUPREMELY, OVERWHELMINGLY honored to have been mentioned along with these folks I admire so much. The author of the article, Lisa G. Kropp, whom I would hereby like to virtually hug, said that my blog offers inspriation for those who think they can’t “do” early literacy.

Gosh, I sure do hope so. I think her assessment may primarily be based on this post, which is fine with me, as I really loved writing that one and it’s a topic close to my heart. Sharing the message of early literacy/early learning is something I am indeed passionate about, and I DO believe that everyone, librarians and non-, can advocate for. It’s such a straightforward idea – brains are forming and growing most between birth and age 5, and so it makes sense that early experiences are going to have an impact on how that brain develops. And, as we say here in Colorado, Earlier is Easier when it comes to learning. How simple is that? We learn throughout our lives, but learning “sticks” most and best when we are very young and our brains are building.

Librarians who work with young children: we ARE experts. We CAN and DO help parents help their children learn. Simply by being a caring adult in a child’s life who gets excited about the books they’re borrowing from the library you’re helping to develop a love of reading and motivating a young child to become a reader. Simply by modeling a fingerplay in storytime you’re helping the child build their fine motor skills. And when the parent and child repeat that activity at home, that skill is growing. Because YOU modeled it. Simply by clapping the beat to a song you’re helping the child learn to break words into smaller sounds and hear and rhymes, and when that child is using those skills to sound out words when they’re reading on their own – know that YOU helped with that. YOU made a difference.

I admit I haven’t posted much recently, but perhaps the honor of being included in such illustrious company will motivate me to write more. I’ve got some ideas percolating – one, especially, about executive function skills and what the experts are saying about how those relate to future success (and how we foster them in storytime!). I’ll get on that right away, I promise.

Meanwhile, DFTBA. Because you ARE. And thank you!

“We Wave Our Scarves Together” versión en español

11 Jan

My preschoolers and I, we LOVE scarf songs. Waving our scarves in the air is so much fun (gross motor skills!), along with trying to squish them up as small as possible and hide them in our hands (fine motor skills!). Scarf songs are a great way to get the wiggles out, build vocabulary and rhyming skills, and also develop those all-important fine and gross motor skills. Scarf songs FTW!

For my Spanish-speaking kids, I had been using the English version of “We Wave Our Scarves Together” (great jbrary video here to learn the tune) and just explaining the movement in Spanish before we sang. Today, though, I decided it wouldn’t be that hard to come up with a translation. So here it is: my quick-and-dirty translation that almost fits, syllabically (is that a word?).

“We Wave Our Scarves Together” versión en español

Agitamos los pañuelos, [we wave our scarves]

Agitamos los pañuelos.

Agitamos los pañuelos,

Porque es divertido. [because it’s fun]

Agitámoslos arriba, [we wave them above]

Agitámoslos abajo. [we wave them below]

Agitámoslos en medio, [we wave them in the middle]

Porque es divertido. [because it’s fun]

Tiramos los pañuelos, [we throw our scarves]

Tiramos los pañuelos.

Tiramos los pañuelos,

Porque es divertido. [because it’s fun]


Hope this is helpful to some of you!


Flannel Friday Roundup for 12/18

18 Dec


Happy holidays! We have a small but mighty collection of flannels for you today. Enjoy!


Storytime Ukulele brings us this super-cute variation on “Bumping Up and Down in my Little Red Wagon” – but instead of a wagon, we’re going in the space shuttle!

Amy at One Little Librarian has delicious-looking 5 little gingerbread men! So delicious, in fact, that dog wants to eat them! No no, dog!

Miss Mollie at What Happens in Storytime shares a felt advent tree she actually made for her daughter! Little Miss E is one lucky toddler!

Several people shared multiple flannel boards today – aren’t we lucky?

Katie at Felt Board Magic has a couple of “5 littles” for us today – 5 Christmas Ornaments (a variation on the “5 little monkeys jumping on the bed” rhyme!) and 5 Little Reindeer complete with sleigh!

Wendy from Flannel Board Fun shared THREE flannels! Whoo hoo! There’s a lovely Animal Pairs collection (feast your eyes on the sleepy, carrot-eating bunny), the storytime classic Mary Wore Her Red Dress (with some animal characters that seriously could have been in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox movie), and, planning ahead for next year, Mouse’s First Fall.

Thrive After Five ALSO shared three with us! Thank you! First, there’s a version of a book I’ve been hearing getting some Geisel buzz: What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig. She also made a felt match game to go along with Kes Gray’s book Frog on a Log. Finally, she shares her idea for a tic-tac-toe felt table game. What a great passive program!

Some stellar ideas this week! Thanks, all, for participating! As always, to see all the felt boards of past roundups (and these will join them soon), visit our pinterest page.

Happy flanneling!




Flannel Friday: Froggy Gets Dressed

4 Dec

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London is one of my all-time favorite winter stories. It’s a guaranteed hit with the preschoolers. Bonus? It’s been published in Spanish, too: Froggy se viste.

I got this pattern from ¡Es divertido hablar dos idiomas! (thanks, Katie!) and it’s the cutest! Can’t wait to try it out with the kids this week. Also, I was directed to the flannel via Flannel Friday’s Pinterest board of bilingual flannels. Check it out if you do storytime in Spanish!


Let’s put on our scarves! Zat! And pull on our boots! Zup!



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