Guest Post: Libraries Connecting to Nature

For the first time, Never Shushed is featuring a guest post! Please welcome Gay Mohrbacher from WGBH, the creators of valuable digital content that supports literacy and learning for children and their families.

Libraries are active participants in the ongoing movement to get families outside and connected with nature. Many house regional natural history collections; others host kids nature clubs, offer community garden registries, loan outdoor equipment, or develop collections on sustainability themes. They also offer families programming and information about resources for outdoor learning.

A free resource that librarians and families can both use to actively explore nature comes from the PBS KIDS multimedia project, Plum Landing. The website, designed for children ages 6 to 9, stars a plum-shaped alien and her human friends who teach kids about the biodiversity of different ecosystems through games and short animated and live-action videos, but also gets them outside to investigate and experience, and then publicly share documentation from their local surroundings. 

For librarians, there are educational resources for settings like afterschool or week-long vacation programs. The free curriculum provides collections of hands-on science activities paired with media—animations, videos, games, photo apps, and more—arranged in thematic sequence and aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.  

In an activity called Seed Spot! children learn how plants spread seeds to give their offspring the space and resources to grow. To start, kids can watch a 2.5-minute animated video about wearing fuzzy socks outdoors to collect seeds on the ground—then they head outdoors on a scavenger hunt for different kinds of plants and seeds. There are extension ideas and an online game called Seed Racer to continue the learning about how seeds are dispersed.

Librarians can:

  • Choose from a collection of children’s activities designed to support outdoor exploration. Activities range from 10 to 40 minutes long, are low cost/low prep, and can be led by any informal educator, no matter their educational background. There are short animated videos to introduce the activity, or you can skip the video and dive right in. 
  • Use the Educator Tip videos to learn tried-and-true best practices in leading outdoor science exploration. The videos are hosted by Jessie Scott, a longtime outdoor educator with the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Print out and offer any of the self-guided activities for families to do themselves—these are available in English and Spanish. For example, you could encourage families to try the Build a Watershed activity in which kids and parents build a very simple model of a landscape to see how water droplets flow and how the shape of the land helps collect water.
  • Introduce the free Outdoor Family Fun with Plum App, (available for iOS, Android, and Amazon devices), which helps families build a habit of nature exploration. Whenever they open the app, families receive new “missions” asking them to find, count, photograph, and talk about things like birds, clouds, bugs, or shadows. Each mission includes a call to action, a tool for the mission (like a counter), and tips. To encourage parents to use the app on a repeated basis, new missions and achievements unlock as families progress. In all, there are 150+ unique missions to explore the local environment.

Kids who spend time exploring outdoors feel more connected to plants and animals and come to better understand the need to take care of the planet. Research shows that regularly doing outdoor activities boosts mental and physical health. Plum Landing’s kid-tested activities make it fun and easy to explore outdoors—with very little prep and no expensive materials. Visit Plum Landing online to begin your explorations: pbskids.org/plumlanding

About the author:

Gay Mohrbacher coordinates educational outreach for the children’s environmental science initiative, PLUM LANDING, produced by WGBH, Boston’s PBS station. WGBH is recognized as a national leader in producing media-based resources to support learning and teaching. A top priority is serving under-resourced children and working with national partners and local communities to overcome barriers to educational success. 

Molly of Denali!

Source: AK Public Media

I’m always looking for media, in all formats, that authentically reflects Alaskan families’ experiences. Today, a new show produced by WGBH in Boston for PBS Kids does that and more. I’m excited about the show and the advanced screening we offered at the library earlier this summer was a great learning experience. Here’s why.

The show

Molly of Denali, like other PBS Kids shows for young children, is an animated, entertaining show that supports early learning; in this case the idea of informational text. The producers define informational text as “any text created for the main purpose of providing information. Informational text can be created using written words, oral language, visuals, or a combination of these forms.” (PBS Kids) Examples include recipes, signs, maps, websites, text messages, podcasts, songs and more. Informational text is all around us and provides another entry point for supporting early literacy, but it is rarely given so much attention in early childhood entertainment.

The show also aims to address cultural representation and it does this well. The story, ways of knowing, and setting details are authentic. Each episode also features a live action piece featuring Alaskan kids sharing about well, Alaskan life. How does a producer in Boston, get that right? She had help. From the script writers, voice actors, and song writers to the cultural advisors, Alaska Natives were involved in the production and the result is what I dreamed of when I was working on the Diverse and Inclusive Checklist with KIDMAP. (Watch out, Pamyua‘s theme song is catchy and you’ll be singing it all day long!) The show is silly, entertaining, enriching and even serious at times.

Listen to a story about the making of Molly of Denali on Alaska Public Media here.

The Event

While Molly of Denali is set in a fictional town, Qyah, kids from all over rural Alaska can see themselves reflected in the show. But no, this isn’t just a show for Alaskan kids. (Let’s face it, that would not be an easy sell for a producer.) Kids from elsewhere can relate too! Families will connect with the characters and learn much about what it is like to be a kid in rural Alaska. Molly Mabray is a young Athabaskan who is adventurous, strong, curious and kind. What a great role model for all kids!

We were excited to be one of several Alaskan communities to host an advanced screening of the show. We wanted to bring families together at the library to celebrate what the show and its creators had accomplished. It was also a great media mentorship opportunity. I knew we could model how to practice Joint Media Engagement, or Co-viewing, while watching a tv show together, introduce tips on evaluating media and talk about how quality tv can support early learning.

I started the afternoon family event by quoting from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s piece “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors”; introducing many grownups to her name, words and ideas. I have wanted to do this for a long time and Molly of Denali offered great examples of all three for families in my community. It also gave use a foundation for talking about the show during the event (in between the two episodes we watched). Dr. Bishop’s idea is not strictly a book-related concept, but applies to all media and we can use it to evaluate media in the library and at home.

I then introduced the show and some of the characters, talked about what informational text is and why it is important to talk about, and shared some of the backstory and why it is a landmark creation. The intro was not too long, just several minutes, but planted a seed that got grown-ups thinking. The questions I got after the program- about recommendations, the show’s creators, when the show would air, etc. – were evidence.

We showed two episodes (animated portions only), with a short conversation and popcorn break in between. The in-between episodes chat was prompted by questions like “What did you recognize in that episode?” (high tunnels for growing food, mountains, trees dirt roads, traditions, rivers, the library, the kids and more), “What is different about Homer (where we live) and Molly’s community of Qyah?” (no ocean, no boats, the language, the stores) and “How did Molly and her friends learn about canoeing?” (YouTube, the coach, practice) Many kids enthusiastically chimed in with their observations.

Afterwards I mentioned that families who enjoy podcasts might like to add Molly of Denali to their listening list. Several families asked me how to access podcast episodes and if I could recommend others. Alaska is big and even casual road trips are long. Podcasts are a perfect fit for the Alaskan family!

About 65 people showed up for the program held in our children’s library. After the screening families stayed in the library to chat with each other, do some of the activity sheets connected to the show, and look for books. (I made sure a display of Alaskan picture books was prominent.) The event was simple, but meaningful.

I hope you enjoy the show!

New Professional Books!

Are you a children’s or teen librarian looking for some new books to add to your professional collection? I am lucky enough to be part of three book projects that I highly recommend! All are published this Spring or Summer and range in scope from the everyday guide to the academic reference. These are resources rich with content contributed by researchers and practitioners who are experts in literacy of all kinds. Enjoy!

Create, Innovate and Serve: A Radical Approach to Children’s & Youth Programming

Edited by Kathleen Campana and J. Elizabeth Mills

Published by ALA (March, 2019)

60 Ready-to-Use Coding Projects

Edited by Ellyssa Kroski

Published by ALA (April, 2019)

International Encyclopedia of Media Literacy

Edited by Renee Hobbs and Paul Mihailidis

Published by Wiley (June, 2019)

CT and Early Literacy Activities: Making Music

Activity: Making Music with Makey Makeys

Ages: 4+

Materials/Equipment: Laptop computer (1/station), Makes Makey (1/station), 4 pieces of Play-doh, different colors (1 set/station), internet access for digital piano

CT Skill: Decomposition is the CT skill that involves breaking larger actions into smaller, easily completed steps. We do this when we sing and clap words to break then down into syllables.

In a music storytime, among other books, I shared I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison which follows a young girl and her mother on a walk around their community. On the mini-adventure, the girl creates individual moves that become a dance accompanied by the music created by neighbors.

Afterwards, families visited stations that included: music-making with Makey Makeys, building rubberband kazoos or egg shakers, instrument exploration and mixing music with the app Loopimal on one of the library’s mounted iPads.

At the Makey Makey station, the computer was connected to the pieces of Play-doh with several wires, each going to a different clump of clay, via the Makey Makey. Young musicians touched a clump of Play-doh with one hand and held the “ground” with the other, creating an electrical circuit, and then a corresponding note was played on the digital piano. Once they figured out which Play-doh piece made which sound they created songs to their liking. (The Makey Makey tricks the computer into thinking the Play-doh clumps are keys and creates an electrical circuit. So if the Play-doh, which is conductive, is pressed or tapped, something happens on the screen. In this case a key on the digital piano is played.)

Both the book and making music with a Makey Makey exemplify breaking down (decomposing) music and dance into its components, but they also demonstrate how to build something back up, songs or dances, using other CT skills like pattern recognition and algorithm design.

Want to learn more about CT for you children? Paula Langsam and I will be talking more about the CT and early literacy connection at ALA Midwinter in Seattle.

CT and Early Literacy Activities: Simon Says

In a recent webinar about Computational Thinking (CT) and early literacy for the Public Library Association, Paula Langsam and I highlighted several activities that can be used to support both sets of skills in storytime or another library experience. (The link to the recorded webinar is coming soon.) Some of the activities we mentioned are in the Libraries Ready to Code Collection, while others have come about after our work with the cohort. They will eventually be added to the collection, but for now we’ll be posting them here. Keep checking back for more!

Activity: Simon Says

Ages: 4+

Materials/Equipment: None

Pattern recognition, one of 4 commonly recognized CT skills for young children, involves identifying and classifying similarities. When we play the game Simon Says with children, they are using a pattern to know when to do the action mentioned and when not to. If I say “Simon Says touch your nose”, kids are supposed to touch their nose. If I say, “touch their nose” they do not. This game also introduces conditional statements and logic, both fundamental to computer science.

Adaptations:
In storytime, some kids may easily get how this game works and some need more experience. I adjust the actions and physically model when and when not to do the action for kids new to the game. I do less modeling for more experienced players and even let kids lead if appropriate.

Book connection:

Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold and Matthew Cordell.
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong and Grace Lin.