App-ily Ever After Digital Storytime: Animals

I have introduced and successfully integrated apps into several of my library’s weekly preschool storytimes. However there are some apps and digital media I have not used, but wished I could. Our storytimes are held in our children’s library instead of a separate storytime space and the beautiful design does not easily accommodate media tools like large screens. When the space was designed and built, new media was not part of the storytime conversation. Without a large screen on which to project book apps and other new media, some are too difficult to use or be seen by large groups on the smaller iPad screen.  In fact, ability to be easily seen on the iPad screen and used by groups are two of the criteria I use for selecting apps for storytime.

Innovation, as always, requires creativity! So, with my director’s support and interest, I designed a new, digital storytime using our meeting room with its large monitor and space for comfortable seating. (We removed the meeting tables before the event and brought in the beanbags from the children’s library.) We decided to not only alter the media format for the pilot program, but to also host it on a Saturday, another first for our library.

The digital storytime seemed like a perfect fit for Little eLit’s October Tech Challenge, in which we try something new and a even little bit nerve-wracking in honor of the “scary” month. Here are the details of my challenge-to-me program.

Digital Storytime: App-ily Ever After

16 kids and caregivers attended the program. Kids were ages 2-9. Two teachers brought their kids. Only three of the kids had ever been to a storytime at the library (or outreach program) before this one. The group size was perfect for a pilot program in our room size and with the devices we had on-hand.

I divided the one hour program into two parts. The first half was a storytime similar in format to the weekly preschool programs. We sang, moved, and read together. This format was used with the idea of offering some familiarity to families while at the same time letting me highlight apps that demonstrate the tips I planned to share with parents. The kids had fun while the parents saw the apps in action.

The second half of storytime was dedicated to letting kids and caregivers try out apps I had preloaded on four iPads and share information with each other about apps they like. I also took the opportunity to talk with families about what to look for when searching for apps.

This type of storytime needs tools also, they are just a bit different. I stated that iPads would be used in this program, but many of the apps I used or mentioned are available on multiple platforms. The equipment I used for this program included:

  • Large monitor
  • Apple TV (This connected the iPad to the monitor wirelessly allowing for more movement as I used the iPad.)
  • Wireless Router (We created a hot spot in the meeting room so families could download apps with ease during the program without competing with the whole library for bandwidth.)
  • 4 iPads (I used my personal iPad to present the storytime elements and then had the library’s iPad and a city-owned iPad on hand- both preloaded with a collection of 20 apps I selected- for kids and caregivers to try out. My director also brought her iPad loaded with apps she wanted to share. It turned out that all but one family brought their own iPad which I encouraged on the flyer for the program.)
  • 20 apps for storytime program and for families to try out
  • Beanbags and chairs for families
  • paper copies of Sandra Boynton’s Blue Hat, Green Hat and Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (two apps used in the program are based on the popular paper books)

Welcome song: Open Shut Them (a classic storytime song we sing regularly on Wednesdays)

Song: Are you ready for a story? (Clap Your hands)

Parent Tip: I explained the difference between a book app and an e-book.

Book app: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boyton and Loud Crow (2011)
$3.99 :: App available via Apple, Google Play, Amazon App Store, and Nook Color

This app is so silly that even the adults were laughing! It quickly helped the group relax and caught their attention.

Parent Tips:

    • The value of meaningful Interactivity: In this app the reader taps animals and objects to animate them. The actions closely relate to the story, as do the sounds which extend the story. Early readers can tap on the individual words to hear them read aloud even with the read-to-me function turned off.
    • App’s early literacy value: phonological awareness
    • Choosing book apps: This is an engaging story with entertaining characters, not just just lots of interactivity plus it has simple, uncluttered pages with quality images and easy to read text.

Toy App: Peekaboo Barn by Night & Day Studios (2011)
$1.99 (free lite version is available) :: App available via Apple, Google Play, Amazon App Store

After seeing all of the silly, farm animals in Boynton’s app, we played a game identifying farm animals in this one. When the app is started, a barn appears and an animal’s sound is heard. Tapping on the barn opens the doors to reveal the animal making the sound. The name of the animal also appears on the screen. The barn doors then close and a new animal sound is heard. While this app works well with groups because there are multiple opportunities for kids to participate, I actually prefer another farm animal app, Animal Sounds-Fun Toddler Game, qwhich I have used in a weekly storytime about farm animals. The game format I use with it would not work with the apps projected on a large screen.

Parent Tips:

    • Joint Engagement: A child could navigate this app on his/her own, but it is more fun when children and caregivers or children and other children play it together. Joint Engagement offers great opportunities for learning!
    • Early literacy value: phonological awareness and print awareness
    • Choosing apps: Look for apps that are age appropriate and can be played over again. Be sure to review an app before introducing it to your young child.

Song: Are you ready for a story? (Tap your toes)

Book App: A Frog Thing by Eric Drachman and Oceanhouse Media
$2.99 :: App available via Apple, Google Play, Amazon App Store and Nook Color

Frog is a frog who has dreams. He wants to fly, even if it isn’t a frog thing. In this gentle story, again with meaningful interactivity, frog saves the day, realizes a dream and inspires his family and friends. I picked this book app because it demonstrates another way book apps can still be effective and engaging without being silly.

Parent tip:

    • Early literacy value: This book offers new vocabulary like the word aerodynamic and opportunities to build narrative skills. This is also a good choice for STEAM storytimes focusing on frogs.
    • Choosing apps: Look for uncluttered, pages with easy to read text. I pointed out the read to me, read to myself, and auto play options and the button to turn music on or off, all features which I look for.

Toy app: Felt board by Software Smoothie

We used this digital feltboard to act out the song, Five Green and Speckled Frogs (demonstrated here by the Jbrary librarians). Many librarians have talked about using this app and this felt story before. Instead of using screenshots of each movement in the story and projecting them with keynote, I saved my story (a new update) and physically moved the frogs as the story progresses in the song. This worked perfectly and mimicked one of the great aspects of traditional felt boards. I was comfortable doing the actions with my hands and moving the frogs on the iPad. Almost everyone sang along with this song.

With multiple backgrounds and a zillion characters and features to choose from, this toy is perfect for kids of multiple ages and for playing together.

Parent tips:

    • Choosing apps: Select apps that encourage open-ended play and creativity.
    • Early literacy value: This app is great for building narrative skills.

Toy app: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive This App by Mo Willems and Disney
$5.99 :: App available from Apple only

This app is based on the popular book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. The app does not include the book, but it extends the story by offering kids a chance to create and play using the beloved characters from the book. As a group we recorded a story directed by the bus driver. We were asked a series of questions and took turns saying silly answers which were then incorporated into a story that was played back and acted out by the bus driver and the pigeon. This was a great transition into the second portion of the program.

Parent tip:

    • Early literacy value: Strengthens narrative skills and helps build vocabulary. This also provides a nice introduction to creating digital stories.
    • Choosing apps: This app has no in-app purchases or ads, what I look for especially for use in storytime.

For the rest of the time, we looked at and explored apps informally. Caregivers shared apps they have used and liked. Kids and caregivers had lots of questions about app suggestions, even for specific purposes like strengthening math skills, and how to select apps. Several of the adults also asked if we were going to offer a similar storytime again!

I gave every caregiver a double sided information sheet, Kids and Digital Media Tips for Parents 10.13, which included app suggestions, developer suggestions, early literacy information, and resources for learning more. This kind of program offers a lot to think about, so something to take home was important.

This was a successful pilot program that showed us two things. One is that a program like this one can be successful and is important to families. Secondly, it helped us assess the need for Saturday storytimes. We hope to host similar programs again as resource allows.

This blog post content also appears at

Preschool Storytime: Farm Animals

With the upcoming state fair, I decided to focus on farm animals this week. Kids love farm animals and many of the families in my storytime crowd have chickens or farm animals at home. There are so many great books, songs, puppets, and apps about animals, animal sounds, and farm animals, in particular, so I couldn’t miss!

We began story time with the song cube. The experienced kids demonstrated how the game works and the new-to-storytime kids sang along.

What is a farm? After a couple of songs, we came up with animals and plants (vegetables and fruits) that might belong on a farm, big or small, and who lives and works on a farm. We also told each other about our favorite sites at the local farmer’s market

barnyard banterWhile I had several books ready to read, I started with Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming (Holt, 1994). This is one of those wonderful books where the images (handmade paper illustrations) are as energetic as the playful sounds created by the text. The book follows a goose who has wandered off in pursuit of a dragonfly (or butterfly according to the storytime kids). Each page features animals and their sounds. While all of the other animals are where they should be (“The cows in the pasture, moo moo moo…”), goose is not. Where is he?

Before turning to the first page of the story, we learned the meaning of a new word! None of the kids knew the definition of banter so I explained it and we all said it aloud.

Song: Farm Sounds 
(Tune: Wheels on the Bus)
The cows in the barn go moo, moo, moo,
Moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo.
The cows in the barn go moo, moo, moo,
All around the farm.
Other verses:
… pigs in the pen go oink, oink, oink
… hens in the coop go cluck, cluck, cluck
… rooster on the fence goes cock-a-doodle-do
… ducks in the pond go quack, quack, quack
… lambs on the hill go baa, baa, baa
Credit: The Learning Pad

As we sang the Farm Sounds song, I introduced my farm animal puppets which are always a hit with the kids.  Many of them wander off after I used them for the appropriate verse in this song to be loved and cuddled in the arms of a storytime child.  They always make it back before craft time, so it works out.

Next we played the Animal Sounds game! This game uses an app for the iPad (Animal Sounds-Fun Toddler Game by Innovative Mobile Apps) animal sounds appthat is designed in a flashcard style. Photo images of animals and recorded sounds are used to connect kids with the image of an animal, the sound it makes, and the written name for each animal. The way we used this app is similar to the method used by Anne Hicks at Anne’s Library Life and other librarians incorporating new media into storytime.

To play this game, I held the iPad in front of the group of kids. (We don’t have a large screen or monitor in our children’s library, so I only use apps in story time that are easy to see on the iPad screen.) I explained the game and then turned the screen towards me. I tapped on one of the animals which played the animal’s sound. We guessed which animal would make the sound we just heard and then I turned the screen to the group and we decided if we were correct. As I showed the image of the animal I pointed to the text and read the animal name. There are two images for each animal so sometimes I would show them the second image which was often a group of the animal (herd of cows vs. one cow). We talked about tricky animal names like sheep that refer to one and more than one while we played.

The animals are organized alphabetically, so before story time I went through and found all of the farm animals I could use to make them easier to select during the game. There are a variety of animals included and the additional in-app purchase of animals is worthwhile.

This is a game that is made better by joint media engagement. Playing together and the mystery generated by our guessing game left us all in giggles and made for a positive experience for a variety of age groups.

After the app game, we read Sakes Alive! A Cattle Drive written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Karla Firehammer (Little, Brown, 2005).

Sakes Alive! A Cattle Drive

This rhyming story about two cows that take off with the farm’s truck for a drive through town ends well and is a silly story featuring many of the animals we saw in earlier parts of storytime. It’s not riveting, but it makes for a nice last book in storytime as kids become tired and attention wains.

To round out the story portion, we sang a couple of verses of Baa, Baa Black Sheep using my different colored sheep. I had intended to also read Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, but alas, we ran out of time.


Barn craftWe made barns and farm animal puppets (plus a tractor) so families could extend storytime and use the craft to create farm stories of their own at home.

To create the barn for kids I took a red sheet of 12″x18″ paper and pre-cut two corners off the top which became the roof. I then drew a t-shape in the center of the bottom of the page that kids would cut along to form the opening barn doors. I used a box cutter to also pre-cut a door near the top for the hay loft.

For my sample, I then glued a 81/2″x11″ sheet of heavy paper on the back covering the door to make the barn stiffer and to allow space for kids to glue the tractor or other animals in the doorway. I also glued a 1/8 page of the same heavy paper behind the loft door for a chicken and some green raffia (a nest). I found farm animal images in clipart and compiled them on one sheet so each child could take a sheet, color the pictures, and cut out the farm animals they wanted to add to their barn or glue on to popsicle sticks to use as puppets. Kids decorated their barn in a variety of ways, some of which resembled barns from one of the books we shared.