AkLA 2015: Early Literacy & New Media for Young Children

For the past several days I’ve been at the annual Alaska Library Association conference in Juneau, Alaska. It’s my chance to catch up face to face with the other librarians around our vast state and learn a few things from this resourceful bunch.  (Juneau librarians turned books into these beautiful table centerpieces! Cool, huh?)

I was asked to present a pre-conference on new media and young children and here are the resources I shared. The 3 hour session was jam packed with great questions, ideas and enthusiasm. Thanks to everyone who attended!

First the slides from the pre-conference:

This second link is a resource list including references specifically for librarians/educators and others useful for parents/caregivers. The resource link also includes review sites and other online resources. Early Literacy & New Media for Young Children Resource List

Here are the apps we discussed and several others I wanted to share:

Social and Emotional Skills Are On My Mind, part 1

Like many librarians and educators, I spend a lot of time focused on early literacy. Whether its in storytime, when I’m selecting materials, or in conversation with parents and caregivers I’m thinking about how fun activities, stories and tools can strengthen early literacy skills. Underneath the literacy layer, though, is a deep interest I have in the social and emotional development of little ones. I’ve been looking at books and digital media through this lens. With this post, I’m starting a mini-series about some of the books, literacy tools and apps I like for their overall high quality and the way they address the emotional and social side of growing kids that are creative, flexible, curious, caring, and ready for the dynamic world we live in. The recent release of Toca Boo was well-timed, so I’ll start there.

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Photo credit: tocaboca.com

Toca Boo
Toca Boca
iOS (5.0+)
3-5 years

This new app by the developers at Toca Boca is an interesting one. I’m a huge fan of Toca Boca’s apps so I was ready for the smooth navigation, the open-ended, noncompetitive play, inclusion of facial expressions and representation of emotions, multi-touch capability that encourages joint media engagement and the minimal language that makes the app universal. This app has all of the elements that I look for in an app to share in a program or recommend. Toca Boca knows their audience well.

What’s different about Toca Boo is that it deals with the illusive fear emotion, underrepresented in the world of apps for young children. Just in time for Halloween, Toca Boo features a a small ghost named Bonnie who happens to be a young girl who dons a white sheet for the scare games she instigates in the low-lit house at bedtime.  Inspired by the classic hide and scare game and Tove Jansson’s Moomin world, the open-ended game lets kids play with feelings of fear, tension and the element of surprise in a nonthreatening, kid-friendly experience.

Bonnie is the mischievous star in a cast of colorful characters who’s theatrical reactions to Bonnie’s scares spark instant giggles. The identical twins, the braces-clad, phone obsessed teen, the blanket-toting toddler, the old man with stilt-like spindly legs and the disco dancing rotund old woman wander the house with Bonnie in pursuit. When Bonnie is near, a tap on the unsuspecting victim causes a scare. Many of the rooms, like the bathroom and bedrooms feature hiding places highlighted by a subtle blue light.  Dragging Bonnie to the hiding place lets her sneak up behind her next victim more easily making his/her reaction more hilarious. The app player can tap lights and sounds to startle the family members, adding to the not-so-spooky atmosphere.

Each family member reacts in a different comical way- the twins may bump into each other and see stars, the old woman’s hair might pops out of her tightly wrapped hairdo, the old man’s spindly, stilt-like legs sometimes wobble before he falls down. The teenager sometimes falls down and sometimes screams revealing a mouth full of braces just before his pants fall down. (Not to worry, a long shirt keeps things covered so nothing is exposed.)

To ease any anxiety, the developers have added a few special touches. They gave each character a light source which they can shine on Bonnie if the app player doesn’t hide her quickly enough. If she is spotted, the light bearer chuckles. They also provided some refreshments for Bonnie that customize her scare tactics and help lighten the mood. Bonnie farts to scare her victim after eating plums and breathes fire after eating peppers. The results are hilarious, helping to make this noncompetitive game easy to enjoy!

Over time the small number of rooms and characters may limit repeated play, but the developers may have plans for that. In the meantime, Toca Boo is a fun, not so scary app to explore together with young ones during the Halloween season.

Here are a couple more apps that help kids address fear and tension (and may be perfect for Halloween):
Go Away, Big Green Monster!
The Monster at the End of This Book…starring Grover!

What apps do you like for talking about fear and tension?

Toddler: Me!

Today’s toddler storytime was heavy on movement! It was high energy and lots of fun. If the song was new to storytime, I talked about the actions we would use and the body parts we were going to include. I also didn’t hesitate to ask questions during a rhyme or song. For example, can you find your nose? But really, I had no problem keeping the kids and caregivers engaged.

My favorite moment? When even the littlest toddlers hold up there 10 fingers and wiggle them for the Bubbles song.

Welcome Song: The More We Get Together
The more we get together,
together, together
The more we get together
the happier we’ll be!
For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends,
The more we get together the happier we’ll be.

The more we read together, together, together
The more we read together
the happier we’ll be.
We’ll read big books and small books (with hand motion)
and short books and tall books
The more we read together the happier we’ll be.
Second verse credit:Storytime Secrets via Jbrary

Action Rhyme: I Am Big, Big, Big (modified version of This is Big, Big, Big)
I am big, big, big (stretch hands far to sides)
I am small, small, small (crouch down)
I am short, short, short (stay low)
I am tall, tall, tall (reach for the sky)
I am fast, fast, fast (roll hands or march quickly)
I am slow, slow, slow (roll hands or march slowly)
I say yes, yes, yes (nod head)
And sometimes no, no, no (shake head)

Movement: Everybody Knows I Love My Toes
Everybody knows I love my toes,
Everybody knows I love my toes,
I love my shoulders, my knees, my elbows, and my nose,
but everybody knows I love my toes.
…chin, shin
…lips, hips
Credit: Jbrary

Dance Break: Head, Nose, Bellybutton, Toes by The Blankies (from their Action! album)

Transition Action Rhyme: My Two Hands Go
My two hands go clap, clap, clap
My two feet go tap, tap, tap
My two hands go thump, thump, thump
My two feet go jump, jump, jump
My one body turns around
and it quietly sits right down.
Credit: Jbrary

We've All Got Bellybuttons by David Martin Photo Credit: www.candlewick.com

We’ve All Got Bellybuttons by David Martin Photo Credit: http://www.candlewick.com

Book: We’ve all got Bellybuttons! by David Martin (Candlewick, 2005)

Simple scenes, bright illustrations, and interactive text make this a good fit for a body storytime or sharing one on one. It’s not so much a story as an opportunity to talk, play, and read with kids. The illustrations offer as much as the text in terms of conversation pieces.

Movement: Bubbles!
1 little 2 little 3 little bubbles
4 little, 5 little, 6 little bubbles
7 little 8 little, 9 little bubbles
10 little bubbles go pop, pop, pop.

A giant storm is brewing out int he Pacific which means possible power outages in our community, so this song seemed more than appropriate for warding off the rain!

Action Song: It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More
It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More, no more
It ain’t gonna rain no more.
oh no, it’s up to my toe!
It ain’t gonna rain no more.

…oh gee, knee
…oh my, up to my thigh
…oh fiddle, up to my middle
…oh heck, it’s up to my neck
…oh dread, it’s up to my head
I’m just gonna swim on home
Credit: Jbrary

Action Song: The Hokey Pokey
Put your right foot, take your right foot out
Put your right foot in and shake it all about
Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around
That’s what it’s all about.
…left foot
…right hand
…left hand
…whole self

Action Song: Ring Around the Rosie
Ring (or skip or hop, etc.) around the rosie
Pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

The cows are in the meadow
Eating buttercups
Thunder, lightning,
We all jump up!

Goodbye Rhyme: Wave Hi, Wave Low

Early Literacy Tip: (from The Early Literacy Kit by Betsy Diamant-Cohen and Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting)
“Helping your child to put words to feelings develops vocabulary in a meaningful way. You can talk not only about your child’s feelings but about yours as well. Children can understand the words long before they can say them.”

Family: Splish, Splash, Water!

This summer I again included a water storytime in the line up. As a coastal community, we are very connected to water, the salt variety in particular.  Kids love water and I’m not afraid of a little contained wetness during storytime.

Even when I reuse a storytime theme, I never do it quite the same way. SO, this time we began with an activity. I got this idea from Amy, the Show Me Librarian, who posted about a water storytime on the ALSC blog. We often simply have a conversation at the beginning of storytime, but this one focused on where we find water. As Amy points out, writing the kids’ ideas on the chalkboard helps them make a connection between oral language and the written word and it includes kids in the conversation that may feel too shy otherwise. Kids had no problem calling out their ideas as I wrote them on the board.

Book: Milo and Millie by Jedda, Robaard  (Candlewick Press, 2014)
During bath time, Milo and Millie, Milo’s teddy bear, go on an adventure in an origami boat, we get to replicate during the activity time! The book includes a tutorial.

Book: What Floats in a Moat? by Lynne Berry (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013)
This book is a bit forced, but talks about why things float. I didn’t read it word for word, but it worked well for this storytime with a little modification on my part. Simple illustrations on a white background make the images easy to see, even with a large group.

Movement: Octopus’ Garden by the Beatles (This song was suggested in a Storytime Underground Facebook conversation about storytime music.)
We listened to this song while popping bubbles, something I don’t normally do at the preschool/family storytimes. Of course the kids loved it. To bring everyone back for the last story, we sang If You’re Ready for a Story.

Book: Rain by Manya Stojic (Crown, 2000)
Animals of the African Savanna try to predict rain, a vital source of water around the world. The book includes bright, colorful images and clear text. I loved talking about how rain smells.

The kids and I were all ready for some water activities. So we quickly reviewed what we would be doing, put away our storytime mats and got to work!

Sink and Float Station
This station is a must! The idea is that kids test out objects ability to float or sink and use their observation and recording skills. Don’t forget to roll up your sleeves for this one because everyone is bound to get a little wet!IMG_0220


  • 3 dish tubs
  • water
  • sink/float objects: rubber ducky, crayon, paper clip, LEGO, sponge, rock, leaves
  • sink and float chart in the SRP 2014 manual
  • pencils and crayons

Objects we Tested


Recording our Observations

Origami Boat Station
In the back of the Milo and Millie book, there are instructions for making an origami boat. I provided paper cut to the correct size, a sample, and the book open to the instructions. Kids and caregivers were able to make the paper boats with just a little guidance at this self-serve station.


Melting station
At this station, the young scientists got to experiment with states of matter. That sounds pretty advanced for preschooler, but it really equates to making things melt, turning them from a solid (ice) to a liquid (water). Kids generally stayed at this station for longer periods and often visited it last. Once they figured out what the activity was all about, they were mesmerized.


  • ice cubes
  • warm water
  • salt
  • eye droppers
  • trays
  • cups for salt
  • cups for water

To reinforce that text has meaning, I included labels at each station. This also helped parents identify which station was which. With larger storytime group sizes in the summer, having multiple stations with labels like these is helpful as families navigate the children’s library.


Song Cube

I love my song cube. Lots of librarians use them and I got the idea awhile back from Anne Hicks over at Anne’s Library Life. The idea is to have kids roll the cube and help select the song(s) we sing which immediately engages them in storytime.

The empty tissue box is covered in bulletin board paper and then clipart is attached to each side. Like Anne, I covered the whole box in book tape after adding the images to lengthen its lifespan. The clipart on each side is an image that symbolizes a song, just as letters, numbers and words are symbols. The name of the song is included below each image.

Once a child rolls the cube, I hold up the cube so everyone can see the image that ended up on top. Then I point to the image and ask if anyone knows a song about a (spider). We read the name of the song together and I mention to parents the importance of print awareness. Then it’s time to sing! I usually have two children roll the cube at the beginning of storytime as families are arriving. If we need a song/movement break in between stories, I’ll have another child roll the cube.


The songs I include on my current song cube are:
If You’re Happy And You Know it
Open Shut Them
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Ring Around The Rosie
ABC Song
Ants Go Marching