LEGOs at the Library

Spring Break finally arrived, much to the delight of local school-aged kids! Lots of families left town on vacation, headed off to state hockey championships, or just took time to stock up in the big city. For kids sticking around, outside play was sometimes difficult in the constantly changing, belated, Winter-like weather. I hosted a simple “hang out and build” style LEGOs at the Library program to help ward off some of the cabin fever. It was the second program like this that we’ve held Spring Break weatherthis year. We’ve been wanting to add a monthly LEGO program ever since we started our annual Summer@HPL LEGO contest a few years ago. Time has always been an issue, but since the new year I’ve been trying to squeeze in a build session each month.

There are a bunch of resources online for starting a LEGO Club or hosting individual programs at your library. I looked at many of them before our first program last summer (part of our Maker Monday series during Summer@HPL, our summer reading program). LEGO Quest offers a long list of challenge themes that give any program a place to start. I have incorporated a couple of these themes into each of my programs. Last week, I also shared still images from some of the challenge pages on our large screen TV to help inspire the builders in house. In addition to seeing ideas for building, the kids loved reading the narrative with each image and finding out where the creators were from.

My program
Ages: 7-12 years (we also had a couple of younger siblings and a couple of dads which worked out fine)
Number of people: 20 (girls, boys, and dads)
Staff: 1
Location: our library’s meeting room which has offers lots of floor space and is closed off from the main part of the library
Program duration: 1 hour (I tried a 2 hour program last month but that seemed too long)
Goal: to ward off cabin fever, inspire budding engineers, promote collaboration, build community, have fun
Materials: (Amy Koester posts about how to start a program on the Star Net Libraries blog and provides a great list of supplies)

  • a giant tub of LEGO bricks in various sizes
  • 10 building plates in various sizes
  • small tub of mini figures
  • small tub of windows and doors
  • small tub of wheels of various sizes
  • paper cups for distributing LEGOs
  • smartphone or camera for taking pictures of creations
  • paper and pen for builders nameplates (for pictures)

Program Format
Introduction (approx. 3-5 minutes): I welcome kids, introduce myself, explain how the hour is going to work, and remind them where the bathroom is. I let kids know that what they build will stay at the library, but we’ll take pictures and post them online (creations and nameplates only) to help memorialize what they made. I also remind them to stay in the room until the hour is up. This isn’t an issue but let’s parents know they need to pick up their builder when the program is over.

Challenge #1 (approx. 10 minutes): Build on your own with two cups full of random LEGO bricks for 10 minutes.
I start each program with this challenge. This is designed to get the creative juices flowing and let’s everyone get on the same page as latecomers arrive. I walk around and pour two cups of LEGOs in front of each builder. I remind kids this isn’t a contest so they can start building as soon as they have LEGOs. Kids quickly got to work and relished the time to just build. I give everyone a 2 minute warning when we’re about done with the first challenge.

Share (approx. 5 minutes): Everyone gets a chance to show what they built and tell the group about their first creation. I ask each builder to introduce themselves as well. Since our town is pretty small, most kids know each other already.

Challenge #2 (approx. 10 minutes): Build something monochromatic (one color or tones of one color) on your own or with another builder.
Kids can get more LEGOs if they want to or use what they have. This challenge introduced new vocabulary and concepts for many of the kids who didn’t know what monochromatic meant. Again most kids barely hesitated before they were off imagining new creatures, vehicles and scenes. If kids don’t want to build the challenge, I’m fine with that.

Share (approx. 5 minutes): Everyone talks about their second design. I walk around take pictures of finished designs as kids are building. (See short video below which I shared on our Facebook page).

Challenge #3 (approx. 10-15 minutes): Build a creature (real or imagined) and think about its habitat.
We talked about habitat and what exactly is a “creature.” We decided it needed to be alive and how we know what is alive. For the younger kids this was more of brain bender because of the added science elements, but both hong and old made some interesting beings.

Share (approx. 3-5 minutes)

Free Build: Builders continued to add to anything they built during the previous challenges, teamed up with new partners, or began to clean up.

Clean up: I ask each builder to break apart their design(s) and put all the LEGOs they used away before they leave. Since I took photos of most of the designs, the builders were less sad about breaking them apart. So far, clean up has never been an issue and there even some parents who help the process go more quickly.


Take Your Child to the Library day!

take to the library day 2014Mark your Calendars! Saturday, February 1st is Take Your Child to the Library day! My library will be one of over 350 new libraries participating (at last count). It’s a great way to connect with other libraries around the country as well as invite families to the library. Your celebration can be as simple as advertising the day or as complex as planning a menu of programs.

We decided to participate at the last minute, but with the help of the event blog, I found some ideas that I could put together quickly and easily. Here’s what I’ll be doing to help families celebrate.

  • Library LEGO Club: themed and free building for two hours (ages 7-12, parents welcome)
  • Guessing Jar Contest (Guess how many items are in the large glass jar. The person who guesses correctly wins it all, including the toothbrush inside. (Idea found on the event blog.)
  • Stop by and say hello to your librarians
  • Enjoy a good book as a family
  • Explore one of our popular, AWEsome early literacy computers together

How are you planning to celebrate? Don’t forget about the prizes your library could win! Bookboard and the Connecticut Library Consortium are giving away prizes to participating libraries.

Preschool: Trains

Train books

Choo Choo!

There is just something about trains. Most of the kids in our town have not been on one because of our geographic location, but there are still so many train fans! I’m happy to foster their interest during storytime. I’m an enthusiast, too!

As usual, we started storytime with the Song Cube. Even with new families, there is always at least one child who knows how the Story Cube game works.  This week one of the children told us which song she likes best. As I explained to the other children how we play with the cube, she told me which image symbolized her favorite song (Ring Around the Rosie, represented by a bunch of roses). It was a great opportunity to talk to families about the connection between the song cube and early literacy.

Before our first book we sang a song I learned about on the Storytime Underground‘s Facebook page. Check out Storytime Underground for helpful tips and great conversation, both perfect for children’s librarians. I sing it before I read most of the books during storytime.

Song: If You’re Ready for a Story

If you’re ready for a story, clap your hands!
If you’re ready for a story, clap your hands!
If you’re ready for a story, if you’re ready for a story,
If you’re ready for a story, clap your hands!
(jump up high, turn around, sit down please…)

Our first book was a classic, Freight Train (Greenwillow Books, 1978) by Donald Crews. This is a nice book to start with because it has simplefreight train text, but offers opportunities for talking about topics and concepts like colors and the parts of a steam engine.  Kids loved the book and were fascinated when I asked “where did the train go?” on the page with the train passing through the tunnel.  Lots of conversation was had before we continued on.

Inspired by Storytime Katie, I made a felt train similar to the trains in Freight Train. I didn’t retell the story, but I used them with the song Melissa Depper at Mel’s Desk crafted. The kids recognized the train cars and helped me place the trains on the feltboard as we sang the song. Many of the kids were mesmerized as they watched the train grow and listened for the rhyming sounds throughout the song. Lots of phonological awareness happening here!

Felt board: Clickety Clack!

Felt train

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack,
Here comes the train on the railroad track!
Clickety-clunn, clickety-clunn,
Here comes ENGINE number one.
Clickety-clew, clickety-clew,
Here comes COAL CAR number two.
Clickety-clee, clickety-clee,
Here comes BOX CAR number three.
Clickety-clore, clickety-clore,
Here comes TANK CAR number four.
Clickety-clive, clickety-clive,
Here comes COACH CAR number five.
Clickety-clicks, clickety-clicks,
Here’s the CABOOSE, that’s number six.
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack,
There goes the train on the railroad track!
Choo-choooooooo! Goodbye!

(Credit: Mel’s Desk via Storytime Katie)

This theme is a great opportunity to share some non-fiction. The book Seymour Simon’s Book of Trains (Harper Collins Publishers, 2002) is not a book that can be read all the way through in storytime, but we discussed the images on the pages and the information about trains that might make it a good take home book. Kids were quick to point out the similarities between the trains in the book and the freight train in the first book.

Before the next book, we repeated If You’re Ready for a Story with a different action that settled kids and got their attention back on reading together.

The last book can be tricky for some kids to grasp in the storytime setting without explaining the premise. Shark vs. Train (Little Brown, 2010) by Chris Barton is the story of a shark and a train competing in challenges that are both ridiculous and practical based on the natural history of sharks and the mechanics of trains. It is also about two boys who are playing with the shark and train toys and are actually creating the story, which the reader learns until the end of the book. Kids need time to think about this aspect of the book, which I make sure to give them. Some kids even like to turn back through the book and check to see how it reads with this new knowledge.


This week we had two activities.

LEGO Trains

The first, most popular, station was actually right at their feet! Before story time I used masking tape to create a circular train track on the carpet. After the stories and songs, I brought out the collection of large LEGOs which we recently were gifted by the Alaska State Library. What a great present!

We used the LEGOs to construct trains and all sorts of vehicles to run on the track. We used books to make tunnels, learned how to pass other trains (track manners), and talked a lot! This station was easy and had a huge impact.

The second station included the materials to build a paper train. The craft was easy, so caregivers could work with kids without my constant attention. (I was busy playing with LEGOs!)


Paper Train

4-5 pieces of scrapbook paper with different designs (rectangles approximately 2″ x 4″)
skinny strips of black paper (approx. 1″ long) to connect cars
Engine cut out of card stock in various colors, pre-cut
2 black circles (approx. 2″) for engine wheels, pre-cut

Coloring Sheets

For kids too young for either station or just not interested, I left out a variety of train coloring pages printed from the internet. I use coloring pages with illustrations that are realistic, related to the theme, and commercial-free.