Little Makers

Just about a year ago, my library closed the building because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To commemorate the unprecedented time, here is the story of a program I codesigned with a colleague at a local early childhood organization to support families in our community from a distance. There have been a lot of tears, frustration, and even anger during the last year, but this program has been a triumph. It represents the many community partnerships I’ve been part of in the past year – with both organizations and individuals – and reflects the library’s place in a web of organizations and institutions that support families.

The virtual Little Makers program for 3-6 year olds premiered in the Fall of 2020 as an experiment and we will be hosting our third iteration of it, Little Makers Spring Edition, in the coming weeks. Families were and are eager for learning experiences hosted by our two organizations and we are happy to connect with families.

Our shared goals for the program:

  • support early learning
  • introduce key media literacy and computational thinking concepts and skills
  • foster family engagement
  • maintain and even grow families’ relationship with the library and the community partner


Zoom was the obvious choice for our needs, especially considering our weather here in Alaska between September and May. When we launched the idea of a virtual Little Makers on Zoom, enough time had passed during the hunker down period that many families were well-versed in using Zoom, or at least familiar with the idea of using videoconferencing for everyday meetups. Families joined with laptops, tablets and cell phones.

Little Makers Materials Kit


Before the series of meetups began, registered families picked up a kit of materials funded by our Friends group and other Foundation support. I applied what I had learned from my summer experiment with Activity to Go! kits and included almost everything a family would need for the program – supplies and supporting information – organized and labeled for each of the four weeks. We didn’t assume families had glue sticks, for example. This way families could pull out a bag just before each week and be ready to go. For example, one week in the Winter session, we read Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin. We then made a comfortable bed for Little Snow- one that wouldn’t burst – from materials including a paper plate, white and blue tissue paper, a coffee filter, pom poms, feathers, tape, and a tape measure. Some kids decided the bed was for a stuffy they had at home and found the tape measure especially useful for making sure the bed was the right size.

Information about how to make the virtual experience a successful learning experience was included in the supporting information, as well as details about the books we would share and prompts for making. (The image above shows what materials were included in each families’ kit for the Winter session). In the event that a family missed a week, or needed to leave early for whatever reason, families could make at home with the information and supplies provided.

Making a bed that won’t burst for Little Snow


The routine for each of the four meetups in each session looked very similar so kids and families knew what to expect. We met for 30 min each week which was just the right amount of time. Kids were engaged and excited for the next week.

Welcome (2-3 minutes): We provided tech reminders as families entered the meetup from the waiting room including “Change your screen name to your child(ren)’s name” so we can call kids by name and “Before Claudia begins reading, we’ll ask you to mute your audio so everyone can concentrate on the story.” (This reduced at least some of the distractions we all experience.)

We also made time for hellos, calling kids by name and introduced ourselves to make sure everyone knew our names.

Opening song (1 minute): “If You’re Ready for a Story” (This is the same song I sing on my weekly Radio Storytime program.)

Story (10-12 minutes): Each week I read one picture book and included one early learning, computational thinking or media literacy tip for grownups. As I read, I asked questions that kids could answer with a thumbs up, a nod or head shake, or a smile. These questions took into consideration the Zoom platform and the need to have audio muted for this portion of the program, but encourage engagement. I also asked questions with slightly longer pauses than you might expect, leaving space for caregivers to repeat the question at home and discuss with their little makers or siblings could talk about together. This was done in a way that didn’t disrupt the flow of the story.

Note on reading stories on Zoom: During the first meetup, I tried sharing a story using an iPad as a document camera connected separately to the meetup. For those on a mobile device, it was hard for them to see both my face and the book pages. With all of the different device types, different comfort levels with Zoom, and some people having updated versions of Zoom and some not, it worked more smoothly to share the book on my computer only with the pages close up to the camera while I read the text and then moving my face into the view when I was asking questions about the story, observing the illustrations, etc.

Making time (10-12 minutes): This part of the program was similar to the second half of preschool storytime in the library before the pandemic. The activity aims to help the little makers explore ideas in the book we shared, practice vocabulary that might be new to them as they play with the materials, and express their creativity. We invited grownups to turn on their video if it was off, change their Zoom view to gallery and turn on audio so we could all see and talk with each other for the remainder of the program. We then invited little makers to open their bag of materials as we announced the week’s creative prompt. The prompt presented a “problem” and families used the provided materials to make something that helped solve that problem. One week it was a bed for Little Snow. During a later week we used ingredients similar to those found in the book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal to make edible, no-bake playdough. Some of the materials from one week’s bag could be incorporated into another week’s making. This models repurposing and encourages creativity in problem solving.

Regardless of the activity, we encouraged families to incorporate materials they had at home into the project. To get their creative juices flowing from the start, we played games like a color scavenger hunt in the first meetup (find something yellow like the colors of both Claudia and Red’s sweaters) or bring a stuffy to storytime today (and then make a fort or den for them in the activity portion of the meetup).

We also made sure to notice when families were doing something a little different and asked what they were up to and helped make connections to our activity if applicable. For example, while some of us were making fort prototypes with craft supplies after reading The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier and Sonia Sanchez, one family made a fort out of couch cushions. The whole group talked about the fort as the family gave us a video tour and then we discussed where else we could build a fort – in the snow! We asked questions that encouraged the makers to tell us the fort’s story.

We anticipated that families would continue making beyond the time together on Zoom. We invited families to post pictures of their projects on a Padlet. Families could connect with each other and with us through the posts on the program specific Padlet. We talked about the images during the following meetup. These photos were not shared on social media and the program was not recorded.

Closing (2-3 minutes): At the end of the meetup, we invited little makers to share and talk about what they were creating and what they might do next.

General Thoughts

We slowed down the pace of reading, asking questions and talking with families. What might be a normal pace for adults talking with others on Zoom or how we might talk in person, isn’t the same in this type of program. We keep in mind that families had different internet connection speeds which cause delays in what they see and hear, kids need a little time to get used to what they were seeing on the screen and young children often process and respond to information more slowly than adults.

We talk about the technology, the parts of the book, and the maker materials so that kids learn the names of things and what they can do. This is an important part of media literacy.

Fifteen families have registered for each session we’ve offered, the maximum we set. Within each session there has been lots of variation in terms of who registered and almost all registered families have participated in every week. The number of families is determined by the funds we have for materials and a good size for the Zoom meetup. This group size allows us to have conversations with individual families within the allotted time.

We encouraged caregivers to play alongside their children and most households had a child or children attend alongside a grownup. But not in every case. And in some households, the caregiver never appeared in the screen. The prompts we designed took into consideration that an adult might not be right there.

It was very helpful to have two people on hand to share the facilitation roles and the tech troubleshooting, even if we were partners codesigning a program. While I am sharing the book, my partner was answering questions, welcoming families form the Zoom waiting room if they were late and noticing if something was amiss. While she was introducing the maker activity, I was doing the same.

When we read Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park in the first session, the families “programmed” the Claudia robot to make Bee Bim Bop with the felt pieces in the kit as my partner retold the story.

Two Lessons We Live by in This Program

  • If something isn’t working as well as we’d hoped, we change it.
  • We keep it as simple as we can while being creative.

Makers2Mentors: 1

Happy New Year!

2017 was a crazy year all around, but it was exceptionally busy for me. The latter part of the year was consumed with my work on the Caldecott Award Committee and the Makers2Mentors <M2M> initiative I started, thanks to a Libraries Ready to Code grant funded by ALA and Google. Mum’s the word, for now, regarding my year of evaluating picture books, but I am ready to share about the <M2M> project.

Makers2Mentors logo in black and whiteWhat:
Makers2Mentors is a series of programs and opportunities for local youth and families to explore Computational Thinking and Computer Science in age-friendly ways. As part of the Ready to Code project, I am a member of a cohort (28 libraries in 21 states plus the District of Columbia) contributing to the design of a toolkit for all libraries to help kids, teens and families explore Computational Thinking and Computer Science at the library.

November, 2017- August, 2018

I launched the initiative, in part, to address the huge gap in access to Computer Science education in my community by providing a variety of free programs for diverse audiences. And beyond the library, we wanted to stimulate a community conversation about why Computational Thinking and Computer Science are vital skills for Homer’s kids regardless of whether or not they work as a programmer, journalist, mariner, artist, etc.

This project is also an extension of my work with families around the idea of media mentorship and literacy in the Digital Age. Understanding CS and being able to communicate with digital tools reflect the evolution of literacy, much like the printing press did in 1234 (Asia) and then in 1440 (Europe). Finding information and creating content still happen on paper, but much of our  information exchange is happening online. How do we help kids, even young children,  navigate both traditional media and new media not solely as consumers, but as active participants and creative designers, producers and writers? How do we help families and educators support literacy and learning with tools that include high quality apps, digital tools and even robots in and out of the library?

This initiative targets preschoolers, older kids, teenagers and their families. It is designed to capture the interests of many- maybe not all at the same program- by showing the many faces of CT and CS. Each program or component of the initiative will include both digital and ‘unplugged’ aspects and will have its own unique goal or intended outcome. Along with formal programs, we’ll also start circulating robot kits, add new CS related books to the collection and share information with parents about CT and CS. As part of <M2M>, kids and teens can be makers and they can also be mentors. Our community lacks a large CS community, so training teens as mentors empowers them and fills a need; additional instructors to help guide and teach.

I’ll be highlighting some of the programs and resources I use, including challenges and successes, over the coming months.

Tinker Tuesdays 2015: A Recap

Illuminated Mask image

Tinker Tuesday: Illuminated Masks & Minecraft Bookmarks

As I clean up the mess left behind in the wake of our summer learning program, I’m of course remembering the highlights. This was the third year I offered a summer maker/tinker series for kids and teens ages 8-18 and it continues to be popular and successful. Many of the young makers come to every program which this year ranged from an Illuminated Masks & Bookmarks program to DIY: Bike Maintenance and Soldering 101. I specifically look for both what interests our community and what gaps exist in the offerings for kids and teens around town.

The series is designed to offer kids access to the materials and know-how to explore high and low tech projects, inspire their creativity, strengthen their critical thinking skills and of course expose them to new ideas. We don’t have the physical space for a permanent makerspace, so we set up shop each week and give kids and teens time to play and explore. We do this with the help of several community mentors who share their expertise and enthusiasm to complement what I bring to the program. Some programs are led by me and some by other mentors.

In year’s past, we’ve had anywhere from 10-45 participants in our small space where we host our maker programs (community meeting room). This year I planned some programs that require more expensive materials, but with the same small budget, so I needed to know that I would have enough supplies for everyone who attended. I decided to require registration this year so I could foresee the number of makers I would need to plan for. To keep the process consistent, I had participants register for all programs, even those that were cheaper supply-wise. It worked well, although not perfectly as many librarians can imagine. I did reminder calls the day before to help manage any wait lists and allowed kids who showed up to join if there was space.

Programs either had space for 12 or 20 depending on the activity and the layout of the room needed for each program. For example, coding had a maximum of 12 because we had teams of two working on 6 laptops or 10 iPads spread out on meeting room tables. Bike Maintenance could accommodate more participants because we removed the furniture for part of the program and went outside for the rest.

Here are the cost breakdowns if you’re interested. In addition to materials and any professional fees required for each program, I’ve included the costs of snacks that we offer at all of these longer programs to keep those creative minds strong (and feed any kids who regularly go hungry during the summer).

Note on funding: Our Friends group continues to fund this series plus our entire summer learning program with the help of strong community support. With additional resources we would eagerly run more maker programs after school or during school closures throughout the year.

Program Kids/Teens Attendance Cost Notes
Illuminated Masks/Bookmarks 12 $274 (enough materials for an additional small program during the Winter)
Superhero Collage 10 $209  (guest mentor)
Soldering 10 $205 (guest mentor, enough materials for an additional small program during the Winter)
LEGO Club (met 2 times) $36 $0 (we already have the LEGOs thatnks to the ALSC/LEGO grant and snacks were pulled from the large stash I have on hand)
Coding 8 $9 (PB & J supplies for programming demo)
Coding for Girls 6 $0
DIY Bike Maintenance 12 $150  (guest mentor)
Marine Mammal Rescue & Rehab 20 $303 (guest mentor, funded by an inter-library cooperation grant from our state library)
ROVs 18 $0 (guest mentors, program equipment and staff provided by a local partner organization)
Drawing Comics 28 $805  (guest mentor)
General Snacks $50 (paid for snacks for all programs)
Total Costs: $2,005

If you have questions about the individual programs, please let me know.

Maker Books for Kids: Part 1 (Picture Books)

On Twitter recently, Brian Puerling (@bpuerling) was trying to find a list of Maker books for kids. Several of us couldn’t think of one!  I have used or recommended several books that inspire, teach or reflect young crafters, builders, designers, and creators so I decided to make, or at least start, a list. I’m going to post the list in parts. Here are maker-oriented picture books I know and like. Find these at a library near you!

What would you add?Treasure Art Box

Anything is Possible by Giulia Belloni (Owlkids, 2013)

Awesome Dawson by Chris Gall (Little, Brown and Company, 2013)

Betsy Ross by Becky White (Holiday House, 2011)

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013)

Coppernickel, The Invention by Wouter van Reek (Enchanted Lion Books, 2008) found on: What We Do All Day

Crafty Chloe by Kelly DiPucchio (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012)

Dress-up Mess-up by Kelly DiPucchio (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013)

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett (Balzer & Bray, 2012)

Funny Machines for George the Sheep: A Children’s Book Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci by Geraldine Elschner (Prestel, 2014)

Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013)

Going Places by Paul A. Reynolds (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014)

How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers : a Simple but Brilliant Plan in 24 Easy Steps by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook Press, 2013)

Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2007)

Ish by Peter Reynolds (Candlewick Press, 2004)

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback (Viking, 1999)

Kite Day: A Bear and Mole Story by Will Hillenbrand (Holiday House, 2012)

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light (Balzer + Bray, 2014)

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press, 2014)

The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi (Candlewick, 2013)

Oh no!, or, How my Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett (Disney-Hyperion, 2010)

Oops! by Barney Saltzberg (Workman Publishing, 2010)

Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013)

Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root (Candlewick Press, 2001)

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013)

The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012)

The Red Hen by Rebecca Emberley (Roaring Brook Press, 2010)

The Scraps Book: Notes From a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert (Beach Lane Books, 2014)

The 39 Apartments of Ludwig Van Beethoven by Jonah Winter (Schwartz & Wade, 2006)

Three Little Pigs by various

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton (Random House, 2016)

Preschool: Making Something Out of Nothing

I just returned from a vacation and haven’t held a story time in three weeks, so I was happy to see so many familiar smiles this morning! Over fifty people came to shake off the winter doldrums brought on by the unseasonably warm and rainy weather (not much cold and snow here in Alaska!). I was ready for them! As one mom said who joined story time at the tail-end, “it looks like there’s a party in here!” And boy was there! I had the massive clean up to prove it.

With the holidays behind us, many families are like mine and Treasure Art Box have piles of cardboard boxes and paper at home waiting to be taken for recycling.  Unsurprisingly, that “trash” is often fodder for hours of child play, especially during the winter when kids have so much energy but the daylight and weather keep us inside. In fact, my art box, filled with bits and pieces, was created when my kids were wee-ones and I realized what we could do with little treasures and odds and ends. I’m sure your home or library has something similar!

It was time to share the treasure art box fun with library families. Thus, the “Making Something Out of Nothing” storytime was born. (This is a picture of my library art box. See the post-storytime version at the end of this post!)

To begin story time, we got warmed up by sharing lots of personal stories about the holidays and then we rolled the rhyme cube. We had time for two kids to roll the cube today and we sang “Open Shut Them” and “The Hokey Pokey” (using both arms and both elbows).

We then sang a very active song by Nancy Stewart which I recently heard about in a conversation about music in storytime on the Storytime Underground Facebook page. To set the stage you have to imagine several kids standing remarkably still, eyes focused on the shiny, never before seen penny whistle in my hand (a must). I began singing and acting out the lyrics while the kids followed along. Then we got to the part about falling down. I played the penny whistle down the scale as I pulled the whistle’s handle down and fell to the floor. The kids quickly got the gist of the song and were laid out all over the floor, giggling. They were all ready to jump back up when I played the whistle back up the scale and then we acted out the next animal in the lyrics. Kids coming in late were amazed and rushed over to see what all of the fun was about.

The song can be played online via a mobile device like a phone and speakers or sung a capella. Nancy’s voice is lovely, but I opted to sing it on my own which allowed for us to pause between verses as needed and to smoothly add other animals and actions at the end of the song.

Action Song: I’m Hopping Like a Bunny
I’m hopping like a bunny, I’m hopping all around
Hopping like a bunny and now I’m falling down

I’m stomping like a dinosaur, I’m stomping all around
Stomping like a dinosaur and now I’m falling down

I’m swimming like a fishy, I’m swimming all around
Swimming like a fishy and now I’m falling down

I’m walking like an elephant, I’m walking all around
Walking like an elephant and now I’m falling down

I’m flitting like a butterfly, I’m flitting all around
Flitting like a butterfly and now I’m falling down
Credit: Nancy Stewart
We added: a bee (buzzing), a giraffe (walking), a monkey (climbing), and a bird (flapping)

Song: 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.
… sit down please (accompanied by penny whistle)

i_stinkBook: I Stink! by Kate & Jim McMullan (Joann Cotler Books, 2002)

I read this book first for a few reasons. It’s longer than the others, the authors have many fans at our library, it’s bright artwork is eye-catching, and its garbage truck star draws in the transportation-lovers in the group.  After reading about what happens to trash during the night on the streets of a city like New York, we talked about today’s storytime theme and what else you can do with trash.

Joseph-Had-a-Little-Overcoat-imageBook: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback (Viking, 1999)

This book provided a great example of how something that is old and worn can be repurposed into something wonderful. Again, it has bright images so it’s an attention-grabber.  The repetitive elements of the text help kids anticipate the story, but what Joseph creates out of the worn clothing keeps them guessing. Each page contains a small cut out that allows the next item of clothing to lay over the previous as you turn the page.

Time for… dancing!

First, we stretched our limbs and did some forward bends to get our bodies ready for dancing. (This is a subtle way to get kids ready for the weekly yoga I plan to incorporate into storytime beginning in February.)

Recorded Song: Silly Dance Contest by Jim Gill

I played this song via Sound Cloud where you’ll find digital versions of Gill’s songs that you can play on your phone or mobile device and some portable speakers via the Sound Cloud app (iOS and Google Play). It was my first time using Sound Cloud, but I plan to check it out more and see what storytime treasures I can find!

(At this point I can see my coworkers at the circulation desk laughing through the glass windows that separate the storytime fun from the quietness of the rest of the library.)

The kids loved the dance break and were ready for the final story.

Nowhere_Cover_SmallBook: The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi (Candlewick, 2013)

This book was a nice lead into the craft portion of our morning. Many kids can relate to the troublesome, but lovable younger siblings George must contend with. More than a few probably went home to find an appliance box to temporarily escape to where they could image a “nowhere” to explore on their own.  After all, whether old or young, everyone needs some alone time so they can go back to enjoying games with their beloved siblings.

Activity: Egg Carton Owl

Before craft time began, I described the project they could work on and then told them about my art box. I showed them what was inside and told them they could use whatever they wanted out of the box to make something in addition to or instead of the owl. In a mad scramble, the kids immediately dug into the box and pulled out treasures! I know kids have great imaginations, but that was fun to see!Post Storytime Art Box

Here are some kids digging into what’s left for odds and ends to finish off their projects which included a dog frisbee (decorated old CD), a hat (square-shaped bubble packaging) and jewelry (old ribbon rings, bits of paper, and old electronic pieces).  As it refills, I’ll definitely bring out my art box again for open-ended play.

I found this adorable craft online, but the link to the instructions on Small Magazine was broken. The image gave me enough to recreate the owl though, so I’ll describe what I did here.

Egg Carton Owl

Materials (for each owl):

top of dozen size, paper egg carton cut in half (use cartons with tops that are flat, without holes, like this one)egg carton

Egg compartment portion cut so that there are two compartments connected with high point (for nose) attached (like this one)

Owl eyesA variety of feathers

Googly eyes

glue (tacky is best)

markers (for decorating the nose or body of the owl)

After cutting the top of the egg carton in half, for each owl body I cut two feet out of the rounded edge, then cut out sections next to the feet to create the wing effect, and then rounded the top of the owl which originally was the middle of the carton lid. I decided cutting out the bodies and eyes was too much for kids and parents to manage during storytime, so I prepped the projects this far. The gluing and decorating was obviously left to the families which they enjoyed.

Photo Credits:
I Stink!
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
The Nowhere Box