Friday, May 30, 2014

A Summer to Shine

Every summer is a good summer for libraries to educate and entertain, but this is really our year.

Science education in our schools has been abysmal for years, despite call after call to action.  Affordable and accessible STEM programming remains a vague hope in most systems and communities.*  So this is it, folks, a summer to demonstrate the library's role as a center for creative, meaningful, amazing educational experiences that changes lives.   This is our summer to give kids sensory, hands on experiences; to challenge them to ask hard questions and take risks; to problem-solve, research, and evaluate.  This is our summer to take the "worksheet blues" out of science education and give them something that blows their minds and makes them want more.  Fizz! Boom! Read! is our summer to shine.

This is the summer to bring as many speakers and presenters into your building as possible.  As librarians we excel at learning new things, but nothing is going to take the place of a professional who lives and breathes science every day.  Of course there are museum curators, forest rangers, engineers, and university professors, but there are also pharmacists, nurses, family doctors, master gardeners, bee keepers, vets, lab assistants, chefs, and mechanics.  Even an engineering undergrad home for the summer can probably infuse your normally self-directed lego-club with so much theory, practice, and obsession that kids will never forget it (and what engineer wouldn't want to go play legos for an hour, as if you even need to be nervous about asking).  Professionals can get well beyond the surface of those science fair 101 experiments and projects that we'll all be looking up.  A professional scientist will ask challenging questions, invite hard questions, tell stories, and they will exude an honest and contagious enthusiasm.  Whether they are parents and patrons, neighbors, or representatives from local organizations they will take your programming to another level and give your patrons some serious bang for their time and effort in coming to the library.

When looking for programs and programmers remember that science has many uses and many personalities.  Engage a diverse audience with programming about machines or robots, medicinal plants, animals, bridge-building, art preservation, or cooking just to name a few of the possibilities.  Every child should be able to leave your library knowing that science is a part of their interests, and feeling excited about it.

This is the summer to motivate repeat visits.  Some science experiments are instant reward and others are make-and-takes, but a lot of them take time and regular observation.  From watching crystals or seeds grow, to observing pill bug habits, this is a summer to keep young patrons and their families coming back again and again to "make observations."  Perhaps kids/families can record their observations on a public bulletin board chart.  Perhaps they can digitally share their observations on a facebook page or blog.  Some patrons might even be trusted with weekly jobs or tasks that are important to the project.  Part of improving science education is "encourag(ing) young people to create and build and invent, to be makers of things, not just consumers of things"*  This is also the perfect summer to encourage collaboration!

Problem -solving and collaboration are the name of the game for science.  Some of you will feel comfortable throwing competition into that, too.  Describe a crazy hard problem and have a prize for anyone who elaborates a viable solution.  Or create a competition.  Mobilize your book clubs, advisory councils, or a whole new group to work on the problem and create a solution.  Host a face-off (don't forget the refreshments) and get some of those speakers to articulate a judging strategy and name a winner.  

And as a parent, please, please, please have your recipe for galaxy slime or procedures for extracting DNA from a strawberry printed out or available on the web for me to look at again when I get home so that we can have fun again and again.

As a parent of a school age child, I am so excited about a summer during which she can potentially learn more science than she will all year in school.  I am excited about a summer during which we can learn together as a family, challenge ourselves, and have lots of fun doing it.  Happy Summer Reading 2014.

* Barack Obama at his 2009 address to the National Academy of Sciences as quoted at

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fizz! Boom! Read....Summer Reading 2014 Ideas for Young Naturalists

This year's Summer Reading theme promises to be pretty exciting, between fizz, slime, and things that fly!  I'm really excited about all of the reactions and experiments that we'll be trying out around the library and around the house, but in between the explosions, it will be nice to practice the very scientific art of observation, in particular, observing nature and the amazing things that happen outside in the summertime.

Of course, I'll be using When You Are Camping, because its characters spend a good part of the book watching animals and insects.  Hazel and Tilly are definitely young naturalists in the making.  I always like to pair When You Are Camping with one of Frank Serafini's Looking Around.... titles for younger audiences.  If you have an outside area to take advantage of, follow it up with a game of eye-spy, encouraging children to notice elements in the natural environment.  What in the Wild by David Schwartz is more challenging and has a higher ick-factor for older groups. 


Memory Game: If you're outside place a handful of man-made objects on the ground and cover them up with a cloth.  Remove the cloth, let children observe, then hide the objects again.  Ask your audience what they saw.  Most will recall the man-made objects but you might get someone who says "grass" or "a stick."  Yes!  It's easy to get distracted by toys, but those natural elements are really important to notice and observe, too!

Here are some readable and beautifully illustrated biographies about famous naturalists that are great to share with a wide range of ages (perfect for mixed-age Summer audiences):

Me....Jane by Patrick McDonnell

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with Chimps by Jeanette Winters

Squirrel and John Muir by Emily Arnold McCully

John Muir: America's Naturalist by Thomas Locker

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin By Kathryn Lasky

Find my coloring sheets, activities, and crafts that I love on my Pinterest "When You Are Camping" board.

So happy Summer Reading!  I hope you enjoy a few quiet moments of observation in between all of the Boom!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let's Take an Airplane

Kids love airplanes.  They ask me for books about airplanes at the library, my daughters rearrange the dining room furniture to play "airplane," they make them out of paper, they roar and sputter and fly around like big planes.  An airplane program is a great addition to a transportation theme or a sure-thing winner for your library, class room, or kids at home.

I love Brian Biggs', Everything Goes: In the Air for early Elementary age children.  The pictures are awesome and there's the right amount of text for their attention-span.  For younger kids, the book is skimmable or try Biggs' newer board book, Everything Goes: What Flies in the Air. 

I am really happy to share my new airplane book with young audiences, too.  I wanted more of a story about a trip through the airport and on an airplane rather than just a book about the machines and their vocabulary, thus, Let's Take an Airplane, A Hazel and Tilly Adventure.  Knowing that the details of airplane travel can change from day-to-day let alone month or year-to-year, my goal was to create a story that would capture the perennials of the airport (lines and candy) and airplane (clouds all around and sliding bathroom doors).  I think that the characters, Hazel and her sister Tilly, really capture all of the different feelings about airplane travel that a child or adult can experience, from anxious to thrilled.  Check out the glossary in the back for technical children who get excited about words like "wing walker."

The possibilities at a dramatic play station are endless!  With chairs, a few little suitcases and backpacks, boarding passes, magazines, a drink tray, and a globe or maps, young children can imagine themselves anywhere from the airport to airplane to runway to explorers charting their course.

If you're hosting older elementary age children: paper airplanes or the edgier straw and paper planes are an affordable craft, as are imagination-stretchers like "Design Your Dream Plane" or "Design A Fantasy Airport."  Tie it all into 2014's Summer Reading science theme with an experiment in flight (You can find lots of ideas on Pinterest)!