Jan 14, 2020

Scary, Not Scary

Do the kids that you read to love scary stories?  Hate them?  I meant to create this blog post around Halloween last year, but I didn't get around to it until now and so I'm posting it now before I forget.  Scary stories don't just have to be for Halloween!
What not-so-scary books can you think of that would be good candidates for spookification? (Runaway Bunny, I'm looking at you...)

Dec 14, 2019

Recommended Podcasts: just in time for winter break travel

UPDATE:  Pinna has shared a promo code with us!  If you'd like to try out the Pinna subscription podcast app, use the code HOLIDAY to receive $5 off your first payment.  (Not sure when this expires, so if you try it and it doesn't work, please leave a comment here and I'll take this little update off the post.)

It's time for another podcast round-up!  My kids are ages 5 & 9 this year and enjoy listening to funny things and don't mind intense storytelling.  If you've got kids with similar tastes, here are a few of my family's favorite listens from this year (in order from best for oldest listeners to youngest):

Six Minutes:
Each episode is only 6 minutes long and strung all together they tell an epic tale full of intrigue, adventure and suspense.  Heads up: these do get a little intense at times (at least one character dies), and there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but in 6-minute doses it's not too bad.  You'll definitely want to start at the beginning of the series with this one and there's over a year's worth of episodes to catch up on at this point, so it should last you awhile on your next road trip.

Grimm, Grimmer, Grimmest:
This podcast is based on the books of the same title by Adam Gidwitz.  The podcasts may be even better than the books because he includes interjections from 3rd grade classes that he visits and they break up the weirdest, most intense parts of the tales.  He also tells listeners at the beginning whether each tale is rated "Grimm" "Grimmer" or "Grimmest" and encourages them to choose for themselves what they're ready to listen to.  Also, they're funny.

Pants on Fire:
A gameshow where one authentic expert and one person posing as an expert on the same subject try to convince a kid judge that they're both telling the truth and are the expert on the topic.  An excellent introduction to learning how to decide whether someone is telling the truth or not (an important skill in this digital age especially!).

Don't Break the Rules:
Another game show (exclusively available through the subscription app, Pinna) where four voice actors are assigned characters that they must develop a voice for (e.g. a lazy lollipop!) and then maintain throughout the rest of the show while competing in improvisational exercises.  Truly hilarious fun, even for adults to listen to.

Molly of Denali:
Based on the same world as the PBS show of the same name, this podcast follows the adventures of Molly, an Alaska Native.  It includes snippets of the Gwich’in language and elements of her culture in light-hearted stories about her day-to-day life.

Remy's Place:
Another Pinna original only available through their app, this one follows Remy, whose parents own a cafe called Remy's Place.  It's a hopping establishment, but his gentle parents (and the staff of the cafe) always find time for a kind word or interaction with Remy.  Fun side-note: his "aunt Norah" is Norah Jones.

Bonus: This Podcast Has  Fleas
I realized that I've never reviewed this podcast on the blog and wanted to remedy that situation.  My daughter was OBSESSED with this podcast for a long time and unfortunately, this podcast has only 6 episodes (wah!!).  It is quick-paced wit featuring a dog and a cat who each host their own podcast-within-a-podcast, perfect for listeners of all ages. I can vouch that the humor stands up through at least the first 5 or 6 repeat listens (by the 10th I had whole episodes memorized, I think). It features some fantastic voice actors including Emily Lynne, Jay Pharoah, Eugene Mirman and Alec Baldwin.

Be sure to check out my past podcast reviews here, here and here.

You can see my review on the NBC15 newscast here.

Aug 22, 2019

Videos from 1st Annual True Play Conference now available online!

If you wished you could attend the 1st Annual True Play Conference in Anji County this past May but just couldn't make it.... good news!  The presentations are all now online and available for free!

Follow this link to see the whole list.

My personal favorite presenters were:

Ms Cheng  the founder of Anji Play

Cas Holman, play materials designer

Principal Sheng Yi from Jiguan Kindergarten in Anji

Dr. Mariana Brussoni who studies risk in play

Dr. Andreas Roepstorff from Aarhus University discussing the paradox of studying/analyzing true play

I also really liked some of the points that Peter Mangione made in his presentation.

And of course, here's a link to my presentation in case you'd like to watch that.

We're hard at work creating the schedule for the 2020 True Play Conference!  details soon!

Jul 21, 2019

Top Ten Wild Rumpus innovations and experiments: 2019 edition

Every year we try new things at the Wild Rumpus (it's constantly changing just like the schools in Anji!).  Here are a few of the new things we're trying out this year:

1. Pre-series orientation for all staff and volunteers:
This one was a no-brainer.  I can't believe it took us four years to actually organize an orientation, but I guess in year's past there weren't quiiiiiite this many people on the crew and mostly we were still scrambling just to keep up.  This year, we invited all volunteers to attend one of two orientations were we gave a brief introduction to the Anji Play approach, talked about how the Wild Rumpus structure is different than the Anji Schools' structure, then talked through roles/responsibilities and what they should expect to see and do at a Wild Rumpus.  We didn't do an official survey afterwards, but verbal feedback was 100% positive and this will be part of our routine every year from now on.
Verdict: This one's a keeper!

2. Post-Rumpus Huddle + Just Press Record app:
Last year, this happened spontaneously once or twice and it worked so nicely we decided to make a quick post-Rumpus staff/volunteer reflection time part of the schedule for every program.  Holly discovered an app called "Just Press Record" that not only records (by just pressing one button) but also transcribes (albeit not always accurately) everything that's said on the recording.  And then all recordings created while signed in to the same account will also show up on a website making it SUPER SIMPLE to grab quotes for our weekly Rumpus Report (a winning innovation from 2018).  Bonus: there's also an Apple Watch version of the app! Fancy apps aside, the conversations that happen at the end of the night are my absolute favorite part.  It's a chance for everyone to share and reflect on what they've just observed while it's still fresh in their mind.  I hear SO many great stories that were simply lost in the past because I'd never asked (good grief)! This clearly fits in with the Anji Play model which incorporates reflection not just for the students but also for the teachers and the principals and the administrators and up and up and up...
Verdict: definitely a keeper.

3. Sprocket Printer:
I've been trying for years to figure out how we can display photos of kids playing at the Wild Rumpus itself.  I have no classroom walls to showcase them on -- one of our parks doesn't even HAVE any walls! One of the biggest hurdles has been remembering to print the photos when I get back into the library and then remembering to take those printed photos to the park the next time and figuring out how to display them.  This year, we are trying the Sprocket Printer by HP.  It's a wireless photo printer that makes little 2x3" sticky-backed photos and it's only about the size of two cell phones stacked on top of each other. We are also using the photos as an incentive to get people to try the GooseChase app described below as we've promised to print a photo that they submit in the app for them to keep as a souvenir.  We've already had two (admittedly RAINY) weeks of the Wild Rumpus and so far, I've printed only one photo for a Wild Rumpus participant on it.  Maybe next week, I'll ask a volunteer to go in and choose a few demonstration photos to print and post on our new sandwich board sign...
Verdict: Jury's still out on this one.

4. GooseChase App:
One of my goals is to try to get more parents taking pictures and videos of their kids during Anji Play events. Our newest librarian lead, Jane Kelly, discovered this fantastic app called GooseChase. It's a photo scavenger hunt app and is free to download.  We were able to create a different scavenger hunt for each Wild Rumpus event this summer and include prompts like, "Take a picture of your child doing something that surprises you." or "What was your favorite kind of play as a child?  Write and tell us about it." I love the usability and the functions of this app (enough that we actually paid for the EDU upgrade to test it out) and I can see using it in lots of other library settings as well.  Unfortunately, so far we haven't been getting a lot of participation yet.
Verdict: Jury's still out.

5. Portable battery packs:
Another innovation by Holly Storck-Post! With an iPad that stays on the trailer for book circulation,  an iPod touch that stays on the trailer for volunteers to use to take photos during the program, the Sprocket Printer, a mobile hotspot and a bluetooth speaker, there's a lot of things that need to be charged at the parks.  And not all of the parks have power outlets.  Enter the portable battery pack.  Each of the lead librarians gets a battery pack that they can charge up between programs (I keep mine plugged in in my van) and then they can use that to recharge any and all devices at the park on their night.  The one we got is small and light enough to fit easily in my apron pocket while I walk around at the park, has two USB ports so I can charge multiple things at once and it holds enough power to charge up all of those devices if need be.  Plus, Ms. Cheng uses a battery pack whenever she's recording kids, so it must be the right thing to do.  :)

6. "Ladder" bookshelf:
We like to incorporate circulating books at our Wild Rumpus events (of course) and last year we were lucky enough to land MPL's Book Bike at two out of three weekly events (one park was too far to bike), but this year it didn't work out and so we were looking for something interesting to display books on (we've learned from experience that just putting them out on a table or a book cart does NOT garner much attention), but also something that wouldn't take up much room on the trailer and wouldn't be difficult to set up or take down.  Enter this ladder-y looking bookshelf from Displays2Go.  I love that it has a ladder tie-in and it meets all of our requirements.  Even ducks like it.
Verdict: usability is great (though it is a bit fragile), it remains to be seen whether we'll see much interest in book circulation.

7. Plank wagon:
The incredible maintenance crew of MPL worked together to design a new, sturdy plank storage and mobility vehicle for us.  Last year's design (my own design and construction) was tall, skinny and had to be strapped to a tree or a pole for fear of it tipping over and smooshing someone.  This year, they retrofitted an affordable and sturdy garden wagon with these modifications (see above).
Verdict: SO much easier to roll and way more stable!  We had one bolt fall off and this many planks on one wagon is VERY heavy and the kids are rather interested in riding around on it, so we'll see how it fares over the course of the summer.

8. DeWalt chests:
I bought two of these heavy duty black plastic storage "chests" to store and transport blocks.  I asked the maintenance crew to add two dividers to each one and drill small airholes on the sides below the lip of the lid so that no kids could get stuck in there for way too long.  I love that they have an extending handle like a suitcase and only one set of wheels so that they are less tempting for kids to dump all the blocks out and play bumper cars with them.  They can totally handle the weight of all these blocks too!  Sadly, we found out recently that our trailer is overweight (pro-tip: get a double-axle trailer!) and we had to remove some of the heavier things that aren't getting as much play and the blocks topped that list.  We did add in some mover's dollies to one chest and our Rig-a-ma-Jig Jr. sets for rainy day use to the other chest.
Verdict: Way nicer to use in every way than the wooden book trucks we hauled blocks on for the last few years, but might be overkill for what they're currently hauling around.

9. Staff lanyards:
Another Holly suggestion!  We got lanyards (with clear pockets that ziploc shut!) for all staff and volunteers to wear during the program that include their name and pronoun preference.
Verdict: I always forget to grab my official library nametag, but this one is easy to keep in my purse and bring every week.  Plus, they're cheap to buy in bulk in case someone forgets to bring theirs back they can make another one.
Verdict: Why didn't we do this earlier?

10: Whistles:
What do you do if there's a lost kid in the park?  Or some other emergency situation?  How can you get the attention of the lead librarian quickly or get the whole crew's attention for an announcement? Why a whistle of course!  Suggested by this year's awesome practicum student: Nicole Isaacs!
Verdict: haven't had to use them yet, but it's reassuring to have them there.

Last year's winning innovations that carried through to this year:
--Weekly Rumpus Reflections meetings with all staff and any volunteers who'd like to attend

--Weekly Rumpus Reports (one pagers with photos/stats/quotes/anecdotes and the adult tip of the week) that go to library management and program partners

 --Neon clothespins for kids without photo permissions (though I LOVE that Nicole Hershberger of Cicero Library is using tyvek wristbands instead of clothespins--so much easier to see!)

--matching staff aprons with pockets!  Makes us easier to identify as staff and gives us pockets to hold all of the different handouts and clothespins, etc.
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