on young children and the holiday season

The past few years, I’ve thought a lot about how very young children might feel around the holiday season. Grownups are rushing around. There are lots of “secrets” and surprises. Routines are upended to accommodate social gatherings. There are different foods and lots of strange faces and places.

If you have small children or if you’ll be encountering them throughout this season, I encourage you to try and see the world from their perspective. A fussy baby may have missed a nap because of traveling. A toddler meltdown might be happening because someone had one too many sugary desserts from a well-intentioned adult wanting to “treat” them. A family member or friend’s young child may not remember you and therefore considers you a stranger.

Young children thrive in routine and this time of year doesn’t lend itself to routine. Please remember to approach young children with patience. Please ask caregivers if there is anything you can do to help them if you see them struggling with an upset child or simply give them a smile and a few words of encouragement. Please do not force your child to hug people, even family members-it’s never too soon to learn consent!-and if you’re a family member looking for a hug, please respect a young child’s right to make that choice for themselves.

And caregivers? Give yourself a break! Say no to one more social obligation. Do your best to stick to the routines you know are best for your child. Do not feel as though you have to make this holiday “perfect” for your young child.  Your child wants one thing: love and attention from you.

It’s about birthdays, but the oh-so-wise Mister Rogers had this to say: “But you know, birthday presents and birthday parties and things like that are really little expressions of love and it’s feeling loved that makes someone feel good. That’s the real present!”

on outreach

I had a grand plan. Or so I thought.

Outreach is a big part of our strategic plan:


  • We will seek outreach opportunities.
    • We will reach 5,000 people by June 30, 2016 and then increase by 10% each year after that through June 30, 1018.
    • We will visit every school in our district by June 30, 2018.

FYI: we did not reach our goal of 5,000 people for this fiscal year, but came awfully close with 4,646.

As I looked ahead to planning for fall, I thought I had a genius idea for our early literacy outreach to be a big part of that 10% increase we were looking for. I wanted to go to every Head Start classroom and provide an early literacy activity once each semester. I figured I could repeat the same activity in each classroom which would significantly cut down on planning time and I’d capture a huge number for that 10% increase we were hoping to reach.

I knew there would be challenges. We had one full time staff member who would be out on extended medical leave. I was picking up her weekly storytime which would mean an additional prep and Tuesdays and Thursdays I would have to adjust my schedule in order to reach Tues/Thurs AM classrooms. I also am responsible for desk time so that would put a strain on the rest of our team as I tried to schedule all of those classroom visits.

But I was undeterred. I was so focused on reaching those kids who aren’t able to attend our weekly storytime for their age group. My supervisor told me she would support it however she could.

And then I had a shower moment. One of those “AHA!”moments that only seem to happen when you just wake up and you haven’t had coffee yet and hot water is pounding on your head. “Wait.a.minute. What is the ultimate goal of the early literacy programming we provide at the library? It’s caregiver engagement. It’s providing developmentally appropriate programming designed to encourage caregivers to be their child’s facilitator of learning. It’s giving research based tools and information to caregivers. I don’t need to go to every classroom. I need to get invited to caregiver nights where I can present the information to those caregivers who can’t attend our programming. I need to present the information to daycare providers and preschool teachers.”

I knew this would mean I wouldn’t be capturing the huge numbers those monthly classroom visits would provide towards that 10% increase goal we had given ourselves for this fiscal year. But I knew this idea was more aligned with who we are as an organization and what we do.

I went back to my supervisor armed with all of the reasons I thought this plan was much more appropriate given our mission and the staffing challenges we were facing. She 100% supported me.

Limited resources are a reality. Budgets and staffing are a reality. The mission statement of your organization is a reality. And while numbers are important, sometimes impact is more important. For our organization, the type of outreach I’m providing for the early literacy portion of our department-presenting at early childhood conferences in the area, being certified to teach classes towards certification hours for providers, and seeking out the opportunities to connect information with caregivers who aren’t able to attend our early literacy programming happening within the library walls-I believe that impact more than makes up for the numbers. I think of all of the babies who now have daycare providers singing “Baby Put Your Pants On” when doing diaper changes, and the toddlers who are reading and re-reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear multiple ways, and the preschoolers who are crossing their midlines.

I will absolutely still visit preschool classrooms upon request. I believe having a positive experience with a library staff member outside the library is a good thing. It really was an AHA! moment that came about at the right time so it’s not like I spent time re-evaluating my plan. But getting to the heart of why I do what I do has made an enormous difference in how I approach my job. The early literacy programs I provide within the library are better. I now feel so much more equipped to evaluate new programs and potential new partnerships. And I now do think much more critically about new initiatives or ideas. What are my outcomes? Will the impact reach further than the people in the room?



resolving to rock



I’m not too late! It’s still January! So, I’m going to Resolve to Rock along with a whole bunch of other awesome peeps thanks to Storytime Underground!

  1. Keep it positive. I can get bogged down in problems and obstacles and talking about problems and obstacles under the guise of solving problems and obstacles when in reality, it’s just a lot of complaining talk. All this does is detract from actually SOLVING problems and obstacles. I’m going to take a minute before I respond, think about how I can help, and keep my language and attitude positive.
  2. Be Erin. I’ve spent the last few months trying to not-be-a-leader because I was confusing management with leadership. I’m not a manager, therefore I should not be a leader. WRONG. Leaders hold all sorts of positions. Leaders listen, leaders keep it positive (see #1!), leaders encourage and support other team members. I’ve been told I’m a natural leader and it’s time develop and share that part of me instead of trying to squash it.
  3. Smash my useless imposter syndrome once and for all. “I have nothing new to add to the conversation.” SMASH! “I’m not qualified to have an opinion about that.” SMASH! “There’s no point in applying to present at a conference because I have nothing new to share.” SMASH! SMASH! SMASH! SMASH!
  4. Reclaim my life outside of work. Since I’ve started working in youth services, I’ve become MISS ERIN just about everywhere. Erin loves to cook. Erin loves to run and be active. Erin loves to read grownup books. Erin loves to make handmade things. Miss Erin loves her job, but Miss Erin will only be better at her job if she takes care of herself first.

Rock on, friends!


and star wars and more star wars and did you hear about star wars and star wars and star wars!

Rumor has it there’s all sorts of holiday celebrations happening these days, but around these parts it’s all STAR WARS ALL OF THE TIME.


We’ve got a little writing prompt up that instructs kids to finish this sentence on a sticky note. We’ve had over 100 people participate (I say “people” because we did have who we believe to be a caregiver write this: “…a mommy ate a donut in peace and quiet while her kiddo read a book after doing all of his chores. Bliss.”) and this is another one of my favorites:



One of my coworkers also put together this great Hoth-inspired I Spy display with lots of help from coworkers who have extensive Star Wars collections:


And finally, we have signage and buttons for Friday and beyond in an attempt to keep spoilers to a minimum. Staff who have seen the movie will wear the “I Saw Star Wars” buttons and staff who have not will wear the “No Spoilers Please!” buttons. Those of us who have seen it will be available for gushing or commiserating away from those who have not.


I will be wearing an “I Saw Star Wars” button on Friday.

Merry Star Wars to all and Happy Star Wars and May your Star Wars be merry and bright!



6 weeks into the session and 5 lessons learned

Lesson #1: Do not, I repeat, do not develop three new unique programs in one session without taking something else off your plate. I foolishly thought my overwhelming enthusiasm for early literacy would power me through developing and executing Infant Literacy, Pajama Storytime, and Play At Your Library. The good news: I’ve survived. The even better news: I’ve learned a ton about how to make these programs more efficient. The bad news: I’ve had the head-is-barely-above-water feeling for the past 6 weeks.

Lesson #2: Partnerships are critically important. Constant and effective communication is key. This takes time (see: Lesson #1). That being said, it’s so worth it. Not only am I finding how to not duplicate services, area organizations are opening up completely new and important demographics I’ve been trying to reach since I started in youth services.

Lesson #3: Outreach is completely different than programs in the library. Flexibility and the ability to read a room is so important. Just because YOU have a plan doesn’t mean that plan is the right one for the event. And always always always set up guidelines before beginning. The caregivers who attend my storytimes and programs at the library know they need to sing and play along. There are caregivers who have never attended a storytime. There are kids who have never attended a storytime. Talk everyone through it.

Lesson #4: Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help from your team. Ask for help from your manager. Ask for help from your personal learning network. My team laminated and cut so many song cards for caregivers. My manager did her best to keep me off the desk when I needed to be off the desk. My PLN helped me through so many programs either through encouragement or through answering my direct pleas for help. ASK FOR HELP.

Lesson #5: When going into planning for a new session, remember all of these lessons. Look to your department or organization strategic plan when deciding what to continue and what to cut.

Failing forward all over myself, y’all.

on meetings and teams and disagreeing

Why have a meeting when you can just send an email!


I’m not a fan of meetings that regurgitate things that have already been communicated to everyone. I’m not a fan of meetings where everyone is “reminded” of a policy or a procedure when in reality one person needs to be spoken to regarding said policy or procedure. I’m not a fan of meetings where there are ideas! ideas! ideas! but no action plans or plans for action plans.

And yet, I’m learning to love a lot about our youth services staff meetings.

Once a week, full time staff-including hopefully at least one representative from our branch-get together for a meeting. Everyone is able to add to the agenda. Minutes are taken and part time staff has access to them. Sometimes, these meetings are 15 minutes long. Sometimes, we’re there for over an hour. Sometimes, it’s all procedural or planning or questions clarifying policy.

My favorite meetings are like last week’s when someone asked where we were with the possibility of having kids read off their fines. (Full disclosure: I didn’t remember talking about this, but I guess we did before summer started and it didn’t go anywhere.) There were a few minutes of do-we-need-board-approval-or-how-can-we-work-with-circulation and a few minutes of what-about-kids-whose-parents-use-their-cards-and-rack-up-fines and as we hashed out that kind of stuff I had an AHA moment and opened my big mouth.

“Wait a minute. We’ve been talking this year about not incentivizing reading. And our whole deal is supposed to be about encouraging kids to choose reading as a leisure activity. Wouldn’t a read off your fines program be in conflict with that philosophy?”

And then I really got going. And as I talked, I gained speed and more reasons why we shouldn’t do it. And how, if anything, we should work on putting together a proposal for no longer having fines on children’s items PERIOD because most kids are at the mercy of their caregivers to get them to the library and while reading off your fines might teach kids “responsibility” is that even remotely part of our job at the public library?

Not surprisingly, my coworker got a little frustrated with my barrage of NOs! And yet I was surprised when she said “Just forget about it! Forget I brought it up!”

I’m a talker. When I have a problem, I talk it out. When I have an idea, I talk it out. I talk to explain my universe. I talk to figure out how I feel about things. Sometimes I manage to talk myself all the way around an issue and find myself on the opposite side of where I started. I do sometimes, especially when I’m getting started or am really passionate about something, forget that the balance of effective communication is talking AND listening.

I’ve also been told I have a tone that is confident. I’m not going to apologize for that because I get sick and tired of women, in particular, apologizing for confidence. However, my confident “tone” is not intentional.

I did apologize for being so frustrating. And then we talked some more about how it’s important in meetings for everyone to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and how if we’re all going to sit around the table afraid of saying the “wrong” thing or offending someone or not pointing out inconsistencies, then what’s the point of having meetings.

Successful teams communicate. Successful team members do not take things personally when there is disagreement. Disagreement is healthy and a necessary part of growth.

And our team just keeps getting stronger.

this is such a simple exercise and it’s going to make (my brain!) strong!

Thanks, Jbrary, for introducing me to this awesome storytime song I use every week with toddlers and is permanently lodged in my brain and inspired the title of this post!

My love of strategic plans and goals and objectives is well known in these parts. I blame our previous director who allowed me to be a part of the library-wide strategic planning process when he first came on board despite the fact I was a part time aide. I love thinking long term while crafting measurable activities to reach goals. I love making those goals ambitious yet not discouraging.

It’s the end of the fiscal year so it’s not surprising I’m the kid who raised her hand and said “Do you want to see how I did on my goals and objectives this past year?” to my manager. There’s no point in spending time creating goals if you’re not going to see how you did. I know the process can seem like managementspeak, but I find it genuinely motivating. My job focus has also changed so it was important to me to set new goals for this upcoming fiscal year that reflect that change.

So, how did I do?

Goal 1: Promote reading as a leisure activity for K-3rd graders.

Measurable activities: Wild Readers with a goal of 100 kids signed up by the end of FY2015. 64 kids signed up. Passive programming with a goal of reaching an average of 100 kids per month. An average of 400 kids participated each month (!!!!!). Visit all 4 public schools in the area to promote reading as a leisure activity. I personally visited 2 of the schools and offered the department’s “Caregiver Bootcamp: Reading with Children” presentation. Develop a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club to promote reading as a leisure activity for their elementary kids with a goal of reaching 20 kids per month. The average number of participants was 29 per month.

I’m not gonna lie, I think I did pretty well on this front. I didn’t reach my goal with Wild Readers, but I stand by that program 100%. One of challenges we had with that program was getting caregivers to understand this was a way to get kids to enjoy reading and not in competition with required school reading. And the passive programming was obviously an enormous hit. Our relationship with schools remains challenging, but we’re making inroads. While I technically met my attendance goal with the Boys and Girls Club, I really don’t feel as though I was successful with promoting reading as a leisure activity. I was competing with other programming and I started feeling like I was bribing kids to attend my program which never works long term.

Goal 2: Increase engagement with community by use of social media for the library specifically twitter.

Measurable activities: A minimum of 5 tweets a week and increase followers by 50% for FY2015. This was a total fail as I didn’t keep track of how often I posted nor did I note where our followers were at the beginning of the fiscal year. I was a member of the social media committee (the only non-librarian member, I might add) from the beginning and while I’m proud of the work I did when it comes to twitter training and finally using our twitter account for its intended purpose, I recently stepped down from the committee in the hopes another non-librarian staff member would have the chance to hold a leadership position within the library. I’m happy to report that did indeed happen and my replacement is doing a great job. But in terms of goals? Fail.

Goal 3: Develop developmentally appropriate storytime guidelines for infant, toddler, and preschool implementing ECRR2 at each stage.

Measurable activities: Working documents will be in place by the end of FY2015 for use in future training of storytime providers in the library. This was sort of a mixed bag. Preschool storytime training is in place as are storytime competencies and evaluation forms. I’m definitely carrying this over to FY2016 and hope to have it completed by the end of next June.

Goal 4: Consistently create posts for caregiver and kids blog on the new website.

Measurement: TBD by supervisor. So this guy was totally not my fault as our new website was supposed to be in place by last September…then October….then March…then May. Since the launch of the new site, I am one of 4 people contributing to the caregiver blog so I am responsible for 1 post a month. This one will be carried over too.

Overall? I think I done good. I didn’t meet all of my goals, but I created them to be challenging so that’s okay. I’m especially proud of passive programming as that was something our department had never tried before.

Next up: create new goals that support our department’s soon-to-be-created updated strategic plan that reflect the change in my job’s focus from school aged to early literacy.

I nerdily can’t wait to get started.

early literacy messages in action: the more you know

This week, I’m so excited to be a part of a blog tour on early literacy messages in action. Follow #EarlyLitInAction on twitter for more posts and a tour round up will be posted on Jbrary Friday, June 19th.

Early Literacy Messaging Graphic

I’m hoping to be more conscientious about showing the process of how I do and learn things. Sometimes I feel like we see these finished programs or ideas others are doing and we forget that the person didn’t just come up with a fully formed, perfect program that sprang from their brains. Learning is a process. So, I went back and looked at my first storytime plans. Dang. DANG! First of all, July 18th will be my 3 year anniversary of providing storytimes. I feel like I still have so much to learn and I’m just getting started! Secondly, I remember well how painstakingly long it took me to plan.

Wanna see it?

Nibblers July 18

I so did not do a parachute with balloons at my first storytime. But I had visions of grandeur.

This was a year later:


Note the lack of an early literacy tip on the sheet.

I used to be all about themes. It helped me organize the transitions and structure. Early literacy messages were something I did, but it felt separate from storytime. It felt awkward, but I knew the information was important to communicate so I did it. I would type out exactly what I was going to say for each step and virtually read it from my storytime plan. And most of the tips I borrowed directly from Saroj Ghoting-an early literacy guru.

As I continued to learn about the 6 early literacy skills, I started understanding them better and when ECRR2 came along with the 5 practices, things clicked for me in regards to how I could talk to caregivers more naturally.

When I realized I was spending what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time trying to find a book or song or rhyme to match my theme, I ditched them. The time I had spent trying to find that perfect book/song/rhyme, I now spend learning more about child behavior and brain development as it relates to early learning.

This has changed how I plan and communicate early literacy information to caregivers in storytime dramatically.

Every single thing I include in storytime is intentionally there to support early literacy skills and practices.

Vocabulary: “Toddler brains are just like scientists’ brains: they want to explore and observe and figure things out. So let’s sing our weather song, look outside, and talk about the weather! Let’s see how many different words we can use to talk about the “sun” as introducing kids to new words will help them get ready to read.”

Phonological Awareness: “We sing all the time in storytime because singing helps us slow down our words and lots of times syllables are different notes so it breaks up words nicely which will help us when we start reading on our own.”

Print Motivation: “You know what? I’m just going to stop reading this story because I think we might have more fun if we get some wiggles out. Caregivers, if your child isn’t interested in reading, it’s good to stop! Reading should be an enjoyable experience you share so if they don’t want to, just move on to something else.”

Print Awareness: “Wait a minute…something doesn’t look right…why are the pictures upside down?! I’m being silly, aren’t I! Learning how books works is an important skill to have to get ready to read so have fun when you’re reading together and help your child notice how books work.”

Letter Knowledge: “We’re really too young to worry about what each letter stands for, but talking about the different shapes and describing what they look like will help children recognize that letters look different too. Let’s go through all of the shapes on the felt board and then see if we can find “Little Bear” because he’s hiding behind one of them!”

Narrative Skills: “Good job shaking our egg shakers to Humpty Dumpty today! Now let’s tell the story together. Here is a picture…what does this look like? That’s right! It’s a horse! He’s one of the king’s horses…Who do you think this is?…It IS Humpty Dumpty! What does he look like?  An egg, that’s right!…..caregivers, when we tell and retell stories together, it helps us learn that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We’re going to be working on our narrative skills this session by reading nursery rhymes and then telling the stories together on the felt board.”

I don’t share every single thing every single time because my storytimes would be an hour long if I did! But I do make a point of sharing at least one thing at every session.

I am genuinely excited to share new-to-me information with caregivers. I went to a wonderful workshop at the Kent District Library (that’s a link to their Play-Grow-Read portion of their site which is a wealth of tips and information!) where I learned that when we start counting with our thumb first instead of our index finger, we’re strengthening the first three fingers of our hands which are the one’s we need to be strong in order to write. I started learning about crossing the midline and how it helps make connections in our brains that will help us get ready to read. I’ve been introduced to Mind in the Making and the executive life skills kids need in order to achieve their goals. I’m currently obsessed with Fred Rogers who was a pioneer in child development. I am a huge fan of Early Childhood Investigations webinars. The Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy website is a treasure trove of information. And my to read pile is enormous (aaaand it just got bigger thanks to this awesome list from Jbrary!).

And you know what? My caregivers seem genuinely excited to hear why I’m doing what I’m doing. Before and after storytime, I’ll frequently have caregivers come and ask me specifics about what I shared and I love encouraging them to explore the resources I’m using.

I could go on and on and on and on about this, but I wanted to end with the reason I love sharing early literacy information in storytime: the why.

When I learned what an enormous impact public libraries could have on our communities if we shared what we know about early literacy and learning, I knew I had found my calling. While reading, singing, playing, talking, and writing with under 5s may seem like common sense to us, there are so many people who do not know HOW to do these things with the children in their care. I have had caregivers with masters degrees thank me for showing them “how” to interact with their infants. I have had daycare providers (some of the biggest unsung heroes, imho!) tell me that they learn more during one of my storytimes than they do during required training. When we share this information with caregivers, we’re advocating for the youngest members of our society who are incapable of advocating for themselves while empowering their caregivers to do the same.

I seriously could write another post about why it’s important advocacy for our profession-those who work with children-within our libraries to include early literacy messages in storytime because while, yes, storytime is hella fun, it’s incredibly important work that takes time to learn and execute. Our piece of the library budget can get bigger if we can demonstrate what we do in storytime is having a direct impact on caregivers and children in our communities (and if anyone can figure out a way for us to actually conduct long term research within our own libraries, I’m IN!). But for now, I encourage you to find your voice in early literacy messages. Be yourself. Be confident that the knowledge you are sharing is important. Because it is.

And on that note: I’m off to my first storytime after a long break and I’m so excited to share with everyone what I’ve been learning!

the day i suggested we slay the sacred SRP cow

This is my 4th SRP. The past 3, I have been a mess. Completely panicked and totally stressed and…well…a mess. We start signups on June 1 and our kickoff party is June 6 and I keep waiting for the panic to seize me, but I think this might be the year I finally realize SRP is no different than any other part of the year. It’s just busier.

On twitter a few nights ago, I caught a snippet of a conversation where someone asked if SRP is a sacred cow that needs slaying.

Can I get an AMEN?!


Yeah. I didn’t think so.

I know, I know. SRP is important. We help prevent summer slide! (But do we really? My library doesn’t have any empirical evidence that’s the case…I mean, obviously if kids are encouraged to read over the summer and they do then maybe, but aren’t those kids going to be more likely to be engaged readers in the first place? We still rely on caregivers to get kids to the library during the summer so are we reaching those who can’t come? Especially with programs that require repeat visits throughout the summer?) We get non-readers to read by giving away prizes! (Yeeeeah, but there’s a lot of research that suggests rewarding reading doesn’t work in the long run and if anything, by rewarding kids who already LIKE to read, we could be turning them off to reading.) Our community loves our summer program and they would be so upset if we got rid of it! (Okay, you’ve got me there….except shouldn’t engagement be the goal year ’round? Are our SRP designed for our entire communities or the ones that are the most vocal and supportive already?)

I’m obviously being a bit cheeky, but the whole business of slaying sacred cows means we’ve got to be on the lookout for the “Because we’ve always done it!” answer and at the end of the day, isn’t that why SRP is the ultimate sacred cow?

I don’t have any answers or a big finish here. So, I’m just going to leave this picture of a shaker egg I got from Cory during Guerrilla Storytime at Midwinter. 


observing my storytime neighbors

We’re on a storytime break at my library (something I believe is critical for a variety of reasons, but that’s another post…) and as I have been tasked with developing storytime training/standards/evaluations, I thought it would be helpful for our storytime providers to get outside our organization and take our new-still-a-working-document peer evaluation form out for a spin. 

In my perfect world, where early literacy is a priority for public libraries and staff is plentiful as is time for ongoing learning, observing and evaluating storytimes and early literacy programs would be not only part of introductory training, but also ongoing professional development. In reality, I know how lucky we were to be able to leave the building for 3 1/2 hours to do this. 

We were able to observe a toddler and a family storytime, a definite selling point to my supervisor when I asked if we could go. I emailed the youth services department a few weeks in advance to ask permission and they were more than happy to have us. 

I learned a lot. I learned I needed something to take notes on in addition to the peer evaluation form. The form is really more for reflection. I learned I have been entirely too timid when it comes to “mess” during my process art program. I learned my prep can most likely be cut in half. I learned a wonderful primary color nesting boxes activity I’m going to start doing with toddlers this summer. I learned there are about…well…how many people in the world provide storytime at a library or in an early childhood learning environment…let’s say countless ways to “do” storytime. 

I actually already knew that but observing strangers with two completely different styles back to back was really striking. 

Not only did our hosts allow us to observe, they made time for us to ask questions after both storytimes. I am someone who asks lots of questions. Not only the “What song was that?! I loved it!” variety, but also the “Does your library have storytime training for new employees? Are you required to include early literacy tips? How much freedom do you have with content?” variety. 

As I’ve been working my way through creating these evaluations and trainings, I’ve been surprised at how many libraries don’t seem to have a training program in place for storytime providers. At first I assumed this was something you are taught when you get your MLS/MLIS but my very informal poll tells me that’s not the case. I’ve also been surprised at how many people seem to feel training would be too restrictive. 

Good training informs an employee how storytime supports your organization’s mission. Good training gives providers common language. Good training empowers staff. 

I hope you bear with me as I work my way through this process of storytime training. I suspect it will come up on here a fair amount in one way or another in upcoming posts. And I welcome all comments and opinions. From what I’ve gathered, there are quite a few people who believe storytime training is unnecessary.

At the very least, I encourage you to reach out to your storytime neighbors and learn from each other in real life, if you are able. I can almost guarantee you will learn something!