October 2019

October 2019

It takes a Neighborhood to Nourish a Children’s Librarian

Dear neighborhood,

It’s incredible to think that next month will be the Cardigan’s one year anniversary! We thought it would be fun to learn more about our audience and present the results in a fancy-shmancy infographic in November. Please fill out the 5 question survey below so we can get a better snapshot of our neighborhood! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this month’s content. Allie’s fantasy play program for older kids was so fun to watch; I hope it inspires you!



Language Rich Environments

Deepen your knowledge on a topic related to Children’s Services.  


The term “language rich environment” describes a setting in which children are exposed to many, high quality words that equip them with the skills and tools to be good communicators and readers. Last year, I attended a conference session sponsored by Scholastic on this very topic, and the presenter, an early childhood educator, provided several easy to use strategies to foster a language rich environment. These strategies can be used seamlessly in storytime, but also in any kind of program that involves conversation or literacy-based activities. 

  1. Repeat. Have children repeat words. This will help them recognize subtle phonemic differences as they learn how to read, such as recognizing the difference between “then” and “than,” “further” and “farther.” In this example, emphasizing the word shark might seem silly but think of all of the words that can sound like shark: shock, shook, lark. 

Example: “Today in storytime we will be reading stories about sharks. Can you say the word 

shark with me? Shark! Let’s repeat it one more time together. Shark.”

  1. Sentence stems. Start a sentence and then have the kids finish it, instead of using isolated words. This models proper sentence structure.

Example: Instead of asking “what color is the truck?” and responding “Red! Yes, you’re right!” 

say “What color is the truck? The truck is…” and kids can respond “Red!” Then say, “yes, the 

truck is red.” 

  1. Content-specific vocabulary. Use content specific vocabulary. Instead of defaulting to questions about colors and numbers, switch it up by exposing children to new words related to a topic or theme. This helps them acquire vocabulary in context, so they will be much more likely to remember new words. 

Example: Rather than asking “what sound does a cat make?,” ask “what do you call a cat’s feet? They are called paws!” or “what do you call the hairs coming out of a cat’s face? They are called whiskers!” Instead of the kids making a “meow” sound, you’ve now exposed them to words like paws, whiskers, purring, and claws.  

Even though these strategies are fairly easy, they do take a while to transform into a real habit. I’d love to hear any other tools you use to support children’s language skills!

Content for this post was also inspired by the article Overcoming the Language Gap by Louisa C. Moats. 


Fantasy Play for Elementary-Aged Kids

Play is a right! Learn quick tips to optimize play experiences in libraries. 


Earlier this year, I came across @readingwithmsjenni’s instagram post about setting up a drop-in program where children could play in a pretend sandwich shop. Children made chef mats, decorated place mats, and pretended to run their own sandwich shop. I was in love with this idea because these kinds of specific play spaces allow children to role play different scenarios and learn about the real world, all through play! I decided that for the month of September, I would create similar play spaces for my regular K-3rd grade program. This has been one of the most rewarding programs I have ever done for this age group. While we have enjoyed doing science, math, and literacy activities, free play in a semi-structured environment gave these kids opportunities to practice all these skills while playing. 

I created a grocery store, doctor’s office, restaurant, and veterinary office. While prep-work is exhausting, it’s worth it to see children in this age group have a space to play with their peers and adults and be imaginative and creative. It was important to me that it was THEIR play space. I had a special table full of open ended-materials so they could create anything they needed for their playtime. For example, some children noticed that there were no prices on items in the grocery story and immediately set to work to pricing items. When they noticed that we only had one cash register and the line was long, I suggested that we build another cash register. Instead another child suggested we create another competing grocery store! It was a joy to watch children create and imagine together to make their play space their own.


Playtimes for our young elementary students is crucial as this is typically the time where families might begin to be “too busy to play.” Erika Christakis, a former faculty member of the Yale Child Study Center and the author of the book, The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need From Grownups, recently wrote in an Edutopia article:

“We’re seeing more dysfunctional play in modern industrialized societies. Children don’t play as much in mixed-age groups, where younger kids can learn from older ones, and the older children in turn have to learn to be gentle and fair with their littlest players. Children have less free time to mess around and make their own rules. They need the time and space to learn how to play effectively, and they require a culture that values play. Increasingly, we don’t seem to have that kind of early childhood culture. So if you suddenly tell a child to “go make a fort out of a cardboard box” when they haven’t had a steady diet of free, unstructured time and access to open-ended materials, well, you will see a cranky and possibly incredulous child.”

If you are planning a “themed” playtime for young elementary kids, below are some tips. 

  • Don’t set a limit on the age group. While I said the program was for K-3rd grade, children of all ages showed up. As Christakis said, younger kids can learn from older ones and older children in turn get to learn how to be gentle with their younger players.
  • Encourage parents to play. I had a few parents who were a little hesitant, but once they were given permission to play, it became rewarding for both the parent and the child.
  • Free play means no rules. Besides the basic rule of treating others with kindness, have no rules or structure. I was nervous about not assigning specific roles for fear of arguments between children, but the children regulated themselves. This gives children the opportunity to practice social emotional skills.
  • Provide open-ended materials. Have a space for them to create missing pieces to the playspace. This gives them ownership of their playtime.  
  • PLAY WITH THEM. This was my favorite part of the playtime. My relationships with the children and parents have become richer and deeper. Playing with them has given us all a special bond.

If you want to see some pictures from the playtime, check them out in our Google Drive. 


 Baby Doll Storytime

Learn about an interesting program you can easily replicate at your library 


I’m a part of a few online groups for preschool and Pre-K educators which is how I learned about Baby Doll Circle Time: a curriculum for young children to develop social and emotional skills. Developed by Dr. Becky Bailey, Baby Doll Circle Time uses babydolls to help children practice SEL skills such as listening, consoling, naming feelings, bonding, and caregiving.  I described it to parents like this: “imagine baby storytime but you aren’t doing the activities with your kids, your kid is doing the activities with their doll, such as songs, lapbounces, and fingerplays.” I immediately knew this was something I wanted to adapt for the library so I bought the curriculum guide and watched the accompanying DVD. 

Since the program is intended for 10 minute daily use in a childcare or early childhood education center, I took several steps to modify it for a library program:

  • Add two read-aloud books
  • Borrow scarf songs from storytime so children could do the scarf activity with their doll 
  • Add extra fingerplays and lapbounces, again borrowed from storytime so children would be familiar with them 
  • Add a craft at the end

This extended the program to 40 minutes. I also renamed it “Babydoll Storytime” since Baby Doll Circle Time is trademarked and I haven’t been through the formal training. I am sure to credit Dr. Bailey in the program description online. The program is offered once a month, and I limit registration to 12 kids. I purchased 12 ethnically diverse baby dolls and swaddling blankets. Each month focuses on a different caregiving skill, such as feeding, bathing, putting on a bandaid, so there can be some extra miscellaneous costs. 

First of all, this program is devastatingly cute. Second, it was beautiful to watch children care for their dolls. They were so gentle comforting their doll when it cried, and talking about how it feels when they’re scared. I could directly see the benefits of offering this program: children practice naming feelings, they learn how to comfort someone who is sad, and feel empowered in the ability to care and support for another person. 

Here is my planning sheet for a Baby Doll Storytime. Feel free to use and modify, and e-mail me at thecardigannewsletter@gmail.com if you have any questions!


Decolonizing Parachute Play

Libraries are for everyone! 


Earlier this year, Katherine was preparing for parachute play and reserved one of the few parachute play music CDs that we have in our system. She shared with me the song, “Parachute PowPow” that was on the CD and we were both shocked, not only by the song, but also the actions that went along with the song. Below you can see some of the actions that were suggested: 

“Have them raise their hand and say, “How” and lift the right hand to their forehead “to scout.”

“Stand and start to circle around with a step-hop Indian step.”

“For fun, you might want to make sounds like animal calls….”

These generalizations and actions can be harmful and offensive, especially when the person that is leading the activity is not Native American. The Nanticoke Indian Tribe describes a powwow as “a time to preserve traditions, to sing to the Creator, and to dance to the heartbeat of the drum.” We never want to “play” like a culture and mask it as education. If our intent is to expose children to other cultures, then it’s important we invite someone from that culture to lead and teach the activities. This applies not only to parachute play, but to storytime songs and books. Our colleague Kate shared Debbie Reese’s great resources on ways to promote Native experiences and voices without appropriating it. 


Greg Howard

Discover new authors!


1. Tell us about your new book, The Whispers, and the inspiration for the book. 

The Whispers is about an eleven year-old boy named Riley whose mother has gone missing. Riley believes the police aren’t going to crack the case even though they keep questioning him about what happened the day she disappeared. The problem is, his memory of that day is fuzzy. So he turns to the Whispers to help him find her—magical wood creatures who know all the secrets to the universe. His mother used to tell him the story of the whispers every night before bed. Riley is convinced that if he can find them deep in the woods behind his house, they will lead him to his mother. But nothing turns out as expected and Riley is forced to face hard truths that will change him forever.

The inspiration for the book is my own mother and how I dealt with her death as a lonely gay kid growing up in the South. There’s a lot of me, my family, and my life on the page, but it is a story of fiction. 

2. What are some books that have had an impact on your life and/or writing? 

Pat Conroy has been a big influence on me as a writer, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are two of my all-time favorite reads. I discovered his books in college fell instantly in love. His gift for language and storytelling, particularly in an unabashedly Southern voice, really inspires and challenges me to be a better writer. 

As a kid, the books that made a big impression on me were Charlotte’s Web, the Encyclopedia Brown Series, the Box Car Children Series, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little. 

But oddly enough, a book I read in the ninth-grade made me want to be a writer. That book was The Shining by Stephen King. Go figure.

3. How can our readers connect with you?

Readers can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @grehowardbooks, or at my website, www.greghowardbooks.com.


Teeth/Dentist Storytime

Some of our favorite books. 


When I had a dentist visit for a storytime, I found it difficult to find some interesting and age-appropriate read-alouds. Does anyone else have trouble finding numerous books on this important subject? Click on the image to be redirected to a full list of dentist/teeth read alouds. Thanks to everyone on our Instagram who suggested these great titles.


Summer Slide: Follow-Up

Where we reflect on the deeper questions.


Two months ago, I shared this article by Edutopia called “New Research Casts Doubt on the ‘Summer Slide” Since then, researchers have been busy dissecting its content.  It’s not surprising that such a bold claim by the author Paul von Hippel, that the summer slide has been overstated, has created somewhat of a bombshell. Karl Alexander, professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, wrote a response entitled “Summer Learning Loss Sure Is Real.” You can probably guess where this is going – it looks like researchers will be teasing out the implications of von Hippel’s study, as they should. Karl Alexander argues that the methodology used to first measure the summer slide is invalid, and that pinpointing when achievement gaps begin (in the summer or during the school year) needs further confirmation. Eager to defend his study, von Hippel responded with an article called “Summer Learning: Key Findings Fail to Replicate, but Programs Still Have Promise.” It was a busy summer for these two dudes! I’ll let you read through his response, but I do want to draw attention to this quote:

“Although my research hasn’t changed my support for summer learning programs, it has changed how I think about what they can do. I’m no longer sure that children fall off a cliff in the summer. But I’m pretty sure that most children make little progress uphill. And that’s enough. Because it means that the summer offers an opportunity—an opportunity for children who are behind to catch up, and an opportunity for children who are on track to learn something new.”

I take this to mean that we don’t need to be so alarmist about the summer slide. Mitigating its direness doesn’t take away from the value of summer learning programs, especially those at the library. It doesn’t mean that efforts to reach out to vulnerable populations to offer them rich and interesting learning experiences over the summer are a waste. 

It’s really easy to take on a savior complex about the summer slide which in turn puts a ton of pressure on librarians, who are oftentimes not educators, to remedy a problem they are not trained to solve. We do the best we can, with what we have, and as the author states “that’s enough.” 


We love connecting with great authors like Greg Howard and can’t wait to send her book to one of our lucky readers! To enter, fill out this form. We will pick a winner next week! 

Congratulations to Misty for winning last month’s giveaway book!

You can access a PDF of this newsletter in our Google Drive. This is where we will be storing all future newsletters. 

Logo by Thomas Freeman

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