Library Bonanza

Ready, Set, Program!

Baby Art Playground: Discovery Bottles

Part II of the Baby Art Playground Series

Discovery Bottles

A big hangup with baby crafting is the threat of a big mess. Oftentimes, this is a wonderful thing as babies explore their world and express their curiosity through play. But sometimes it’s nice to have an activity with minimal mess paired with a long-lasting toy. Especially if you have a terror monster on your hands and/or are hosting a program for 20+ babies. Enter Discovery Bottles! I received inspiration from FamilyliciousLearning Through Play, The Imagination Tree, and Fun at Home with Kids.

Why discovery bottles?

Babies are fascinated with the world around them, using their mouths to explore new textures and objects. But for the mesmerizing things that may pose a choking hazard, we can place inside a bottle and seal it up tight. While the sense of touch and smell may be taken away, baby can use their eyes and ears to explore things that have been previously unattainable: glitter, feathers, tinsel, gemstones, pom poms, pipe cleaners. Basically, if there were a craft monster and he coughed, these things would come out.

The beautiful thing about discovery bottles is its low-cost allure. All those extra bits and pieces at the bottom of your craft box? Put it in the bottle. Music making rice and bells? Put it in the bottle. All your life’s responsibilities and obligations? Bottle.

Caregiver Reception

Another program (that I am blogging months later), another success! Parents loved the flexibility and independence to choose a variety of supplies to fill their bottles. Just like during the 15 minutes of playtime after my storytime, I find that many caregivers are fervently seeking social connections. While I start the program with a brief overview, a couple early childhood development tips, and instructions, the rest of the program is free-flowing and open for conversation.

I also provided the option to create a calming glitter discovery bottle which many parents and babies enjoyed. (To save money) The proportions are about half a bottle of glue, half water, 1-2 drops of food color, and about 1-2 tablespoons of glitter. Stick with silver glitter, especially if you are dying the water. I’ve heard that hot water allows easier mixing, if that is an option for you. BE ALERT: Parents may want to furiously shake the bottle upside down, as they have much practice, but let them know that the seal is not impenetrable and water may leak out.


  • 48 plastic Voss water bottles ($1.34 per bottle) = $64.32
  • Supplies, esp. clear Elmer’s glue = $107.50
  • ROI (cost per attendee) = $2.15

Supplies list

  • Voss water bottles (Gatorade and Sobe water bottles also work really well. Just make sure the plastic is think and sturdy)
  • Feathers
  • Rice and funnel
  • Clear Elmer’s glue (about one half per bottle)
  • Glitter and funnels
  • Food Dye
  • Pom poms
  • Foam objects and letters
  • Tinsel
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Random stuff out of the craft closet
  • Hot glue gun (operated by a volunteer)

Things to keep in mind as a library program…

You can find a wide variety of baby crafts on blogs and in books but they take on a whole new level of finesse when provided to a room full of babies.  To avoid exorbitant costs, I try and restrict my crafts to have ONE component that I will purchase for each individual baby. For this craft, it was the bottles.

You will need to call upon the aid of your coworkers as much water was drunk and much skin was hydrated.

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More Than Raffi: Caspar Babypants


What is your favorite song about fruit? “Bananas in Pajamas“? No, too suggestive. “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts“? No, the lyrics are always rudely interrupted. “Apple Bottom Jeans“? Yeah, probably. But let’s choose a song that is a bit more family friendly. A lot more soothing…

“Movin’ to the country,
gonna eat a lot of peaches
Movin’ to the country,
Gonna eat me a lot of peaches.”

Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100. Released in 1995 and accompanied by “Lump,” the band’s self-titled debut album was a great success and has been certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Chris Ballew has led PUSA throughout the years while also maintaining other side projects. Yet what started as a donated album to a nonprofit for parental support became a much beloved icon of the Kindie Rock scene.

Caspar Babypants was born in 2009 in Seattle, Washington. Although he still primarily performs in Washington, his music has touched the hearts of many a librarian and family. Ballew takes note from the guitar strumming simplicity of Raffi and Elizabeth Mitchell. Even when the music gets fast and spunky it never feels heavy and overproduced. The debut album Here I Am! (2009) is an excellent introduction to Caspar Babypants. Ballew provides a wide array of musical genres to spice up even the mundane–yet crucial–things that all children should learn about. A country twang accompanies “Small Black Ant” that quickly turns into a ragtime piano riff as parents can tickle their children while imitating an ant climbing over their bodies. Bust out your egg shakers for “The Island Hop,” a fun tongue twister to celebrate summertime.

To read more, check out my More Than Raffi series over at Riff ‘N Ralk Music Tock!



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Baby Art Playground: Peekaboo Puzzles

Part I in a three part series


Babies are little balls of adorable gooeyness, like loaves of squishy dough waiting for an adult to move along with them or demonstrate movement. This is what makes baby storytime a challenge and a blessing. While you can do any laptime activity (that’s appropriate) and not worry about them wandering off, they also have very limited capabilities regarding self-control so you must be comfortable communicating to an audience of adults. Which I am totally down for doing. Naw, for real, I got this. Much like storytimes, babies would not be able to enjoy my new program Baby Art Playground without their caregivers.

So now I’m bringing the action, bringing the funk of crafting fun for even the littlest tykes. Baby Art Playground is for ages 0-14 months, the same as my weekly storytime. There are three parts to this program:

  1. Main craft
  2. Sensory bins
  3. Toy area

This program veers away from Hands-On Ones and Twos because the main craft is made by the caregiver to be used later by the baby. The craft could also use baby to complete it (like handprint/footprint art), but the baby is not getting much out of it–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the parents love the final result and aren’t they people, too? But I still wanted to model activities for baby development. Enter sensory bins and a space for toy discovery and socialization. Children learn through play and experimentation. Exploring a sensory bin allows them to discover new textures and practice fine motor skills. Also, our library programs are a great way for parents to see that mess can be fun!

Last Monday was the first Baby Art Playground and our main craft was Peekaboo Puzzles. The supplies included:

  1. 10-20 Photographs of family, friends, and things that were important to baby (from participants)
  2. Magazines for those that forgot to bring photos
  3. Fine-tip sharpies
  4. Scissors
  5. Jumbo Knob puzzles or chunky puzzles
  6. Rice
  7. Cotton balls
  8. Toys

I went with the three puzzles below. If you order the puzzles directly through the Melissa and Doug website then you receive BOGO. In the past, I have also taken the slightly worn puzzles available for play or check out in the Youth Department and perused thrift stores or consignment shops for nice looking puzzles. The most popular puzzle at the program was the First Shapes puzzle because they could use more photographs and the shapes were a bit smaller.

The directions were as follows:

  1. Take your puzzle piece and trace over the image with the sharpie
  2. Cut out your image and affix in the slot
  3. Play a game of guess who/peekaboo with baby–talk about the shape on top and the person underneath. Use this experience to communicate and talk with baby!

Parents and Caregivers were extremely appreciative of the program and loved the opportunity to sit down and create a meaningful project for their babies. Although the cost was a bit high, the results were well received.

Little Literacy Librarian, Storytime Katie, and I will be presenting about crafting programs for ages 0-5 at the Illinois Library Association Conference this October. Have more questions? Come check us out!

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More Than Raffi: Jim Gill


Ask any children’s librarian if they’ve heard of Jim Gill and their reaction will be an exasperated yes followed by an insistence that you need to check out everything on shelf followed by a rambling, star-struck story about when they met him. Jim Gill has been making the library circuit for quite some time, spreading his delightful love of music play to all families. From the very beginning, Gill has focused his music primarily to be moved with, sung along with, and, finally, laughed on the ground with. Jim Gill began using music in his early twenties with a weekly play group for families with young children with special needs. The parents soon saw this deceptively casual play group have an impact on their children’s development, encouraging physical and language development and interpersonal skills.

To see more on my review, check out my More Than Raffi series over at Riff ‘N Ralk Music Tock!

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More than Raffi: Wiggleworms Love You!

Whenever children’s music is mentioned on the wisp of a passing wind, without a doubt:


Children’s music gets a bad rap in the music community. It’s every parent’s punching bag and I don’t blame them when their experience is clouded by mass-marketed refuse such as Dora the Explorer or awful collections of “traditional” songs collated by corporations like this travesty of Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Fisher Price. Rest assured, there’s no need to listen to this garbage when you have a beautiful rendition by Rob Newhouse on Songs for Wiggleworms. Here, watch this baby jam:

The past decade has seen a wonderful upsurge of quality kids music harking back to the slower tempo of Raffi and Mister Rogers and the upbeat–but not explosive–music of Tom Paxton. While kids music has always been educational, we are now seeing well produced and well written music for kids with an uptick in creativity and variety. Unfortunately, children’s music is still trailing the stigma of 90s synthesizers and hasty basement recordings, of musicians that chose to write kids music as a hobby or because they thought their grandchildren were huge fans. Although their intentions are kind-hearted, the results can sometimes be ghastly. Fortunately, this poorly produced and grating music is being overshadowed by much greater musicians with backgrounds in musical performance, a passion to educate and entertain kids, and, also, access to real instruments.

In conjunction with Riff ‘n Ralk Music Tock I have decided to start reviewing some of these fine examples of the Children’s Music genre starting with the best there is: Old Town School of Folk Music based in Chicago, IL. Their Wiggleworms program is for early childhood and the teachers have banded together to make two phenomenal CDs: Songs for Wiggleworms (2000) and Wiggleworms Love You (2005).

These collections are exemplary in three ways:

  1. The musicians know what works – They have tested this music in advance in their programs for children (for ages birth-5 years). They also have educational backgrounds in musical education for children and have put a lot of research behind their choice of music.
  2. If you don’t like one singer’s voice there are 40+ other songs to listen to on each album!
  3. Enormous celebration of traditional songs, including some in other languages. Knowing traditional songs and rhymes allows your child to participate with other children, encouraging the unity of communities through song as encouraged by The National Association for Music Education.

Underlying all these reasons is the encouragement for dance, movement, and singing that courses throughout the collections. Songs such as “Little Red Wagon” by Tim Knuth (Wiggleworms Love You 2) and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” by Rob Newhouse (Songs for Wiggleworms 2) can be used in the lap for baby bounces. More guided dancing for older kids include the upbeat acoustics of “If I Was a Bird” (Wiggleworms Love You 28) by Stacey Buehler that encourages children to flap like a bird, swing their elephant trunk, hop like a kangaroo, swing from the branches like a monkey, slither like a snake, and run fast like a cheetah.  Buehler even quiets her strumming for the ground snake movements, giving a fun contrast for kids to jump up and start running fast like a cheetah.

Participating in music allows a child’s brain to fully comprehend music. While we may only want to listen to our favorite music with our children, music FOR kids has an enormous bounty of benefits for children. These include a verbal invitation to participate, clearly spoken lyrics, and repetition that allows a child to predict and participate. And when you participate with your child, you are fostering a loving and fun atmosphere around music. For example, the rollicking fast “Drive the Firetruck” (Songs for Wiggleworms 25) by Rob Newhouse isn’t the most exemplary achievement in musical composition. But when you add super fast movements to the lyrics, kids will be rolling on the ground in their creative laughter (which I’ve seen and it’s adorable).

Final Review: A+  

Audience: Birth-5 years

These teacher musicians know how to revamp classic tunes with original songs mixed in. The blend between upbeat and calming will get your kid rockin’ without overstimulation. The best part about a compilation? Skip the musicians you can’t stand.

While the general perception of kid’s music is negative, that is most certainly not the case. I hope to provide guidance in finding great, accessible music available for your kids that won’t cause your face to melt (and not in the good metal music way).

Still curious? Check out this excellent article by PBS Parents, “What Music Should My Child Listen To?