Origami with Lower School

In my last year of library school, I did my teaching internship hours with a librarian who traveled between schools for adjudicated youth. There were lots of limitations on these schools, some of which included no scissors, hardback books, a collection of books let alone a room dedicated to it (or a room without asbestos in it). I’d done library service in jails, but this was something different. One of the days I spent with shadowing the librarian, we did origami with a group of older middle schoolers. The young man I sat beside was decidedly not into paper art. After every fold, he refused to continue. I’d encourage as I stumbled my way through the activity, too. But, then he would the next step. Each argued fold turned into a crane. On the subway home, in the paper for the semester, in the years that have followed I have thought of that interaction and what it taught me, all of which can be summed up in a slogan a teacher I loved taught: “I love you, keep going.”

On the Friday leading into spring break, a half-day, all the 1st-4th graders spend in the library. They spread out on towels and read silently or listen to a storyteller. It is a well-loved tradition, no matter if the mechanics of the day sometimes shift in big (the annual big/little Easter Egg hunt bifurcating the day) or small ways (the mobile zoo instead of a storyteller). So, this year we read, watched an episode of Mister Rogers that included an interview with the inventor of our beloved mindfulness tool, the Hoberman Sphere, took a break for egg hunting on campus with the older kids, read some more, had a Horton Hears A Who inspired yoga story time with a guest instructor, and a surprise visit with the fluffiest rabbit and newborn baby bunnies care of a parent. In there too I snuck in a craft that I’d been brewing up with the aid of Pinterest. We watched a video on loop- how to make an “easy” origami heart. By the end of the day, I had dozens and dozens of hearts. When we came back from Spring Break I set out to do as I’d planned and that was to make a mobile. I’m not crafty. There are lots of things I am. Interested in patient, quiet crafts is not one of them. But I spent Monday threading the hearts. Tuesday we hung it from a lucky little hook already installed in the ceiling.

Today, one of the kids said to me, Are those the hearts we made? Why did you choose those hearts for the mobile? They aren’t that good. Some people couldn’t even fold right!” Because I’ve had similar conversations about perfection with myself and others, I had a response ready. “That’s the point! They aren’t perfect. But you all made them and so they are perfect. The point was the effort and love y’all put into it.” And I wasn’t just saying it to sound good, really. These hearts dance from the ceiling, the rest hang in a garland/banner elsewhere. When I look at them I think of all these imperfect hearts, some more than others, all together and how lovely it is. When I look at the ceiling I think, “I love you [no matter what, no matter who], keep going.”

My Philosophy of K-2 Library

Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out! There’s a big one…

John Ashbery, My Philosophy of Life

As soon as my working papers were signed, I began as a page in the children’s department of my town’s library (I remained in their books in some role until I moved to Georgia in July 2014). On Wednesday nights the librarian on the desk would let me read once I’d gotten the books shelved and the shelves edged. For about a year I read the same book every night from 8-9. It was The Favorite Poem Project by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz and I began to build my personal canon. John Ashbery was among the poets in Wednesday book. In the intervening years, I’ve come back to his poems again and again, often when a phrase pops in my thoughts in his words, not mine. I found myself going to another favorite, My Philosophy of Life, a few weeks back when a colleague addressed a group email to the “elementary library braintrust.” The request was simple, “ideas, insights, and thoughts” on developing their school’s K-2 library collection and curriculum. Where to start? What was our own experience?” I balked. First: Why would anyone think I had wisdom to share? Then: Could I write what was true? The email response I sent is below (modified slightly):

“I’m going to out myself here- I don’t do formal lessons with my pre-K3 through 2nd grade. All my fixed classes for pre-k3-4th grade are 30 minutes total and I am unwilling to give up check-out each week. My first year I aligned all my storytimes with what they were studying in class and kept a fastidious spreadsheet of my lessons. The same for the years thereafter. As I began to put together my whole school curriculum and scope and sequence, I came to the philosophy I have now for my lower school classes: no formal lessons- my only goal is instill a love of learning and reading, a love that serve as the solid foundation to build the skills and tools and ethics to harness their curiosity in middle and upper school. The library is where my students experience choice and I feel strongly (though I’ve never voiced it until now) that that is my (the library’s) primary purpose and concept for them to engage with. It is a “class” where they do not get grades and they can learn about whatever they would like. For the little ones, this is where they get to choose and I want there to be as much joy in this as possible. On December 1st, my 3 year old class checked out books for the first time and hugged them for the walk down the hill to their building. One among them updates me on the state of her library book every time I see her (“I am taking good care of it.”). This photo below: this is my philosophy of lower school lessons.

Initially I typed this draft as a reply-all, because I would like to engage in a larger conversation about this. But then, my pride jumped it in- I don’t have my words down on this, on what I believe. I would say though that my background is children’s services in a large suburban public library (14 years) and college academic book publishing (8 years). While I completed an additional “media specialist” certificate since I started as a school librarian, I’ve never been a classroom teacher (the AP Research seminar and a middle school “library” elective are the first graded I’ve taught/wrote syllabi for). I kept this in my drafts for a week and then finally thought, Well, not sending it isn’t going to make how I feel untrue and it will give me a weird feeling of shame. Reassurance, a solid “me, too,” often what I’m looking for. This sense of hands flailing AM I DOING THIS RIGHT (this is the best visual I have of what I’m feeling as the oldest person in the room at any given moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ0i5Ede8V4)

I’d be interested in the responses you’ve gotten. I wonder too if some of what you need is what I need too: to be gentle with myself and my expectations of how to measure success. To me, when I read your note, I simply thought of how great it was to have the services and the desire to be more and better rather than that the number of books was appalling. This is always easier said to someone else than done for myself.”

Self-check out with Lower School

One of my favorite aspects of teaching and working with children is learning how to eat my words and ideas as gracefully as possible. When I arrived in my Pre-K-12 library in 2014 I had a lot of limits- never buy branded books, not to become one of those dress-up librarians, and the like. While I try not to buy too many branded books, I do not hesitate now to get Lego easy readers or a Peppa Pig if it bring a reader to a book. My days of dressing in all black all the time are waning; I have special ordered mermaid leggings for our Under the Sea reading event and my unicorn light-up slippers for Pajama Storytimes are prized. This is to say that experience has taught me what theory leaves out. This year my workload expanded and I heard myself saying to a 1st grader at one point, “Sometimes I forget my own name.” Another student heard this and looked at me with all the earnestness available and confidently told me: “Your name is Miss Rivka.” Something had to give and that first thing was check-out.

Our library software (Surpass) added a self-check out app this summer as while it was set up on our server I began the transition. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would go, especially with the younger Lower School students. But the feeling of unknowing is another thing I’ve learned to lean into. Here is the process for how self-check out got up and running, slowly and in increments. For the first few weeks, while the software was being set up on the server, we practiced using a print version with names and bar codes only so that each student could maintain their privacy. In the 1st and 2nd grade classes, I had a student from the class act as my assistant librarian. I handed the clipboard to an eager helper in 1st grade and watched the color drain from her face. “Oh, I can’t do this, she told me. I’m not going to be able to write everything perfectly.” I told her that was exactly the point- this was just a chance to practice and no one expected her to do anything perfectly except try. It was sweet to see the kids practice spelling each other’s names. Having the iPad is still relatively new, but so far so good! Each student is now tasked with helping the next with the process and it has been lovely to watch. It’s also made the students more keenly aware of the books they have out since their records pop up on the screen with each transaction. It’s provided some new vocabulary, too, like “patron” (I’ll save why I’m not a fan of that term for another day).

Without having being pushed to let go of control, I wouldn’t have been able to see the subtle social emotional learning opportunities that this process included in addition to the greater sense of ownership that the students now have in the library.

If At First You Don’t Succeed: Reading Rosie Revere, Engineer with 2nd Grade

“Your brilliant first flop as a raging success!
Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!”
She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere,
Who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear.
Life might have its failures, but this was notit.
The only true failure can come if you quit.*

My first year as a school librarian was a lesson in letting go of fear of failure. I didn’t learn it so much as I didn’t fight against it- failure was happening every day and I could either lean into it and accept what was or be miserable. Here I was prepared as I could be with a careful, color-coded spreadsheet and lesson plans and yet, I could not seem to predict how it each class would go. These days I find others words for what I would have called failure in the past- when I walk into a lesson without expectations, I am able to see what I might have missed.

The last three weeks of library class for second grade are a lesson for the students and for me, too, about getting comfortable with making “failure” a challenge. It also serves as great chance to practice the design thinking process implicitly or explicitly. A row of books that’s been carefully set will inevitably be accidently knocked down and need to be redone. An unplanned start often shows us where our chain is weak and can allow us to tweak something we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. We practice how we talk to each other in collaboration and examine our perspective. The measure of success in these weeks are quiet but brilliant: overhearing one student tell another “It’s ok, we’re learning” as they cleaned up a turn that didn’t quite work out or watching four separate groups decide on their own to join forces.

Below is a rough outline of this lesson:

Part 1: Read “Rosie, Revere Engineer,” “Iggy Peck, Architect,” or “Ada Twist, Scientist” together as a class.

Part 2: Watch the Seattle Public Library launch their 2013 Summer Reading Program by breaking the world record for longest book domino chain. We generally watch the video twice, focused the second time on the details of the set up (How far apart were the books? Were they all the same size?)

Part 3: Break into groups of 4 and create prototypes. We film these trials so that we can watch them later and learn what worked and what didn’t. The students do the filming with our library iPads.

Part 4: Come together as a class and create a big chain together (if this hasn’t happen organically).

*Beaty, Andrea, and David Roberts. Rosie Revere, Engineer. New York: Abrams, 2015. Print.

Pajama Storytime

My students and I have different experiences, or lack thereof, of the public library and its programming. Our student body draws from across nine Georgia counties, which can range from suburban to rural; the libraries are not necessarily a walkable distance or even a quick car ride. In fact, a good deal of my students do not have a public library card, something I did not recognize until we waded through the waters of database access together. As I’ve settled in my role as school librarian, I’ve found myself recreating the public library events that shaped my own childhood into my school library programming. One, most dear to my heart, is pajama storytime. As a child, that nighttime storytime meant a lot: that maybe my dad could come too, that the day would last longer, that my sister and I would get to go out on the town in our matching homemade nightgowns.

In the second year of summer check-out, I decided to add in limited summer hours (I am a 12-month employee) and a nighttime storytime one evening in July to allow for more access to the collection and to provide some resistance to the summer slide. The mission of our lower school library program is to instill a love of learning and to me, limited summer programming creates a sense of safeness and security separate from the social and academic anxiety that can came with the school day. I provide milk and cookies, put on some pjs and my light-up unicorn slippers, and open the doors.

There are ancillary benefits, too. This event is informally open to the larger community- I put it on my Facebook page as well as the library’s and encourage the adults and students alike to get the word out. Our Admissions Director notifies ELC, 1st, and 2nd applicants of the storytimes while I always extend an invitation when tours with younger students come through. One night my crowd was primarily potential students and their siblings. Current students got to be experts and teach our guests some of the library’s rituals, like the singing bowl and our steadfast songs and rhymes, and the adults mingled with one another. The summer times have provided a way for new students to ease into the community and gain some comfort in our space.

These are still the early days of this program, a summer event that carried into the school year. I’m looking forward to measuring the success of it with a full year’s worth of data that give me a better sense of the days that work best, the time of year. I’ll likely leave the time unchanged- 6:30 p.m. allows for dinner and also the chance to fall asleep on the car ride home. But, in the meantime, the anecdotal evidence of success is evident: the stormy nights where only two students come through the deep winter darkness have been just as lovely as the evening with a raucous full house.

Having pajama storytime does mean a commitment to a longer day and a dedicated fund for bookish sleepwear. I find, though, that I what I put in I get back tenfold. Programming like this brings me to the core of my primary purpose as a librarian- to give back to others what was so freely given to me.

The (Un)quiet Library

Our library is not particularly quiet. I’ve aimed to have my students unlearn that pejorative librarian shh; the physical space was recently renovated and rearrange to encourage more interaction. Our library isn’t often quiet and, frankly, it’s not meant to be outside of the areas specifically designated, but one of my primary goals in the library and as the librarian is to share a love and appreciation of silence with the school community.

When I first started working with the youngest students in pre-K and kindergarten, I was not entirely comfortable or confident with rhymes and fingerplays. I was brand new to school librarianship and my nerves were constantly frayed- I had never felt so seen. So I brought something that brought me ease and comfort into our time together: grounding myself in breath. A meditation teacher of mine once related during a talk that people were always telling him to calm down when he was a kid but no one showed him how to calm down. When he said that I heard myself let out one those “me too” sighs. While I aim to give away the experiences that I loved growing up in libraries, I also try to be the adult I needed when I was a kid, someone who modeled the “how tos.”

Three years into this work, elements of mindfulness practice are incorporated throughout the library space and lessons. The seats are backjacks, which can easily be used to practice meditation or to listen to a story, and we begin most Lower School classes with the singing bowl. While I didn’t recognize it when I began this practice, it occurred to me later on that the listening activity was especially effective because our students don’t move on a bell schedule. This wasn’t a regular sound for them so it brought them to the present moment and to their breath. It also created an entryway into a read aloud without an explicit instruction to turn our “listening ears” on. And it comforted me, too. To paraphrase a line heard often in trainings, the librarian sets the temperature for the library and this practice gives me (and my students) the tools to adjust what we come in with.

Having a tangible tool for our opening routine also serves as a jumpoff for honing curiosity and inquiry skills. Over the years I’ve built up a collection of singing bowls. I share these with my students and they lead to questions- from figuring out keywords to search to help decode the language and symbols that adorn some of the bowls (“I know what that symbol means,” a kindergartener told me of a new bowl. “It means happy and sad and love all at once.”) to how our emotions manifest physically.

“Let’s see if we can get the whole library quiet,” a second grader said to me as a group of upper schoolers on break had erupted into our large shared space during the younger kids’ fixed time. The media center and its librarian (me) serves our whole school population, 450 and some odd students from pre-k to 12th grade, in one large, wonderfully light filled room and occasionally the various uses of the space overlap into cacophony. We played the singing bowl and everything outside of the “voice” of the bowl dissipated without a word being said.

What do you do to create and maintain the intended energy of your library?

Further Reading

Kid-friendly Video

Common, Colbie Callait, and Sesame Street. “Belly Breathe with Elmo.” YouTube. PBS, 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mZbzDOpylA>.

Picture Books to Spark a Discussion

  1. Burton, LeVar, Susan Schaefer Bernardo, and Courtenay Fletcher. The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Burbank, CA: Reading Rainbow, 2014. Print.
  2. Llenas, Anna. Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings. New York: Sterling, 2015. Print.
  3. Showers, Paul, and Aliki. The Listening Walk. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.
  4. Spinelli, Eileen, and Rosie Winstead. Someday. New York: Dial for Young Readers, 2007. Print.

Benefits of Mindfulness Practice for Educators and Small Activities to Incorporate Into Your Day

  1. 5 Minute Breathing Exercise. Prod. Daringauthenticity. 5 Minute Breathing Exercise. YouTube, 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 5 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5f5N6YFjvVc>.

This can also be replicated using a Hoberman sphere.

   2. Kamenetz, Anya. “When Teachers Take A Breath, Students Can Bloom.” NPR. NPR, 19 Aug. 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017. <http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/19/488866975/when-teachers-take-a-breath-students-can-bloom>.