Storytime Picks from Monday, January 30

Perhaps it was the lure of a bright sun on an otherwise cold morning or maybe everyone just wanted to sleep in a little longer, but the Lending Library was fairly empty this morning. So we had a small (very small, with just two girls and their moms) but engaged storytime audience. Actually, the quiet worked quite well for this week’s read, which focuses on the changing seasons, the passage of time, and one old, very tired bear.

Old Bear
by Kevin Henkes

Old Bear features Kevin Henkes’s signature illustrative style: soft, yet vivid visuals, focusing on lush environmental landscapes and personifying characters with the most subtle of techniques. Coupled with the simple elegance of the text, the result is a book that is as lovely to read as it is to look at. And it’s great for both younger and older readers, as the story is easy enough for very little children to follow, but carries resonant themes that are best explained to older children.

With toddlers, twos and threes, focus on the colors of the illustration, the actions of the bear, the seasons and the changes in the setting. Ask them what each season brings to the page. Is there rain? Is there snow? What colors can be found in each season?

Children age four and up can consider the larger themes of the book. Why does the old bear dream about himself as a cub? What part of his dreams are realistic and which parts are fantastical? How much time passes before the old bear wakes up into Spring? Talk about the seasons and which months fall into each season. What are your children’s favorite seasons and why?

Kevin Henkes has a great library of nature-focused books, so if you and your kids love Old Bear, be sure to check out these other titles:


Storytime is every Monday at 10 am and is intended for all ages.


Art Group – Wednesday, January 25

Our Toddlers, Twos and Threes Art Group had so much fun with tissue paper last week, we thought why not try it again this week? So we got out some construction paper, some glue, some paint brushes, and tissue paper and let the kids go at it. The results were fantastic tissue paper collages!

The process to make the collages is as simple as painting. The kids could take the paint brushes and “paint” their papers with the glue. After getting as much or as little glue on the paper as desired, they could then apply the tissue paper in various ways: patterns, layers, pictures, just about anything would do. There were markers on each table, so if a child wanted to add a drawing to the collage, he or she was able to. Just be careful not to get the markers in the glue! We had a few sticky marker tips to clean off before Art Group was over.

A few musts for this activity:

– Use heavy construction paper or other thick art paper. The wetness of the glue coupled with the tissue tends to break down lighter weight papers.
– Absolutely cover up any work surface. The glue is far harder to remove than finger or tempera paints.
– Water down the glue a little. About a tablespoon or two of water per 1/4 cup of glue should work. It makes the glue more spreadable and easier to work with, as well as more washable. Good to know for when those sticky fingers need cleaning off.

Remember that the tissue paper will stick to the glue regardless of how it is applied, so encourage your kids to experiment with texture by balling up the tissue paper, crumpling it or ripping it into smaller pieces. Once the paper has been applied, let them run over the pieces with more glue and apply more paper on top. Explore the color combinations that can be created by layering color tissue on color tissue.

The ease and variety of tactile experiences make this a great activity for even very young children. Best of all, the collages can be used to support other art projects. One little girl used her tissue paper collage to make a birthday card for a relative. How can you and your kids re-purpose the artwork once it comes down from the fridge?

Toddlers, Twos and Threes Art Group meets every Wednesday at 10 am and is open to all members and visitors (with paid admission to PTLL’s playspace). The group is run by Megan Spak and Elisabeth Moyer, with assistance by Emily Fear.

Storytime Picks from Monday, January 23

What a way to begin a rainy Monday! It might have been dismal and gray outside, but our storytime group was as vibrant as a rainbow. We did our storytime stretches, some “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” then learned all about colors: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet/purple. Our book for the day helped us to remember these colors, as well as encourage us to make some really cool train sounds:

Freight Train
by Donald Crews

This Caldecott Honor book became a classic of children’s literature almost immediately after its release and for good reason: Crews’ narrative and illustrative style is deceptively simple, but encourages complex, creative thinking in its children readers. Kids learn colors, but also about motion, movement, and the passage of time. The illustrations, the font, and the minimal text all mimic the steady, constant rhythms of a train heading down the tracks.

If reading this with your children, have them pick out the colors and mimic the sounds and movements of a train. Ask them what they think might be inside the train, where the train might be headed, and where the train might have been. Basic questions allow them to build a larger story out of simple details.

Also, if you and your kids have been exploring iPad picture book apps, the Freight Train app is particularly good, fleshing out the original story with sounds, songs, hidden pictures and games, and animation:

Want more Donald Crews? Check out some of his other titles:


Storytime is every Monday at 10 am and is intended for all ages.

Art Group – Wednesday, January 18

We had a flood of attendees to yesterday’s Toddlers, Twos and Threes Art Group, many of whom were surprised and delighted by our activity for the day. Armed with contact paper, cardboard frames, and colorful squares of tissue paper, our little artists created beautiful pseudo-stained glass portraits. Held up against natural or artificial light, these portraits become beautiful prisms. The perfect thing to brighten up a room even on the grayest January day.

Assembling what you need for your kids to do this at home is easy. Contact paper and tissue paper are the only necessities. Frames make a nice way to contain the portrait, but another simple way to keep the work intact is start out with an extra-large piece of contact paper and then, upon completion, simply fold it so that only the non-sticky side is exposed. You can even cut the finished work into a size that will fit into an empty frame or cut into a fun shape of your child’s choosing.

The more contact paper surface that is covered with tissue paper, the brighter the “stained glass” will be, but a few blank gaps to let in the light also work nicely. Very young children can make a random collage of colors while older children can consider using the tissue paper pieces to form patterns and images. Help your children if needed, but allow them to follow their own creative impulses.

This activity offers a large amount of learning opportunities. With very young children, focus on the tactile input and color learning of the activity. Have them feel the sticky contact paper first, then feel the smooth side. Contrast this with how the tissue paper feels. Show them how the light comes through the contact paper without the additional tissue.

While they’re applying the tissue paper, ask them to name the colors of the pieces they’re using. When they’re done, have them hold up the portrait to the light, then ask if they notice a difference in the colors – Are they darker? Are they brighter? Does the portrait change the way the light looks?

The activity is also a great low-mess craft, so bring it out on days when you don’t feel like washing paint brushes or cleaning off tables. If tissue paper pieces fall to the ground, use scraps of contact paper to easily pick them up.

Toddlers, Twos and Threes Art Group meets every Wednesday at 10 am and is open to all members and visitors (with paid admission to PTLL’s playspace). The group is run by Megan Spak and Elisabeth Moyer, with assistance by Emily Fear.

MLK Day Volunteers!

About 20 students from Shady Side Academy descended on the Toy Lending Library on Monday, January 15th. They were there to honor Martin Luther King Jr. (and his holiday) by volunteering their time to clean toys and tidy up the playspace. Thanks to their efforts, our members and visitors can enjoy freshly washed toys, crisp and clear windows, and clean play equipment.

Thanks, Shady Side Academy!

For more information on Shady Side Academy’s MLK Day volunteering efforts, please check out this fantastic article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Some pictures from the volunteer effort:


Storytime Picks from Monday, January 16

Happy Martin Luther King Day! The schools are closed, the libraries are closed, but PTLL was open on this holiday, making the playspace a great destination for parents with energetic little ones, but few places to take them. In addition, we had a group of visitors from Shadyside Academy, volunteering their time to help us clean up our playspace and lending library toys. (Pictures of their tour of duty will be posted soon!)

To best enjoy the rambunctious energy of a holiday, our storytime crowd played a rousing rendition of “Spot the Walrus,” a game best played in tandem with a fantastic 2011 new classic:

Where’s Walrus?
by Stephen Savage

For 32 vividly colored, word-free pages, readers can follow on Walrus’s journey, starting at the zoo and leading to a series of excellent disguises. Whether he’s posing as an ordinary businessman at a diner or joining along with a chorus of showgirls, Walrus will do anything to elude his would-be captor, the zookeeper.

If you’ve been reluctant to read a wordless picture book with your children, this is an excellent book to try. The story translates to even very young children, but the images are so comically rendered, even older children will be entertained. Children can point out the walrus on each page, but also identify other elements of the story, such as what the walrus is doing in each of his disguises.

Best of all, a wordless picture book is a great way to experiment with storytelling when reading to your children. Try telling them the story from the walrus’s point of view, then when you read it another time, tell it from the zookeeper’s. For older readers, ask them what each character might be thinking or saying on each page. By inventing and re-inventing the story, you and your children can make a pre-existing picture book all your own.

And if you and your kids want a little more Walrus fun, check out this great book trailer featuring author Stephen Savage!

Storytime is every Monday at 10 am and is intended for all ages.

Art Group – Wednesday, January 11

It’ll be some time before we can adorn our sidewalks with chalk drawings, but that didn’t stop Toddlers, Twos and Threes Art Group from bringing the best of the playground indoors. Our lil artists set to work on miniature canvases of damp recycled paper, scrawling and smearing their colorful lines across the page. If things got too dry, we had spray bottles and wet paintbrushes ready for use.

Wet chalk drawings are incredibly easy to set up. Spray a sheet of paper (use a paper dense enough to withstand a little dampness) until it’s damp, but not too wet. Then have the child pick out chalk to use on the paper. Once he or she has drawn, encourage them to use their fingers, a wet paintbrush, or another tool to smear the chalk around the page. It’s part chalk drawing and part fingerpainting – sans the paint mess!

You and your kids might be surprised to see how bright the colors turn out once the paper dries. Light colors, especially yellow and white, don’t show up so well when the paper is wet, but once it dries, you’ll see bold, beautiful lines across the page. Mixing the chalk colors works especially well here, and the color blending shows up well on the finished work.

As always, the process is the point of the activity. Wet chalk drawings are abundant in tactile input. Kids can feel the wet paper, then compare it to the dry, dusty chalk. They can watch the colors transform from dry to wet to dry, feeling the wet paper and chalk with their fingertips as they spread it around the page.

For maximum, keep the options for creativity open by varying the size of chalk, the size of paper, the level of dampness, and the other tools that could be used for the process. Geting your kids used to experimenting with different objects in the same project enables them to be more resourceful down the line.

And don’t forget to put plenty of newspaper down on work surfaces. The project isn’t super messy, but it can get really wet!

Toddlers, Twos and Threes Art Group meets every Wednesday at 10 am and is open to all members and visitors (with paid admission to PTLL’s playspace). The group is run by Megan Spak and Elisabeth Moyer.

(This project was inspired by an activity in MaryAnn Kohl’s First Art for Toddlers and Twos)