Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fundraising #1--Before the Book Fair

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
It's Book Fair Week!

I love book fair week.  At the beginning, at least. Honestly, by the end of the week I am glad it is over, but I do enjoy it most of the time. Other people are lucky enough to have their PTA run the fair. When our school opened six years ago, we didn't have much of a PTA so I was the Chairperson and have remained so. The upside of that is that I have sole discretion over the profits, and after hearing about how some of my colleagues clear the library’s schedule for a week,sometimes act as marketer and cashier, and then get very little of the profits, I am glad for that control. The downside is that I am responsible for every part of it. In all, I have run 20 Scholastic Book Fairs now. My assistant, who is amazingly artistic and creative, helps me in every way. We make a good team.

I have always used Scholastic. I know there are other companies, but the profit margin is higher with Scholastic and they are close. I have always had good customer service and the only complaint I have is that as my book fairs bring in more money, they send me more cases. I don't have room for more cases, so sometimes the extras stay closed (shhhh).

Scholastic suggests you start planning six weeks out. I may put it on the calendar, but I do not start planning that early. If I start at 4 weeks, I am early. I create a Sign-up Genius page for the fair and ask for parents to volunteer for every conceivable job I can think of. One could use Volunteer Spot, but I just happened to already have an account and the familiarity with this website. It's easy. Just sign up for a free account and follow the prompts.

Image result for signup genius logo
You can check it out here.

Examples of volunteer opportunities:

1. I asked for a parent to count out all my flyers for each classroom.  I send home a box containing the book fair flyer, a half sheet with this fair’s times and special events that I’ll explain in another post, and a half sheet asking for donations to All for Books, Scholastic’s charity arm. We can buy books for our school with these contributions, and Scholastic matches the con

2. I asked for a parent to hang signs around the school and at the doors. The mother that did this was able to carry her 8 week old baby in a wrap while she did it.  I got to meet a new kindergarten parent, she helped when it fit her schedule, and it only took her maybe 20 minutes.  Win-win!

3. Volunteers help set up and take down. My assistant and I started moving furniture and redistributing the toys and trinkets to different boxes a day or two before set-up, which made it go much faster than usual. I love this 2 or 3 hours with parents. We get to know them better, and sometimes we make a long-time volunteer friend out of them.

4. This time I had the bright idea to ask for personal shoppers during the kindergarten and first grade classes I can't tell you how much this helped! I think this wins my Brilliant Idea of the Semester award. You know how littles will bring $5 but choose $50 worth of books and toys? It is also hard to help the littles make good choices when five bring money at the same time but  there might only be two adults in the library. Personal shoppers were gold!

5. I created a spot for parents to volunteer for every conceivable time that students are allowed to shop, which at my school are before school and during lunch, and then during the K and 1st grade classes.

My fairs have grown steadily over the last 6 years and we are making decent money. It is a lot of work, but we think it is worth it.

I would love to hear what you do to prepare for your Book Fair before it opens!  I'll share some more tricks and tips that I have learned for running the fair in my next post.

Friday, September 11, 2015

TALL Words

First grade is such an exciting time in the library. They get to go to the shelves for the first time and choose from thousands of books. This can be overwhelming, and often frustrating for kiddos, so this is what we do in our library to handle the transition from Kindergarten to First Grade.

After our story time, Kindergartners are sent to sit at a table with three or four other students. They choose books from a selection of about ten to twelve books on their table. I have found that number to be plenty of choice for them. More is overwhelming. No, I don’t let them go to the shelves yet for many reasons, mostly because my assistant and I do not have the time to straighten the shelves after a class of Kinders get through with them. Yes, I teach them spine out, standing on their feet, shelf markers, one at a time, but most of these little darlings are just not ready for it.

First grade, though, is a different story. First graders learn to use shelf markers, practicing for a
couple of weeks on a cart, and then on the shelves. We do not level our library or use a system like Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts, so I spend time teaching young students how to choose a “good fit” book. I read Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins to second graders, but not to the first graders. I save one of my absolutely favorite lessons for the Firsties. I call it TALL WORDS.

I do this lesson every year, and every year it is a smash hit. I start with Billy & Milly, Short & Silly by Eve Feldman. We talk about how TALL the words are—not big words, because that connotes many letters in one word. TALL words are easy for small eyes to see. TALL words need a lot of room, so there are usually few to a page. We also talk about how rhymes help us predict the next word, even if we don’t know it yet. Some classes spontaneously repeat the words after me, because the words are TALL enough for them to see from where they sit.

Then I get to the best part. I mean, I can have those kiddos eating from the palm of my hand. They laugh in all the right places. They hold their breath, wondering what is going to happen next. They call out, “Again, again!” when I finish reading. The books that hold so much power? The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. I chose I Will Surprise My Friend this year. There Is A Bird On Your Head is another favorite. I have voices that I use for Elephant and Piggie, and I speed up, slow down, whisper, and shout as the text indicates. The speech bubbles make it easy to tell who is speaking. Instant success!

For the rest of the year, the students are hooked. Elephant and Piggie books are in high demand. I add at least a half dozen books to the collection each year, but it doesn’t matter how many we own. We rarely have more than two checked in at a time.

I may have to read another Elephant and Piggie book next week just because they are so much fun. Oh, and to make sure the kiddos understand TALL words.

What are your favorite books for first graders? I would love to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Safe Searches

Another year has begun. A new year is full of promise, expectation, excitement. And time for me to finally do what I have wanted to do for a long time—blog. My hope is that other librarians and educators will find what I share useful and interesting.

I am so fortunate in that I am the only librarian to have ever worked in this school. I got to set the library up the way I wanted, and every year my assistant and I tweak things just a little to make it run a bit more smoothly. We opened our school in 2009, and this will be my 7th year with my school. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what the teachers and students need.

One thing I know my teachers need are safe sources for students to use to research. Sometimes a teaching opportunity comes up on the spur of the moment, and there is no time for me to send links and database articles to the teacher. Sometimes they just want to research “in house” on their own. Instead of waiting for them to come to me for sources or being passive about this, I am going to give them a list of five pre-screened search sites. It was six, but one of our favorites,, is offline right now and won’t come back for another 30 days, or so I am told.

Please don’t tell an eight-year-old that he can just “Google” an answer! You and I can do that because we have the ability to filter and evaluate reliability, relevance, and usefulness, but I don’t know a single second grader who possesses those skills yet. We need to teach searching and evaluation, but they are skills gained slowly with much guidance.

Here are some sites that I have found for kiddos. They were all evaluated by me on the day before I published this. If you find a broken link, tell me and I’ll fix it or find a replacement. By the way, a couple of these sights are merely custom Google searches. Anyone can create a custom Google search, but this way you don’t have to. This resource looks more like homework help than a search, but it has a lot of info that the students will need. Students can choose a category (such as math, science, or people) and continue to select categories until they get to their end point. Searches using the search box yield results from the Fact Monster Almanac, Atlas, Dictionary, and Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition. Cons—not nearly as broad as a search engine, but probably has most of what elementary kiddos need.
Image result for gogooligans Gogooligans is not affiliated with Google, but it is a Google custom search created using Google Custom Searches and Google’s SafeSearch. The proprieters say that they can further customize searches upon request. There are also options for older kids, a UK version, and a “LITE” version. Cons-- you need to supervise what students search, although I tried the “bad” cuss words and they were all blocked. So were “sex”, “how to make a bomb”, and “how to make meth.” A search on “drugs” yielded sites with information about prescription drugs and effects of drug abuse, but this is not the tightest and most restrictive search I evaluated. Know your kiddos, their maturity, and their needs.
Image result for kidrex  KidRex bills itself as a Google Custom search “by kids for kids.” This search is even tighter than Gogooligans. Searches for private body parts (and several of their nicknames) were blocked. Legitimate searches yielded good, usable results. Cons—may be too tight for older children doing legitimate research, but it may be a good time to teach synonyms.

Image result for kidtopia Another Google Custom search, but this time with buttons that look like homework help. This would be good for those who genuinely want to explore a subject or just look around at science, social studies, art, or other subjects. All of the sites have been recommended by teachers and librarians, so everything has been vetted. Cons—clicking on one of the buttons does not necessarily yield more options or suggestions, as it might appear at first site. Still, a good site for elementary students to use.
Image result for kidzsearch This site has a section to explore, which I like. I also LOVE that there is a section on “boolify” that a teacher can use to teach students to use boolian commands. They drag and drop what they want at the top, and it appears in the search box the way they would type it into a search engine. There are also suggested site. Cons—I haven’t found any. I love this site! I think this is one that kiddos could explore and play on when they aren’t using the search features.

10/7/15 I created a work mat with five qr codes that lead to all of the search sites I mentioned above, plus table tents with one qr code each for all five. I use them for easy access when we research. Download it for FREE from my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking on the picture: