Minecraft Update

Back in July, I talked about the Minecraft program that a coworker and I were offering twice a week during the summer.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that we’ve continued to offer this program once a week every week (with a short break for Christmas & New Years).  So here’s what’s been happening:

– We updated to the latest MinecraftEdu.  I forget what version we were running before, but we ignored all updates throughout summer and fall and the beginning of winter.  We also kept the same worlds for those months, and kids were definitely running out of land to build on.  Then came that fateful day in January when I had a full room of Minecraft fanatics and THE SERVER CRASHED!  Luckily we were able to play in a single player world, so I wasn’t mobbed by angry kids, but it taught us the lesson that we should update semi-regularly and give the kids a new world to play in semi-regularly too.  So now we’re up to date, and the worlds are still newish, and I’ll be sure to let IT know to update and build a new world prior to summer.

– We had several weeks where an invisible person (or multiple invisible people) was destroying houses and killing pets and basically just griefing all over the place.  This was the most frustrating couple of weeks for me because kids would get very UPSET when something happened to their house or pets.  But the person was invisible, so there was no way that I could figure out who it was.  There were a couple of times when I had to freeze everyone in the game in the hopes that this behavior would stop, but freezing did nothing.  And the worse part was that I wasn’t even sure if it really was an invisible person, or if it was some sort of glitch in the game.  One day, I had a girl tell me that someone had flooded her house.  And, sure enough, it was flooded.  But 1) she was in the nether and a quick look around the room told me that no one else was in the nether, 2) we had literally just logged on and flooding a house like that would have taken more than just a minute.  After a few stressful weeks of trying to manage this invisible nonsense, I ended up telling the kids that there was nothing that I could do, and that they’d just have to live with it and rebuild.  Funnily enough, the mysterious invisible person stopped harassing others after that.

– This program is still insanely popular.  We saw a slight drop in numbers when school started, but for the past two months we’ve not only been filling up the computer room, but I’ve had to turn anywhere where from 2 to 8 kids away per program!  I’ve also been letting kids use my computer, just so we could get that one extra person in.  Because of this, I haven’t been signing in as a teacher, which means I can’t TP kids or freeze kids.  This has been working out well for me because constant TPing is a pain, and now I can walk around the room and talk to kids about the game and even bring some extra work to work on during the program.  Kids are sad about not being able to TP though, so I think that I’ll start a policy where I will keep the computer for the first five minutes so that I can TP people to be by their friends before relinquishing the computer to the last kid.

– One of the things that I love most about this program is that I get to watch kids build friendships with one another.  These are kids who might otherwise be staying at home and playing on the computer solo, so it’s great to see them become friends with each other.  I see a lot of hugs in the hallway as they’re waiting for me to open the door.

– The kids are SO PROUD of what they build!  As I’m walking around the room, I often have kids stop me to show me what they built or to tell me about how many diamonds they have or something similar.  Every now and then, kids will work together to build something AMAZING and then put a bunch of TNT in it and call me over so that I can first marvel at it and then watch it burn to the ground.

– There are still A LOT of things that I don’t know how to do in Minecraft, but it’s okay because there’s always at least one kid who does know how to do it, so when I get asked a question that I don’t know the answer to, I can still just call out the question and someone else will have the answer.

– The last thing to note is that we’ve (and by we, I mean me, and maybe my coworker) have relaxed a lot during this program.  We no longer write down the rules (our regulars know them, and when we see a new person, we tell them the rules as we get them started).  We no longer take down names and user names, though we still try our best to learn names/user names as we go.  We now allow survival mode, which we said we’d never do.  We have two servers for kids to play in and one is in survival mode and other is in creative and they can choose which one they one to play in (about half choose survival while the other half choose creative).  We generally keep monsters turned off, but allow TNT.  I have gone from mostly dreading this program to actually kind of liking it a lot.

And that has turned into a novel-length blog post.  I don’t know if any of you will find it useful and/or interesting, but if you do have questions about Minecraft, feel free to ask!

Minecraft Madness!


This summer, a coworker and I decided to provide a Minecraft program for children ages 6 to 11.  Originally, we planned to only offer it every other Monday; however, due to the high demand for the program, we ended up offering it EVERY Monday and EVERY Wednesday!  We have been doing this for just over a month now, and I feel like I should talk about this program.  Because this program is so popular and it draws in an age group that doesn’t always have a lot programs geared towards them, I can see a lot of libraries wanting to jump onto the bandwagon.  So here I am…talking about it.  Except…I’m not sure I have all that much to say.

We use MinecraftEdu for this program.  I’m not going to talk about MinecraftEdu because the awesome Anthony Martocello of the Northport-East Northport Public Library has already created a stupendous MinecraftEdu primer that you should all check out now! It is amazing, and it will walk you through everything you’d want to know about MinecraftEdu.

A few pointers for hosting a MinecraftEdu program:

  • Be very familiar with the game.  Load it onto your work computer and spend a good deal of time playing it before you even think about going into a room filled with Minecraft fanatics.  I had the game loaded onto my computer a week before the first Minecraft program, but, due to Summer Reading being in full swing at the time, I only spent about 15 or 20 minutes on it, and I only knew the very basic, basic, basics.  Even now, over a month later, I’m still learning new things about this game and freaking out every time something happens that doesn’t make sense to me.
  • Kids are pretty good about helping each other (and you!) out, so when you do encounter something that you don’t know how to do, just ask…someone’s bound to know what to do.
  • RULES!  You’ll need to set some rules at the start of the program.  Some of our rules include 1) No griefing (no bullying…don’t go into someone’s house without permission…don’t kill other peoples’ animals, etc.), 2) No swearing (it has happened, unfortunately…in the chat no less), 3) No begging (some kids want the weather on…some want the weather off…some want monsters…some don’t…some what day/night…some don’t), let the kids know that you’ll try your best to create an awesome world, but you can’t please everyone.
  • Also, let the kids know that if someone’s in their house uninvited or destroying their house, they should raise their hand to have you come over and look.  That way you know who to freeze/talk to.  You’ll find a lot of times kids will randomly say “SOMEONE’S IN MY HOUSE!” but when you go to inspect, no one’s there.
  • Use creative mode.  Flying is awesome.
  • You’ll want to bring a piece of paper to write down each child’s real name, their username, and the computer they’re at.  This comes in handy if you have to freeze someone due to behavioral issues, or if you’re TPing (transporting) someone.  It’s also cool to see who shows up every week.
  • We’ve found that 25 is the magic number for us.  Having more than 25 people on the server causes lagging…and sometimes we even have lagging when there’s under 25 people.

And that’s about it (I’m sure I’m missing something though).

I’ll be honest with you guys…I have very mixed feelings about this program.  On the one hand, I love it because it’s cool and it’s bringing kids into the library.  I love it when kids say, “Hey, Miss Erin, come look at this house I built!” or when they say hi to me when I’m at the ref desk because they recognize me from Minecraft.

However, this is also a stressful program for me.  There are days when the technology is lagging and kids are near tears.  There are days where everyone seems to be griefing one another.  There are days where I’m surrounded by kids who all want to TP to someone else and it’s very confusing for me to keep everyone straight.  I have taken to bringing a stress ball with me into this program.

BUT, I think the pros outweigh the cons for the most part.

Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I have to go play some Minecraft.


Incorporating STEM into Storytime Pt. 2

Art SuppliesImage Credit:  StockVault

I have been thinking a lot about STEM lately, specifically how to implement it into my current preschool storytime program.  Yesterday I talked about how STEM is already found in storytime through fingerplays/rhymes and how it can easily be introduced through nonfiction and concept books.  Today I’m going to talk about some more overt ways to include STEM in preschool storytime through activities and demonstrations.


Kids love to do activities in storytime!  Not only are activities a great way to reinforce the concepts that were introduced in the books, but they are also an efficient way for kids to get their wiggles out before starting another story.  Activities in storytime can be as simple or as complex (well, not too complex) as your group allows.  And, again, many of us have already been doing STEM activities without even knowing it.  Here are a few:

Sorting Activities:

I don’t know about you, but sorting activities are always a huge hit in my storytimes.  Whether I’m giving children flannel pieces to sort on the board, or some other item to sort into buckets, the kids in my storytimes (from toddlers, all the way up to older children) love sorting.  And I love it too because not only does it give the kids a chance to get up and move, but it also forces them to think critically, a trait needed for STEM.  To add more STEM to your sorting games, count the sorted groups and record your numbers!

Some of my favorite sorting games include:


The other week, I was reading some of the mommy blogs that I have on my RSS feed when I stumbled upon these cute (and free!) count and clip flashcards!  Then it hit me that this is something that I can very easily replicate for storytime.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I will once my regular preschool storytime resumes in August.  I’m planning on printing enough flashcards for each child to have 3-5.  I’ll put the flashcards in a baggy with a clothes pin, then hand the baggies out after a story and tell the children to spend a few minutes with their caregivers, counting and clipping for an independent activity.  Once everyone’s finished we can go over the answers together.  And then everything goes back into the baggy and returned to me.

Along with counting, I also intend to make flashcards for:

  • Colors
  • Letters
  • Shapes
  • Seasons
  • Animals

Simple STEM Activities:

We see them all the time on the ALSC blog, on mommy blogs, and on education websites:  simple activities that reinforce STEM concepts.  Most of these activities involve household and craft supplies that are easy to get, and many of them at the preschool level are not complicated at all.  Still, it can be difficult to include these in storytime, particularly if you have big crowds, limited space, or limited funds/supplies.  However, I think with a little planning and preparation, librarians can definitely include a STEM activity (maybe it could occassionally replace the craft portion of the program if you do crafts.)

Here are a few that I would definitely be interested in trying:Candy Canes

And, yeah, I get, like, 90% of my STEM ideas from Teach Preschool.


And, lastly, we have demonstrations.  I see these as simple STEM activities, but instead of having the children do them, you simply demonstrate it to the group.  This is great for activities that might be a little more complicated, or that might make a mess, or would be too time-consuming and/or expensive for everyone to do.

A few activities that I can see myself demonstrating are:clouds

I’ll be trying these activities and demonstrations once my preschool storytime starts back up in August.

Incorporating STEM into Storytime Pt. 1

Art Supplies

Image Credit:  StockVault

STEM has been on my mind for a long time.  For the better part of the past year, I’ve been saving posts that talk about STEM programming (many of these posts can be found on the ALSC blog) and pinning STEM activities to my Pinterest account.  However, no matter how many ideas I accrue, I haven’t really had a chance to host an official STEM program at my library.

Then it hit me:  I don’t need to create a new program devoted to STEM (though I plan to eventually because they are awesome)…I can incorporate STEM into existing programs!  One of the easist programs to STEMify is preschool storytime.  As a matter of fact, many librarians – myself included – have been promoting STEM in storytime all along!  With a little forthought, STEM aspects can fit into storytime without drastically altering the normal storytime plan.  How can we do this?  By introducing STEM concepts through fingerplays/rhymes, books, activities, and demonstrations.

Because this post ended up being a little longer than I originally expected, I’m going to talk about fingerplays/rhymes and books today, and I’ll post about activities and demonstrations tomorrow.


This is one of the easiest ways to incorporate STEM into storytime, and it’s something that most librarians have been doing all along.  All those 5 little or 10 little whats-its rhymes teach counting, which is preschool level math!  You can even go a step further and initiate some addition and subtraction by doing your typical 5 little whats-it rhyme, then telling the children, “Okay, I’m going to take two of these umbrellas/flowers/snowflakes away.  How many do we have left?”  Some children may figure it out quickly and shout out the answer.  For the benefit of the others, you can count how many are left.

Rhymes can also be useful for explaining basic aspects of science.  For example, I’ve found very simple rhymes that talk about what happens in Spring or about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.  The rhymes are short and the concepts are simple, but it’s a great way to introduce a science topic!

Some of my favorite fingerplays/rhymes that promote STEM include:

Counting/Math Rhymes:

The Ants Go Marching

Science Topic Rhymes:

  • In the Spring (Storytime Magic, Page 90)
  • Butterfly (Kindergarten Magic, Page 217)
  • Climb Aboard (Kindergarten Magic, Page 167)


Another easy way to sneak STEM into your existing storytime is through books!  There isn’t a rule that says that all storytime books must be fiction.  In fact, I have found that certain nonfiction books are a big hit in storytime and promote great discussions!  Most nonfiction picture books are very readable and they introduce STEM concepts simply while captivating young audiences through pictures.  Nonfiction books are great to add to storytimes about seasons, animals, weather, colors, counting, etc.

While not traditionally nonfiction, concept books are also a good resource for introducing STEM into storytime.  What better way to discuss STEM concepts such as counting, opposites, shapes, etc. than through concept books?  And, like rhymes and fingerplays, concept books are something that we librarians have been including in our storytimes for ages.

Some of my favorite nonfiction and concept books to include in storytime include:

Nonfiction:Baby Penguins Slips and Slides

  • Shapes in the Sky:  A Book About Clouds by Josepha Sherman
  • Watching the Seasons Series by Emily C. Dawson
  • Baby Penguin Slips and Slides by Michael Teitelbaum
  • Flying Colors:  Butterflies in Your Backyard by Nancy Loewen


lemons are not red

  • One Little Blueberry by Tammi Salzano
  • Over in the Forest:  Come and Take a Peek by Marianne Collins Berkes
  • My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall
  • Lemons are Not Red by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Fingerplays/rhymes and nonfiction/concept books are so easy to include in storytime that it’s a stealthy way to add STEM to your program.  Tomorrow on the blog, I’ll be talking about a less stealthy/more obvious way to include STEM in your storytimes:  Activities and Demonstrations!

P.S.  What are some of your favorite fingerplays/rhymes and nonfiction/concept books to include in storytime?

Five Little Monsters Template

I originally was not going to make a template for my Five Little Monsters flannel set.  Partly because I’m not all that great at templates, but also because I based this flannel set off of some clip art I found online.  I’m still unsure of the legality of posting a template of someone else’s clip art (even if I made a few changes).  But Caitlin asked so nicely for a template that I decided to go ahead and go for it!  If it turns out that I am infringing on someone else’s copyright, then I’ll take it down.

Now, this isn’t a great template.  I drew it out by hand, and I didn’t have a scanner, so I ended up taking a picture of it with my phone and making a template with that image.  Still, it should work.

Click here for template.

Collection Development 101: Selection

The super awesome Anne at So Tomorrow made a great post this weekend about collection development.  I really enjoy hearing how other people do things in their libraries, so I thought I’d play along and make my own collection development post!

A Little Bit About My Library:

I work in a city library that’s not quite small, but not quite medium in size.  We serve a population of over 100,000 people; however, we only buy one copy of a book unless it’s an award-winner or popular.

As the sole children’s librarian at my library, I’m in charge of buying all of the books for babies up to young adult.  My immediate supervisor (the youth services manager) buys the young adult books, and my library director buys youth media such as DVDs, Audiobooks, Playaways and e-books.

A Little Bit About Choosing Which Books to Buy:

I use pretty much the same resources that Anne has listed on her post.  When it comes to review journals, I also use (in addition to what Anne has mentioned) Booklist, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and (very rarely, but on occasion) the publisher catalogs that I get throughout the year.

I also love reading other storytime-centric blogs to see what books they’re reading in storytime.  I usually find some really great books this way!

A Little Bit About Budgeting:

This is where it gets a little bit embarrassing for me; I don’t have any budget spreadsheets like Anne does, and when it comes to the budget, I’m actually not nearly as organized as I was trained to be in grad school.

My library director allocates the budget, telling me how much I have in each of my four collection development areas:  Picture Books, which includes board books, easy readers, concept books, holiday books, and the good ol’ fashioned picture book, Juvenile Fiction, which includes paperbacks (which I hardly buy) and other juvenile fiction chapter books, Nonfiction and, last but not least, Biographies.

Horizon keeps track of how much I have spent, how much is on order, and how much I have left in my budget.  I do not keep a monthly budget, though I do keep one eye on the Horizon budget report and buy accordingly.  Some months I spend more than others, and some months I spend less than others.

A Little Bit About the Ordering Process:

I mainly use Baker & Taylor.  At my library, the collection development manager creates a Baker & Taylor PO in Horizon, and everyone adds their books to it.  The PO will be up for a few weeks before the collection development manager creates a new one and approves of the old one, closing it off.

When I find a book that I want to order, I first go to the Baker & Taylor website, find the book on there, copy its ISBN, then go into the Baker & Taylor PO, paste the ISBN, do the ISBN search, click order and then fill in the budget and collection information.

When I can’t find a book on Baker & Taylor (or when it’s back ordered), I use BWI.  This one’s a bit trickier because I have to create a list on the BWI website, order through the website, then create my own PO in Horizon and add the books through there.  When I’m finished with the PO, I approve it and send an e-mail to my library director and collection development manager with the approved PO number.

Sporadically throughout the year, we’ll get preview boxes from vendors.  I LOVE PREVIEW BOXES!!!  I love flipping through the books, reading them, consulting with other staff members about them, sleeping on them (not literally of course, but figuratively), rereading them, and really taking my time deciding whether they should be in our collection or not.  When I do make my decision, I call the sales rep to place the order, create the PO in Horizon, e-mail my library director and collection development manager the PO number, then wheel the books down to tech services for them to take care of.

Lastly, some vendors send sales reps with books to the library.  I don’t mind this, but it’s not as nice as just sending the books and letting me take my time with them.  When the sales rep is present, I feel pressured to make quick decisions.  Luckily I’m very good at making quick decisions.  When the reps come, they put the books out on a table, and I first make two piles:  1) Books that I’m interested in, and 2) Books that I’m not interested in.  I then take the books that I’m interested in and search for them on Horizon to see if we already have them.  If we don’t have them, I’ll decide if there’s a need or a want for them in the library.  A lot of these books are usually things like Star Wars books, Transformers books, Pokemon books…you know…books that have a high demand but don’t appear in review journals.  Also board books.  I buy most of my board books and easy readers from these sales reps.  When I make my final decision, the sales rep enters the books I want into a laptop and prints out a copy for me.  They take all the books back with them, and a week or so later my order comes in and I make the PO, approve it, e-mail, etc.

A Few Last Words:

That is all I really have to say about how I do collection development.  Anne has a great bullet point list of things to consider when you’re on the fence about a book, or just need to cut titles.  I agree with pretty much everything she has listed there.

I’ll end by saying that collection development is a bit tricky when you first start at a library, but once you really get to know your community and collection, it gets a lot easier.