I wrote this in quarantine. My toddler had a close contact exposure to Covid-19 in her daycare class and we kept the whole family home out of an abundance of caution. (Everyone is healthy.) It’s a situation many of our patrons and staff may face now that kids have returned to school or pre-school. The Delta variant put a different spin on the usual back-to-school and fall programming, with many libraries still only allowing outdoor or virtual programming.
How can we support our patrons during this fraught back-to-school season?
First, remember to take care of yourselves. Burnout, compassion fatigue, Covid fatigue—whatever you call it, it’s real. Try to take some time for yourself whether it’s a staycation, regular exercise, or enjoying a hobby.
Next, understand the behaviors associated with stress and worry in your patrons. If folks share with you, validate their feelings. Fellow Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee member, Keisha Siriboe, Ph.D., created an excellent video last year on using picture books to discuss worries with children.
Additionally, incorporate mindfulness techniques and activities into your current programs and services. Mindfulness isn’t just about breathing exercises, but a whole set of practices that encourage kids to calm their minds and focus their attention on how their bodies are feeling and experiencing the world in that moment. It can be an important part of social-emotional learning.
Here are some ideas on how you can use mindfulness in the library.
Whether outdoor or virtual, any songs or rhymes that involve breathing or stretching encourage kids to slow down and be present. A new one I started using at my outdoor storytime is “A Big Sea Star.” I found this on Jbrary (credits listed in the YouTube notes). The movements have kids stretching out their arms and legs to make the sea star, soothing themselves by rubbing their arms as a little cuddle clam, and taking a deep breath in and blowing it out to make the puffer fish. Lyrics below.
A big sea star, a big sea star, Little cuddle clam, and a big sea star. A big sea star, a big sea star, Little cuddle clam and a big sea star. A puffer fish, a puffer fish. A little cuddle clam and a big sea star. A puffer fish, a puffer fish, A little cuddle clam and a big sea star.
You can also select books for storytime with a mindfulness or yoga theme. These books teach similar skills and can be especially fun with outdoor storytimes where you may want to act out the books to make up for poor page visibility. I find the following particularly interactive:
- Dinosaur Yoga by Miriam Gates, illustrated by Matthew Rivera
- Yoga Bunny by Brian Russo
- You are a Lion! by Taeeun Yoo
- Hello Moon: A Yoga Moon Salutation for Bedtime by Sarah Jane Hinder
- I Am: Affirmations for Resilience by Bela Barbosa, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
- Stretch by Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin
Finally, I found a list of 32 different breathing techniques from MindfulSchool.org. You can incorporate some of these into storytimes as transitions between books or rhymes.
Take-and-make or grab-and-go kits continue to be popular, especially with many of us not hosting in-person programs. You can make some special kits that focus more on sensory play or calm down tools. These can help kids slow down and focus their attention as they work through feelings. I’ve listed some kit ideas below. (You can find many iterations of these activities online, but for convenience I provided some general links.)
- Sensory squishy bags
- Sensory bottles
- Feelings flashcards – Grown-ups and kids can make this tool together for kids to use. Decide which feelings to include, draw or print out pictures of them, and label each picture card with the feeling.
- Stress balls
- General sensory kit – Include chenille stems to twist and bend, tissue paper to tear, a scarf or fabric strip, and a small wind instrument like a party blower.
I hope these suggestions for incorporating mindfulness techniques and activities help your patrons experiencing feelings of worry and anxiety that come with this particular back-to-school season. If you have other ideas to share, please comment below.
This blog post addresses the following ALSC Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.
Meg Beade Stowe is a member of the Early Childhood Program and Services Committee and a Youth Services Librarian at Kitsap Regional Library.