Category Archives: Animals

Night Owl Flannelboard and Sound Story

Another sneak peek from our newest book, More Storytime Magic (ALA Editions, January 2016):

Night Owl Flannelboard and Sound Story

Based on the book by Toni Yuly (New York: Macmillan, 2015).night owl

Night Owl listens to the sounds of the night, waiting for his very favorite one: his mother returning home! As you tell the story, play clips of the sounds that Night Owl hears and ask the children to identify them.

Download full-size printable illustrations by Melanie Fitz.

Click on the links below for sounds:

Owl Hoot


Train whistle




Owl Hoot

MacMillan_cover_1p.inddFind lots more great storytime activities in More Storytime Magic, the latest volume in the Storytime Magic series!

From Last Minute to Legendary

I had a great time last Thursday presenting my brand-new workshop, “Last Minute Lessons”  at the 52nd Annual Early Childhood Education Conference.  Participants were challenged to come up with creative lesson plans in response to emergency situations – all with limited materials.  Check out some of the wildly creative things they did with waterlogged books, paper goods, and the contents of their pockets and purses.  One thing’s for certain: if I am ever stranded on a deserted island, I hope it’s with a group of these resourceful early childhood educators!

Lacing card made with an index card, hole punch, and the string from a conference badge.

Lacing card made with an index card, hole punch, and the string from a conference badge.

Found objects for each letter of the alphabet.

Found objects for each letter of the alphabet.

Sheep and fence made from clothespins, index cards, and cotton balls.

Sheep and fence made from clothespins, index cards, and cotton balls.


Farm animals made from a file folder, paper cups, clothespins, cotton balls, and pictures cut from a magazine.

Farm animals made from a file folder, paper cups, clothespins, cotton balls, and pictures cut from a magazine.

Caterpillar made from soda bottle and crepe streamers, Chrysalis made from plastic cups, Butterfly made from napkins and a plastic fork.

Caterpillar made from soda bottle and crepe streamers, Chrysalis made from plastic cups, Butterfly made from napkins and a plastic fork.


Numeracy activities: Number line using cardstock and sticky notes, Number box using a cardboard box and pennies.

Numeracy activities: Number line using cardstock and sticky notes, Number box using a cardboard box and pennies.

A simple activity for a lesson on sickness and health: place a piece of painter's tape on a card, then ask the children to color the card with a crayon.  Remove the tape to show how bandages protect wounds from germs.

A simple activity for a lesson on sickness and health: place a piece of painter’s tape on a card, then ask the children to color the card with a crayon. Remove the tape to show how bandages protect wounds from germs.




Baby Storytime Rhyme: Tickly Octopus

Octopus, octopus, bobbing up and down,

reaching your long arms all around.  (wave arms)


Baby tries to crawl far away

but octopus arms don’t let you stray (hug baby)


Here comes the octopus tentacle by tentacle (walk fingers up baby’s arms)

He’ll wrap you in a hug and give you a tickle! (hug and tickle baby)

Something to Celebrate Every Day

cover of World Rat DayWorld Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of

by J. Patrick Lewis; illustrated by Anna Raff  (Candlewick, 2013)

Ever heard of “Dragon Appreciation Day” (January 16)?  How about “International  Cephalopod Awareness Day” ( October 8)?  Or our personal favorite, “Chocolate-Covered Anything Day” (December 16)?  Well, J. Patrick Lewis and Anna Raff have, and they’ve assembled a funny, surprising collection of poems and illustrations that pay tribute to lesser-known celebrations.  From advice from a worm in “What the Worm Knows” (for Worm Day on March 15) to the susurrating, lyrical word-pictures of “Bats” (for Bat Appreciation Day on April 17), these poems introduce a variety of poetic forms along with the silly holidays they celebrate.  These kid-friendly poems beg for classroom and programming extensions with stories, songs, and crafts, and this book would be a terrific holiday or end-of-year gift for the teacher on your list.

Sign This!: In the Ocean

Use the American Sign Language sign FISH as you share this rhyme.

sample picture_fishIn the ocean the fishies swim.  (sign FISH)

They leap up high… (move FISH hand up as if fish is leaping)

then jump back in!  (move FISH hand low as if returning to water.)

Look for more fun American Sign Language rhymes, songs, crafts and more in Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together by Kathy MacMillan, coming in October from Huron Street Press.  Pre-order now!

Brilliant Bean Bags

bean bagsBean bags may be some of the least appreciated storytime props – after all, they are easy to make, cheap to buy, and they can be used for so many different activities across a variety of age groups and storytime themes.    But that’s not all!  Bean bag activities also help children to:

  • develop directionality and orientation in space, which supports writing skills
  • improve self-control
  • develop  hand-eye coordination, an important early literacy skill
  • improve gross motor skills
  • understand the rhythm of language with their whole bodies

Here are some fun ideas for using bean bags in your programs, and links for more ideas!


1) Butterfly

On each line, move both hands from sides to up in the air above the head.  Each time your hands go above your head, pass the beanbag to the opposite hand.


In the sky

Flap your wings

And up you fly

Back and forth

To and fro

Up, up, and

Away you go!


2) Froggy Hop

(to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush”)

For baby and toddler storytimes: Give a bean bag to each caregiver and have them hop it on the baby’s toes, knees, etc. as described in the rhyme.

For older children: Follow the directions below to make this a balancing activity.

Froggy’s hopping on my toes, on my toes, on my toes (balance bean bag on toes)

Froggy’s hopping on my toes –

RIBBIT! (move bean bag to knee)

Froggy’s hopping on my knee…

Froggy’s hopping on my tummy…

Froggy’s hopping on my shoulder…

Froggy’s hopping on my head, on my head, on my head (balance bean bag on head)

Froggy’s hopping on my head –

RIBBIT! (make bean bag jump to floor)

He hopped away!


3) At the Circus

Place a masking tape line on the floor to act as a tight rope.  Invite the children to balance their beanbags on their heads as they walk across.  If they drop them, encourage them to pick them up and keep trying!

With my bean bag on my head,

I stand so very tall.

I walk along my own tightrope

And will not let it fall.


4) Cook Out

This is a fun bean bag activity for food or summer themed storytimes.  As a bonus, when you are moving the hamburger from hand to hand in the first part of the rhyme, you are also signing HAMBURGER in American Sign Language.  Click here to see a video of the sign.

(Hold bean bag in right hand.  Hold left hand facing up.  Turn right hand over to deposit bean bag into left palm.  Then turn both hands and repeat it the other way, as if you are shaping a hamburger patty.  Repeat this rhythmically through the first verse.)

I’m making a hamburger for the grill. 

Will I eat it?  Yes I will!


(Place bean bag on flat left palm.  Use your right hand as a spatula to lift the beanbag and flip it over.  Then switch hands.  Repeat this motion throughout verse 2.)

I’m flipping my hamburger on the grill.

Will I eat it?  Yes I will!


(Hold bean bag in left palm.  Pretend to squirt on ketchup, mustard, etc. with other hand.)

Now I’m fixing my hamburger from the grill.

Will I eat it?  Yes I will!


(Place bean bag in left hand.  Raise hand toward mouth, then down to right hand.  Switch the bean bag to the right hand and repeat.)

Now I’m eating my hamburger.  This is fun!

Did I eat it?  Yes, all done!

(If desired, sign ALL DONE at the end.  Click here for a video of the sign.)


5) Vacation

I went to the train station

To take a little vacation  (Pass bean bag back and forth between hands for the first 2 lines)

I went to the beach (Move bean bag diagonally away from you, starting at your right side, and ending up far out in front of your on you left side)

And then came home (Bring bean bag back to right side)

And had some relaxation. (Place bean bag into left hand)

 Repeat, replacing “the beach” with vacation destinations chosen by the children.  Each time you begin, you should be starting with the bean bag in the opposite hand from the previous time.  Make sure the diagonal cross-body movements also alternate hands between verses.  This simple motion of crossing the midline improves communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.


Got a great bean bag activity that you use in your programs?  Tell us about it in the comments below or by sending an email to and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of our latest storytime resource book!


More Bean Bag Activities:

Monkey, Monkey

Teach the American Sign Language sign MONKEY, and then use it in this rollicking action rhyme!

little boy signing MONKEY

To sign MONKEY: Hold clawed hands at waist and scratch like a monkey.

Monkey, Monkey, dance around.

Monkey, Monkey, jump up and down.

Monkey, Monkey, round you go.

Monkey, Monkey, sit like so!

See a video of the sign MONKEY here.

5 Fabulous Follow-Up Activities

What’s better than a great storytime book? How about a great storytime book followed by a great tie-in activity? Following up a story with related activities can reinforce vocabulary, concepts, and story structure and provide fun, active learning for little minds! Here are five of our favorites:

1) Pizza at Sally’s by Monica Wellington. New York: Dutton, 2006.

Sally and her cat bake up delicious pizza pies in their pizzeria. Follow up by passing out scarves to serve as pizza dough. Invite the kids to spin the “dough” in the air as they make their pizzas!

2) Raindrop Plop! by Wendy Cheyette Lewison. New York: Viking, 2004.

A little girl in a red raincoat counts her way up to ten and back again as she explores on a rainy day. Follow up by handing out water-filled eyedroppers or pipettes (both available cheaply at your local teacher supply store) and paper cups. Invite the children to “plop” the raindrops into the cups with you, counting as you go!  This is also a wonderful sensory activity for baby and toddler storytimes.

3) Thirsty Thursday by Phyllis Root. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2009.

In this story, Bonnie tickles a cloud with a feather to make it rain. Hand out craft feathers to all of the children and retell the story, having the children help Bonnie tickle the clouds. This helps children develop narrative and sequencing skills.

4) Wild About You by Judy Sierra. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Animals are waiting for the babies to arrive at the zoo, and when they do, the entire zoo takes care of them. Prior to storytime, hide some pictures of baby animals, or stuffed baby animals, throughout the room. After the story, go on a hunt to find the baby animals hidden around the room. If you used stuffed animals, have each child find one, then play a fun song and bounce the animals on a parachute. Try it with “Fifteen Animals” or “Jump Rope Jive” found on Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton (New York: Workman, 2002).

5) The Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

There are shapes all around us that represent different parts of our day and life. After reading this book, pass around shapes to the group and ask them to share their shape and what they think of when they see it. Shape ideas: heart, sun, vehicles, lips, various foods, shoes, feet, hands, animals, trees, flowers.

Squirrely Squirrels Storytime

Recommended Books

 The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

All day squirrel’s friends ask him to do things, but he is too busy. Squirrel sees the signs of autumn that the others don’t notice, and he knows he has to get ready for winter.

In November by Cynthia Rylant. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 2000.

The air grows cold and all of the animals prepare for winter. Animals seek food and shelter, and people gather together to celebrate.



5 Little Squirrels

(to the tune of “Five Little Ducks”)

Find free flannelboard patterns by artist Melanie Fitz here.

1 little squirrel went out to play

Up in the branches one autumn day.

He had such enormous fun,

He called for another little squirrel to come.

2 little squirrels…

3 little squirrels…

4 little squirrels…

5 little squirrels went out to play

Up in the branches one chilly day.

They had such enormous fun,

Then all scurried home ‘cause winter had come.

Prop Story

Sammy Squirrel

Props needed: squirrel puppet, basket of acorns (enough for each child to have one), green crepe streamers (cut in 2-foot lengths, one per child), red, orange, brown and/or yellow crepe streamers (cut in 2-foot lengths, one per child), spray bottle of water

Pass out the acorns and streamers to the children and ask them to drape the green streamers around their shoulders. Explain that they will play the trees in this story and ask them to stand up and stretch out their arms like branches.

Once upon a time, there was a little squirrel named Sammy. He lived in the forest and his best friends were the trees. In the summertime he would frolic under the green leaves. He would climb up and down the trees and hop from branch to branch. (Use puppet to act this out on the children.)

Sometimes the trees would sway in the wind, and he loved to listen to the rustle of their branches. (Encourage children to sway and make rustling sounds.)

Sometimes it would rain, and Sammy would hide under the leaves. (Spray water over the trees – be careful not to soak anyone too much, or the crepe streamers will run!)

The trees loved Sammy too. He was very kind to them. If one of them had an itchy trunk, he would scratch its bark with his little claws. (Act this out with the puppet.) And he would chitter little songs to them at night.

All summer long, Sammy played under the trees. But soon the air turned colder, and the green leaves of the trees began to change colors. (Have the children take off the green streamers and put on the autumn colors.) Sammy couldn’t believe it! His friends were changing! “You’re all dressed up!” he said. “Are you going to a fancy party?”

Sammy’s friends just laughed at him, rustling their leaves and shaking their branches. Then Sammy saw something that made him very sad – some of his friends were losing their beautiful leaves! (Cue children to take of streamers and wave them through the air.) First one, then the other, lost its leaves. (Go around the room and touch children on the shoulder to cue them when to drop their streamers. Encourage them to drop them from a high height so they will drift down to the ground.)

Soon the leaves were gone, and all Sammy could see were bare branches, waving in the cold wind. “I’m sorry, my friends,” he said. “I wish I could stay and play with you, but I need to gather food for the winter.”

The trees rustled at him. “What’s that?” said Sammy. “You have another surprise for me? What could it be?”

And the trees gave Sammy delicious acorns to eat. Sammy gave each tree a grateful hug. (Go around with squirrel and basket, collecting acorns from the children.) One tree even offered Sammy a snug little hole where he could pass the winter. (Have squirrel make a “nest” on one child’s head.)

“Thank you, my friends,” whispered Sammy. “I’ll see you in the spring.”


Fingerplays and Songs

 Squirrel, Squirrel

Squirrel, squirrel, turn around

Squirrel, squirrel, touch the ground

Squirrel, squirrel, climb a tree

Now shake that bushy tail with me!


Squirrel: An American Sign Language Guessing Rhyme

Introduce the ASL sign for squirrel with this rhyme. Find a video of the sign here.

Make two Vs,

Now bend them like so,

And tap them together.

Now you know

The sign for an animal

That climbs in the trees

And gathers up all the acorns he sees.

Do you know what it is?

Can you guess, boys and girls?

This is the sign that means a….(squirrel!)


Busy Squirrel

Up the tree and down again,

the busy squirrel looks for his friend. (look up and down and all around)

Fall is coming, don’t you know?

We have to prepare for the winter snow. (brrrr, give yourself a hug)

Squirrel knows they buried the acorns when they peaked,

Now they need to find them and stuff them in their cheeks! (puff out cheeks)

 Sensory Activity

What’s in the Bag? A Nature Guessing Game

Collect a variety of fall objects, such as leaves, pine cones, pine needles, mini pumpkins and gourds, acorns, apples, and seeds.


  1. Place all of the items in a dark colored bag.
  2. Let each child place their hand in the bag without peaking, and feel the object.
  3. As each child feels the object, sing the following song to the tune of “Around the Mulberry Bush”:

What is in the nature bag, the nature bag, the nature bag,

What is in the nature bag, that makes us think of fall?

Let the children announce their guesses, then pull the items out of the bag to show the group.

Variation: Create “touch and feel” boxes out of shoe boxes. Create a “flap” at one end of the shoe box that can be lifted a little for the children to place their hand in. At each box, have the children take turns feeling the item, then discuss what they think the item is. When all children have guessed, take the lid off the box and show the item.



 Woodland Wreath

Materials: paper plate with a hole in the center; items found outside on a nature walk such as pinecones, acorns, pine needles, seeds; glue; other fun decorating items.

Glue a variety of nature items on the wreath, sprinkle with glitter and add any other items that make you happy and think of autumn!


Super Squirrel Coloring Page

Pieces needed: squirrel coloring page (we like this one), crayons, cotton balls, glue, acorn “hats”.

Color the squirrel as desired. Glue fluffy cotton balls on the tail and acorn “hats” on the page.

6 Super Ways to Use Sign Language in Your Programs

There are many advantages to using sign language with young children: it reduces frustration, stimulates language development, addresses multiple learning styles, and recent research even suggests it can reduce symptoms of ADHD! But for your programs, you just need to know two benefits: it makes your programs instantly participative, and it’s FUN! Here are six super ways to get started using sign language in your program; for more great ideas, see Try Your Hand at This!: Easy Ways to Incorporate Sign Language Into Your Programs by Kathy MacMillan (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

1) Teach a Seasonal Sign:

 The Sign for Snow

 (This rhyme teaches how to say SNOW in American Sign Language.)

When the weather is cold and the icy wind blows

And you feel a shiver right down to your toes.

Wiggle your fingers from the sky to the ground.

That’s the sign for SNOW you have found!

 See a video of the sign SNOW.


2) Take a poll without losing your mind:

Teach the children the signs for YES and NO. Then ask yes/no questions about the story you are reading (“Do you think the fox will catch the sheep this time?”) and invite the children to respond using only their signs. It’s a quick and easy way to get children to participate without making a lot of noise.

See a video of the sign YES. 

See a video of the sign NO.


 3) Spice up a song or rhyme that doesn’t have built-in actions:

There’s nothing worse than putting on music and then just standing around to it. Use American Sign Language to create participative movement. For example, you could teach the kids signs for farm animals to make an old favorite like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” instantly hands-on!

See a video of the sign COW. 

See a video of the sign DUCK.

See a video of the sign HORSE. 

See a video of the sign SHEEP. 

See a video of the sign CAT.


4) Play a color game:

Extend a flannelboard rhyme into a fun interactive game with this activity. This can be used with any flannelboard that has items of different colors (Five Little Leaves, Five Funny Clowns, etc.). Teach the children the signs for the colors, then invite them to look carefully at the objects. Count to three, then have them close their eyes. Remove one of the objects. Then have the children open their eyes and identify which object is gone, using only their signs. Confirm which object was taken away by showing where it was on the flannelboard. Repeat until all the objects are gone. This activity is appropriate for toddlers and up, and enhances visual acuity, attention, and memory – all important pre-reading skills.

See videos of the signs for colors.


5) Use signs for group management:

Sometimes a sign can get kids’ attention in a way no nagging reminder can! Introduce the signs below by signing them along with the words on the first few reminders, then let your voice fall away and do only the sign. Kids will get the message (and you may find them using these signs to police each other!) Even elementary and middle school age students will respond to signed prompts without complaining and eye-rolling. Try it!

See a video of the sign PAY ATTENTION. 

See a video of the sign LINE UP. 

See a video of the sign RESPECT.


6) Use signs for a story refrain:

Teach the kids a few simple signs that they can repeat throughout the story. This will give them something active to do as they say the words, and will keep them engaged by stimulating multiple senses. For example, when reading Karma Wilson’s The Cow Loves Cookies (Simon and Schuster, 2010), ask children to sign the refrain with you each time.

See a video of the sign COW. 

See a video of the sign LOVES (for objects for activities) 

See a video of the sign COOKIE.