Storytime 101

Storytime has been a hot topic around me lately. I’ve got a friend doing storytimes for the first time and asking lots of questions, a Facebook group was discussing advice for new storytime presenters and I’ll soon find myself in a new library doing storytimes in a way that’s totally different from my normal format. Aagghh! When I started no one told me what to do or what not to do. There was no Pinterest. I didn’t even have the benefit of observing a storytime before doing one. It took me a while to find my groove. Here’s what I wish I had known in the beginning.

Do the stories, music and activities that you love. 
I can think back to books I used that were total flops because they didn’t have much of a story or just weren’t very interesting but I used them anyway because they went with The Theme. (More on themes later.) Because I didn’t like them it was hard to get into the reading. I decided a long time ago not to do that anymore. If I don’t like the book, why in the world would I read it to other people? Only do stories that you like yourself and your enthusiasm for them will be felt by the audience. Being told you have to do a certain book or song? Try it various ways until you find a way to make it your own.

Storytime will never be perfect and that’s okay.  
In the beginning I’d write up elaborate plans so that every moment was laid out with visions of one thing flowing seamlessly into the next with no dead space making for the perfect storytime. The only problem is that that’s not how it works. Right when you’re getting to the good part of that awesome book is just the time one of the kids will decide to throw a fit. Just when you’re getting ready to play a song for everyone to dance to is when the Ipad or CD player will mysteriously stop working. Or a kid will pull the fire alarm during storytime requiring you to excuse yourself and frantically hunt down the key that silences the alarm while simultaneously racking your brain trying to remember what the procedures are for this but you can’t because the last time the alarm was pulled was four years ago. For example. Not like that’s ever happened or anything! The point is even the best plans can go awry and you just have to roll with the punches. Have a plan but don’t be afraid to improvise or move on if something isn’t working. The storytime crowd is usually very forgiving (with the exception of persnickety soccer moms and they’re never happy anyway) and kids don’t care if you make a mistake.

Take themes and….throw them out the window.
This doesn’t mean never do themes. There are lots of good themes around which to build a storytime. But don’t feel like you have to do a theme each week in which every single element is tied to said theme. There are themes that you can find books, songs, and rhymes for easily, ducks or bedtime, for instance. Recycling, not so much. Pick good books, songs and rhymes and don’t worry about themes. However, if you must, pick broad themes, like letters or concepts or “Every Child Ready to Read” skills. Choose activities that appeal to a variety of learning styles.  If you feel limited by a theme, get rid of it. Storytimes aren’t about themes anyway.

Have your elevator speech ready to go!                                                                                      At a storytime several years ago I had kids fingerpainting with pudding. A  mom asked me about it and I didn’t have a professional, academic response at the ready. I still regret that missed opportunity. Since then kids at my storytimes have walked through paint, played with dyed spaghetti, painted with blowdryers, built marble runs and lots of crazy stuff. I can tell you the cognitive/social/motor skills being developed for any activity I do. Be ready and able to explain developmental benefits of your activities should someone ask.

Choose good books!
There are so many wonderful picture books out there but not all of them work as read alouds. The best readalouds have simple text and clear, easy to see illustrations. Here are some of my favorites. This list of readaloud do’s and don’ts from Teach Preschool has great pointers.

Have fun with it!
Try something new, experiment. Find your style and run with it! I’m all about music and movement and play so there’s always lots of that in my storytime. I know a librarian who often doesn’t read books but rather does actual storytelling. Others swear by puppets. You do you. Ultimately the goal of storytime is to help parents and kids form positive connections with books and reading and by extension, the library. If they leave smiling rather than running out screaming that’s success!

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