How to Do the Best Storytime Ever!

Am I overselling it a bit? Eh, who cares! Go big or go home, right? Let’s rock out storytimes!

There are several elements that are common and essential to storytimes:

Books

Music

Activities

These are the basics, the big things that we’re all doing. Everything else is extra. Over the next few weeks, I’ll break each of these down and talk about them more in detail but for now, just the big picture.

I bet we’ve all observed a storytime that felt routine or even totally dullsville. Ugh, those are the worst! Put me out of my misery with a swiftly thrown shaker egg to the head! What is it about those storytimes that makes you want to poke your eyes out with the rhythm sticks? What they have in common is a low level of energy. As in none.

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via Giphy

The first thing that every storytime needs is an enthusiastic leader. There are different levels of this from low-key cool to bouncing off the walls perky. I’m usually closer to the bouncing off the walls end of the spectrum. Either way, you have to some amount of energy. A storytime really is like a performance for which you have to be ‘on.’ The more enthusiastic you are the more enthusiastic your audience will be because upbeat, positive energy is contagious.

Another common pitfall is a total lack of awareness. A successful storytime needs a leader with keen awareness of the group. Have you ever watched someone do a readaloud that wasn’t going over well but they kept going despite having lost the attention of the audience? Awareness is recognizing the book isn’t going over well and not being afraid to stop and move on. Awareness of when to change directions or move on is crucial because once you’ve lost a storytime audience it can be really hard to get them back.

Recently, someone on the Storytime Underground Facebook group asked, “What’s the one thing about storytimes you wish you knew when starting out?” So here’s my last piece of advice. Don’t take yourself or your storytime too seriously. We want to promote literacy, diversity, STEM, play, school readiness and a host of other developmental skills at every storytime. Those are wonderful things to promote and aim for. But sometimes. Sometimes no matter how good your lesson/activities/crafts are, how prepared you are, the takeaway is just going to be that they had a good time at the library. And no one had a meltdown. When you work with small children this is its own success! This is ok. You kept a group of young children entertained for 30 whole minutes! You’re awesome!

But maybe you didn’t. Maybe there were meltdowns. Maybe the books you chose flopped. Maybe the craft was an epic fail. (It worked when I tried it the day before!) Maybe you forgot the words to a song you’ve sung 574 times. (This gal right here.) Maybe you went through a whole storytime with blue paint down the front of your white pants and didn’t know it. (Yep, that happened. No one said a word!) This is also ok. Because here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter. The kids won’t care and you and the parents will have a good side laugh together. And even the worst storytime ever will quickly be forgotten by other perfectly good storytimes (thank you very much!). You’re still awesome.

Now go show that storytime who’s boss.

 

 

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What We Did in Storytime: Unicorns!

We’re taking August off from storytimes so as one last hurrah we did a unicorn theme. There are some really cute, readable unicorn books out there! We talked about the letter U and other things that start with that letter. Here’s what else we did…..

Theme:   Unicorns!                 Ages: 0-6               Early Literacy Focus: Letter Knowledge

Books

My favorite of the bunch. Hilarious and very readable.

 

Songs & Rhymes

Finger Poppin-Georgiana Stewart

Shake Your Sillies Out-The Wiggles

One and Two-Ella Jenkins

If You’re Happy and You Know It

5 Little Unicorns- adapted an idea I found here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activities

We made unicorns based on this craft I saw on Pinterest. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few parents freaked out about the mess of glitter. But you can’t do a unicorn storytime and not have glitter! Unicorns = glitter! I ain’t afraid of a mess!

What We Do in Storytime

I started this blog partly as a way to keep track of the storytimes I did and to share what I’d learned in almost 15 years of doing storytimes. It’s hard to get good photos of a storytime in action with littles moving all about! Anywho, enjoy these random shots from my most recent storytimes along with the answers to a couple of FAQs.

How do you setup storytime?

Like this. All the books that I might read. Our Ipad with my storytime playlist and a Beats Pill. Storytime stickers. Bins with scarves, ribbons and shaker eggs. My song cube. And a couple of props. Everything I need is in reach. I don’t have problems with anyone removing things from my table. Once in awhile kids want to get the Ipad or the buckets so I sit them at the back out of reach.

What do you in storytime?

STEM activities like fizzy concoctions.

Art/messy play like painting with shaving cream.

Sensory play.

Large motor play.

I have never seen kids working as hard at play as I did with this sensory table setup. Cardboard boxes I cut up and tubes crisscrossing through them. Kids surrounded this the entire time. Heads down, scooping, digging, pouring, figuring out what was happening to the beans they poured down a tube, catching the beans as they spilled out. The kids played easily with each other, sharing cups and space. I could’ve used a bigger table!

 

What do you do in storytime?

 

Until next time…….

Crafts Vs. No Crafts, The Great Storytime Debate

There’s been a lot of discussion about this in various circles. When it comes to arts & crafts, librarians often fall into one of two camps.

There’s the “We don’t do crafts in storytime!” bunch and the, “We love crafts! Glitter for everyone!” crowd.

This is how I feel when I hear about libraries that don’t do art or crafts.

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I should say, this is how I feel on the inside because, well, I work in a library. Continue reading

Why It’s Absolutely Okay to Take a Break

What’s a surefire way to make blogging feel new again? Take a break for 3 months or a while! I could stress that I haven’t ticked off every. single. item. on my to do list. But, you can not do it all. The earth will continue to spin. Life happens. And a lot of life has happened in the interim. Moving back into my library branch after it being closed for most of 2016 which meant getting back into the groove of working a public desk, answering phones and doing storytimes. And lots of personal adulting stuff that I’ll spare anyone from reading. I need a tshirt that says I’d rather be playing.  Continue reading

An Ode to Libraries

My library is now closed for the next several months for an extensive renovation . People that don’t use libraries are often confused about them. “Aren’t you guys going to be extinct with everything online?” My response is usually, “It’s been a while since you’ve been to a library hasn’t it? Not everything is online and libraries are more than books.” It’s been surreal watching the library I’ve worked in for the last several years gradually empty out as they moved items to other branches.

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It felt like I imagine it must feel working in a store that’s going out of business. Seeing the picture books–my favorite part of the collection–go was a little sad.

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My library was full of life. The new library will be too but it won’t have the old memories.

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Like the crayon-written and misspelled notes left in the toy mailbox. The littles, oh the littles and the stories they would tell. I’ll never forget one little girl who came in all excited one day exclaiming, “My book flew away! It flew away just like a bird!” Apparently, she was in the back seat reading a small paperback picture book with the windows down and it flew out of her hands and right out the window landing in the street behind them! Grandma had to stop the car and go back to retrieve the flying book. There was the 6 year old boy who saw Pinterest  up on my computer and said, “I’m on Pinterest. Look me up.” I did. He had a board dedicated to pictures of rear ends!  One day he informed he was on LinkedIn. He listed his background as, “likes to play and Pokemon”.  This sort of became a thing where every time he came in he’d tell me about the latest social media site he was on. To date he can be found on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Youtube and Twitter. You don’t meet a kid like that everyday! There’s the little preschooler who’s never met a batch of slime or play dough she didn’t love. The 18-month old who has a lot of suggestions about storytime or at least I think he does. I can’t quite understand what he’s saying yet but there’s a lot of babbling, pointing to something and then looking at me with very serious expressions. There was the girl whose name I’ll never forget because it’s an unusual and hilarious pairing of two nouns. She came in not long ago and asked me if I remembered her and I thought, “Oh honey, you have no idea!” I remember the precocious 5-year-old who would just sit on the floor in the nonfiction section looking at every book we had on science and animals. There were the tweens and teens who’d swap book recommendations with me and have big conversations with about books and how to get through the horror that is the middle school years. There was the  teary-eyed mom who came in on our last day with her kids and a camera around her neck to take pictures of the old place. The mom who tried not to cry and didn’t want to say goodbye. The older woman who came in during our fixtures sale because she “just wanted a souvenir of the place where her daughter learned to love books “. The library was a part of their lives impacting them in huge and meaningful ways. There is no place like a library, a place that’s open and free for everyone of all ages and walks of life, a place to learn, interact, connect or just be. Are libraries dying? Not on your life.

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!