Category Archives: Storytime

School vacation

I wouldn’t want every week to be like school vacation week, but oh how lovely it can be to have that change of pace once in a while.  It reminds me of the days spent proctoring MCAs exams when I worked at the elementary school – I was still at work, but the flow of the day was so totally different that it didn’t feel like work, and once the MCAs were over I felt quite refreshed.

At the library during school vacation weeks, I don’t run any programs other than the usual Tuesday book group.  We are a programming-heavy children’s room, and it feels appropriate to take a break from programs when many residents are out of town.  (Not to mention that there are a plethora [word inserted just to bug Jean] of great vacation week programs available at museums and other institutions.)  So no storytimes during vacation weeks, no game hours, no special events.  Without these programs last week, I was able to really focus my attention on reading review journals and ordering books.  To have that concentrated chunk of time devoted to ordering was incredible, and I accomplished a huge amount.

Best of all, at the end of the day on Saturday, as I was setting up the story room for Monday morning’s toddler storytime, I couldn’t wait to come back in on Monday to run the storytime and see my friends.  Change of pace = renewed energy and enthusiasm.  It’s a good, good thing.

Coming up this month

Lots of great things coming up in the month of March:

A showing of High School Musical 2 the first Friday in March, for which I’m expecting a big turnout.  (Please, please, please, please DO call ahead to pre-register!  It’s hard to buy enough popcorn if I don’t know you’re coming!) 

Scott Jameson will be coming to the library the evening of March 13 for an encore performance of “Magic by Scott Jameson,” the show that brought down the house last May. 

Prior to Scott’s magic show, he will conduct a Juggling Workshop for a limited group of twelve children aged nine or older, teaching them first how to work with one ball, and working up to juggling three balls by the end of the workshop.  (And hopefully the children’s librarian can hide her eye-hand coordination challenged self at the back of the room during the workshop…)

An additional Mother Goose on the Loose storytime has been added on Wednesday mornings, run by Jen.

This month’s book group books are as follows:  Airborn by Kenneth Oppel for the Teen (7th – 9th grade) Group; Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen for the Teen (10th – 12th grade) Group; Being Teddy Roosevelt by Claudia Mills for the 3rd grade group; Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt for the 5th grade group; and The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke for the 6th grade group.  (You’ll notice a switch to classic and modern classic for the 5th and 6th graders for this month.  This is to ensure a good read with a great book, and also we’ll be doing some in-group comparisons of the book and movie versions, viewing certain scenes together on my laptop, then reading the relevant passages in the book for a direct compare and contrast.)

And a new session of Toddler Storytime will begin on the 24th, with sign-ups starting on the 3rd.  This has become my favorite program, and I’m eager to see who registers for the March-April-May session.

Not to forget the terrific ongoing teen volunteer-run Saturday Storytimes and Thursday Game Hour.  Both of these programs have steady, enthusiastic attendance, and I am so grateful to the amazing volunteers who come through week after week to run them.

March is looking good, don’t you think? 

Train wreck?

Yup, it was a train wreck.  After taxing my poor aging brain to learn all the rhymes and songs (I even had to use my hands as a cheat sheet – there are still oodles of inky words all over my palms), and after purchasing all the required props, and after Jim crawled around in our attic to find my pig stuffed animal; after all that, my first Mother Goose on the Loose program was a total train wreck.

It’s not that I did such a bad job, really, it’s more that my infant storytime is a victim of the success of my Toddler Storytime.  45 moms and kids are signed up for the Toddler Storytime, which doesn’t leave too many people to attend the Mother Goose on the Loose storytime.  So there were only 4 adults and 5 kids in the room at the start of the storytime, and the number quickly dropped as one child decided to leave the room (mom had to follow), then another child fell on the floor and cut his lip open (grandma and big sister had to leave the room with him, mopping up the blood as they went), leaving just 2 adults and 2 kids and me.  And one of those kids, a sweet little girl, REALLY wanted to leave, since her best friend was the little boy who left the room at the start.  Which would have left only 1 adult and 1 child in the room - thank goodness the little girl’s mom was able to stick out the whole storytime. 

When you have that small a group, it’s substantially harder to have much fun.  The adults get very self-conscious about their singing voices, leaving me alone to carry the tunes (never an ideal situation), and if the kids are at all reluctant to do something like beat their names on the drum, the reluctant kids don’t get to see eager kids model the behavior first so that they can follow suit. 

But I will say that Mother Goose on the Loose is fun.  With a bigger crowd, it would have been a blast.  So I’ve got two big challenges now:  get more people to attend, and figure out how to keep the program to 30 minutes (I ran overtime, and didn’t even finish the program…obviously need to work on my timing a bit…).  Aside from that, I’m enjoying beating my drum and jingling the bells and waving the scarves.  I’d just like a few more people to join in with me!

Toddler Storytime update

As reported previously, I have changed the format of my Toddler Storytime, so that it now runs in six-week sessions that require pre-registration.  In past years at our library, all storytimes have been drop-in, and some eyebrows were raised when I decided to switch this one storytime.  I heard a few mutterings that attendance would drop off, that no one would sign up.  I myself wasn’t sure what to expect; I only knew that I was going to go prematurely grey and wrinkled if I didn’t claim some control of the Toddler Storytime.

Amazingly, it has all worked out beautifully.  So many families registered on the first day that I decided to add a second time slot which meets immediately after the original time slot, and now both time slots have ten children and their caregivers signed up for the six week session, the perfect size for this age group.  The benefits of pre-registration are many, but here are my favorites:

  • Since I have a list of names to work from, we can all wear nametags and get to know each other.
  • I have the ability to stress the importance of arriving on time (it’s the first bulleted item on the registration letter).
  • The children will benefit from consistency of attendance, both their own and their storytime-mates: we’ll be able to grow as a group, and to establish a true group dynamic.
  • Room set-up and book selection are majorly simplified for me.  I know exactly how many carpet squares to put out, and how many books to request from other libraries.
  • And having the two time slots meet back-to-back means that I only have to prepare once for two separate sessions. 

The Infant, Preschool, and Saturday storytimes will remain drop-in, for a variety of reasons, but the benefits of containing the scope of the Toddler Storytime have been enormous.  Rest assured, if demand increases, I’ll add a third time slot.  The intention is to make the program better for everyone, but not to leave anyone out.  It’s all good.

Storytime changes

After two rather difficult Toddler Storytimes (difficult for me, that is), I’ve made the decision to do what I knew all along was the best thing: switch to using pre-registration for this age group.

Though I fully understood that pre-registration was preferable for this age group and for the focused, curriculum-based model that I’m using, I had initially decided not to use pre-registration because of the small size of the town and because a Toddler Storytime is a new concept in this town.  I had hoped that I would be able to roll with the unpredicability of a drop-in toddler storytime, but the last two weeks proved that Judy Nichols (of course) is right in her admonition to pre-register no more than 12 children.

Not yesterday, but two weeks ago yesterday, attendance for the toddler group was 26 adults and kids, including three babies.  Many people arrived late, and not all at the same time, so my “flow” was interrupted over and over again, and I had to keep reining in my highly distractible audience.  Very difficult, and not very pleasant; it’s hard to move the storytime beyond ordinary when your audience isn’t focused or fully involved. 

Then, one week ago yesterday, attendance was only 12 adults and kids, and the group dynamic reflected the scattered nature of the previous week.  Kids were less attentive than they had been in weeks before, and the group didn’t congeal as nicely as I had hoped.  Part-way through the storytime, I made my decision, and announced to all present that the storytime would be shifting to 6 week sessions requiring pre-registration by the end of November. 

Group dynamics aside, another huge benefit of pre-registration will be ease of preparation.  If I know for sure how many kids are signed up, then I know for sure how many materials (nametags, handouts, giveaways) to create, saving valuable time and energy.  I spent the better part of the Sunday before last making two dozen clown nametags (and please do remember that I don’t get paid for any time I spend on the weekend doing prep work), and ended up using only six of those nametags.  Sure, I can use them again, but I would have liked to have a more relaxing weekend, too.  Life is short.  Why create stress when it’s not necessary.

So this past Monday’s Toddler Storytime will be the last drop-in storytime for that age group.  We’ll have a two week hiatus (Veteran’s Day and school vacation week), then begin our first 6 week session on November 26.  I’ll take sign-ups through the Friday prior.

Friday wrap-up

It’s been a busy week, as usual…

Monday was my second toddler storytime, and it was SO much fun!  I’m still using Judy Nichol’s book as a guide (the newest edition arrived at the library for the children’s office professional collection), and I chose her “Bears” storytime this week.  Despite my concerns about learning and presenting “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” I was able to pull it off, and we all had such a great time with it.  As Jim put it, I actually got out of my own way, and tapped into my inner storyteller. 

At this point, I’m not yet limiting enrollment to the toddler storytime, but it’s clear why Nichols recommends that approach.  Three families arrived late, and at different times, and the flow of the storytime was definitely interrupted by those late arrivals.  Perhaps in the future, once this storytime is better established, I’ll be able to require pre-registration and on-time attendance, but I am working in a small town with a limited number of toddlers, and I want to be accessible and open to all.  It’s a puzzle, one that I’ll have to work out over time.

On Tuesday, I hosted two book groups at the library.  Continue reading Friday wrap-up

Toddler storytime

Got a visit yesterday from a mom and a little girl who had attended my first two- and three-year-old storytime on Monday.  At the end of the storytime I handed out a “medal” to each child that said either “I’m a Big Boy!” or “I’m a Big Girl!”, and this mom said to me yesterday, “You have NO idea how much that meant.”  And then she went on to explain that her daughter had shown off her medal all day on Monday, to everyone she saw.  But more importantly, this little girl also told her mom on Monday that she didn’t want to wear diapers anymore.  It was the turning point in this one little girl’s life, and she hasn’t worn diapers since.  Wow.

I can’t really take credit for this, though.  I turned to a classic tome to get me going on this toddler storytime, Storytimes for Two-Year-Olds by Judy Nichols (the 1987 edition), and I used her “Babies” lesson plan to the letter.  I was afraid it would be a bit hokey, but obviously it was perfect.  Thanks, Ms. Nichols.  You know your stuff.

Burning question

I’ve been doing lots of studying up on storytimes, and have discovered many great ideas and program plans.  Let me just say that up front: the three books that I’m using to educate myself have a wealth of great information and tips and suggestions, and I have learned an enormous amount.

But these books have also re-raised an issue that has bothered me in the past: the dependence on die-cut machines for library programs.  [I’m bound to offend a large number of people here, but it’s time for me to expose my snarky side…]  As the daughter of an educator who excelled at creative projects, I take issue with the use of pre-cut shapes in storytimes, which the child participants decorate and take home.  Several things bother me: the requirement to take something tangible home after a storytime, which by nature is an intangible event; the importance being placed on the end product at an age (two, three, four years old) when the child’s natural end product is not going to be pleasing to adult eyes; and the removal of exploration from the child’s artistic experience.

Mom used to talk to me about her educational theory.  I specifically remember one conversation with her when we talked about how everything is new to a young child, and that even holding an ice cube and watching it begin to melt is a fascinating educational moment for an infant or toddler.  She also advocated the use of water tables, sand boxes, and other mediums in which a child can become absorbed in the moment, make discoveries, and also mellow out by virtue of water therapy or sand therapy. 

Children have very different artistic sensibilities than adults – they’re freer, less inhibited by cultural standards – and it’s from these differences that new directions in art can be born.  For my first Create a Valentine program, I had an assortment of artistic goodies laid out for the kids, along with a huge stack of pre-cut felt hearts, with the intention that the kids would take the supplies and glue them on to pieces of construction paper and make traditional cards.  It was a shock to me, in a good way, when one girl took a funky lumpy pipe cleaner and strung several of the felt hearts on it, then looped the two ends of the pipe cleaner together to make a circular, three-dimensional, totally non-traditional Valentine. 

The storytime books that I’m reading talk a lot about how librarians running storytimes have a golden opportunity to teach parents and caregivers to present books and reading to their children in a developmentally appropriate way.  We’ve obviously made huge strides in the literacy end of things, and our storytimes have changed to reflect that, depending less upon a weekly theme and more upon stories that encourage and develop pre-reading skills in children.  In my two youngest storytimes, if I choose to include an artistic element, I’d like to make that portion of the storytime be equally appropriate for the attendees.  Why not blow bubbles, or play with clay (no end product needed or intended), or experience water play?  If and when my storytimes have a craft portion, I want it to be experiential, not judgemental.  I don’t want to burden any child at a very early age with the sense that he or she “couldn’t do” the assigned project correctly. 

I’d love to hear other opinions on this matter, maybe even get a discussion going.  Comments, anyone?


I fancy myself a bit of an innovator.  It’s probably not true, but it makes me feel good to think of myself as innovative. 

My latest project is the addition of one more weekly storytime, so that the library now offers an Infant Storytime (ages 0 – 2), a Toddler Storytime (ages 2 & 3), and a Preschool Storytime (ages 4 – 7).  The Infant Storytime will continue in much the same vein as the storytime that I offered last year for ages 0 – 3, though I’ll take out some of the longer stories – that would be stories with more than ten words – and add in more bounce rhymes and tickle rhymes.  The Preschool Storytime will give me an opportunity to read some longer books than I could use with the 3 – 5 year-old age grouping of last year, and I’ll also add in some occasional crafts and make use of the collection of puppets that I was able to purchase with the funds donated by one of the preschools in town.  The Toddler Storytime poses a bit more of a challenge, as I try to sort through my repertoire looking for songs and stories that will specifically intrigue those attention-challenged 2 and 3 year olds.

My fear is that I’ll be frantically scrambling each week to come up with a lesson plan for each of these three storytimes, and that the storytimes will be less imaginative and, yes, less innovative, because I’ll be constantly trying to play catch-up in the planning process.  So I’ve resolved to create my own lesson plan notebook that will have 20 unique storytime lesson plans for each of the three storytimes, with the intention that each lesson plan be used (repeated) twice a year.  This will also solve the eternal worry that I’m repeating certain songs more than others, and that my storytimes are becoming boring and too predictable (note that some predictability is desirable, though.)

Two years ago, Maureen from CMRLS generously gave me all of her storytime lesson plans on disk, and I have pillaged and made good use of those plans.  But it has become clear to me that storytime lesson plans are not too different from the instructional lesson plans that I used when I worked at Alcott School as a tutor: it’s best that I create and use my own, in order to achieve the greatest success.  Maureen possesses the ability to adapt new words to classic nursery rhymes, and I simply don’t have that skill; every time I’ve tried to use one of her very clever adaptations, I’ve stumbled and forgotten the words and then the tune and made a general ass out of myself.  It’s hard enough for me to carry a tune (some would argue impossible), let alone master new words, too. 

In creating my own lesson plans, I’m drawing from a variety of sources, most notably Maureen’s plans, but also a selection of books on storytimes written by early childhood experts.  Add to that my own expertise in phonology instruction and children’s literature, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to create plans that are workable for me personally (requiring a minimum of memorization each week) and also offer a great deal for both the parents/caregivers and the children who attend.  Storytimes are partly about entertainment, partly about parents/caregivers learning new fingerplays and songs, partly about a group experience, partly about instilling a love of words and literature in young children, and partly about inclusion of rhymes, rhythm, and other valuable pre-reading skills that will help the child participants move into the reading phase of their lives.  It’s a delicate mix.

Where’s the innovation, though, you ask?  Truthfully, I’m not really being that innovative.  I’m not taking on anything that other children’s librarians haven’t already done.  But I am making a commitment, as a one-woman show, to offer the best, most developmentally appropriate storytimes that I can muster.  Perhaps any innovation that I offer comes through in the combination of projects that I’m taking on – the storytimes, the Advanced Reader section, the specific teen volunteer opportunities, the book groups that I offer.  Perhaps.

The hardest thing

Admit it, all of us have flaws – failings – things that we’re just not good at.  Most of us try to avoid situations where our failings are evident.  Why promote the negative, after all?  Much better to stick to the stuff you’re good at.

So when I talked to Mieke, my best friend from college, a while back and told her that my new job requires me to regularly sing in public, her response was, “Oh, my God, Abs.  Are you kidding?  Those poor people!”  Mieke, of course, has a fabulous voice, and sang all the time in college.  I, of course, have a horrible voice, and sang rarely.

But now I find myself needing to sing as part of my job.  In front of people.  Not just small children, but also their parents, some of whom can carry a tune very well.  And there’s really no way around it.  Story times for young kids need to have books AND fingerplays AND songs; it’s the way kids learn the rhythm of the language, which eventually helps them with reading multi-syllabic words.  Sometimes I’ll break out the boombox and play a song or two from a CD, but there are still times that I have to sing, and it’s pretty painful.

I read Stephen Fry’s autobiography last summer, and one of his phrases really resonated with me.  Fry talks about how he can hear music perfectly in his head, but that he can’t reproduce it; he says that he’s “not tone deaf, but tone dumb.”  That’s exactly what I am, since all those intricacies of the music are so clear in my head, and my inability to voice that music is utterly frustrating to me.

But now that singing is part of my career, what do I do?  I’ll admit to using the “my voice sounds rough because my allergies are really bothering me today” excuse a lot.  On particularly perky days I’ll play the role of cheerleader and say “I want to hear everyone sing this time!”  So far I haven’t yet admitted to being tone dumb, but that time may come.  And I’ve been practicing a lot, singing in the shower after my musical husband leaves for work.  I think I’ve gotten “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” down, but I’m still flummoxed by “The More We Get Together.”  And ”Five Little Ducks” is way, way tough.

Wish me luck.  My singing is definitely a work-in-progress.