Category Archives: Storytime

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.