Category Archives: storytime

stop stressing yourself out — themes are overrated

You know, when I first started doing preschool storytimes, I worked like crazy to pull together books that were all themed and a craft that tied into that theme, songs that worked with the theme, and a few rhymes or puppet that fit into the theme.

But you know what I’ve realized? The kids don’t really care.

They are just so thrilled to hear stories and sing songs together. Never once has a child critiqued my storytime choices and told me that a book didn’t fit into the theme.

Storytime “themes” should be approached the same way that an episode of Sesame Street works – you can have a letter or number of the day, but honestly everyone just wants to hear the main theme song, the counting song, and they like to hear a few new stories.

I think some of us, especially librarians who are not Children’s Librarians or who studied early literacy, but have become storytime gurus through happenstance, become obsessed with themes and it makes these weekly programs eat up far too much time and brain power, considering how much other stuff we have to do around the branch. Personally, I do at least one children’s program every week. I also work the desk at least 2 hours a day, though usually 3 hours if staffing is weird. I want to host more programs for teens. I want to weed my collection. I want to create displays!

So instead of sweating over storytime themes, I now just pick out some of my favorite books from the storytime shelf, pick one that I like enough to make it the craft (since most authors have websites now with easy craft ideas) and have a selection of songs I pick from so that the kids can learn the songs with me.

It has made my life far less stressful. I did the Babies program for 2 months and I only switched up a few things the entire time, mostly just going back and forth between the same three sets of rhymes or fingerplays. The babies and parents loved learning the rhymes with me. I’m now doing the Toddler program and going about it the same way, except with a few more books in the mix. But I am going to use the same rhymes and songs and watch as the kids learn them with me.

Advertisements

in defense of simple crafts

Sometimes the simplest craft gets the kids talking. I had them draw where they would drive in their cars. #librarian #storytime

Back when I first started doing preschool storytimes, I used to do somewhat complicated crafts.  Lots of cutting out pieces and having the kids glue them a certain way. This was back when I worked at a smaller branch and only did storytime for one month and then had a break with lots of free time to plan.  Now I work at a much busier branch and our system has adopted a year-round Early Literacy Program calendar, which means every single week I am doing some sort of children’s program. Combine that with working on the desk (programming increased, staff did not, we actually lost one person and we are a very sparsely staffed system anyway) and it leaves very little time to create elaborate crafts.

Our preschool storytime groups average at least 30 kids each week.  That is a lot of kids and limits the kind of hands on crafts you can have. You have to keep it simple to make it easy to set up and take down. You have to keep it simple so you can maximize the minimal budget set aside for supplies.

I started taking advantage of our die cut machine.  It is very simple to crank out 40 bears, cars, crowns – whatever. At first, I felt very guilty, like I wasn’t putting enough in to the craft. I would look at other storytime blogs for inspiration and see crafts that involved lots of intricate pieces that had to be cut out by hand or purchased at the craft store and I felt like my glue and color crafts made me look like a lazy librarian.

But that is not true.

I really think the kids enjoy the simple crafts more and that they get more out of them.  It gives them the freedom to use their imaginations.  When I had my more complex crafts, I found that the parents were obsessed with the kids making it “right” instead of the child just having fun. I also found that the more complex the craft, the less time they spent on making it. They would glue the pieces where they had to go and then be done.

My craft today was very simple. We did stories about transportation and I had cars for the kids. They used gluesticks to attach the car to a piece of paper and then colored where the car was going. The kids worked on their projects for a solid 10 minutes, some more elaborate than others. As they colored, I took the time to walk around to each child and ask them about their car, where it was going and the colors they had used on the paper. The children were very eager to talk to me about their cars and would come running up to share their pictures with me an explain everything on the page.  One car was going to school, another had a rainbow on the door, and there was even a car parked outside a bakery (that girl was after my own heart).

So when you are sitting there, trying to figure out what craft to do for your preschool group, don’t obsess over whether the 300 little bits of paper you have to cut out will impress the parents. Think about how this craft will expand the child’s mind. Think about the early literacy skills they can pick up just by coloring in a car and telling you about how they have to drive to school. The more you encourage them to talk and share, the more positive experience they will have, and isn’t that what we want to create? A positive experience with reading, books, and the library.

Toddler Time – Construction, Cars, and Colors

Today’s Toddler Time was a bit last minute as I agreed to help out to spare a co-worker who was coming down with something and had barely survived the Babies program the day before. But I had a few books I had been wanting to test run so even though the book had a hamster in it, the children were the real guinea pigs (see what I did there?)

I went with a vehicle theme which also turned out to naturally have a color theme built into it! For fun, I threw together a quick flannel board because nothing is easier (and kills time) than talking about a flannel board.

We identified the color of each garage as I placed them on the board, then we matched the cars to their appropriately colored garages (I made a joke about double parking because why not?) and then we counted how many cars we had. Then we sang them a song that I found on the same site I found the inspiration for the flannel board:

Sung to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Cars are sleeping in their homes
Tired from the busy day
To the shops, and to the school
To the park, and to the pool
Cars are sleeping in their homes
Tired from a busy day

I also managed to dig deep into my memory and access the Car Car Song, which I used to sing with my brother when he was little. We learned it from the Kidsongs VHS but apparently that is a tweaked version of a Woody Guthrie song (my mom knew it as a Peter, Paul and Mary song). ANYWAY, it was a fun action song to get up and sing and help keep the wiggles at bay.

Here is the basic outline for the rest of the program:

Opening Song: Clap Along With Me/Open Shut Them

Construction by Sally Sutton (text recognition – point at LOUD words)

Stanley the Builder by William Bee (identify colors)

SONG: Take You Riding in my Car Car (have kid stand up and do actions)

My Car by Byron Barton (vocabulary word of the day – pedestrian)

FLANNEL: Cars and their garages (identify colors, matching, counting)

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (have kids say “NO!” to Pigeon)

Freight Train (big book) by Donald Crews (train noise – chugga chugga woo woo)

FINALE: If You’re Happy and You Know It!

Take Away: Car coloring sheet with song lyrics on the back

Early Literacy Toddler Time: D is for Dog

After a two week break from any kind of programming (our branch was an early voting location so our meeting rooms were not available and with the high numbers we get and the layout of our building, it’s not feasible to hold the program on the floor) I was back in zone today.

The first program was a little tricky. For a rainy Thursday morning, we had a nice sized crowd, about 20 kids, though the group definitely ran on the younger side. I started with a book I had never done before and I doubt I will ever do again with that young of a group (Farley Found It!) because the pictures didn’t really work from a distance. I also had several little ones just sort of wandering (well, it started out as one little one…then two…then after that the rest of them figured that must be okay and it devolved into a little bit of chaos).

ANYWAY the second program went much better. First, I switched out the first book and added a Jan Thomas book. And second, there was definitely a home daycare group so our numbers were much larger (42 kids) but the ages were more varied and we had a lot of older toddlers and preschoolers. When you have those older kids in the group, they model behavior for the little ones and so even though it was double the children, it was a much more controlled environment.

Bonus, I used my “Sherlock Dog” puppet that I have owned since I was the age of the children I read to!

I've had my Sherlock Dog puppet since forever and he came to storytime with me today and had a lot of fun. #librarian #storytime #puppets #notAhoarder

TODDLER TIME: D IS FOR DOG

Opening Song: Clap Your Hands/Open Shut Them

Aside: Today we are focusing on print awareness and letter recognition, letting your toddler know that these different symbols on the page have meaning.

Book: Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

Aside: Pointing out words and letters can help your child make the connection between the words on the page and what you are saying.

Book: The Doghouse by Jan Thomas
[Jan Thomas books are great for print awareness because the text is always nice and big and bold]

Song: BINGO
[I made a simple felt board with the letters. I go over the letters with the children as I put them on the board. Between verses I ask them which letter I am removing and then we identify the remaining letters on the board]

There was a farmer who had a dog and Bingo was his name-o
B-I-N-G-O
B-I-N-G-O
B-I-N-G-O
And Bingo was his name-o

Song/Fingerplay: Do your ears hang low?
[Do this about 3 times — once to teach them, once to practice and then the finale]
[found the actions in the book Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes. Even though I knew the song, I think it’s a good idea to point out that the library has books like this to remind new parents they are not expected to still remember all the nursery rhymes from their childhood.]

Do your ears hang low? [put your hands next to your head]
Do they wobble to and fro? [move your head back and forth]
Can you tie them in a knot? [tie on top of your head]
Can you tie them in a bow? [tie a bowtie]
Can you throw them over your shoulder [motion throwing over each shoulder]
like a continental shoulder? [march in place]
Do your ears hang low? [put hands next to your head]

Book/Flannel: Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd
[Best flannel board ever! Have the kids identify the color of the new spot and then count the spots after a new one appears]

Goodbye Song: If You’re Happy and You Know It!
[I always use the action rhyme book Clap Your Hands by David Ellwand. One last chance to point at words to reinforce the print recognition. Here is an image of the flannel board I copied.]

Takeaway – Dog’s Colorful Day activity sheet.
[Point out the D is for Dog on the worksheet one more time for print recognition/awareness]

Preschool Early Literacy Storytime: DINOSAURS!

Through some crazy random happenstance, I have somehow become an “early literacy specialist” and instead of doing 8 storytimes a year I’m doing them every week…forever. It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. Right now, having survived the first six months doing this, I am finally together enough to gather up old storytimes and modify them to fit the Early Literacy model. I recently updated my Dinosaurs storytime and it was a HUGE hit! I googled around and found lots of great suggestions for how to make the plan for EL friendly. This is one I will definitely come back to each year.

This early literacy storytime is geared towards preschool aged children, ages 3-5 years old. If you drop a few of the books, you can easily modify this to be a toddler age program.

I always open my programs with a clapping song I learned way back in my first storytime training “Clap Along With Me”. For added fun, I look for a puppet with “hands” and tell the children that my puppet’s soft hands don’t work for clapping and he needs their help! Works every time! After we finish that, I do a quick Open Shut Them to get the wiggles out of our fingers and then start the stories.

Get the whole storytime plan here:

Continue reading Preschool Early Literacy Storytime: DINOSAURS!

Toddler Time #1

We’ve started doing Toddler Time programs at our library as part of our Early Literacy Initiative. We’ve never done programs specifically for this age group and the turn out has been crazy. Toddlers are 18-36 months and when you get 57 of them in a room, things get a little wild. At least I was mentally prepared as we started doing them earlier this month and I knew the numbers would be large.

I figured the best thing to do with a group that size was to keep them focused on me as much as I could using songs and rhymes and other active things.

Early Literacy Tip #1 — Singing, doing rhymes together, and making animal noises slows down your speech so children can hear the smaller parts of words. This is part of phonological awareness and it will help the child later when they are learning to sound out words.

Before the kids came into the room, I made sure I had my puppet ready!

This helped to get their attention on me as he waved to everyone who came in. I’ve decided I really like puppets with arms I can move! Once it felt like we had everyone in the room, I showed the kids that when Wavy claps there is no sound! Then I asked them to clap so I could hear them. Then we sang the “Clap Your Hands” song, which I think was originally on a Wee Sing album but I know it by heart now so I just sing it on my own.

The we did the classic “Open, Shut Them” to get everyone sitting down and facing forward.

After everyone was seated, I did my early literacy tip for the parents. Then to keep it all going, I asked the kids to bring out their SPIDERS. We did Itsy Bitsy Spider and his cousin, Great Big Spider (I just have the kids hold their arms out for this one).

Since they were doing so well seated, I did a really quick book, Peek-A-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti. This is one of my go-to books for younger crowds. I asked the kids if they knew their barnyard animals and also how to play peek-a-boo. This book had both the kids and the parents involved.

I could feel the wiggles starting to come back so then I did “Head to Toe” by Eric Carle but I think the concept of moving like an animal may have been too much for the younger end of this crowd and I could feel myself starting to lose them. I sorta rushed the last half the book to get through it so we could move on.

Since they were up and ready to go, I went to my old stand-by of “Jumping and Counting” by Jim Gill. Hardest part here is counting as slow as the kid on the CD! I do a big arms, Pete-Townsend-playing-guitar style counting to help slow down the counting with the actual kids in the room with me.

Best thing about this song? It ends with Gill saying “and you can jump right back down into your seats” so now that we are sitting again, we can try a book. I read “Waking Dragons” which is really short and colorful and the few kids up front were fine but with a room full of 57 kids, its too hard to do a real book so once that was over, it was time for another activity.

Thank goodness for Microsoft Word! The day before I had found a cute Dragon clipart and used it to create a “Five Little Dragons” flannel board.

I used the rhyme on Nancy Stewart’s website but I changed the ending and had Mother dragon roar “I’m going to eat your snack” because that is the sort of thing my mom would have said to make me come back haha.

Then we did “Going on a Dragon Hunt” which is just “Going on a bear hunt” but with more dragons. 🙂

And for their take-home craft, I printed out black and white versions of the Little Dragons and Mother Dragon and added the text of the rhyme for everyone to take home and make their own 5 Little Dragons story.

And now I need a nap!!!

buzz words and face to face marketing

NEVER underestimate the power of walking up to a patron.

I think a lot of times, we forget the that the lives of most of the people who visit the public library do not revolve around the library.  They may pop in and out for a book or movie, they may stop by every 3 weeks to return a stack of picture books and let their kids pick out another set.  But, unlike those of us that work there, they are probably not checking the library’s website on a daily basis or following all of its social media outlets.  

So when you hang up that poster in the front of your library, NEVER assume that it is enough.  We have all learned how to ignore all of the messages being sent to us every day.  Billboards, posters, fliers, spam texts and emails – we avoid a lot of marketing, we have to or we would never get anything done.  

So, librarians, if you want your program to succeed, be it a storytime event, teen club, or adult class — YOU have to take the initiative and talk to your patrons.  

One of our librarians decided he wanted to create a “Guys Book Club” – a book club with books that would appeal to male readers.  Now, he could have just put up a sign, maybe a little display, and hoped for the best.  And he probably wouldn’t have had anyone show up.  Adults, especially men, are notoriously hard to get into programs. So he made sure there was a stack of our system publication of events sitting open at the desk with the Guys Book Club dates highlighted. Any time he helped a male patron, he made sure to talk up the club, invite them to the program, and give them a handout.  And you know what? The club has been going strong for over two years!

Also, never underestimate the power of buzz words.  

We will be starting our Early Literacy Initiative this month.  In reality, we have been doing this forever, reading stories to children, singing songs, and preparing them for when they learn to read.  Our new programs will just include more information for the parents/caregivers to help them after the 30 minute story time is over.  In an effort to make people aware, I followed a cue from my co-worker and opened up the publication to the Early Literacy page.  When I started handing them out, I just said “storytimes are coming back in March!” and most parents smiled and nodded.  

Then I decided I should say “Early Literacy Initiative”.  No sooner had I talked it up to the parent I was helping, but then another parent came over to me to find out more because she heard me say “early literacy”.  

It’s easy to forget, when we live in the library, that not everyone knows what we are doing or understands the full value of programs for all ages.  So the next time you or a co-worker are trying to get a new program or series off the ground, don’t just put up a poster and cross your fingers.  Go out into the stacks, talk to patrons and let them know.  Your excitement and enthusiasm may make them want to check it out or your words might carry over to a patron you had missed and they will want to know more.  

Review: Mitchell’s License

Mitchell's License
Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I checked this out because I really love Tony Fucile’s art style. The book was not a disappointment! It’s adorable and sweet and a great story with great illustrations. It’s about a little boy who doesn’t want to go to bed until his dad gives him a “license” to drive (Dad is the car). It has a lot of humor and heart. The large pictures and quick text will make this good for read-alouds too. Don’t be surprised if it’s on one of my storytime lists soon!

View all my reviews

Review: That Is Not a Good Idea!

That Is Not a Good Idea!
That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another hit from Mo Willems! Super cute and I loved the ending.

It’s meant to look like a silent film, with the pictures on one page and the text on a blank black page. The little chicks are the “viewers” reacting to the story.

I think this would be really fun for storytime, especially if you’re good at doing different voices – a sinister voice for the wolf, a sweet, innocent voice for the duck, and then a frantic set of voices for the little chicks.

View all my reviews

storytime – librarian’s choice

It was the end of my storytime run AND the day after a holiday weekend, so needless to say I sorta threw together this pile of books at the last minute. But most of them went over well, even with 63 preschoolers in the room!

I started with the most complex book in the pile:


Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo
There is underwear on the cover and a lizard that has to go poo and finds himself without any toilet paper. I was worried they wouldn’t get it but when I flipped to the last page that revealed the twist ending, the giggles let me know the joke was clear.

This one might have been a bit too weird:


There Was an Odd Princes Who Swallowed a Pea by Jennifer Ward
This might be more fun as a flannel board or something. Or maybe the fact that they are still PreK and not as familiar with the “I Know an Old Lady” rhyme as older kids made this book just a bit much for them. Would be really hilarious if I had a burping sound effect…

Song and Dance time!

Jump Up, Turn Around by Jim Gill

And now a couple of classics.


Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle
I had found some cut-outs on sticks that went along with this story and wanted to give them a try. I had the kids ask me “what do you hear” each time and they caught on after the third animal and did it without prompting. It as cute and fun.


From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
This book is so great when the kids are getting wiggly. They act out what the animals do and they really go into it. Definitely a crowd-pleaser.


Under Ground by Denise Fleming
I am not good at these kinds of books at storytime. Someone else must be because they put it on the shelf, but when you have 60+ kids of varying ages, these one word a page book do not go over well.


Lots of Dots by Craig Frazier
I picked this book because it went really well with my craft but it happened to also be a great read-aloud! I kept asking the kids to identify what the different dots represented. They would go above and beyond, pointing out all the dots (for example: the eggs in one picture were sitting on a round plate so one of the little girls called out that the plate was also a dot).

After we were done, the craft was to use lots of dots to create their own picture. We had some really creative kids! Will definitely use this book/craft combo one again!