The fabulous Melissa over Mel's Desk posted recently about the question of music in storytimes, specifically a cappella vs. CDs. I found myself writing an epic comment in response and figured I had enough to say to warrant a post of my own.
So: music is an essential part of storytime. I really can't imagine a storytime without it. Do you use primarily precorded music (e.g. play tracks off an MP3 player or a CD), or do you sing a cappella with the kids and familes in your group--that is, sing without a prerecorded track? (That being said, the use of the term a cappella is totally appropriate here, but I have to admit that as a former collegiate a cappella singer, it makes me laugh to imagine my preschoolers singing Old McDonald in a highly stylized, choreographed, beat-boxed a cappella arrangement a la Warblers.)
When I started doing my storytimes about a year ago, I didn't use any sort of recorded music in my storytimes. Singing without a track gives you a lot more flexibility -- you can set the tempo and the key. You can stop mid-song to explain something to the participants. You can incorporate suggestions from the audience. I find often like to repeat a song three times -- slow, then regular, then fast. I often get a request from the kids to go "SUPER FAST," which I'm always willing to oblige. Kids--heck, everyone--learn from repetition, and doing the same song over and over helps them master it.
I also like to make up new verses or words to songs everyone knows and model for parents as something they can do with their kids. It's something I love doing with my own kids. Not only can it be a great way to build vocabulary, but it also shows families that playing with words and language can be a lot of fun. In my last storytime session, I tried to end as many storytimes as I could with a version of "If You're Happy and You Know It" customized to that week's theme (e.g. "If you're a bear and you know it, show your claws.") To me, this struck the perfect balance of the familiar and the novel. Because the families were so familiar with the original song, it was easy for everyone to jump in and participate right away, but because it was slightly different every week, it really held the kids' attention and was something fun to look forward to at the end of every storytime.
However, in my last session, I also made a conscious decision to incorporate more prerecorded music into my storytimes. When I did the baby storytime at my library, I didn't use any prerecorded music at all, and sometimes I found it a big struggle to get the caregivers to sing along with me. One week, though, towards the end of my last session, I threw a song from the Diaper Gym CD and it went over very well--it was probably the most animated the caregivers were the entire session. I mentioned this to the librarian who took over the baby storytime, and she started to use the "Wiggles and Giggles" track as both the hello and goodbye song which is fabulous at encouraging participation. I think everyone felt a little less self-conscious singing along to the track, and I think the repetition of the song, twice a storytime, week after week, really helped the caregivers learn the song quickly.
I also found that I wanted to incorporate more gross motor activities into my preschool storytimes. I have two boys who were and are very wiggly and energetic, so I'm always extra conscious of the need for preschoolers to get up and move! I thought that prerecorded tracks would be a great way to incorporate movement breaks in between quieter activities.
I like using songs like that, where there are very specific motions and music cues for what we're supposed to do--I think it helps encourage everyone, including parents, to participate less self-consciously. I think the single most successful thing I've ever done in storytime -- and I've shared this with at least eight different groups so far -- was play "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" off the album Kids in Action by Greg and Steve. It's a little longer, so you need to set aside enough time for it, but it flies by, and the kids just get giddy from the sheer pleasure of it.
In our winter session, I largely tried to find a song that matched that week's theme. This may have been a bit too ambitious, but happened largely because our first theme was "Bears" and I was really excited to use "Bear Hunt." In my cat storytime a few weeks ago, I played Laurie Berkner's "The Cat Came Back" and had everyone pretend to move like cats. (I think I cut that one short -- we did about two verses and choruses, and I felt it had run its course.) Another cute one was a little dance we made up to "Doing the Penguin" from Sesame Street during our penguin week.
One downside to switching up the songs every week, though, was that I learned that some of these movement songs ones really benefit from repetition. I've done a few that have just fallen flat because I think the kids would have needed to do it a few weeks in a row to really get the hang of it.
I think in my next session, I'm going to try to find a movement song or two that we can use every week regardless of the theme. I am really looking forward to sharing Dr. Jean's "Tooty Ta" with my preschoolers this spring. I can hear the laughter already! But I'd love suggestions if anyone has ideas for another!
I do a monthly Sensory Storytime for preschoolers with special needs, and I use totally different music in a totally different way for that storytime. That's worth a separate post of its own....