Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lessons Learned from Baby Storytime

When I started as a brand, spanking-new librarian, fresh out of my MLIS program, I inherited the baby storytime (for children under 2). No one, I got the feeling, particularly enjoyed doing it, so I volunteered to take it over. I did it for two sessions (summer and fall). To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing in the summer and sort of faked my way through it, but I had pretty lofty ambitions for the fall session.  I made weekly handouts with early literacy tips, book suggestions, and words to the rhymes and fingerplays I was doing. We did lots of nursery rhymes for their early literacy value. We ended every session with bubbles. And we had a small but dedicated group of attendees.

In the winter session, we switched up our staffing and I inherited the preschool storytime. Another librarian took the baby storytime and really moved it into a wonderful new direction. The program is just so much more successful now, by any measure: the attendance has exploded and the attendees are clearly having a great time.  I have given the program using the new outline about four times now, when schedule changes required me to cover the program, and I've learned a lot about what I was doing wrong (and yes, right) before.

1. Get your parents to advertise for you. 

Part of the explosion in attendance is due to a large group of moms who clearly know each other from outside the storytime. They all show up for storytime and then hang out and play together in the children's room afterwards. What I suspect is that one or two of them started to attend the program and then recruited other friends to join them, turning it into a weekly social event.

Ask parents to tell their friends with similar-aged children about the program. Perhaps even host a "Bring a Friend to Storytime" day. You can also reach out to your local mothers' club. Most communities have one, and they're always looking for events to put on their calendar. You might offer to host a special storytime for their group at the library as a one-time event and encourage those who show up to start attending your regular storytimes.

2. Channel your inner cartoon character (or You Can Never Be Too Animated)

Of course, I read with a lot of expression in my preschool storytime, but I realize that I often go for a sort of deadpan humor. It goes over great with the preschoolers, but it's way too subtle for babies. After hearing another librarian read a book to the babies at storytime, I realized that, duh, I need to read the stories to the babies in the same high-pitched, sing-songy voice that I used to talk to my kids when they were babies (watch any TV show aimed at very young children if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Now when I read books to this crowds, I do it in a much higher register, with so much expression it seems over-the-top. I also get up and walk around the room a lot, holding the book and showing the pictures to the  children.  I'll get my whole body into it -- if the word "swooping" is on the page, I'll literally swoop the book. The kids are much more engaged and can really pay attention to me this way.

3. Interactive elements are key.

Kids this age are not going to be able to sit there and listen to you read stories and do flannel stories for 30 minutes. They're just not developmentally able to do that yet. I know some libraries limit their baby storytimes to 20 minutes, but I found that for our customers, 20 minutes was just too short. I know firsthand that it can be difficult to get out of the house with a baby, and our patrons made it clear that for them, it wasn't really worth the effort to do so for a 20-minute program. They were looking for sometime a little longer and more substantive.  So to stretch it out for 30 minutes, you're going to have to have a box of tricks.

We now incorporate maracas and egg shakers into just about every baby storytime. We do a variety of things with them. Sometimes we shake them in time to songs, sometimes I'll go to each child and shake the number of syllables in their name, and sometimes we practice vocabulary (shaking fast, slow on top of our heads, behind our backs, high, and low). The kids really look forward to this, and so far, there are been few tears when we've had to put them away. There were a few times when the noise from all the shakers was too much for our smallest attendees, and if I noticed an infant or two getting fussy, I'd cut the shaker session short.

We have also incorporated props like a parachute into the storytime. The kids really do enjoy these, and I think they motivate parents to keep coming back. And you can never go wrong with bubbles.  Scarves would be another great one to try.

4. Repetition is key, but you don't need to overdo it

When I did the program, we did a lot of repetition. We did pretty much every rhyme, fingerplay, and song twice in a row, to the point where it felt stilted and scripted. After all, repetition is key for this age group, right? Babies learn best by hearing things multiple times.  Well, I did it to the point of insanity. The babies might have enjoyed it, but it was way too much for their caregivers. I could feel the energy lag whenever we repeated something.

Now, there's still a lot of repetition, but it feels more organic.  We use the same song to open and close the storytime each week, "Wiggles and Giggles" off the Diaper Gym CD. The song repeats itself twice, so in effect, the parents are hearing the same thing four times every week, week after week.  Now this level of repetition is great. They all know the song and activities by heart, so they can really jump in and participate.

The song we use to introduce the bubbles also has a lot of internal repetition, and I usually have them sing that two or three times because it's so short. It builds anticipation for the bubbles, there are natural motions that go along with it, and the caregivers are comfortable singing it and doing the motions without me leading it, which leaves my hands free to prepare my bubble machine for blowing.

We also have a relatively small number of songs and fingerplays that we draw from every week, so they're repeated often throughout the session, but we no longer repeat absolutely everything twice within the storytime itself.

5. Have fun!

The best advice I ever received about leading storytimes was not to do something just because other people enjoyed doing it: you should only do the things that you yourself enjoy doing, because if it's clear you don't like it, your audience won't like it either. There are a lot of great librarians and bloggers out there who do their storytime a certain way because it's what they enjoy and what showcases their strengths as a performer. But just because it works for them, doesn't mean that you have to do the same thing.

For instance, I tried to make nursery rhymes happen with the baby storytime. I believe in their importance for early literacy, I really, really do... but the audience was not really that into it, at least the way I was presenting them (which was mainly via flannel board that previous librarians had created). But to be honest, I didn't think they were very fun, I just thought it was important to do them. I didn't get the sense that the kids or caregivers loved them, probably because I didn't love presenting them that way.

If I were to incorporate more nursery rhymes into the baby storytime again, I'd find some other way to do it. We often shake our shakers to simple songs like "Baa Baa Black Sheep," but we could also do them to short nursery rhymes.  We could also turn them into opportunities for some gross motor activity.  I love the way that Jason from the Webster Public Library does "Jack Be Nimble" (in fact, I think I may start doing a gross motor nursery rhyme with my preschool storytime every week):

These lessons may already have been familiar to you, but I guess I had to learn them the hard way. I'd love to know, though: what are some of your hard-earned storytime lessons? What did you start out doing that you no longer do?

Preschool Fish Storytime

Our storytime theme this week was fish. We had a sort of "red in tooth and claw" thing going on this week -- a lot of fish songs and books are about small fish getting eaten by larger fish.  Who knew?

The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino

A very cute book about a girl who wants a pet pony, but receives a fish instead. I introduced this by asking if any of the kids watched the TV show Oswald. There were some who did, so I pointed out that the author and illustrator of this book, Dan Yaccarino, also created the show Oswald and that the pictures might look familiar. The parents were excited to learn this, and it was a good reminder to me that it's never too early to point out these connections to the kids. I could have done it, for instance, when I read Knuffle Bunny last week, since we'd read another Mo Willems book earlier in the session. 

"Five Little Fishies" Flannel

I took five felt fish from an existing flannel board set and printed out a clip-art shark onto cardstock.  We sang a variation of "Teasing Mrs. Kitty"

"Five little fishies, swimming in the sea
Teasing Mr. Shark, 'You can't catch me!'
Along came Mr. Shark, quiet as can be...
Then.... SNAP!"

I had the kids hold their palms parallel to each other like big fish jaws and clap them shut when I yelled, "SNAP!" I had a lot of fun making them anticipate it.  I would have preferred to have a shark hand puppet, but I just held the cardstock shark in one hand and grabbed the fish with my other hand hidden behind it. Worked well enough!

Where's the Fish by Taro Gomi

On each page, the book asks the reader to spot a hiding pink fish -- he's in a flowerpot, in a jar of candies, in a room full of toys... and he keeps getting harder to spot! I knew my preschoolers would really enjoy this book, although I had worries about how I would share it with a larger audience. I told them upfront that the pictures were small, and it was hard to spot the fish, so that I would be walking around the room and let anyone who was seated have a chance to look at the picture up close.  I showed about four pictures -- not the whole book -- and I alternated which side of the room I started on.  Everyone was patient, and the kids really enjoyed looking for the fish. 

A giant squid is bigger than clams, than shrimp, than an octopus! He thinks he's the biggest thing in the ocean..., but is he? I love this book, and the illustrations are great for sharing. I let the kids shout out which ocean creature was on each page. I was impressed by their vocabulary... thank you, Finding Nemo!  This lead very nicely into our next song....

Check out this pretty adorable video for a demonstration of kids singing the song "Slippery Fish." I did this one a cappella. We did this in the winter session, so some of the kids remembered it, but we did a quick recap of the motions for everyone.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

I introduced this one to the kids by unfolding the book, showing them the entire cover, and saying, "This is a book about a group of fish, and one of them in particular. His name is Swimmy. He's this one right here." The kids immediately picked up that Swimmy was black, and the other fish were red, which hooked them right into the story. I was  little worried that Swimmy was too quiet and subtle for my group, but they really liked it. Again, they got to show off their ocean vocabulary as Swimmy explored the ocean and we said the word "anemone" a lot because it's so funny.

We finished out with a round of "If You're a Fish and You Know It" (we swam around and went "blub blub.")

Our craft was a paper plate fish, with a triangle wedge cut out and stapled on for its tail, like so. I thought it was adorable, but the kids did not seem to spend so much time coloring and decorating this one as they do with other crafts. I wonder if the plate was hard to color -- maybe markers would have worked better?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bunny Storytime

I'm several weeks behind on my storytime write-ups because it's been a busy, busy month. But it had some great professional news... more on that when it's public.

This week, we did a bunny-themed storytime.  It was a weird storytime in that my supplemental activities all were big hits, but some of my books were just ho-hum.

I began with my typical welcome song and the Mystery Bag. Because we're doing another "b" word theme later in the session, I used "r" words for "rabbit." I was a bit rushed this week, so I used pictures instead of physical objects, and the kids didn't seem to mind at all. They threw out a lot of great "R" words!

I was very excited to read one of my very favorite books...

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

I felt very confident about how I would read this aloud, and I just adore this book... but it didn't get the response I'd hoped for.  We had a very large audience, so I wonder if perhaps the illustrations weren't the best for sharing with a big group.  Or maybe my Trixie impression isn't just as funny as I'd like to think. It wasn't a flop or anything... they definitely listened... but no one was laughing or responding to the book.  I also think that maybe I should have pointed out that Knuffle Bunny was in the washing machine when they left the laundromat.  Rookie librarian mistake.  One of the best things about doing storytime is that I really do learn how to improve each week. I'm so much more confident than I was when I started 11 months ago.

If You're Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre

This was a huge hit. I like incorporating "song books" into storytime -- I feel like I'm a mom sneaking in vegetables into dessert, since it feels like I can sneak an extra book into storytime -- and this one went over very well. Parents and kids alike had fun guessing what animal would be on the next page.  They especially liked growling for the growly animals.  I am definitely going to bring this one to preschool outreach.

B-U-N-N-Y (Bingo)

I took large letters made of EZ Felt and placed them on the board spelling B-U-N-N-Y. Or at least that's what I meant to do... somehow the Y fell out of my basket on my way into storytime. So I made the kids pretend a Y was there, and we all drew a Y in the air with our fingers, and then I said we were going to sing the song Bingo, but instead of B-I-N-G-O, we'd spell Bunny. And since my Y was already missing, I said we'd do something extra tricky, and take the letters away from the end of the word first instead of the beginning. This was actually very fun, and I'd recommend trying it for a round of regular ol' Bingo. Everyone had to pay attention a little bit more, and the song sounded a little different with the claps in different places. A good reminder that it's fun to play around with the classics.

Forest Friends Flannel Story

I improvised a story based off some flannel pieces we had in a folder and based off an outline another librarian at my library gave me. I don't tell flannel stories like this very often, but I enjoyed it, and maybe I'll incorporate more of this into my storytimes.  My story went something like this....

"Once upon a time there lived three friends in a forest: a bunny, a bird, and a duck. Each of them had a very special home in the forest. The duck lived in a pond, where he could swim and catch fish to eat; the bird lived in a big tree where she could see the entire forest; and the bunny lived in a a hole underneath a big bush, where he was safe and warm. One day the three friends wanted to play together. "Come to my pond," said the duck. "We will dive and swim!" But the bird and the rabbit said, "We cannot come to your pond. We do not know how to swim." So the bird said, "Come to my tree! You can see the whole forest from the highest branch!" But the duck and rabbit did not know how to climb a tree. "Come join me in my bush," said the rabbit! But the bush was full of prickly brambles, and the duck and bird did not want to get scratched. So they thought about what they could do together, and they thought and they thought and they thought..." And the rabbit said, "I know! We can read a book together!" So that's exactly what they did.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

This also went over really well.  I held up the cover of the book, but covered up the title and asked people what it was a picture of.  Most kids shouted, "Rabbit!" I then asked if anyone thought it looked like something else.  A few parents said, "A bird!"  The entire audience was really engaged with the whole book, and it was a very interactive experience. I like it when books engage the parents as much as the kids. This is another one I'm going to bring to preschool outreach.

I Think I'm a Bunny by Todd McHatton

This was my grand experiment... which was an utter failure. My kids love the song I Think I'm a Bunny. We have sung it on many a car trip to much giggling. I really wanted to incorporate the accompanying video into the bunny storytime somehow. I debated doing it as a puppet show, with a kid puppet and a purple monster puppet, but, well, I didn't have either of those things. I ended up just decided to hold up my iPad and play the video, but first I held up a picture of the monster and asked the kids what they thought he was.  It actually paralleled nicely with the previous book.  The kids were pretty sure it was a monster, not a bunny.  So I played the video, and... some kids stood up, but then the kids behind them couldn't see, so I paused the video, had all the kids come sit right in front of me, restarted the video... and radio silence. No real response to it -- no one thought it was funny (at least no one was laughing), no parent or child seemed engaged. Well, actually the kids WERE watching it, but they had that glazed-over screen time look.  I stopped it about halfway through the song.

I knew going into it that it was a risk, but I just couldn't help myself.  I am definitely interested in incorporating my iPad into more storytimes, but only in an interactive way, not in a, "Hey, let's watch this video" way, no matter how awesome it is.

(But you should watch it, because it really is awesome.)

So then I went onto my final book.... which also fell kind of flat, sadly.

Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells

I love the Max and Ruby books, and I thought that a lot of the kids would be familiar with them from the Nick Jr. TV show. (I was right about this.) I also thought the kids and their families might not know that the series originated as books. (I was right about that, too.)  But this didn't garner quite the reaction I was hoping for. I think maybe it would be better suited for one on one telling rather than reading it to a large group.

To finish, we did the Bunny Hokey Pokey, where we put our right paws (our right foot and hand), left paws, bunny ears (index fingers on the tops of our heads), and bunny tails in and out and shook them all about.

The craft was a rabbit hat made out of construction paper. It was very cute, and we had a lot of bunnies hopping around the department post-storytime.