Surviving the on-call story time

While I have three regularly scheduled story times per week, as an auxiliary librarian I am sometimes asked to cover for other librarians and deliver last-minute story times. For a newly-minted librarian, the idea of dropping into a new library and delivering a story time to an entirely new audience can be pretty daunting. How many children are going to show up? How old will they be (this is particularly challenging when covering a family story time, where the group could be made up of anyone from babies to school-aged kids)? Will they know the songs I want to sing? Will they rebel if I don’t include a favourite rhyme?

I have had some amazing experiences as an on-call story timer, and some not-so-amazing experiences (I once delivered a story time to a group of four children – two babies and two 8/9 year old boys…..the memory of it still gives me anxiety….). Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that might help make on-call story times a bit less daunting!

  1. Stick to what you know.

Jumping into the unknown can be scary. Make it easier on yourself by sticking to the songs and rhymes you know the best. Don’t worry about reinventing the wheel and bust out all the standards – those elements you could perform in your sleep (and if you’re anything like me, the songs you unconsciously sing while washing the dishes, much to the amusement of bystanders). Delivering a last-minute story time can be nerve-wracking enough, and you’re less likely to forget the words to a song you know like the back of your hand. Plus, your audience will likely know these songs, too – “If You’re Happy and You Know It” has never let me down so far!

  1. B.Y.O.B. – Bring Your Own Books

There’s nothing worse than showing up at an unfamiliar library, looking at their story time resources, and realizing that you don’t recognize a single book. If you know ahead of time that you’re going to be covering for someone else’s story time, check a few of your favourite picture books out of your local library and bring them with you, so you’re not left in a panic. If you often find yourself covering for story times, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a few picture books if you can, just to have them on hand if you need them in a hurry (my copy of Pete the Cat has more than paid for itself in the stress relief it’s brought me). The same goes for felts or puppets if you like using them in story times – I have a few felt stories I keep on hand in case of emergencies!

  1. Go With the Flow

Carefully, thoughtfully planning out your story times is important, but don’t let yourself become a prisoner of your plans! If something isn’t working, change it up! Say you plan a story time with three picture books, but your audience isn’t used to this many stories and they start bouncing off the walls. You could a) stick to your plan and force your antsy audience to sit through another picture book (which would probably just make everyone miserable) or b) assess the mood of your audience and adapt your program. The same goes for audience requests – I’ve added everything from the alphabet song to I’m a Little Teapot to my programs because a child has asked for it, even if it wasn’t part of my original plan. I like to write a few extra songs/rhymes at the bottom of my outline that I can pull out if I need them. Just remember, as long as the children are participating and getting excited about learning, your story time is a success!

  1. Be Kind to Yourself

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your story times will just fall flat. There will be times that you’ll float out of a story times feeling on top of the world, and times that you’ll crawl out of them wanting to hide under a rock and never come out. That’s just life, particularly for on-calls. Don’t let a bad experience sour your feelings about story times, or make you question your abilities. Even a terrible experience can have value if it makes you a stronger (and hopefully wiser) person!

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