Tips for Shy Storytime Groups


I filled in for a colleague’s toddler storytime at a local daycare centre, and my goodness, talk about a tough crowd. Imagine a room full of adorable little toddlers staring at you as if you have two heads, shocked into complete silence by your terrifying visage.

Being the teacher I am, my first thought (after “woah, tough crowd”) was – this would make a great teachable moment!

And so, without further ado, here are a few thoughts on warming up shy storytime groups!


Sharing names can be a great way to break the ice with a shy group of kids. One of my favourite name songs is Heckety Peckety Bumble Bee, because it gives you a lot of opportunities to practice the children’s names, but if the location you’re visiting has a favourite circle time name song, that’s even better. Being on a first name basis can warm up a frosty crowd, and can help make children feel welcome and included in the program. If the kids are too shy to tell you their name, they can whisper it to their group leader to say aloud for them, or ….


A cute and friendly puppet can do wonders for winning over a nervous audience. A strange grownup might be scary, but a soft-spoken, fuzzy puppet can act as a non-threatening intermediary, especially if the puppet is shy too. Children who are too shy to speak directly to an unfamiliar adult might be willing to whisper their name to a cuddly stuffed animal, or whisper it the answer to a question. This leads nicely into another suggestion:


Singing audience members’ favourite songs can be a great way to help elicit any kind of response from a group that feels practically catatonic. The tide in my shy toddler time started to turn when one of my little toddlers whispered to the puppet that he loved the alphabet song. Once again, shy kids can whisper their favourite songs to their group leaders or to the friendly puppet.


If your audience members are reminiscent of deer caught in headlines, now is probably not the time to roll out your shiny new material, complete with complicated lyrics and hand actions. Think of yourself as a ’90s popstar on a comeback tour – audiences want to hear your classic material, not your new songs. Familiar, much-loved, well-known songs can be comforting and soothing for nervous little ones.


My normal storytime approach is pretty high energy. I’m loud, I’m active, I bounce and jump and sing and make a lot of noise. With a shy group that’s already wondering where their beloved regular librarian is, my usual over-the-top, boisterous approach can lead to stunned silence at best, and terrified screams at worst (come on, who hasn’t made a kid cry in storytime?) Read the tone of the audience, and if your audience is quiet and nervous, like mine was, a quieter, gentler approach might be in order. It’s remarkable what a soft voice and a gentle smile can do to engage a reticent audience.

So, good luck to all my fellow substitute storytimers, and remember, sometimes your storytimes rock the house, and sometimes they…..don’t!


Storytime Songs with Crossover Appeal

Being a parent or caregiver can be a tough. Finding the time to memorize dozens of different songs, rhymes and bounces to share with your child as they grow up just isn’t always in the cards.

Fortunately for the families at my storytimes, I am all about the efficiency. Why learn 24 songs when you can learn 6 songs and learn how to adapt each of them in 4 different ways (woah, that’s enough math for one day…)?

In all seriousness, though, repetition is a vital part of supporting early literacy, and having an arsenal of multipurpose rhymes and songs at your disposal is always a good thing.

Here are a few of my favourite songs and rhymes with crossover appeal.

Zoom Zoom Zoom / The Elevator Song

Caregivers get an arm workout lifting their babies, and toddlers/preschoolers/kindergarteners get to work off some of that energy by jumping in these storytime classics. Everybody wins!

Sleeping Bunnies

I just tested this preschool classic out as a lap bounce with at the families my babytime, and it worked like a charm. We rocked the babies gently on our laps for the first part of the song, then hopped them up and down like like bunnies for the second part – lots of fun.

My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean

Now this one’s a real classic. When I was little we sang this song in school, and every time we sang a word that started with the letter “b”, we jumped! As you might imagine, the line “bring back my bonny to me” had us in stitches! It’s a great way to reinforce listening skills and letter sound recognition while burning off some energy. In a babytime, caregivers can lift babies into the air every time they sing the word Bonnie, making for another great arm workout.

Tick Tock Tick Tock / Toast in the Toaster

Have I mentioned that I’m a big fan of jumping in storytimes? I’m a big fan of jumping in storytimes. Kids will spend much of their school lives being asked to sit down and sit still, so why not let them express their natural exuberance while they still can? Both of these songs work brilliantly as lap bounces in babytimes, and as high energy movement songs for older children.

London Bridge is Falling Down

You get the picture – babies are lifted and lowered, kids drop themselves up and down. This song makes for a nice change from lifting songs, though, as it’s a lowering song, and you can take a walk around for the second verse.

Head and Shoulders

Sometimes songs become classics for a reason – this song works as beautifully with babies as it does with toddlers, preschoolers, and even kinders (especially when you pick up the pace). It’s also a fantastic song for introducing different languages into your programs, or for encouraging families to share their languages with a group. My partner taught me how to sing Head and Shoulders in Japanese so that I could share it at my storytime, and it works brilliantly in so many different languages.

Do you have any favourite all-purpose storytime songs? I’d love to hear them!



Painting in the library, or, Fortune Favours the Bold

As part of an Early Reader Book Club the group read Squish: Super Amoeba, by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.


Our book club meetings usually include an informal discussion and some themed activities. Since this was our last meeting I wanted to do something a bit special, and a bit out of the ordinary.

The answer? Paint.

Like many individuals who work with children, I’m afraid of paint. Paint gets everywhere. On kids. On clothes. On furniture. And in a library, on books. Paint is scary.

But, fears are meant to be challenged and thus overcome. So, I ventured on to Pinterest in search of painting activities that I could connect with our theme.

Sufficepaint1.jpg to say there’s a severe dearth of amoeba-related children’s craft activities out there on the internet.

I managed to find a few “germ” related activities (by the way, while I appreciate proper hygiene, I think we might be raising a generation of overly-paranoid germaphobes with some of these classroom activities….) that I thought I could adapt to make them amoeba-related, especially this one: blow painted germs. Kids use straws to blow water-thinned paint and create abstract designs.

To create our “amoebas”, the children traced their hands on pieces of paper to create amoebas like “Pod”, and traced their socked feet to paint3create amoebas like “Peggy”, while Squish we would simply draw free-hand in a cloud-like shape.

My coworker and I covered every inch of the children’s tables in newspaper. Now this part is key : DO NOT RELINQUISH CONTROL OF THE SOURCE OF PAINT. I carefully rationed out small amounts of paint to each child, which I think helped keep the mess making to a minimum, as each painter had a controlled amount with which to create.

I did this program with a group of 8 children, aged 7-8 years old, and it went smashingly. I made sure to tell the group that I was trusting them with potentially messy paint because I knew that they were grown-up enough to respect themselves, their space and each other. I wanted to set them up for success, rather than threaten them with potential punishment.

When it comes to paint, fortune favours the bold, so give it a go!

Circuit Bugs – STEM Activity

Another craft idea that was shared at the recent YAACS makerspace workshop was brought to us by Jen Lee, a children’s librarian with the Vancouver Public Library. Circuit bugs are a simple and fun way to introduce children to electricity and circuitry, and tie in well with a STEM-based curriculum.

Although the circuit bugs are simple to make, this craft is probably better suited for older kids, as the fiddly bits require some fine motor skills, and you’ll be working with electricity and circuits. Safety first, kids!


You can find full instructions on building circuit bugs here, and here


  • 2 LED Lights
  • Insulated Copper Magnet Wire
  • Batteries – CR2032 3V
  • Electrical Tape
  • Clothespins
  • Pipecleaners
  • Popsicle Sticks (Optional depending on your design)

Jen left us with some valuable tips:

  • Connecting the circuits can be fiddly, so it’s a good idea to keep your group size on the smaller side, and have extra teens/adults on hand to help out. Also, make sure to schedule plenty of time for this activity, so kids don’t feel rushed.
  • Affordable supplies can be found in the unlikeliest of places – Jen got a great deal on batteries at IKEA, and LED lights can be bought in bulk online. We’re all working with limited budgets these days, so it pays to do your research and shop around.
  • Make sure to order extra supplies in case some of the batteries or LED lights are duds, and have all the kids test their supplies before they start constructing their bugs.
  • There’s no on/off button, so if the kids leave their circuits connected the batteries will run out.

Sounds like a fun activity for teachers to share with science classes, too!

Rain City English – Let’s Get Writing!

Here’s a simple writing activity that I use to help students build and practice their vocabulary skills while thinking creatively.


Write the letters of your name in a column (like an acrostic poem).





Pass your paper to the left.  Look at the letters on your new paper and write a word starting with each letter.





Pass your paper to the left again. Now, look at the words on your new paper and use each word in a different sentence.

                            Kangaroos like to jump.

                            You won’t like me when I’m angry.

                            I want to go to North Vancouver.

                           Did you ride an elephant?

Depending on the language level/age of your students and the length of your program, have students write their first and/or last names. My last name has 11 letters, and I am lazy, so for the purpose of this example we’ll be sticking with first names only. 

You can change this assignment up in all sorts of ways to suit different topics, themes or language levels. Ask students to use specific tenses in their writing (simple past, present continuous, etc.), or amp up the challenge by asking students to create paragraphs using all of the words on their paper. This could be a great warm up activity for a creative writing class. 

I used this activity with my ESL students, but I’m sure it would be a fun little writing prompt or ice breaker for students of all levels. Enjoy!

Wire Tree Sculptures

I recently attended a makerspace workshop hosted by YAACS, the Young Adult and Children’s Services section of the BC Library Association. Three youth services librarians shared a number of simple, cost-effective crafts and activities to share with teens and tweens in the library.

A teen services librarian from the Burnaby Public Library, Rachel Yaroshuk, shared this beautiful and incredibly inexpensive craft, which she made with kids and teens at her library:  miniature wire tree sculptures!



  • Thin wire (The lower the gauge, the easier it is to twist the wire)
  • Wire cutters / pliers
  • Rocks (for your base)
  • Hot glue gun (optional but recommended)
  • Tissue paper

You can find complete instructions for making a wire tree sculpture here, though for our craft we simply cut one long piece of copper wire and looped it over on itself, cutting the loops at the top and bottom to create our branches and roots. We also glued our roots to the rock, though if you’re working with kids this might be a job for the grown-ups in the room to take on.

We then used pieces of tissue paper to create little leaves and blossoms for our trees.

How cute is this craft?!? Wire can be purchased very inexpensively from home supply stories and electronics shops, and rocks can be found just about anywhere, making this a fantastic activity for budget-conscious librarians.


Have you ever made a craft like this at your library? I’d love to know how it went!

Harry Potter Party Ideas


I’m working on a Harry Potter character party template for our library (we currently have character parties for Geronimo Stilton, Fancy Nancy and Percy Jackson, among others). While researching Harry Potter party ideas, I came to a not entirely earth-shattering realization:

parents can be insane

Holy smokes, the lengths some parents go to when planning birthday parties for their children is absolutely staggering. Don’t even get me started…

Anyway, the point of this post is to share some of the Harry Potter program ideas I found while trolling Pinterest. These activities are inexpensive, don’t require any specialized equipment or extensive crafting abilities, and are quick and easy to set up and run. Perfect for library kids’ programs, and suitable for even the least knowledgeable Harry Potter readers (like myself).

Transfiguration Practice

Kids pull animal names from a hat and have to act them out, while their teammates have to guess which animal they’ve been transfigured into. It’s animal charades with a fancy name.

Harry Potter Corner Book Mark


Cute, easy striped paper book marks for marking your next Harry Potter read.

Harry Potter – Would You Rather? Game


This easy printable game gets kids guessing and choosing between two Harry Potter-themed options – definitely better suited to more knowledgeable fans, though. I needed a translator to get me through some of the questions…

Origami Sorting Hat


This printable makes a Harry Potter-themed cootie-catcher / fortune teller that can sort kids into their houses. Easy to make and fun to use on each other.

Pin the Scar on Harry Potter


It’s pin the tail on the donkey for a new generation.

Toilet Paper Roll Owl

Pinecone Owl

Sock Owl

Paper Plate Owl

Make your own Hedwig owl with one of these cute owl crafts.

Running a Harry Potter party at your library can be easy and affordable with these quick, simple, fun activities! Good luck!