Tips for Shy Storytime Groups

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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!

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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 ….

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Preschool Group Visit – March 26, 2015

Oh. My. Goodness.

All respect to preschool teachers – you guys are unsung heroes in our communities!

A local preschool group came to visit today, and this is pretty much how I felt afterwards:

By Umberto Salvagnin (originally posted to Flickr as Sleeping) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I love preschoolers – they are so enthusiastic and curious and energetic, and they can handle more complex stories and activities than my usual demographic of toddlers and babies. Preschoolers will ask questions, and let you know clearly and often volubly if they approve or disapprove of your story time selections.

But the very attributes that make preschoolers so much fun to work with can also make them a bit of a handful, especially in large numbers! Preschool or daycare visits can also be markedly different from in-house story times because of the change in child:adult ratio. In my regular story times, the attendance ratio is typically one child for every adult, while a group visit can have around 7 children for every adult. This can sometimes make wrangling the group feel a bit like herding cats. Adorable, talkative cats who give you big hugs at the end of the program, but still, cats.

"Street cats (1)" by Rodrigo Basaure from Santiago, Chile - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Street_cats_(1).jpg#/media/File:Street_cats_(1).jpg

Here’s what we ended up doing – it’s not really what I’d planned, but it’s what ended up working for this frisky group.

Book 1: Bark, George! / Jules Feiffer

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Songs:

  • I wake up my hands
  • The itsy bitsy spider

Book 2: Pete the Cat I Love my White Shoes / Eric Litwin

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Action Songs:

  • Head and Shoulders
  • Tick tock tick tock
  • The elevator song

Book 3: The Wheels on the Bus / Jane Cabrera

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Action Songs:

  • Zoom zoom
  • If you’re happy and you know it

If You’re Happy and You Know It is a great transition/instruction song. I used the tune to sing “If you’re happy and you know it wave goodbye”, “If you’re happy and you know it find your partner” and “If you’re happy and you know it line up now” – it was a perfect transition into the next portion of their visit, which was a book exchange.

Preschoolers really aren’t my typically demographic, but they’re a lot of fun! If anyone has any suggestions for great books or song to use with preschoolers, please please share!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a bit of a lie down after all that cat wrangling…. 🙂

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!