Almost two months ago, I ditched the traditional outline for mixed-age storytimes in my system and came up with my own model. I dropped the name storytime from the title and learned new, more interactive activities like rhymes and songs. I started repeating (mostly) the same songs and rhymes for several weeks at a time, too. Finally, I also got more serious about asking adults to participate or respectfully sit off to the side of the room where I couldn’t hear conversations so well.
All this change had me a little worried. I wasn’t too sure how it would be received by the storytimers who had been coming regularly for at least a year. They were used to things being a certain way.
I shouldn’t have worried. The worst that happened was that I got a *a little bit* of side eye from some grandparents who liked to chat during storytimes. I’d taken away the chairs from around the carpet and placed them all against a wall around 15-20 feet away. At first, people tried to drag the chairs over and I simply explained that while they could bring a chair if they really wanted to sing and dance and talk with the kids, if they wanted to take a break and chat together, I wanted them to remain at a distance where I couldn’t hear. A lot of grandparents took me up on this, and, like I said, only gave me a tiny bit of sassy face.
When there was a clearer separation between the space where you could relax and just sit and where you were expected to participate, wonderful things happened. Most adults took the change to heart and began really engaging their kids. This set the tone for people entering late and new people, too. A few times now I’ve seen a new person walk into the room, look at the parents singing along on the carpet and immediately follow suit. Before this change, new people would come in, find a row of chairs and detached adults, and sit at the end, unsure of what to do.
Repeating most of the same songs and rhymes each week had the biggest impact of anything. When the kids were able to remember everything, they got really, REALLY into the activities. I found that they got excited when they knew it was time for their favorite activity and a couple of them even told me that they were practicing at home. The best compliment I’ve had through this was a three year old who said she taught her mom one of the rhymes (she comes with her grandmother, so taking it home to mom was big)!
The proof came to me when I passed out evaluations last week, after 7 weeks of the new storytime format. I had great feedback.
“I’ve learned tons of new songs and rhymes to practice at home.”
“We’ve come a long way in participation thanks to Ms. Brittany.” (I don’t think my storytimers have ever seen my name spelled out.)
“You are wonderful! I feel like a kid when I come.”
This has been an amazing experiment in doing better for my mixed-age crowd.