Flexible Storytimes

Last week, I was reading responses to a question about disruptive kids in storytime and came across someone who said that they would never end a book midway through to deal with squirmy kids or bothersome antics. I immediately thought, “um, why not?” But then it occurred to me that not so long ago, I felt the same way.

I started doing storytimes around 1.5 years ago as an outreach, and when I switched to doing in-house storytimes, the kids’ behaviors were so much different (worse) that I overcompensated by becoming super formulaic in my planning. Every storytime has the same structure and I had to get through all the material, preferably in that order.

Over time, I learned to loosen my standards and respond to what the kids liked, or at least tolerated. I started out by shortening long books, then started paraphrasing others when I knew they’d like the story but not the wordiness. I learned to watch for wiggles and to respond with some activity instead of always doing dancing at the same point every week.

Then I got my first gig as a librarian and came to a library where I mostly have a crowd of regulars over a long period of time. After leading most of them for 9 months now, I know them pretty well. I know early when they’re feeling really chatty, or sick, or whiny, or hyper. I’ve learned how to adjust for that.

Actually, I’ve learned so much about my crowd that I re-designed my whole storytime approach to suit them with my Little Learning Parties. With LLP, I have an idea of how I’d like things to go and I do have some plans, but I’m completely flexible. If Amy comes in and really, really, really wants to start with a whole new song, we can do that. If I notice after our two opening activities that the kids are still wiggly, we can do another wiggle rhyme or game. And I do not shy away from closing a book if kids are wanting to talk. Depending on the situation, I might close the book and say, “we need to remember our listening ears today,”  then go back to reading when I’ve got their attention. Or if it’s just one kid causing a problem that I can’t ignore, I most likely will stop reading altogether, play a song, and then go talk to the child and/or adult while the others dance. (This doesn’t happen very often at all.)

And I will say, that I used to look at other storytime models and see how some presenters are able to read 3 or maybe 4 books. With my mixed-age group, I typically get through 2 and a flannel story. Some days, I only get through one and a flannel story. I used to feel bad about the times when I’m not able to read more, but in my opening spiel to adults, I say, “we’re here today to celebrate all the different ways that children learn.” I truly think that the other parts of storytime–the singing together, dancing, talking, and playing–are just as important as the books because they embrace those different approaches to learning and growing. If I can be okay with not doing another fingerplay, shouldn’t I be okay with not doing another book? Maybe that’s an un-librarian-like belief, but the kids don’t seem to be offended.

I also used to strictly adhere to a theme and I’d have all my rhymes, songs, and games to match. Now I have a loose theme where I pair stories with a rhyme or flannel, but there are staples in storytime that I rotate freely among familiar activities. For instance, my opening song is a rotation of five songs the kids know very well. I also have about 12 rhymes and songs now that the kids ADORE and know by heart, so I alternate those each week. I have about 4 flannel stories/games that I switch out each week, too. Not only does it cut down on planning time for me (which I sorely need in my life), but the kids do so well when they recognize what we’re going to do next. They never get tired of their favorites, and I think this familiarity makes adults more confident in whipping them out for long lines in the grocery store or singing in the car. I do plan on changing out most of my routine activities seasonally.

How do you feel about flexibility, routines, and themes?

4 thoughts on “Flexible Storytimes

  1. When I started doing storytimes 2 years ago, I was following the template my predecessor left me. It was more like school than storytime and I had to learn that my programs can be whatever I want them to be. Now I have my own “template” that I have tweaked over the 2 year period. I started picking books first, as it was too difficult for me to find books that were worth a damn on certain themes (http://missmichelleatmpl.blogspot.com/2013/08/start-with-story.html). Recently I shifted all of the movement activities to the end, as the kids were too riled up after a short welcome wiggle to sit and listen. Heck, I change things *during* the program depending on how things are going. I think giving the kids what they want is important, but I think it’s most important to do what WE like as storytime providers. I’ll email you my template if you’re interested. 🙂 Great job!

  2. I had to learn not to be too flexible – that it was ok if a couple kids lost interest and went out to play, I still had some listening. I eventually went to a really specific template, but I was flexible in it. Now, I’m taking a break from preschool storytime to decide where I’m going with preschool programs since 90% of the kids are in school.

  3. This is a great post and great comments. Every storytimer has their style and it’s important to embrace what works for you and for your kids in storytime. I usually do a storytime outline and stack my books and materials in the order I want to use them, but I’m not shy about skipping a book or changing the order of things if my group needs something different. It’s definitely been a learning process for me and as I’ve gained more experience it’s gotten easier to be flexible.

    I love your wording of telling parents that you’re celebrating all the different ways kids learn!

    • Yes, that’s sort of my nod to the diversity factor, too. I have a couple kids who seem (to me) to be special needs or learning disabled. Sometimes I lose them and they get up and look out the window or they burst out laughing or singing at an inappropriate time. I more or less ignore them unless they’re causing a problem because I know they’re absorbing things in the ways they’re able to and I feel like I want to model acceptance. I don’t quite get into all that in my spiel, but sometimes I’ll quietly talk to an adult who seems disturbed by these kids afterward .

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