Hi, my name is Brytani, and I’m baby-impaired.
By that, I mean I have zero experience with babies in my personal life. I don’t know what kind of life choices have left me in a vacuum of moms, but I have somehow wound up with no friends or family with kids. So as awkward as I felt when parents started asking for a baby storytime, a little part of me was like, “Yaaay! Baby snuggles!”
So I set about learning how to provide a baby storytime and took the most tenuous steps in my career. I was SO ANXIOUS, but now that I’ve been learning and practicing for several months, I’ve started to feel slightly more comfortable. So, if you’re feeling uncertain about a baby storytime because you’re nervous about babies, please let me make you feel a little better.
Places to start:
I have a handful of places I consistently go for ideas:
Jbrary–their baby playlist and their fantastic guides for beginners. Click here for all their posts about baby storytimes. You’ll be so glad you did. Dana and Lindsey, I love you!
Reading with Red– so many great ideas for baby play AND toys for playtime AND posts about her favorite books to read. After trying out a few plans from different people, I found I was most comfortable with Brooke’s style. My storytimes still look a lot like her outline here.
Read Sing Play– Did you know that Kendra has a page where she’s recorded herself singing the songs she does in storytime? So helpful for me! I use them all the time and you can find them here.
Abby the Librarian– She has the best, best, best lists of books to read. Find all her baby-related posts here.
Mel’s Desk– You really absolutely must read her posts about baby storytime and stock up on all her perfect early literacy messages. When I was getting started, her outlines made me feel so much better because, actually, they’re not very much different from what I do with older kids. Seeing them helped me realize that I could use some of the same activities and just make it simpler or slower for babies and that put me so much more at ease.
These bloggers can help you figure out what to read, what to sing, and how to play and talk, so I want to address the things that I know happen inside a baby-impaired brain.
Anxiety #1: Babies will smell my fear.
I was terrified that babies would immediately hate me and start crying and maybe even projectile vomit on me. Seriously, that was a thing in my mind. Well, babies aren’t really that sensitive. I mean, they’re a little volatile near nap time or when they’re hungry/uncomfortable/mad (aren’t we all?), but they get over things pretty quickly, too. Full tantrum can be soothed with just one bubble blown, my friends. Remember that you’re magical to them and that smiling and singing is the way to any baby’s heart. Just be happy to see them and as they begin to see you more often, you’ll find out what their favorite things are in storytime and you can whip that out anytime things are taking a turn for the worse.
Anxiety #2: Parents will think I’m weird.
I’ve found this to be the opposite for me. Parents who bring their kids to baby storytimes are pretty likely to have been socializing their kids to different things. So they’re probably thankful to you for giving them a chance to see other moms and dads and they probably also want to see their kids getting more comfortable with trustworthy adults, which includes you. Plus, I’ve found that most parents coming to baby storytimes are first time moms, and that means they were no different from you not too long ago. When the moms in my group found out I don’t have any babies in my life, they started inundating me with stories about first time motherhood. So, yeah, I think they realize I’m still a little awkward with babies, but they get it an they want me to know about things they didn’t know.
Anxiety #3: Parents won’t like me giving literacy messages.
Complete opposite as well. After talking a lot about how I don’t have kids but study their development, parents have really soaked up the messages I give them. They realize that they get in a routine of doing the same things and they like having someone on the outside to remind them of things or suggest trying something new. I’ve found literacy messages are wonderfully received in baby storytimes and since I don’t have to worry about losing the babies’ attention spans while I talk with them, I’ve found it a lot easier for me than in older storytimes. I really like to pick out toys they probably have at home and show them how to use it in a different way and that’s really easy to demonstrate without a baby.
Anxiety #4: I won’t know when it’s okay to touch.
I think I’ve been made really paranoid about this because I used to work for a library that had a very rigid no-touching-ever-ever policy. I get where that policy comes from, but it really does ignore a child’s developmental need to reflect affection and you see really powerful connections with learning when kids feel safe and loved. Typically, I only hug back. Older kids can make it clear that they’re going to hug you one way or another, and I always reciprocate in that case. But with babies, their body language can be so different. They might back right into your lap when they want to be held, they might hold out their hands for you, or they might just sit on your feet and give you big eyes. Most of the babies in my group have a pretty good sense of stranger danger, so they mostly don’t want to be held, but they do like holding my hands and using me as furniture to balance on. On the rare occasion that a baby does want me to hold or lift him, I always make eye contact with the parent to make sure it’s okay. A couple times I’ve been uncertain about what a baby wanted and mom said, “he wants you to help him stand, but then he’ll want you to run with him, so…good luck with that.” And a couple times I’ve seen a mom hold her baby back from touching other people. I think you’ll be able to read the signs and know when it’s comfortable for the parent or not.
Now here are some tricks to help you feel a little better.
Trick #1: Do an introduction song and make your example baby something funny.
I do Let’s All Clap and start with my Folkmanis sheepdog puppet, Magoo. I explain that my dogs are currently my babies so he’s a fitting choice. Almost all of my attendees are dog-people, so they enjoy asking me how my dogs are doing.
Trick #2: Clap a lot!
For a long time, after every book, we would all clap and say, “The end. Yayyyy!” Babies love the clapping and it makes you feel good at the same time.
Trick #3: Leaning on manipulatives can be helpful until you get your rhythm going.
I used to rotate doing shaky eggs, scarves, and bubbles in each storytime because parents commented that they liked that a lot. Now I open with Hello Bubbles and end with peek-a-boo with scarves. I’ve also found that Hello Bubbles is a great thing to do before a flannel activity because the babies are so distracted with popping the bubbles that they don’t try to get your flannel pieces as you’re putting them up.
Trick #4: You really can use some of the activities you do with older kids.
You just want to make sure any props are big enough for them to see and that you sing/speak slowly and clearly.
A good example might be my Bubble, Bubble, Pop prop song. The fish are big and it’s a simple song about counting to three, so I just sing it more slowly and show parents how to make the fish with their hands.
Five Elephants in the Bathtub is another that I do with babies, toddlers, and preschool. For babies, instead of using flannel pieces, I use props with stuffed elephants and a little tub.The stuffed elephants are bigger and more interesting to them.
I think that might be everything I’ve learned so far. I know it’s not much, but I hope it helps to hear that you’re not alone and that it gets easier. Good luck out there!