Storytime for One



When I moved from a small town library to an urban neighborhood library, I really thought that I was going to have so many families in my storytime. Bigger population means more attendance, right? Oh, how naive.

I learned a lot about the pressures on families in inner-city America during my first months of living in Baltimore. I learned that in cities that once thrived on blue collar industries, there’s been an economic collapse that will take generations to heal. In the mean time, there’s a lot of job scarcity and insecurity for adults trying to raise children and it translates in a big way to attendance in library programs. Mostly, for me, it meant that programs taking place in the morning tended to be sparsely attended in my neighborhood, where unemployment rates were soaring. Most mornings, I would only see one family in the library, and they were almost never intentionally coming for storytime. Probably 90% of families walking into the library in the morning were there so that a parent could work on applying for jobs. Almost immediately, I learned that unemployed parents didn’t feel capable of sitting down to enjoy a storytime when they felt they should be working on applications and searching. While I would always invite these families to participate together, I always saw parents send their child to my storytime carpet alone. They recognized that their child needed the interaction and they were grateful that I could help in providing that.

Some library folks would probably find this problematic. I’ve heard that some staff will never do storytime if a parent is not actively involved or if there’s only one child. For me, it was either provide a service this way, or don’t provide the service. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and I concluded that I didn’t have a lot of options for trying to reach more kids. The staffing structure I was working with didn’t leave a lot of room for me to do outreach, nor were there parks or public spaces where I could easily and safely go do storytime alone. I saw (and still see) a lot of value in giving a child a positive one-on-one interaction with a librarian and a personalized experience with a book.

Here are some tips on how I ran storytimes for one child.

Keep it short and simple. For me, I pulled a few books every week and prepared a full storytime, but when I only had one child, I would narrow down my plans to start with one book, a dance or recorded song, and some activity with a prop. If I got those three things in and the child still seemed engaged and interested, I’d add another book and maybe a flannel game.

Let most activities be a choice between two things. I would usually start out by introducing myself, learning the child’s name, and saying something like, “I’m so happy you’re here! I have some songs and games and some really, really good books. Since you are the only kid here, you get all of my attention right now. I don’t get to do this all the time and I will have to go back to my desk to work soon, but right now, I get to play with you. What do you want to do first? We could dance to a song about pretending to be a dinosaur, or we could pick a book together.”

Vocalize your time limits more than usual. When there’s only one child, I’ve noticed that it’s harder for them to understand when storytime has to end. Things go a little better if you make it clear from the start that you only get to do a few things together. After a couple activities, maybe say, “I can only do one/two more things now. Let’s make it extra fun.”

Be flexible. Admittedly, this is a skill that takes time to develop for a lot of people. When you only have one child, especially if you do storytime on the floor, your little listener is probably going to wander a little. They might point to things mid -story and ask about them. They might close the book for you and pick another. They might ask if they can go play on the computer. Try to appear interested, but rope in their attention to whatever you want for them. “Right? The clock is really pretty and it tells me when it’s time to go home. Do you think we should read my favorite part of the book next, or should we dance now?”

Your goal is to give them a positive experience they can remember.  Switching up your expectations in storytime and adapting to be child-led is hard, but that work is just as important as a traditional storytime. In an even more realistic way, it models for parents how they can be a teacher for their child and it gives kids a rich interaction during a time when they may have been alone with toys or a computer.

So shout-out to all library folks who are doing storytimes for one. You are very important.


**An unsolicited foot note: I’m using a lot of past tense here because I recently moved to another branch and these aren’t my current storytime circumstances. It was still an experience I wanted to talk about and share.


Storytime and Child Development: Imitating Sounds

Storytime&Child Development


It’s time for imitating sounds!

Just like last week’s post on walking with support, this is another one of those posts that almost seems silly to me because it’s so easy to observe and support in storytime. Anyone who’s done a baby storytime knows how much babies love repeating animal sounds and sounds from things that go, but why is it important to storytime and child development?

At this age, babies are really ramping up the building blocks of language and communication. They’re going from making less intelligible sounds like cooing and gurgling to making intentional ones that get our attention. They’re recognizing that some sounds create a favorable reaction and they can remember what sound to make to cause an adult to, say, pick them up or feed them. They’re also beginning to experiment with the way sentences work. You might hear them raise their voices while babbling like they’re asking a question or you might hear them grunt the sounds when they’re grumpy.

When it comes to storytime, I love to give lots of opportunities for adults and their babies to interact by imitating my sounds. Babies will be especially good at one or two syllable words with strong vowel sounds, which means that animal and things that go books are amazing! Even if the text doesn’t call for it, take some time to point to the pictures and say “What does this [this] say? [speak the sound]. Can you say [sound?]”

It’s also a really great time for practicing the way that sentences sound. Books that ask questions in the text and give answers are outstanding for this. Also, can I just recommend Moo by David LaRochelle 100 times?! It is absolutely perfect for supporting imitation because it’s just a simple sound that all babies can make, but said in lots of different ways. Plus! It’s guaranteed to make your adults chuckle.


When babies are babbling to you or even beginning to say their first words, it’s also really important to use it as an opportunity to model scaffolding in our conversations.

I like to do this during playtime most of all. When babies wander over to me and babble, I like to respond with a short reply. “Yes, the blue ball goes, ‘bounce, bounce.'” It takes some practice, but I always try to think of a word to end my sentence that can stick with them. Babies want to know names for things and they really like to speak the sounds it makes, so I often focus on that. Sometimes a baby or two will really get a kick out of saying their name, too. I often reply with what toys are near or what they are doing.

Baby: Edmund.
Me: Edmund is walking so fast, fast, fast.

Baby: Ava!
Me: Yes, Ava is making a tower!
Ava: To-wer.

I’ve seen parents really pick up on this practice with very little coaching from me and it can help tremendously with speech development. This is a really magical time when you can see first words appearing and my observation has been that adults really start to swell with pride and become even more involved in the learning process after that.



Storytime and Child Development: Walking with Support

Storytime&Child Development


I’m finally back with some more content in my storytime and child development series. Hooray! I’ve loved thinking more deeply about how my practices in storytime not only build on early literacy, but the development of the whole child, too. Thinking about stages in more specific terms has made me realize that there are all kinds of ways that I can adapt any storytime to be more beneficial to the ages present.

Today I’m leaving the 4-8 months stage and moving into 8-12 months and I’m starting with one of the major, easily recognizable developments: walking with support.

By eight months, most children will be sitting up independently and beginning to walk around by pulling themselves up on higher surfaces like chairs and tables or a pair of helpful hands.

It takes a lot of confidence to walk totally independently and practicing with support is sort of like riding a bicycle with training wheels. Working in a time to walk during storytime can be a fun way to work out wiggles that even babies can get AND help build that confidence.

In my storytimes, I often pause between my two books or after my second book to do…A BABY PARADE. What is that? Well, basically I give all the families a scarf and I start bopping around the room to music. Adults with children who can walk might walk with their kids or stand and dance together. Where children need support, parents might help them stand and walk by holding their hands. With littler ones, adults can bounce them in their laps or standing with them on a hip and singing.

When I first introduced this element of baby storytime, I explained for awhile that a baby parade had a few purposes:

  1. To encourage connection to music and rhythm which are very beneficial as early math concepts and even in fostering a sense of community and empathy.
  2. To introduce new vocabulary through singing and listening to the words.
  3. To build those motor skills and confidence with the movements.
  4. For little ones who love to dance, it supports creativity.

For this age, I like to pick music that parents will like instead of picking music intended just for children. I think it’s a great way to show adults that everything is an opportunity to help their baby grow and they can enjoy it at the same time.

Here’s my list of favorite songs:

  • Three Little Birds- Bob Marley
  • Day O- Raffi
  • Ain’t No Mountain High Enough- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
  • All You Need Is Love- The Beatles
  • Dancing in the Moonlight- King Harvest
  • 1234- Feist

All of these have a strong bouncing or swaying rhythm and most are really recognizable to the adults, so they like to sing them.

This is a really cute, fun part of my baby storytimes and adults love using it as a time to connect to each other, too. Give it a try!


Storytime and Child Development: Object Permanence




In my last post on four-eight month old infants, I’m addressing a beautiful thing called object permanence.

Parents probably know this as the concept that helps their babies not to go BANANAS when they leave the room or turn a corner and disappear from sight. Object permanence is the knowledge that something is there even when we can’t see it, and it’s just beginning to form at the tail end of this stage (right around seven or eight months).

In the beginning, infants recognize and try to find objects that are only partially hidden–things that are sticking out from blankets or bags, etc. By the time they’re a year old, though, they’ll be much more comfortable with items or people being hidden and will probably actively search for them, even when they’re completely out of view. (Have you noticed one year olds looking for your toys mid-storytime? It’s good times.)

Object permanence is what makes peek-a-boo such a fascinating game for babies. When you hide your own face, infants will think you’re completely gone. You are a sorcerer to them–a regular Chris Angel, Mind Freak. When you move your hands away, suddenly you’re back from outer space and you just walked in to find…never mind.

Practicing peek-a-boo gives infants a fun opportunity to explore a parent’s whole tangible being. It helps them build the knowledge that they’re not being left when they can’t see someone and it might help them trust that they’re always coming back.

There are so many opportunities for this in storytime!

Try any version of Little Mouse, Little Mouse. Jbrary has a great listing here. Remember, some babies may not have 20/20 vision yet (especially if you have some younger than six months). I like to make my baby flannel sets really big. I have one Little Mouse set that’s just three bright houses that are a little bigger than softballs. Sometimes I play the game with the mouse half out of the house or with its tail sticking out.

Here’s another peek-a-boo song from Jbrary that I use from time to time.

I love Kendra’s “Where is Baby?” I use it to end every baby storytime and it’s a hit for all ages.

There’s also this whole storytime from Brooke!


While searching for some resources, I also found this chart from Saroj Ghoting, which has lots and lots of info just like what I’m sharing in this series. Check it out!



Storytime and Child Development: Receptive Language




I’m starting off the new year today with a new post in my child development series. Last time, I wrote about how depth perception develops between four and eight months. (Using Donkey Kong as an example. You’re welcome.) This time, I’m talking about the development of receptive language.

Receptive language is the ability to listen to and comprehend words. It’s different from expressive language, which develops several months later, because expressive language allows you to respond to what you hear verbally. It’s carrying on a conversation instead of just understanding one.

A lot of us can probably say that we understand Spanish, but find it much more difficult to speak. That means our receptive language is in check, but expressive language is still lagging. Understanding the effort it takes to jump from understanding a foreign language to speaking it helps us understand how much work a baby’s brain is doing when learning to put together sounds and words appropriate for a situation. (And they’re doing it without any other background knowledge of how language works. They’re such geniuses!)

When children start developing receptive language, they’ll often begin by recognizing their names. They’ll turn to look at you when you say it or light up when it’s time for their name be sung in storytime. They’ll also quickly learn “no,”  and respond by stopping what they’re doing…maybe. (Later, that’s one of the first words they master in speaking. Woohoo!)

Soon, they’ll start understanding all the simple commands that we often repeat to infants. Wave bye-bye! Put it down. Blow a kiss! Come over here. Look at this!

At first, babies are guessing the right responses, but the more they receive positive feedback for guessing or remembering the right response, the better able they are to build on that success. As they continue to learn and grow, they’ll go from putting down a toy to putting it back in a toy box to sorting their toys.

There’s a couple things I do in every baby storytime that build on receptive language.

First, we start off each storytime by introducing all the babies with a song. I use “Let’s all clap,” which is twice as awesome because as babies get a little older, they start clapping along with me! This song lets us call out each baby by name, and the way they smile when they hear their names…ugh, it just melts your heart.

Second, I wrap up each storytime by doing a version of “Wave Goodbye Like This.” (It’s about halfway through this video.) You may remember, I was baby impaired when I started this storytime, so I didn’t know what common behaviors babies know at first. Through some observing, I noticed they almost all knew how or were encouraged to wave goodbye. Lots of them also knew how to blow a kiss. So my lyrics go like this:

We wave goodbye like this
We wave goodbye like this
We wave goodbye, but we won’t cry
We wave goodbye like this

We blow a little kiss *mwah*
We blow a little kiss *mwah*
We blow a kiss and we won’t miss
We blow a little kiss *mwah*

And then we clap and cheer and bring out toys for playtime.

I hope this gives you some ideas for reinforcing those receptive language skills in storytime!

Here are a couple milestone charts that may help you learn more about infant language development. If you’re interested in a deeper understanding, keep in mind that it’s mostly speech pathologists who are in the conversation at this age and that the emphasis tends to be on identifying and correcting hearing problems. You can find studies on infants and receptive language, but they’re generally much more intensive than what I’m sharing here. Anyway, here you go:

Birth-One Year Old Chart from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Another milestone checklist with a little more description of the terms in child development.