Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Storytime - More Than Reading Stories

People who are new to storytime (either presenting or attending) are sometimes surprised that we do more than just read stories, and I have been asked on occasion why I also include songs, action rhymes, fingerplays, flannel board activities, etc. (often referred to as "extension activities").  The answer is more complex than you might think.

The first, and most obvious reason, is that children have a limited attention span, and the younger they are, the more limited it is.  So they really can't sit still quietly through one story after another.  They need a chance to talk and to move, and do something different, and the younger the child, the more movement to be expected.  That's why a preschool storytime might be 3 books and a few movement activities, but a toddler storytime may be almost all movement and only 1 simple, short book.  We have to keep our programs and expectations developmentally appropriate, and fun for everyone.

Another reason is that extension activities help reinforce basic concepts beyond the theme of the storytime, as they often involve counting, color recognition, rhyming words, matching and sorting, shape recognition, number recognition, and others; working on pre-math and science skills as well as language and early literacy skills.

Fingerplays work on dexterity and fine motor skills.  All the five- and ten- little something songs and rhymes are really good for this.  Not only do they work on the concepts of counting, addition, and subtraction, they require a great deal of dexterity in being able to raise and lower different groups of fingers at a time.  Action rhymes and songs involve larger movements and work on gross motor skills, coordination, and rhythm.

Singing is one activity that many presenters are uncomfortable with when they first start doing children's programs and storytime (myself included), but it is so important to incorporate at least some songs and music.  For one thing, children enjoy music and different types of music are known to be related to different areas of cognitive development. Music also encourages movement and imagination.  You can incorporate movement scarves, shaker eggs, or instruments to encourage participation and expression.

Vocal music is actually an important tool in language development, and therefore early literacy skill development.  When we sing, it often slows down the language, breaking up the words into their individual syllables and sounds, making it easier for children to discern and learn all the smaller sounds that make up language.  So don't be afraid to sing!  Trust me, the kids really don't care!  Stick with tunes to familiar songs that you are comfortable with if you need to, and practice.  You can also supplement with recorded songs; songs from children's performers like Laurie Berkner, Jim Gill, and Raffi are popular, but carefully selected pop songs work well sometimes, too.  If you still aren't over your stage fright, check out my previous post "I Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket..."

And one last benefit to using all these other activities is cultural literacy.  Children today are less and less familiar with all the older, traditional folk tales, songs, and nursery rhymes, so by incorporating some of them in storytime we can keep them alive and pass them down to another generation.  Not to mention, they often contain more complex language and new vocabularly as well.

Do you have to all of these, all the time?  Should you stress about being sure you are incorporating everything I've mentioned in your storytimes?  Of course not!  Start with what you are most comfortable with and enjoy first, then as you gain experience and confidence gradually add more to you repertoire.  Mix and match, so that overall, you are doing a little bit of everything. 

Please feel free to mention any extension activities and/or benefits I may have forgotten in the comments, and tell me which work best for you.  No matter how long one has been doing storytime, there is always something new to learn from others.  Conversely, even if you have only been doing storytime a short time, you have something to share.  Most of all, have fun!

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