I was reminded this week of the importance of a regular beginning routine with repeating elements for storytime. I've had a bit of a cold this week, and almost lost my voice, so
I had to let my volunteers take the lead and do most of the talking for storytime for a couple of days.
The volunteer I was with on the first day works with me frequently and knows my usual routine, and followed it. However, the second day I was with a volunteer I don't work with very often and she does not really use any kind of beginning routine, just introduces the topic, and jumps right into reading stories. All morning I kept thinking, "Boy, the kids all seem to be having a hard time settling down today," and then it finally dawned on me, we were not doing our usual routine. Even though it was in the middle of storytime, I went ahead and did my usual opening song and behavior reminders before I read the next story, and it was like night and day. I noticed their faces light up as they recognized the familiar song, and they immediately settled down and did a much better job listening after that!
It doesn't matter what you do; it could be songs, rhymes, an activity, or any combination thereof. What matters is that it's something you do every time. Kids like routines and repetition. If something is repeated, they will learn it and participate. Familiar routines help get them engaged, and give them cues as to what is coming next and how to behave. Kids are more comfortable and cooperative when they know what to expect.
So, here is my beginning routine, but yours might be totally different. First, the kids take a seat and we sing a "Welcome Song". Then, I give a brief introduction to the topic, which may sometimes include a short rhyme or activity related to it, but often does not. Then we go to what we have come to call our "Story Song", which is based on "If You're Happy And You Know It", but says "If you're ready for a story..." I like using this because I can add or subtract verses based on how wiggly the kids seem. The more wiggly, the more verses I do to help them settle down. I start with large movements and work down to smaller ones, ending with them sitting down and saying "Shhh". Sometimes I may incorporate something related to the theme. I really like the flexibility of using this song.
Then, we are ready for a story. Before I start, I remind them that I need everyone sitting on their bottoms, "criss-cross applesauce," ears ready to listen, eyes up front, hands in our laps and not up our noses or bothering our neighbors, and catch a bubble. Then I start the story. I give this little speech before every story, and if necessary I will even sing a shortened version of the "story song" to transition from movement activities to subsequent stories ("If you're ready for a story, take a seat").
That is what I do for my "regular" storytime -- the one that I've been doing on my own for a while, where I go to the classroom, and I don't have to worry about time. For the "Storytime-To-Go" program, it's a little abbreviated because of the time constraints. At most we have 25 minutes per group, as we have to stay on a tight schedule to get everyone in, and sometimes less when classes don't show up promptly. So in this case, I omit the "Welcome Song" and it still seems to work pretty well. When I first started with the program, it was staffed by volunteers only, and no one established any kind of beginning routine. I saw right away that one was needed and gradually worked towards introducing one, and could see a big difference once I had. The kids really like having something familiar each time, and a routine to help them settle down.
So figure out what works best for you and your group. You may find something shorter or longer works better. You might do rhymes or fingerplays, or use a puppet. It really doesn't matter, and its okay for it to gradually evolve and change over time. I bet you will find that even you like it better with more of a routine to lead into things. If you already have an established routine, tell me about it in the comments! I love to hear what works for other people, too.