Monday, August 21, 2017

Fearless Storytime

10 Things You Should Not Be Afraid To Do In Storytime

*For an updated and slightly expanded version of this article, go to "Fearless Storytime Redux", written 5 years after the original.

This is a somewhat random compilation of things, in no particular order, I have learned thus far in my 3 years of doing storytime. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Don't be afraid to:
  1. Sing! 🎶-- I have often heard people talk about not being comfortable singing in storytime because they feel they can't sing well. But, guess what? The kids DO NOT CARE! I promise. (In fact, most of them don't sing well, either.) I'm a lousy singer, but not one of the hundreds of kids I've had in storytime has ever noticed.

  2. Be silly.💃 -- Kids love to see adults acting silly, so get up and dance with them, use silly voices, be goofy. Don't be afraid of silly books, either. Even ones that mention underwear, butts, or poop 💩 can be used to develop early literacy skills, and it teaches kids that books are fun!

  3. Learn as you go. 🏫 -- You don't have to know everything in the beginning, and you don't have to use every technique at first. Observe a few storytimes by different people, read up on child development and early literacy, follow a few blogs; but the best way to learn is by doing! Start with what you are comfortable with, then gradually expand your repertoire and comfort zone as you continue to learn.

  4. Fail. 😓 -- Don't let a fear of failure keep you from experimenting and trying new things, or you will stagnate. Mix it up! Give it a try! Some things won't work, and that's okay. Some say we learn more from our failures than our successes, and one less than spectacular storytime isn't going to kill anyone. But, you might discover something wonderful as well!

  5. Take advantage of others' knowledge & experience. 💻 -- There are so many online resources available to use today, so take advantage of them! We all share and borrow ideas from each other, and it's okay to copy part or even all of someone else's storytime in a pinch (just be sure to give credit to your sources). It's also okay to repeat part or all of your own storytimes if your audience is different. We don't have to always reinvent the wheel.

  6. Set Boundaries! 📵 -- This is not only necessary for your sanity, but for a successful storytime. Be sure your expectations of the children are developmentally appropriate, but never be afraid to ask the two chatty moms in the back to wait until after storytime, or to ask that child care worker to please put their phone away and stop texting. I will admit dealing with adult behavior is the one that is the most awkward and difficult for me.

  7. Change gears in the middle. -- If whatever you're doing just isn't working that day, don't be afraid to quit, even right in the middle of a book or activity, and move on to something else. Not every book/activity suits every group. Maybe they just need a different book, maybe they just need something more active right then to get some energy out. They may not be able to sit and listen to stories at all that day, but they might do fine with songs, dancing, or something else. As a very wise former manager once told me, "Sometimes it's just a hokey-pokey day."

  8. Cut it short. ✂ -- Some days nothing is going to work, and no matter what you try the kids are melting down or climbing the walls. Maybe their schedule is off, or something special is going on at school that day, or it just started snowing. It could be you have a group of brand new 3 year olds that just aren't quite ready for a full-length storytime. Don't be afraid to just cut it short, with a pleasant "Well, I think that's enough for today, we'll try again next time." It's better to quit before everyone gets too frustrated, and keep it positive.

  9. Find your own style. -- No two people will present a book the same way. For that matter, we don't all like the same books. So don't feel like you have to use a book because it's an award winner or every other person you knows loves it; use books that you genuinely like. No two people do storytime the same, either. There are many different formats and styles, so experiment and figure out what works best for you and your audience.

  10. Accept hugs.💕 -- Not everyone would agree, but I refuse to accept a world where we are afraid to show young children affection. One caveat - I never *initiate* any physical contact with a child (other than for safety), but I will gladly accept all the hugs and high-fives they want to give. Some of the kids I see in outreach are desperate for adult attention and approval, and who knows, that hug from you may be the only one they get that day.

    [Of course, if your employer or the facility you're visiting has rules against showing physical affection, you should follow them. Perhaps high-five's or fist-bumps could be an acceptable alternative?]

Feel free to add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

I have been toying with the idea of using this topic as a presentation for one of the smaller local or state conferences, but I fear it may be too basic and only of interest to beginners. What do you think? Common knowledge and boring to those with some storytime experience, or would it be suitable for a mixed audience and lead to some good discussion?


  1. Let the kids speak and choose.
    I'm in the privileged position of having small numbers of kids attending (yes, it is privilege, and not a failure. Sessions vary between 0 and 10 kids - which is a rarity!), and I have a (scary) number of years experience... So, I can go out there with my box of tricks, my playlist, my books, my plan! - and not do any of it.
    I never know how many will turn up, what ages they'll be.
    So, sometimes I wing it.
    If they're old enough - I let them dictate a lot of the session. Some days I have a chorus of "read!". So, no songs that day at all. I can be there for 30 minutes, read 10 books - almost all of which are handed to me off the shelf.
    Maybe it's lazy. Maybe it's fearless - you never know what you get handed! (But a book for tweens from the nearby fiction shelves is politely refused).
    But, I like to think that I'm modelling for parents. And, I'm giving the children autonomy and validating their opinions and choices. And building relationships of trust and fun.
    My off-siders have less experience (2 years at most, most of the team have less than 3 months). So, they will use the plan and be more structured.

    1. I think smaller groups are better, too, and I wonder when I see people mention having groups of 50-100 people how effective or enjoyable that can be. I know I wouldn't like it as a presenter or parent attending, but I guess some have no choice so they figure out how to make it work.

      I think being able to "wing it" and go with the flow is a great skill to have, and that's a skill I probably wouldn't have developed if it were not for my current position doing multiple outreach storytimes every day. As you said, you can't really plan, because I never know which classes they are going to have me do or what order. So I have a bin full of books of various styles and length, and different activities, and adapt as we go. Thanks for your comments!