Monday, January 15, 2024

Make a New Plan, Stan - Storytime Planning in the New Normal

How many of you have had to change how you do storytime in the new normal? I certainly have, and judging from the feedback I got when I gave my "Fearless Storytime" presentation at the state conference last year, I bet most of you have.

And why is this? Well, a few reasons that I believe are directly and indirectly related to the pandemic. A big one is that children born just before and during the pandemic (and their parents) spent their early years in relative isolation, so are not used to structured activities, have less well-developed listening skills (not that 2 year olds are really expected to have any, but 5 year olds usually do), and aren't used to being around other kids, so the fact other kids are present is in itself a big distraction. Also, as a result of the pandemic years young families have not integrated attending storytime into their weekly routines, so attendance is much more sporadic and less regular than families in the pre-pandemic era. And finally, attention spans are noticeably shorter than before, and while I have no proof of this, I strongly suspect screen time plays a part. 

Other than occasionally subbing for toddler and baby storytime, all my pre-Covid storytimes were Preschool storytimes for ages 3-5 (or family storytimes, which I basically did the same), so that is where I have seen major changes. I did not start regularly doing Toddler storytime until after we returned to in-person programming in 2022. These are the changes I've had to make in Preschool Storytime, and following that is my new Preschool storytime plan:

  • Fewer books - Pre-pandemic, I would routinely read 3 books during a preschool storytime, only occasionally dropping to 2 if it was the beginning of the school year for outreach visits, or if the kids were just particularly restless that day. Occasionally I would even get 4 books in. Now, I very rarely ever get a third book in, and some days it's hard to get a second book in.
  • Shorter books - I am finding that some of my favorite books that always worked before with this age, now no longer work, and I have to use shorter books that I would typically use with toddlers or brand new 3-year old classes. I am scrambling to find shorter books that are still fun and not boring. So many of the new picture books I buy that I think would be really cute and fun turn out to be too long and/or text heavy.
  • More Behavior Management - I am also finding I'm having to do more "classroom" management, as young kids now often aren't accustomed to structured group activities, and since storytime attendance is much more sporadic, some of them don't come often enough to ever learn the routine. I find I have to do a whole lot more re-directing than I used to.
  • More Explicit Expectations & Reminders - In my job pre-pandemic, I really never needed to go over expectations, it just wasn't ever an issue. But now, I've found I need to start my sessions by briefly reminding them what age each one is geared for and how they differ, and what the behavior expectations are. Some caregivers need to know that it's okay if their toddler isn't perfectly still or quiet, and that it's ok if they have to leave early because they get too restless and to come back in when they calm down, or for the activities afterward, or try again next week. Others need to know that it's not okay for their child to be racing at break-neck speeds around the room, or in my "bubble" (if they're too close, others can't see; if they get behind me, I might step on them or knock them down, or I might trip and fall; and I don't want them getting into my stuff). 
  • Trouble Learning Names - Because attendance is so sporadic and irregular, it makes it very hard to learn and remember names!  
  • Replace Crafts with Activities - This is one change for the better, and one I was going to do anyway in order to be more developmentally appropriate, but it became a necessity due to the sporadic attendance. Never knowing how many to plan for (it could be 3 or 23) or what ages (it could be mostly 1-2 year olds or mostly 5 year olds) made it so hard to plan and prep for crafts, resulting in either a lot of wasted time and materials, or scrambling to prep more. I did have to gradually wean them from crafts to activities, but I think now they love it. That doesn't mean we never do crafts, and I always have paper and crayons available, but the focus is activities that require little prep, focus on developmental skills and play, and involve re-usable items.

Post-Pandemic Preschool Storytime Plan:
This plan is of course not written in stone, and I always adjust on the fly to meet the needs and abilities of the group I get on any given day. I generally do themes, but not always (for a discussion on using themes, see "To Theme or Not To Theme". I generally pick 4-5 books, and decide which ones I'll actually use in the moment, and usually just 2. I also don't always use every song or rhyme I have planned. I make a little program sheet (half page, front & back) that lists storytime expectations, songs and rhymes, and a literacy/development tip or suggested activity, sometimes announcements.
  1. Open room and announce it's time for storytime (I found if I let them in early, they would get too restless and start running around and getting into stuff, better to let them stay in the play area and let entering the room signal it's time to settle down.).
  2. Greet families as they enter and hand them program sheet.
  3. Shut door after everyone is in to prevent escapees.
  4. Greet and welcome the group, briefly go over expectations.
  5. Sing short "Hello" song, then introduce myself and say hello to all the kids by name (I generally average 5-10, rarely more than 12.  I would not try that with a large group.)
  6. Warm-Up Song - Something with a little movement, use the same one all month.
  7. If there's a theme, introduce it. Sometimes share a few photos & facts from a non-fiction book when possible.
  8. Lead-In Song - I use "If You're Ready for a Story"
  9. Read first book
  10. Song, action rhyme, or flannel rhyme. Repeat. If they really like it, may do a third time. If it's really short, may do a 2nd short one.
  11. Read second book
  12. Possibly another song/rhyme
  13. Good-bye song - first explain that there are optional activities after, but we're going to go ahead and sing our "Good-bye" song in case we don't get a chance to say good-bye to all of our friends later.
  14. Activities - usually  2 or 3, if larger group add more. I try to keep them developmentally appropriate, play-centered, and working on some developmental skill. Sometimes do a craft, but less and less often. Some examples:
    • Sensory bin, they LOVE this! I use a base such as water, sand, kinetic sand, shredded paper, rice, or water beads with manipulatives added (plastic animals, gold coins & jewels, figures, boats, ducks, measuring cups & spoons, fishing set, etc.)
    • Paper & crayons
    • Play dough
    • Dot painting - they loved these at first, but have gotten a little bored with it, so use infrequently
    • Play food
    • Counting & Sorting manipulatives
    • Building sets (foam blocks, star builders, bristle blocks, etc)
    • Toy cars & construction vehicles with activity mats
    • Flannel sets on large flannel board
    • Magnetic gears
    • Magnetic letters
    • Plastic animals
    • Puppets & Finger puppets
The storytime part lasts about 25-30 minutes, and I do sometimes deviate from the above plan by throwing in an extra short song or rhyme or on rare occasions getting in a third book (usually in my outreach visits), and at least once having to stop after 1 book! I occasionally use shaker eggs, scarves, or bubbles, but not as often as with the toddlers, and sometimes a puppet or other prop. Some of the songs that I use can be found on the "Repeating Songs" tab above (even some possibly cringe-worthy videos of me singing them), or in the thematic storytime write-ups listed in the right column. is a great source for songs and rhymes, with videos so you can hear the tunes and see the motions.

The activities portion lasts anywhere from 15-30 minutes, depending on how many kids show up, their ages, and the activities. Occasionally I'll have a couple of families linger, but at 30 minutes I'll go ahead and put away anything they aren't using and go on out to the children's department, leaving the door open so I can keep an eye on things to be sure the room doesn't get wrecked and things don't "walk away" (sad, but true). Most families hang around in the children's department playing, socializing, and picking out books for a little while after storytime.

*Note for Outreach Storytimes - When I do classroom visits to daycares and preschools, I do not do crafts or activities, just the basic storytime. When I first start with a new client, or at the beginning of the school year, I usually shorten it a bit the first time or two. I currently am only able make visits once per month due to lack of staff and all the demands on my time, but my preference would be to visit every other week.

I'll add this new plan to the "Storytime Plans" link above, and I'll write up my general Toddler storytime plan next. If you'd like more detailed discussions of specific elements of storytime planning, check out all my posts tagged "Storytime Planning".

What changes have you made in your storytimes in the new normal?


  1. My son was 10 months old in March of 2020 when everything shut down, and his transition to preschool was really tough, he wasn't used to being apart from us or interacting with other kiddos! The first time I took him to a storytime post-pandemic he had a meltdown because he was so overwhelmed by all the noise from all the kids in the crowded space, and I was so overwhelmed by his reaction that I was reluctant to try again! The past few years have been so tough, it's a strange new world we're all navigating together.

    1. Yes, I've noticed that kids are more shy and tend to stay with the parents more than before. I've also watched one of my little regulars blossom over the last two years. He was a shy homebody when his grandmother first started bringing him to storytime, then he develop a friendship with another boy his age, and gradually got to the point he'd play with anybody. He started preschool this year and has done really well. I'm glad I was able to play a small part in helping prepare him for this transition. I am so glad my kids weren't so little when the pandemic hit! Such a strange time. I definitely am not the same person as I was before, and I was middle-aged, not at a crucial developmental age.