One of the things I frequently hear when I tell parents about storytime at the library is: (a) that their child won't sit still and listen to stories, or (b) that their child just isn't ready for storytime yet. It breaks my heart a little each time I hear it because all I can think about is how much of a missed opportunity this is for these families. In my mind, these statements signal a parent's lack of understanding about what storytime is really about, and why their worries are less important than they might think.
Storytime is really all about learning, and practicing those skills that children will need later when they get to their first years of formal schooling. Storytime is like a fun kindergarten boot camp and the kids who start attending regular storytimes as babies and keep attending until they reach kindergarten are so incredibly ready to learn. The secret is that storytime is a skill that children develop over time, with observation, guidance and regular practice. My opinion is that every pre-reader, whatever their age, developmental level, or behavioral issues, belongs at library storytime.
I hope, if you take nothing else from this post, that you will at least give storytime a chance this Fall. Hopefully, these tips will help make that visit a ginormous success for your children and for your whole family.
- Visit the library before your first storytime. Whether you decide to visit with or without your child, give yourself lots of time to get a library card, find the bathrooms, checkout the storytime space and meet the library staff at your location. Don't be afraid to ask to meet the Youth Services Librarian who works in your community. We love to meet new storytime families!
- Bring friends and family to storytime with you. I like to see three generations at a storytime. I love grandparents and out of town relatives who visit us. I get excited when I have more than two dads in the room.
- Start attending storytime with your children as soon as they are born, or at least by 6 months of age. Starting at any age is wonderful, but starting at birth is the very best. It is never too early to start talking, singing, reading, writing and playing with your child. And it is also never too early for them to start interacting with their young peers; early socialization is a powerful developmental force.
- If you have the transportation and flexibility, check out different storytime sessions and different librarians across our system. Every children's specialist develops their own unique storytime style over time. I'm loud, goofy, I move around a lot and I use puppets in my storytelling. My colleague Siri plays the ukulele and speaks Spanish. Who do you think your kids would connect with better? The answer is different for different families and librarians are never offended if you visit multiple locations each week or switch to a different location entirely.
- Make storytime attendance part of your weekly routine. Regular attendance breeds comfort and familiarity and increases the likelihood of storytime success. Try to arrive on time, but if the stars simply aren't aligning for a perfect arrival time, don't sweat it. Make a quiet entrance, sit down and relax. This is supposed to be fun, not a reason to be stressed. Librarians understand that some mornings you have to choose your battles.
- Try to greet your librarian at each storytime and say goodbye afterwards. Model the behavior you want to see in your children, encourage them to say hello and goodbye, but don't demand it. Set the example and eventually they will follow your lead. Give yourself time and permission to chit-chat with your librarian and with other parents.
- Monkey see, monkey do! if you want your child to listen, show them how we listen. Put your cell phone away. Limit side conversations during the stories. Sing with the group. Do the movements with your kids. Librarians are not babysitters and we expect you to stay in the room. Staying, however, is only the minimum. Storytime is an interactive activity and we hope that both parents and their children will interact with the group.
- Don't expect good, great...or even decent behavior from your kids during their first few storytime sessions. Most often, one of two things happens on their first visit: (a) they will get incredibly shy because of how many people are in the room and all the activity, or (b) they won't know how to act and will do completely the wrong thing. Either behavior is perfectly understandable. Librarians are trained to deal with this. We've seen literally every behavior and we understand why it is occurring. We meet children where they are developmentally. Moreover, we know what steps we need to take to control the group and to teach your child how to become a good storytime citizen.
- That said, if your child starts crying, or is becoming a distraction to the group, you can simply, (1) remove them from the space, (2) help them calm down, (3) talk to them about what happened, and (4) bring them back into the room. Distracting behavior at storytime is nothing to be embarrassed or mad about. It is a learning opportunity. If you need to remove your child from the room during storytime, do your best to bring them back and then talk to your librarian about strategies to improve the behavior in the future.
- Some kids won't sit during storytime. This is acceptable. I will remind them not to block the view of their friends.
- Some kids want to touch me, the book, or their neighbors during storytime. I ignore or gently joke about these unconscious behaviors until it becomes a distraction...then I will redirect them and remind them to keep their hands on their own bodies. During most storyimes, I will have at least one child who wants to touch the book, another who want do put their hands on my knees, and another who plays with my shoelaces - this is normal and developmentally appropriate.
- Children want to have a conversation with me during storytime and will talk out of turn. This is excellent! I want to have a conversation with them about the stories and what the stories make them think about. I love it when they have so much to say that they can't keep it bottled up inside. It means they are listening, and that they are engaged, and that they are learning. We will work on turn taking as it makes sense, and I will help them to let others have their talking turn.
- After each storytime, be sure to let your children select and checkout a few books. You came all the way to the library - get a book!
- Sing the songs from storytime at home after storytime. Talk to your child about what they enjoyed most. Tell them what you enjoyed the most. Remind them about what we talked about as it comes up in your daily life.
- Finally, tell us when we mess up. Librarians are highly trained professionals...but we're not perfect or omniscient. Tell us how we could better serve your family. If your child is dealing with something on storytime day, let us know about it. If you have an idea, share it with us.
Thanks for reading - if you have your own secrets to storytime success,or want to share your storytime experience with others, please feel free to comment below.