Welcome to Things I Wish I’d Known, a semi-regular feature in which I talk about things I wish I’d known when I started my job as a children’s librarian.
Originally, I was going to do a “Things I Wish I’d Known” feature on all storytimes, but then I realized that was too much to cram into a single post. So I will break down the three storytimes I do weekly–baby, toddler, and preschool–over the next few weeks. If you want to see how my baby storytime works, I talked about it here.
Baby storytime was probably the storytime that scared me the most when I started my job. What can I do with a room full of babies? I wondered. I was sure it was going to be a disaster. Imagine my surprise when I started baby storytimes and realized that they would actually be my weekly therapy. Baby storytime is easy to plan, fun, and makes my whole day better. Here are some things I have learned over the couple of years:
1. It’s more about the parents/caregivers than the babies. Babies learn a lot from baby storytime. I’ve watched lots of babies blossom. But at the end of the day, I consider my baby storytimes to be about supporting the new parents and caregivers in my community. We have lots of stay-at-home parents who come to baby storytime, as well as grandparents and nannies who spend their whole day with a child. They need some time out of the house, time to see other adults, and something that reinforces all of the awesome things they are doing with their babies day in and out. In storytime I get to model ways to read a book to a baby, hopefully teach my caregivers some new rhymes to use at home with their babies, and give them some time to connect with other adults. I also get to pass on a few tips about what research tells us about baby brains and brain development.
2. Flexibility is key. Sometimes something just isn’t working. If all the babies are crawling or walking around, it’s not the time to try a lap bounce. If there’s a lot of chatter and activity in the room, I find it best to stop what I’m doing and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” If I really can’t get the room’s attention, I’ll pass out shaky eggs and and sing together for the rest of the storytime. Baby storytime requires a lot of reading the room and adapting to the needs of the room as things come up.
3. Simple is better and repetition is key. Baby storytime is so easy to plan! And the beauty of it is that it should be easy to plan. The simpler and more repetitive your storytime plans are, the better. Babies like repetition. This is something that’s part of my spiel. I always say something along the lines of, “we do a lot of repetition around here because it’s so good for baby brains.” So if you have a small trove of books and rhymes that always work, it’s okay to go back to them over and over again. You don’t have to be trying something new every single baby storytime for it to be a fun, engaging experience for your babies.
4. It’s okay to mix it up, too! While repetition is a great part of baby storytime, it’s also okay to mix it up for you and the parents. I aim to keep my baby storytimes about 80% similar from one week to the next. That 20% allows me to mix up the rhymes, or try new things.
5. There’s a trick to finding good baby books. This trick may not be the same for everyone, I admit, but it works for me: pick books you can sing, or books that are rhyming and sing-songy. It can be hard to keep a baby’s attention for long, so short, rhyming books seem to work the best for me. Books that allow parents to play along with you are great, too. If the book talks about body parts, parents can identify the parts on baby as you read. If the book has a call and response, parents can participate. This helps keep both babies and parents engaged.
6. State your expectations for the storytime up front. When I started doing storytimes, I was inconsistent about doing my spiel before every storytime. I would forget, and then I would get frustrated when the storytime ended in chaos. It took an embarrassing amount time for me to realize that this was my fault–if I wasn’t stating expectations clearly, and every single time, how could I expect parents to know what they were? So now, every single time, before every single storytime, I give this spiel: “Hi, I’m Miss Kristen, and welcome to baby storytime. Before we get started, here are the guidelines for baby storytime. If you have a crawler or walker, movement is totally fine–your baby is soaking it up just by being in the room! But I do ask that you keep an eye out for the two exits in the room if you have an escape artist, and if anyone’s grabbing anything off the table, please redirect to elsewhere in the room. If anyone’s having a rough day and needs a break, feel free to step outside and come back in when you’re ready.” After saying that at the beginning of storytime, my storytime has become a mostly stress free zone, where everyone has a great time.
Those are the things I wish I’d known when I started my baby storytimes. In my post on how my baby storytime works, I shared some of my favorite resources, and they are too good not to share again:
Abby the Librarian posts a lot about baby storytimes and regularly posts books to try. When I’m feeling the need for new books to use in my baby storytimes, I love to check out her blog.
Mel’s Desk is full of amazing storytime ideas, rhymes (I use her “This is Big” rhyme every single week and it’s such a hit), flannel boards, and themes for baby storytime.
Jbrary has a great baby storytime resource page with lots of links to great ideas and content.
Although I only recently discovered it, What’ll I Do With the Baby-O by Jane Cobb is a super amazing resource for baby storytimes.
This survey from the Show Me Librarian has a lot of great books to use in baby storytime.
Also, here’s a link to some materials I used when I co-presented on the basics of baby storytime at the CLEL (Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy) conference this year. There’s lots of other great training materials from all of the CLEL conferences here.
If you have any tips or tricks from baby storytime to share, please do so in the comments!