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.
It has been a long time since I last posted! I got sick, the holidays happened, life happened, and suddenly I realized that a post I wanted to post weeks ago hadn’t even been written yet. So, finally, I’m coming back to blogging and talking about what I wish I’d known when I started toddler storytimes. I also wrote about my toddler storytimes and what they look like here if you’re new to doing a toddler storytime or are just curious to see how different librarians run theirs.
I absolutely adore toddler storytime. It’s a great storytime to let loose and be as silly as you like, it always ends with a ton of toddler hugs that make my week, and it’s just filled with movement and singing and giggling. That being said, it took a while before I felt like I had a handle on toddler storytime. Toddlers are full of emotions, ups and downs, and a need to be moving all the time. This can make storytimes a roller coaster of an experience for everyone involved! Here’s what I wish I’d known when I started doing toddler storytimes:
1. Perfect behavior is never going to happen with toddlers–and that’s completely okay. Toddlers like to move. They are constantly exploring the world around them and like being up, touching things, looking at things, etc. all the time. This is what they are wired to do. Expecting toddlers to sit and listen quietly to a bunch of books is completely unrealistic and won’t make your storytimes fun for you, the parents, and the kiddos. That being said, it’s completely okay for you, the librarian, to set behavior expectations (a bit more on that later). As part of my opening spiel, I say “I know that toddlers need to move and we incorporate lots of movement during toddler storytime. We try to sit on our bottoms during the books. If that’s not happening today, that’s okay, just try to redirect toward the back of the room so that everyone can see the books.” This does a couple of things–it shows caregivers that I don’t expect that all kids in the storytime will be able to sit through the books. It lets caregivers of active toddlers know how they can help their kiddo have fun in storytime. And it lets my older toddlers, who can sit and listen throughout the stories, to be able to see and enjoy the books. I know everyone is soaking it up just by being in the room–this seems to work for me and help everyone have the best experience possible.
2. Toddlers need time to get used to new rhymes/songs. With babies, I mentioned that I try to keep my baby storytimes about 80% similar from week to week. With toddlers, I aim for more like 40-50%. I can do a lot more variety with toddlers, and try new songs and rhymes more often. But I do try to keep in mind that it can take a while for toddlers to catch on and get excited about new songs/rhymes. When I was a newbie at toddler storytime, I tried a fingerplay I found on a storytime blog called “Here’s a Cup.” The toddlers looked at me like I was crazy and did not seem to be into it at all. I thought it was a rhyme that just didn’t work for me. But then I tried it again. And again. And now it’s a favorite rhyme that we do often in toddler storytime and it always ends with lots of giggles. Toddlers like repetition just as much as babies do. They like singing songs they know and reciting rhymes they know. So if you think something looks like a fun thing to try in toddler storytime, but it doesn’t work the first time, I’d encourage you to try it for a couple of weeks in a row. Generally, that gives everyone time to learn it and you can better gauge if something will truly work for you or not.
3. It can be really hard to tell if toddlers are engaged or not. Chances are, they are! I remember early on in my toddler storytime days, I had a set of twins who came every week with their nanny. They were adorable, and solemn, and never sang along, and just watched everything. I assumed they didn’t like storytime and felt bad about it. And then, months later, a man came up to the desk a few minutes before we were going to close. He said, “Are you the famous Miss Kristen who does storytime? My daughter said she only wants to be called Miss Kristen from now on and talks about you all the time.” If you guessed that his daughter was one of the twins, you are correct. And since then, I’ve heard countless stories like this–kids who are quiet and don’t necessarily participate during stortytime go home and play library or pretend to be Miss Kristen with their stuffed animals. One mother told me she was thinking her kids weren’t getting anything out of storytime and was going to stop coming and then one night at dinner the kids insisted that they all sing storytime songs together. Participation is not a sign of engagement with toddlers. You will have toddlers who participate in everything, of course, but those quiet ones on the fringes of storytime that you’re not sure about? They are soaking it all up and are probably in love with everything you are doing.
4. Flexibility is key. I said this when I talked about baby storytime, and I will say it again when I talk about preschool storytime, because it’s absolutely true. But it’s probably truest of all for toddlers. There are days when that beautiful plan that you made for storytime, with all of those glorious rhymes and songs and books: it just isn’t going to happen. There have been days when I’ve realized we just need to get up and dance and sing for the last 15 minutes of storytime, because nothing else is going to work. I’ve put down books in the middle of reading them because the room is descending into chaos. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is a great song for moments when you can’t get everyone to focus. So is a favorite song of mine: the Banana Song. Toddler storytime gets a lot easier the more you do it because you have a lot of these no-fail songs in your back pocket that you can break out if whatever you planned just isn’t working for the day.
5. Finding toddler books that I love and work well in storytime is hard. For some reason, toddler books are the hardest for me to find. There are lots of great baby books that I rely on, as well as SO MANY lovely preschool books, but finding toddler books that I love and that work well in our busy, somewhat chaotic toddler storytimes is harder. Now that I’ve been doing toddler storytimes for a while, I definitely have lots of favorites that work well and that I love using, but I’m always on the hunt for great new toddler books. If you have some you love, feel free to share them in the comments!
6. Try lots of different books, rhymes, etc. to see if they work. Since I’m always on the lookout for good toddler books, I’ve learned the value of just trying different books in storytime to see if they work for me, even if they aren’t my favorite when reading through them. I recognize that this goes against a cardinal rule of providing storytime–that you should only read books you love. And normally I would agree with that, but there are exceptions. Here’s a confession: I don’t actually like the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? all that much. But I tried it in toddler storytime, and you know what? It works. So if a blogger I like recommends a great rhyme or a book they love for toddler time, I try it, even if I’m a little dubious. I’ve stumbled across some great books and activities that way, and I definitely don’t regret it.
7. Let your silliness come out. Toddler time is full of such glorious silliness. And the toddlers love, love, love it. Encouraging silliness in toddler storytime makes it fun for everyone, and tends to mean there’s a lot of parental/caregiver participation. So be as silly as you possibly can, and have fun!
Clearly, I had a lot to say about toddler storytime! If you have anything to add, I’d love to see it in the comments. Also, here are some fabulous resources for toddler storytime:
This Library Noise post talks about the basics of toddler storytime.
Jbrary always has great ideas for toddler times. I get many song ideas from them! The post I linked to talks about how to plan a great toddler time.
Sunflower Storytime has some great themed ideas for toddler storytime. Although I don’t do themed toddler times, there are great book and rhyme ideas here that I pull from all the time!
Silly Librarian has a ton of awesome toddler storytime rhymes to peruse.