Things I Wish I’d Known: Preschool Storytime

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.

In some ways, the learning curve I had when I started preschool storytimes was the biggest one for me. I was worried about how to do a good baby and toddler storytime–it felt foreign, and like I had a lot to learn. I knew the learning curve would be steep. But preschool storytime felt like it was more intuitive. I felt like it was something I could do without much of a problem. Which meant when I ran into the inevitable problems that come with learning how to effectively do a storytime, I had a lot of angst about it. Here’s what I wish I’d known when I started my preschool storytime. If you want to look at what my preschool storytime looks like, I talked about it here. I’ve also blogged about what I wish I’d known when I started my baby and toddler storytimes.

1. Baby and toddler storytimes are more about the rhymes. Preschool storytime is more about the books. To be fair, I did know this. My coworker at the time, who mentored me A LOT through my first year of storytimes, told me this. But it took me a long time to figure out how this worked for me. I had to spend a lot of time reading, reading, reading to find engaging and age-appropriate books for preschoolers. And I tried many, many books that I liked, but that just didn’t work in storytime. Now I have a much better idea after reading a book if it will work for me or not. At the time, I didn’t have that, and felt like every book was a dare–was it going to work, or was it going to flop?

photo credit: JBLM MWR Marketing via photopin cc

photo credit: JBLM MWR Marketing via photopin cc

2. That being said, the rhymes/songs/fingerplays/etc. are still important! I also took the advice in the first point a little too literally when I started doing storytimes. My preschool storytimes were quite small at the time, and I had trouble engaging a small group of preschoolers with the rhymes and songs. I wasn’t as silly and crazy with them as I was in toddler time, and that was a mistake. Preschoolers love silliness, too! They love singing and dancing. They like doing silly fingerplays and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Just go with it! Now no matter the size of the group, I let myself be as silly as I can during the rhymes and activities

3. Look for books with really great stories. My old coworker was the champion of using long folktales or classic books in preschool storytime, and the kids would sit, rapt with attention, while she read them. She made me realize that longer books can work in storytime, as long as the story is captivating (and having a repetitive refrain doesn’t hurt, either). When I started doing preschool storytimes, I used a lot of shorter, rhyming books. Now I very rarely use rhyme-y or “list” books in preschool storytime. I’d rather read a story that we can talk about. It lets the kids predict what’s coming next, allows us to use our words, and is more fun for me.

4. Really love the books you read. I try to pick books that I can’t wait to share with the kids. My goal is no “throwaway” books just because they fit the theme (more on that in a second). It’s true that your enthusiasm for a book carries through and the kids can tell. Choose books that you love!

5. Don’t feel completely tied to your theme. If you do themed storytimes, sometimes it can feel a little constricting. While I love having a themed storytime, and I think themes are a good way to make me read a wide variety of books in storytime, I also have a little secret: no one else really cares about your theme. The quality of the books trumps everything else. In December, we did a mitten themed storytime. But I really wanted to share The Book With No Pictures with my storytime kiddos. So, after we talked about what the theme was, I said, “I know we just said the theme was mittens. But I wanted to share this book with you first, even though it’s not about mittens. I think you’ll love it.” And they did. It was such a hit! It made me realize that themes are a great guideline for planning storytime, but we don’t have to make them ironclad. It’s okay to read a book just because you want to.

6. This goes for songs and rhymes, too! My first full summer at my library, my old coworker and I decided to do themed storytimes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers based on the summer reading theme (Dig Into Reading). This was where I learned that using themes for baby and toddler storytimes doesn’t work for me. But, also, we were scrambling to find songs and rhymes that fit into our themes. By the end of summer, I had sung SO MANY versions of “I’m a Little Teapot” that weren’t actually “I’m a Little Teapot.” And I realized something: no one really cared about these versions. Oh, they played along, and they didn’t mind them, but they would have been just as happy just singing “I’m a Little Teapot.” So I stopped worrying about making sure every song and rhyme fit into the theme. I pick songs and rhymes that I think will be fun, get us all moving, and make us giggle. If it fits the theme, great! If not, no worries! (And this is not to say that I never use modified versions of classic songs. I love to do the “Monster Pokey” for monster storytimes. Some of these kinds of songs are great. I just no longer feel the need to only use songs/rhymes that are an exact match for my theme.)

7. Try to go for crafts that encourage creativity. I used to have clearly defined crafts that had a “sample version” set out for kids and parents to look at. I soon realized that this caused some consternation. Some kids and parents were getting too concerned with the crafts being perfect. I just wanted kids to have fun and encourage creativity! If that meant putting the eyes in places where we don’t usually have eyes, that was okay with me. So I’ve stopped doing as many structured crafts. A lot of times, the craft will be about decorating something, or I’ll put out a pile of scraps and have the kids create something out of that. I want them to make things that allow them to tell their own stories. The bonus of doing this kind of craft is that it requires a lot less prep!

8. There will be a time when a kid raises his or her hand and has a very important story to tell you right in the middle of a book. This story usually has nothing to do with the book. This is normal. The way I handle it is say, “Great! Why don’t you tell me all about it after storytime.” And then–and this is important–actually ask them about it after storytime. After all, we want kids to talk! We just also want to finish reading the books for storytime.

9. Give kids ownership over the rules of storytime. I let kids tell me the rules for storytime at the beginning. This helps us all go over expected behavior, but is more fun than me just listing the rules.

So those are the things I wish I’d known when I started preschool storytimes. Tell me what I missed in the comments!

Also, here are my favorite preschool storytime resources:

Storytime Katie is such a great resource for storytime themes, rhymes, and book ideas. I’m on her site all the time when planning my storytimes.

The King County Library System has SO MANY songs and rhymes on their site. It’s a fabulous resource when you’re looking for something to round out a theme.

Jbrary is just full of songs, videos, and great ideas to up your storytime game. I absolutely love their site and think it’s essential for all storytime planning.

Perry Public Library has a lovely list of storytime themes, including rhymes and books.

SurLaLune Storytime has a great selection of books and rhymes. It’s an especially great resource if you’re looking for some longer books to try in storytime.

There are so many great resources out there for storytime. If you have some to share, please do so in the comments!

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