Story Time with Annie
Welcome back to Annie’s blog! Today’s topic is my favorite part of my in-library job: story times.
In the six years-plus that I’ve been with DC Public Library - and not counting the many play-pretend story times to which I subjected my stuffed animals as a child - I’ve done hundreds of story times for varying ages. Babies; toddlers; preschoolers; school-age children; mixed-age groups. Hundreds. I’ve sung classic songs, new songs, songs I’ve written and songs my parents sang to me when I was little. (Did you know that “Skinamarink” is over 100 years old?). I’ve read older books, new books, short books and shorter books. Strangely, long books like The Cat in the Hat have never worked for me.
While there’s an extensive amount of training I received both in library school and at DC Public Library about how to put together a useful story time (such as books, songs, and fingerplays that work for each age group), there’s also a lot that parents and caregivers can do to make at-home story time worthwhile with exactly zero training, and to make library story time the best it can be.
So here are some tips from me, to you, dear readers, about how to make your story time experiences effective.
Make it a routine. Whether every Thursday morning means a trip to the library, or every bedtime means two books, fall into a pattern. Kids love routine, because routine equals comfort. (The staff here like it too, because that means if we see you every Tuesday at 10 a.m., we get to know you and your little nugget better. I like greeting my regular story timers by name.) Plus, the earlier you start storytime, the better, because science says so. So don’t listen to me - listen to science!
Interact with your little one. You can make story time much more effective by engaging with your little one about the characters, the plot, or the pictures. When you’re reading at home, ask the little ones what they think might happen next, what the characters might be thinking or feeling, or, after, what they liked best about the book. (Link the book to real life. If there was a dog in the book and you see a dog in the park later that day, remind your young one about the book-dog when you see the park-dog.) Participate during the library’s story time’s songs and fingerplays, so that your child sees you doing the motions and thus can feel more open to doing them too. Which brings me to my next point...
Have fun. Can’t carry a tune? Feel silly while singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”? So what? What happens in story time stays in story time. Choose books that you love, because you’ll have more passion reading them. (I’ll never do a story time with a book I don’t like. Trust me, the kids can tell.) Read with the loud clunky robot voice and the ribbity frog voice. If you’re having a great time, the kids will have a great time. Sing loud, sing proud, wave your arms, clap your hands, and move that itsy-bitsy-spider up the water spout.
It’s okay if story time isn’t perfect. If it’s nighttime story time and your child falls asleep before the tale is over, or you’re in a library program and your little one is crawling all over the room, that’s okay. It’s more important for preschoolers to learn to sit quietly and listen, in preparation for kindergarten, but younger ones have shorter attention spans and may not yet be ready for a full book. If you have to skip some pages, or you don’t get to finish the story, that’s okay, too. I promise.
And finally, a personal plea...
Put away your electronic devices. Story time is so precious, and children grow so fast; please give your child the best of you as often as you can. Being more present will make the event more rewarding for everyone.
Remember, there’s no end date to story time. As your young ones grow older, there’s no reason to stop reading (aloud) together just because they won’t fit in your lap anymore. Some of my fondest memories are of my various grownups reading to me as I grew: the Little House on the Prairie series, Judy Blume’s books for younger readers, and The Diary of Anne Frank as I entered my tween years. Those were special bonding moments for me, and your growing ones will hold those memories close as you once held them close to you.