Storytimes can be the one program in the library that is either really exciting, or the thing you dread to be asked to do. I, for one, love it. But it took me a while to get this comfort level, and it took a lot of stumbles and growing pains to finalize my routine.
Set the ground rules for your audience at the start of every session.
This is key. You have to be very clear about the rules to ensure that you are distracted and that the kids and parents are doing their part. Repeat the same rules at the start of each session. It’s good for newcomers to hear the rules, and its good for the regulars to be reminded of the rules. Go over the specific age group if you’re doing a baby or toddler storytime. Food or no food? Strollers or no strollers in the community room? Be clear, be firm, be friendly, you don’t want to start off upsetting everyone. Pick the elements that distract or take away from the storytime the most, and set the rules accordingly. I like to throw in reminders about upcoming events, programs, library news in the middle of the rules, so that there is something fun in my spiel as well.
Let your inner kid run free
Have fun with storytime. This cannot be emphasized enough. Pick the books that make you giggle, pick the books with animals whose noises you know how to imitate. When you enjoy the book you are reading, the kids and parents enjoy it too. When you don’t like your book choice, its clear to everyone in the room. You’re mood drops, your voice doesn’t have any energy, and you’re just not into the story. For the kids, it doesn’t matter if you sing badly, and believe me, I do sing badly. I’m lucky that the parents sing along and drown me out at times. If you tell a good story, with suspense, with glee, with emotion, they get into the story. They learn forward to see the pictures, to hear what’s coming up next. Don’t stress. If you mess up, who cares! Just try better on the next round.
Select the appropriate books for the age group
Not all books are created equal. Books written for babies (age 23 months and younger) might not go over so well with preschoolers. If you have a large crowd, choose books that are larger in size, so that everyone can see the picture. Try to pick books with larger images and not as much font. You want to share a story, not stare at the book during the entire program. Summarize lengthier pages, or have the kids point out what they see on the page to get them to interact. Kids love to interact with reading. They love to solve mysteries, point out mistakes, and are quite proud to distinguish colors and animal noises. Take advantage of their eagerness.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you have the time, practice. Read the books at least 2x before your storytime program. If you have it partially memorized, it’s easier to read and engage the crowd when they can see your face and not the back of your head. Practice the songs, especially if you plan on introducing new ones. Time yourself. If storytime supposed to last 30 minutes, 20 minutes or an hour? Fingerplays, rhymes and songs go by really quickly, so you have to repeat songs, add new ones, or take out ones that don’t work. It took me a while to figure out that no one likes repeat renditions of Itsy Bitsy Spider, but everyone enjoys doing Roly Poly multiple times. Practicing beforehand will help you feel more confident when you get in front of the crowd. Go with songs you know and loved as a child, and add from there. If you’re doing themed storytimes, look for songs to match the theme. It’s not cheating to write down the words and take them with you to storytime.
Listen to your audience
A good storytime reader should be able to read the crowd. Are they getting bored or fussy? Is this song too long? Is this book to dull? What types of rhymes really engage the group and which rhymes do they mumble through? It takes a while to get attuned to your audience, especially if it changes weekly. But when you have regulars its good to pick up on their signals. It’ll determine if storytimes needs to be cropped by 5 minutes, if you need to downsize from 3 to 2 books, add more songs, through in a felt board story, etc. When parents approach me after storytime, I am open to their opinions and suggestions. Many parents voice that they enjoy it when I sing the short songs twice, which I now do every time.
Take a break
When you do storytime non-stop, it can be pretty draining to maintain a higher than normal level of energy, even if for only 30 minutes a day. Switch with a co-worker, or schedule storytime breaks. The most common breaks are done around the holidays when most families leave for vacations.