Ninja Ninja Ninja

I am super excited to be serving as a Featured Ninja at Storytime Underground this month!

cropped-cropped-sto-und-header2

My co-ninjas are Emily and Ingrid and we’ve already answered a couple questions, so head over to Storytime Underground to add your great advice in the comments!

The advice and support that pours out on a daily basis from the SU community is incredibly inspiring and I’m really happy to be able to take a turn and give back a little! I’m also psyched to complete the “Featured Ninja” task at Storytime University because it means I’ve earned the Ninja badge! It’s been months since I could work on my University homework and I’m looking forward to getting a few more badges under my belt this spring and summer.

Thanks, SU!

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In Defense of Saying Yes

I’ve been writing about saying no lately, which is a discipline that has been kind of necessary for me to work on over the last couple of years. But before I move on to other topics I want to spend some time on the flip side, and talk briefly about the value in saying yes. I don’t think it would be fair to have this discussion without acknowledging that it’s not necessarily easy to say no, and that is true in part because many of the reasons to say yes are legitimate, valid, and compelling.

Pretty much always say yes to Cheetos

Pretty much always say yes to Cheetos

Why say yes?

Saying yes to a project or an opportunity is a basic way to build your career through developing new skills, experiences, or relationships. While you are gathering experience through your daily responsibilities on the job, you can be doubling up on your learning by working on a project outside of work too.

If someone is offering to pay you, then money most certainly can be a reason to say yes! Everyone will have a different point at which some money is enough money–figure out what yours is and it will be easier to know when to say yes or no.

Do you love to present workshops? Write blog posts? Review books? Whatever your favorite thing to do is, saying yes to extra projects gives you a chance to do more of what you find energizing and enjoyable. Or maybe a project gives you a chance to work with some great people. Saying yes to fun is a completely legit strategy.

By the same token, saying yes might mean not looking for a passion project, but instead taking a turn on the non-flashy committees that exist to help us do the essential work of our profession or our community.

Is your boss asking you to say yes and do something on behalf of your department or your library? Sometimes the reality is it is more politic to say yes than no. Or maybe your boss sees a nascent skill set in you that they’d like to help foster. Being open to saying yes in that case might send you in an exciting new direction!

One last true thing about saying yes and saying no:

One of the reasons that it’s easier lately for me to say no is because I’ve said so many yesses. I want to be really frank about that. As worn out as I let myself become, I still can’t feel a whole lot of regret about any of the projects I took on. I think they were pretty much all awesome opportunities and while perhaps they would have felt better spreading out over ten years instead of 5 or so, I can’t point to anything and say, “That’s the one thing I shouldn’t have done.” I’m grateful for all of it. So I am not feeling such an overwhelming urge to do all the things in part because I’ve already done many of them! Now that I have, I have a better sense of what projects suit me best and which are the most exciting to me, and perhaps even through which ones I can help make the most difference going forward.

That’s a pretty good result of saying yes.

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Inspired by Flannel Friday! This Little Train

Three years ago, I created a pattern for a set of train cars that I have used over and over ever since. Last year, I learned a new-to-me song in a Cen Campbell webinar that goes great with these pieces, too.

Now I’ve learned ANOTHER new song from Flannel Friday! Lucy at In the Children’s Room posted about adapting a song called “This Little Train.” The post is a couple years old, but thanks to the magic of the Flannel Friday Pinterest board pinners, I found it when I needed it!

I wanted to adapt it, in turn, to match my own train cars.

IMG_2087

So here’s what I came up with! It’s to the tune of “This Old Man.”

This little train, painted gray
Takes us places far away
With a choo, choo, clicky-clack, hear the whistle blow
This little train goes rolling home

This little train, painted black
Keeps us chugging down the track
With a choo, choo, clicky-clack, hear the whistle blow
This little train goes rolling home

This little train, painted white
Keeps things cold both day and night
With a choo, choo, clicky-clack, hear the whistle blow
This little train goes rolling home

This little train, painted blue
It has seats for me and you
With a choo, choo, clicky-clack, hear the whistle blow
This little train goes rolling home

This little train, painted red
Is where the engineer goes to bed
With a choo, choo, clicky-clack, hear the whistle blow
This little train goes rolling home

If you can write a verse for the green car, I am all ears.

The only thing I could come up with was,

    This little train, painted green
    Has the best graffiti you’ve ever seen

…which I thought left a little to be desired.

ANYWAY, I used this in a Family Storytime with a Things That Go theme, and I forgot how much fun it is to sing the tune for This Old Man, and I had a hoot. Thanks for the inspiration, Flannel Friday!

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Different Types of Saying No

As I have been forging along on my saying-no journey frankly I have received some absolutist advice and feedback: I should just be saying no flat-out, and if I wasn’t saying no quickly and completely I wasn’t REALLY saying no. (And again, in these posts I am primarily thinking about the extra-work-outside-of-work situations: professional committees, freelance training, webinar presenting, teaching, reviewing, blogging…not the situations that involve managing work levels on the job.)

OK, so how do I get myself out of this?

OK, so how do I get myself out of this?

Well, just like a robust anti-drug policy is a little more nuanced than Nancy Reagan would have us believe (shout out to my fellow lived-through-the-80s readers for whom that reference actually makes sense), I have found that saying no in real life is more complicated than just repeating, “Sorry, I can’t,” every time you are asked to do something.

Although sometimes it isn’t more complicated than that: Saying no sometimes really does look just like not saying yes. (“That’s a great opportunity, but I just can’t take it on right now.”)

Another way to say no is to quit a project or commitment that you have already undertaken. You can do this by not re-upping (“No, I won’t sign on to review grant proposals again this year, thanks, I’ll let someone else have an opportunity to see what it’s like.”) or by quitting before your initial commitments or term is up. (“I realize I said I could write a blog post a month until next August, but in the interim my responsibilities have changed and I won’t be able to submit past this April.”)

Or, maybe you can delegate the responsibility while still overseeing the larger project. This was a major skill for me to learn as a committee chair: I wanted to be pulling my own weight as a committee member, yet sometimes the general chair responsibilities needed to take priority. (“I’ve been chipping away at this report for the steering committee, but I’m falling way behind. I need to ask two of you to take it on from here.”)

If you’re not in a position to delegate, then plain old asking for help from colleagues or friends is an option, too. (“I said I would write this report for the steering committee, but I am so stuck. Do you have an hour to talk through the main points with me or read a very rough draft?” or “I said I would present this webinar but I’ve realized it’s too much work. Would you be able to partner with me on it?”) In this case your no is not so much “I can’t do it,” as it is “I can’t do it by myself.”

Sometimes your no isn’t so much a no as it is a “not now but later.” If someone has asked you to do something and you have a choice of deadline (maybe you need to take a turn writing minutes for a meeting or arranging a monthly speaker) don’t waffle and say “Oh, I can do it whenever.” Say, “I can’t do it next month, but put me down for September.” Or, if you’ve been approached for an opportunity you don’t have time for, you could say, “I can’t do it this year, but I would love it if you kept me in mind for next year!” Don’t say that unless you mean it, then put it on your calendar in case they do call back, you have that block free.

Another “later” type of no is rescheduling a current commitment. You’ve already said you could do it at a certain time, but now you are worried about fitting everything in. Take a deep breath and ask if you can reschedule. Sometimes it’s not possible, but sometimes everyone will be happier about having a better webinar/article/presentation at a different time than a not-so-great product at the original time.

What other ways are there for saying no?

See what else I’ve written about saying no here and here.

Further reading–what are your suggestions?

7 Simple Ways to Say No | Zen Habits
How to Say No To Anyone | The Muse

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Cookie Recipes!

If April Fool’s Day drives you up the wall, here is one post that is 100% no tricks!

I love to bake and for the last few conferences I’ve attended I have brought cookies with me to share with friends and those other nice, nice people who attend my sessions. From time to time I have been asked for recipes, so I thought it would be fun to pass them on!

More cookies than anything else

More cookies than anything else

ALSC 2014

Triple-Ginger Cookies from 101 Cookbooks

These cookies are so amazing I brought them to ALA Midwinter 2015 too. For these cookies, I am like one of those annoying food blog commenters who say, “I love these cookies! It’s a perfect recipe and I made 800 changes!” So just in case you make them and they don’t taste exactly like mine did, here’s a couple of notes: I only used half the listed amount of crystallized ginger because the first time I made this recipe that’s all I had in the house. They were still superb. I do want to try them once with the whole amount, though! I substituted cloves for the anise, again, because of what I had on hand, but I liked the result so much I did that again the next time too. I used white whole wheat flour, and regular cane sugar and plain old molasses instead of unsulphured. Oh, and I also used demerara sugar instead of turbinado, but those are pretty similar.

CALCON 2014

Orange Creamsicle Cookies from The Girl Who Ate Everything

If you have fond memories of Creamsicles you owe it to yourself to try these cookies! The flavors really do come across in great combination and I have trouble eating just a few. I make this recipe as is, except I always double it because it doesn’t make enough.

I brought another cookie but I can’t think of what it was! Anyone else remember?

MIDWINTER 2015

Bigger conference = more cookies.

Perfect Rice Krispie Treats from Cookies and Cups

I loved the tip to add extra mini marshmallows after you mix in the cereal; it really boosts the gooey factor. I also appreciated the reminder not to smoosh the gooey mixture into the pan too hard when you let it set, that way it stays softer and chewier. I did make 2 changes: I added a little vanilla (maybe 1/2t or 1t) because I think it rounds out the flavor, and just for fun I swapped out about a quarter of the plain Rice Krispies for Fruity Pebbles.

Coconut Cranberry Chews from Sunset Magazine in 2001.

This is a standby Christmas cookie in our house and it’s so decadent I couldn’t resist making more a month later for Midwinter. I make these as is, but I do take the time to roll each scoop of cookie dough into a tidy ball before putting them on the cookie sheet (rather than just dropping the dough from the spoon or scoop). When I looked for an online link to the recipe, I also found this story describing the original recipe, before Sunset adapted it for publication. I haven’t made this version yet, but I probably will at some point!

Raisin Puffs

My mom has had this recipe clipped for a long time. When I Googled it I found it online, and that it was originally from Midwest Living Magazine. This is a sweet, soft cookie and if you are someone with no raisin issues you will love it! I get about 6 dozen when I use my smallest cookie scoop. I’ve also had good luck switching in white whole wheat flour for the regular–you just might need to add a tablespoon of water if you do.

So what should I bring to Annual? What are your favorite cookies?

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How Do You Know When to Say No?

Earlier this week I talked about what I’ve learned about saying no over my two-year-ish project to reduce my professional responsibilities and my stress. Now, there are books and books and blogs and blogs about saying no, and so here’s my disclaimer that my posts about this topic are more about sharing what’s been on my mind and SO much less about giving advice, because I’m not a life coach or an expert and I’m still learning myself.

So what’s been on my mind about knowing when to say no? Mostly, that anyone who tells you it’s easy to know when to say no or how to set limits isn’t necessarily speaking an objective truth. It may be easy for some people (and it’s getting easier for me!) but if you struggle with this it doesn’t mean you’re not smart or aren’t thoughtful or should have a better grip on things. In my experience saying no is complicated, and iterative, and not always replicable, because circumstances are often unique.

Which means that there isn’t one answer for knowing when to say no. I’m going to briefly talk about what I’ve learned to do and pay attention to, but what I’d really like to know is how YOU know when to say no.

Yes I have a question for the Reference Desk?

Yes I have a question for the Reference Desk?

The more strategies we can name, the more tools we all have!

Yearly Calendar

One thing I started doing a year or two ago is so simple I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t been doing it all along. I have a 12-box grid in my daily planner and each box is one month of the year. I cross out December (because of the holidays) and June or July (whichever month my family is roadtripping that year) and write in any conferences, state or national, that I am attending. Then I let myself write in ONE “extracurricular” professional project in the months that are left over. Right now I am being pretty conservative, so ONE PROJECT is anything from as “small” as a journal article to as “large” as a freelance webinar. On your calendar you might decide you have room for two things every month, or for one large every other month and one small every month…it’s your matrix and your decision. The point is to visually fill up your year, because those deadlines that are 6-to-9 months away ALWAYS feel more doable from the other side of the calendar and it’s easy to think there is plenty of time to spread out all the work. If I can be reminded that the “in between” time is actually full, all the better.

Right now I actually have two yearly calendars in the works, for 2015 and for 2016. This in itself is helpful because as I’m looking for empty months and I’m getting farther and farther ahead that is serving as a reality check. The farther out I have to look for a free block of time, the more I’m likely to admit I should be saying no outright rather than trying to schedule it 18 months from now.

Weekly Calendar

A similar trick works on a smaller scale. I think I learned this from Time Management from the Inside Out but I’m overdue for a re-read and I can’t remember! Instead of blocking out one project a month, if you are asked to do something, try to visualize where in your week you will be able to spend the time on it. Are you going to work on your lunch hours? On Sunday afternoons? Thursday nights? Do you actually have a pocket of time free in your week-to-week schedule that you can devote to the new thing?

One of the realities that has affected how much I can take on is that as I’ve gotten older, I have less “usable” time in the evenings after dinner. I used to be able to work until midnight! Wow! Five hours of getting stuff done after work! Well, my spring chicken days are quite over and I can’t do that anymore. I just don’t have the energy or the focus I used to, and so literally have less time to work, even though those hours are still THERE and aren’t being taken up by anything more taxing than scrolling through Twitter or walking on the treadmill watching Rockford Files.

So be realistic about where the new project is going to go in your week, and if there aren’t any open time slots, then you’ll need to think about what are you going to give up in order to fit the new project in.

Gut Reactions

Frankly, by the time I started my saying no project I was so stressed that when I was asked to do something I didn’t have time for, I felt sick to my stomach. An actual queasy feeling, with the added bonus that I felt like I wanted to cry. Those were real signs and ones I finally couldn’t ignore. Your cues might be different! Maybe you have bad dreams or start to eat too many Twizzlers (ahem) or start drinking Coke again (hypothetically speaking). When my schedule got overloaded (as opposed to just full) I could *feel* it, and you might, too.

I also had to remember the difference between the queasy and dysfunctional “I can’t do this” feeling and the normal and completely functional “I haven’t done this before and I have some butterflies” feeling. Those ARE different, and the more stressed I became the harder it was for me name them correctly, and the more essential it was that I do so.

Also, another way I’ve learned to tell when I should say no is if I really want to say yes, but then realize that I really don’t want to go home and tell my husband I’ve said yes. NOT because he isn’t supportive of my career! He is my best cheerleader and has always encouraged me to pursue goals I wasn’t sure I could reach or thought I was ready to take on. However, I know he wants the best for the whole me, not just library me. And while I sometimes can (and do!) try to squash my own doubts and misgivings when offered fun opportunities, imagining what he would say about my time commitments and work/life balance turns out to be a great litmus test. It externalizes the decision just enough for me to see the situation more clearly and assess things more accurately. I never assume I know exactly what he’ll think, and I still bring things home to talk about, and sometimes I say yes to things he’s not sure I have time for, and other times I think I should say no and he urges me to say yes. So the imaginary conversation isn’t the only tool I use, but it’s become a pretty good indicator light on the dashboard!

So there are three ways I try to assess my time & overall workload before deciding to say yes or no. I’m very much aware these are all strictly time-based strategies. There are LOTS of other reasons for saying no, from aligning decisions to your priorities to lack of interest or skill set to not being able to afford, financially, to say yes. Maybe we’ll make a list of more good reasons to say no in the comments! I just couldn’t tackle them all at once, and for me, the time-based decisions were the hardest ones to make, so that’s what I wanted to talk about here. Also, I’m pretty much talking about managing outside-of-work professional commitments, when you are the one who gets to decide what to do or not to do, and not during-the-work-week responsibilities, when your boss and your department and other factors affect what you must take on or drop. That’s a related but very different situation, and probably fodder for another blog post. :)

So how do YOU know when to say no? When have you been right? When have you been wrong?

And let us know what your favorite reads are for help in saying no! Here are two library-world blog posts to get you started:

The Art of Saying No
from BossLadyWrites
How Do You Say No? from In the Library With the Lead Pipe

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What I’ve Learned About Saying No

The past couple (few) (several) years have been, excitingly and exhaustively, very full of professional commitments and opportunities for me. I have been very lucky and have worked very hard and am overall proud of what I’ve accomplished. I have also been very tired, and have been very stressed.

Are you this tired? It might be time to say no too.

Me being tired

More recently, my not-so-new job as a supervisor has proven to draw on my energies in different ways than my previous jobs and that means I need in turn to arrange my commitments in different ways. So, over the last couple of years, for the first time in my career, I have been turning down more outside-of-work professional projects than I’ve been accepting. And there are so many amazing librarians with so many amazing ideas and there is so much work to be done…and I learn by doing and I like working with great people and I enjoy being busy…well, frankly, this has been a difficult transition for me.

However, two years into my saying-no process, I can also say that it’s been completely worthwhile, and I’m starting to feel more balanced and less stressed than I have for a long time. I’ve also thought a lot about saying no, and so here are some of the things I’ve learned.

It Gets Easier

I know how grateful I am when someone says yes to my request for help, and it feels so good to pay that forward and help someone else. It’s hard to say no because everyone is working hard and I don’t want to let anyone down! And I’m a little afraid of how they will feel! But every time I know I should write that email & don’t want to, I remember the last time I did and that no one wrote me a crappy email back. They may be disappointed, yes, but no one has ever been unreasonable or angry. Remembering that I’m working with professionals who understand what managing commitments entails makes it easier to hit send each time. And the more I do say no, the more my schedule is actually doable, and I remember how much I like doable, which gives me more motivation to maintain a sustainable schedule.

It Doesn’t Get Easier

There’s certainly the relief of not taking something on, when I know I am booked solid. But there’s also regret at not getting to do something cool. And then that something comes around and gets advertised (a workshop, a conference, a blog tour, whatever) and I remember I could have said yes and been a part of it and I go through the regret all over again, and I’m not going to lie, that hasn’t gotten easier. Or I’ll say no and then 4 months later I’m talking to a friend and all of a sudden I realize the cool thing they’re telling me about that they got to do is the something I said no to and it sounds just as fun as I knew it was going to be when I said no. I say yes to things because I LIKE doing things, and when I see them go by without me I do feel a little sad.

Your No Is Your Yes

Yet every time I say no to something, I am saying yes to something I AM ALREADY DOING. I am making sure I continue to have enough time to devote to projects I have already made commitments to. Remembering this is probably one of the best strategies I’ve learned for dealing with the regret of letting opportunities go. I love how it reframes a negative thought into a positive.

Your No Is Someone Else’s Yes

When I say no it means someone else is going to get to say yes. How cool is that? I know I’ve gotten my share of invitations because someone has said no, but THEN said, “But you know who would be good is…” and then has named me along with a few others. When you want to start saying no, make a list of who else you can recommend. Ask colleagues in advance if they’d like to be recommended, and for what types of opportunities. Think of colleagues with less experience for whom you can give the same kind of boost that perhaps one of your mentors had given you. I have a running list like this now, and it takes the sting out of turning something down when I can immediately say, “I can’t take this on right now but you know who would be good?”

It Takes Time

For me saying no was less like declaring bankruptcy and more like making snowball debt payments. I didn’t quit everything I had going on at once; I started saying no to new things and looking for ways to reduce my level of responsibility in current projects. And it took me probably 12-18 months to really start to see the effects on my calendar & peace of mind and almost 2 years to come down finally to my goal level. This was a long process for me and it FELT like a long process. If you are ready to start saying no, make some lists and plan some exit strategies so your expectations are realistic.

It Doesn’t Take Time

I am a big planner and when I realized I had shifted from “busy” to “overwhelmed,” part of me felt like I needed a plan for saying no before I could start saying no. Well, I didn’t, I just needed to say no to that Next Thing. And then the Next Thing After That. As the nos piled up and my time started to free up, then I was able to think a little more systematically about my next steps & next goals, and be a little more strategic about my nos and my yesses.

I have more to say about saying no! Watch for two more posts, about different types of no, and knowing when to say no.

In the meantime, what do you know about saying no?

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How to Not Get Lost in Storytime

For one thing, make sure you can find the library

For one thing, make sure you can find the library

This is part two of an answer to Elizabeth, who asked,

Do you have a format that you follow for laying out your storytime to have everything at hand? I’ve been struggling with this aspect–I want to have everything right there, spelled out so I don’t ramble yet I don’t want it to appear that I’m constantly checking my notes and reading. Sometimes rhymes come easily to me, other times no matter what I cannot keep them in my head and struggle to find where I am. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you!

In part one I rambled about the different notes and agendas I’ve used during storytime. In this post I wanted to talk a little about how you can also use your content, structure, and pacing of storytime to help you stay on track, look focused, and rely less on notes.

Don’t use as much material you have to memorize

The less you have to memorize, the less you’ll naturally need or want to rely on your notes for prompts. Here’s a few quick ideas for making adjustments: Switch out songs with multiple unique verses for ones with recursive verses (less Baby Beluga and more Spider on the Floor), or introduce a “song of the month” and sing it every week. Use at least one song you know backwards and forwards in every storytime, even if it’s not repeated from week to week. Take out one “Five Little Somethings” rhyme every week and instead use the flannelboard as a discussion prompt or for an open-ended game.

Have the same opening and closing routines

Many of us do this already since it’s so great to signal to the kids when storytime starts and stops with familiar cues. However, don’t be afraid to double down on the familiarity and use super old favorites for these parts of your storytime: Happy and You Know It, The More We Get Together, even Twinkle Twinkle Little Star–anything that you and your group know well. Either kids are working to focus their attention at the beginning of storytime, or they have just about used up all their staying-put mojo at the end, and in both situations pulling out the tried and true can be a great strategy that helps them AND you.

Recycle transitions

I like to say a little something more than “OK what’s next” when I move from activity to activity in storytime, but that doesn’t mean every transition is an artisanal crafted gem. For instance, in the middle of every baby storytime, we sing, “A Hunting We Will Go” and I put matching clip art on the board for each verse. As I take down the clipart after we sing, 95% of the time I say, “We’ll play with those pictures after storytime, but right now it’s time for another book!” Look for well-traveled paths in your storytime where you tend to move from one type of activity to another (opening song to first book, second book to de-wiggle-ing stretch, etc) and build yourself a serviceable little Honda of a sentence that you can use every storytime and that will take you from point A to point B with no fuss.

Physically arrange your materials

Another trick is to use a basket or box or table to line up or stack your books, felt set envelopes, song sheets, whatever you use in the actual order you are going to use them. Then you’re in a habit of reaching to the same place each time you’re ready for the next activity. You could even put a sticky note on the book cover or prop envelope, with a written prompt for what to say next to the group, and glance at it as you pick up each item.

(I just read the book The Organized Mind by Daniel J Levitin, and in it he talks a lot about improving your chances of remembering things by “offloading” as much of the task as possible outside your brain. [Read the book! He is a MUCH more elegant explainer than I am.] I realized that a lot of the things that have been successful for me take advantage of this strategy: I use piles, use notes, use structure, use cues, and then my brain has less to keep track of, and I stumble a lot less, and have more neurons available for the rest of the material.)

Take a breath and look at your notes

Notes are great to have on hand, but not if we don’t give ourselves a second to look at them! I look at them twice: Once before storytime, and then during storytime. Before storytime I will take a minute to look at my plan, and will sing a line or two of each song to get the tunes into my head, or rehearse a rhyme out loud. I’ll think of transitions to say in between, then set the paper or cards or whatever in position ready to go.

Then during storytime, I make sure to look at those notes again! Slipping in a very short pause in between activities will allow you to take a breath and glance at your notes. Let yourself really focus on what they say–one trick is to intentionally sound them out in your head rather than just run your eyes over them. Most of the time this pause is going to feel a lot longer to you than it does to your audience! But it gets you in the habit of coming back to your notes in between each activity, rather than running through a few things on your agenda without looking at the notes and then all of a sudden not being sure where you are in the list.

An extra pause can give you the time to run the first line of a rhyme through your head, or to sing the first line of a song to yourself to set the tune. I sing more a cappella than with CDs/MP3s in my storytimes (personal preference) and one thing I will do is start slapping my thighs to the tempo I want to set, and do a couple bars of slaps before I start singing. This gives the group something to do (start slapping or clapping too) and focuses the children’s attention while giving me time to think or hum the start of the tune to myself. Then I take a breath and start singing feeling more confident and less rushed.

What’s your advice? What do you do to keep track of things in storytime and not forget bits and pieces as you go?

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Cue Cards & Notes in Storytime

Here’s a recent question from Elizabeth and, fair warning, my rather long-winded part-one of an answer:

Do you have a format that you follow for laying out your storytime to have everything at hand? I’ve been struggling with this aspect–I want to have everything right there, spelled out so I don’t ramble yet I don’t want it to appear that I’m constantly checking my notes and reading. Sometimes rhymes come easily to me, other times no matter what I cannot keep them in my head and struggle to find where I am. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you!

I have used several different strategies over the years for staying on track in storytime, so I’ll share a few in the hopes that something in here helps you out or sparks a fresh idea for you! This post lists the ideas that have to do with a written plan of some sort, and part two (posted later this week) will have an idea or two about storytime content and pacing.

Also, for context, I am very much a planner and always have a sequence for my storytimes set out in advance. I may deviate from the plan in response to the group or phase of the moon but for the most part I know what order I want to do things in, so that affects the types of notes and support systems I’ve created for myself. In addition, the size of our groups are not so large, so I am able to run storytime sitting down in a chair.

Hidden Paper on the Floor

Since I first started doing storytime, I have always been more comfortable with my whole plan written out and kept where I could see it while presenting. When I began at my current library, part of our staging was a darling lightweight wooden chest in which a teddy bear would sit during storytime. I wrote out my storytimes like this in Word docs, with the sequence first followed by the words to most of the activities listed:

Plan Page 1 IMG_8856
and I found that if I set the printout in the bottom of the chest next to the bear I could glance down and see what was next on my list, while the paper stayed out of sight from the audience (and out of reach from little hands). I could write notes to myself on the printout, keywords for song verses, or reminders for announcements. That darling chest is no more, but here is a quick attempt at a reenactment of what this looked like from my point of view:

Sad cardboard box is understudy for darling wooden chest

Sad cardboard box is understudy for darling wooden chest

Alas, my eyes are 15 years older than they were then and I’d have to print my notes in about 200 pt Helvetica to see them on the floor, so this isn’t a trick that works any more!

Index Cards on the Chair

Another strategy I developed when I first started presenting baby storytimes. I found myself working with a more limited set of songs and rhymes for the babies’ sakes, and using them over and over. So my agendas were less unique and more mix-and-match. Instead of a whole agenda on a piece of paper, I wrote each song and rhyme on an index card in nice thick Sharpie, and kept them alphabetically (duh) in a box.

Baby Storytime Index Card Box

When I planned my storytimes, I’d pick and choose from my cards, and then stack them on the chair next to me.

Here’s a picture of my setup at that point: I sat in the blue chair, with my feltboard propped on a storytime-room chair next to me. The index cards would go in a pile on the seat in front of the feltboard.

Blue Rug

As storytime progressed, I would flip the cards over, one by one, and could see what came next AND what the words were, all at once, just by glancing down and to my right a bit. Here’s another recreation:

Note Cards on Chair

By this time we had started delivering literacy messages to the parents and caregivers during storytime, and it was easy to write out my message and put it in the stack in the right place. If I wanted to skip a song, I would just flip over the cards until I saw a good next activity, and did that. (I would put in extra songs and rhymes to the stack, so I would have enough material even if I wanted to skip something. I am SO not an impromptu storytime provider. Even my winging-it is done to plan!)

Song Sheets for Everybody

After a year or so of index cards I was pretty much in the baby storytime groove and kind of phased out of using them. The next thing that happened was I experimented with creating a song sheet handout for the grownups every week. I folded it down the middle so that my first two songs & rhymes (always the same) fit on the front page and my last two songs & rhymes (also always the same) fit on the back page. On the middle spread, listed in order I planned to use them, were the songs and rhymes that changed up every week, with their lyrics and movement prompts.

Here’s the outside page:

Outside of Handout

Before storytime I’d run off copies, and I’d mark one up with where my books would go, extra notes or thoughts, and a reminder about what my literacy tip was going to be. Here’s a sample:

Inside of Songs Handout

This went on the chair next to me where the index cards used to go, and I could again glance at it and easily see what was coming next. It was like a mashup of my paper strategy and my index card strategy, with the bonus that the grownups got something out of it too, and this worked for me for a long time!

The Procrastinator’s Special

I stopped using the handouts awhile ago, for a number of reasons I won’t list out in this already-long post! For the past 6 months or so on the new job I’ve been a little pressed for time (!) and so I’m recycling a lot of old plans and using a lot of super familiar material, and needing less in the way of notes. I also switched from the feltboard-and-chair setup to using an easel (because I wanted to be using the same thing my team did, to see what it was like). So now there’s no seat of the chair to place my notes.

Sigh. Here’s what my system has devolved to:

SIGH

SIGH

Two things that actually work about this: It’s right below eye level when I’m sitting next to the easel, and with just a couple of words for each item on the plan, I have enough room for brief transitions reminders (“Let’s go for a ride on the tickle bus”), song verse keywords (“wheels horn tickle giggle”), and a literacy tip prompt (“Play w/books”).

Overall, what tends to work for me is 1) finding a good balance for my notes between clarity & brevity and 2) keeping my notes where I can see them easily from my chair.

What are your best tips for Elizabeth about keeping storytime notes handy and useful? I’ll be back in a couple days with thoughts on content and pacing, and actually *using* the notes, too.

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How Long is a Baby Storytime?

I have started to brush down the cobwebs from Mel’s Desk, and in the process of going through old posts found the following question-and-answer that took place in January in the comments of one of my baby storytime plans. It’s actually a question that comes up now and again, and I am going to recycle my answer here as I start to organize my thoughts for new posts!

In the comments of my Mice Storytime post, Michael asked:

I followed your babytime schedule and it matches others that I have seen online. The program we offer is supposed to be half an hour long but what I planned only lasted fifteen minutes. What would you estimate is the duration of your mice storytime and the others that you have done?

And here’s how I answered:

This is a great question! I plan for about 15-20 minutes of material for the babies, so if that’s how one of my plans turned out for you, you are not missing anything!

A couple of things I do however aren’t written out in the plan: As everyone is finishing getting settled in the room, I talk about upcoming library closures, interesting family programs, new services (we’re going fine-free for children’s materials this year!), and so forth. This carries us through a late-comer or two and lets everyone get organized. Then I launch into my formal welcome and behavior guidelines spiel, and THEN we go around the room (I have typically between 5-15 babies/10-30 people altogether) and I invite the grownups to introduce themselves and their babies. We don’t take up tons of time on this, but I do take a few seconds to say hello to the babies and call them by name, see if they will look at me so I can smile and tell them I’m happy to see them. THEN I start my first song.

So it might be 5-7 minutes into the session time before we even “get started.” I do not consider this filler or wasted time! Not all of the patrons come every week, so it’s very helpful to go over the behavior stuff each time. And baby storytime is all about building relationships–between me and the families, and between the families and each other–so learning names is a critical part of this. And my calling out to the babies helps them get oriented and learn where the “front” of the room is.

Something else I just thought of–I usually do the rhymes and bounces 2-3 times through in a row, so that’s something else that might stretch the program a little from what is actually written out.

The other thing we do after all of our storytimes, including baby storytime, is set aside a few minutes for free play. For the babies, we have some soft balls, our shakey eggs and scarves, foam or soft plastic blocks, very simple and straightforward toys. We sit on the floor and let the babies play, and the grownups talk with each other, and I’m there if they have questions about their baby’s development, or books, or the library.

Because of our schedule, I am not in any rush to clean up after play time, so some of the families are there for a good 45 minutes–and only 15-20 minutes of that is the “actual storytime.” So in your case, you could add a welcoming activity to the front and a few minutes of playtime to the end and fill out 30 minutes very easily and comfortably.

On the other hand, the Mother Goose on the Loose curriculum is VERY well loved, very successful, and plans for a full 60 minutes of activities for a baby storytime! So another strategy would be to take two 15 minute baby storytime plans and just smoosh them together, and do 30 minutes straight of songs, bounces, books, and rhymes. If you made it clear that families should feel comfortable just standing up and leaving if their baby has had enough, you could keep going for the babies who are into the full 30 minutes that day.

I hope this helps! Good luck–-let me know how it goes!

How long do your baby storytimes run? How old are your babies? Do you have playtime too?

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