I know many people advise against having a theme for baby storytimes, on the grounds that “the babies don’t care,” and it’s easier to plan without one.
I’ve been planning and giving a weekly baby storytime for over 2 years now, and I’ve decided whether or not the babies have an opinion, *I* do! I continue to plan themes for my baby storytimes for a few reasons.
1) Working with a theme helps me make decisions about which of the hundreds of rhymes and songs I might do that day. Yes, this reason is for my benefit! But storytime is just one of the many things I do every week, and anything I can do to streamline my process is a good thing. I know there are storytime providers who find the exact opposite is true for them! If there’s no theme, they can just grab whatever they want and be ready to go. All I can tell you is, when I have that much leeway, it slows me down. There are too many choices to consider! When I start with a theme, I’m looking at a smaller subset of materials and it helps me plan faster.
2) Using a theme offers opportunities for repetition within that day’s storytime. Repetition is great for babies’ cognitive development. If we’re talking about Farm Animals, then we might have several chances to use the word “horse” over the course of the storytime. Hearing the same word in different contexts is one of the ways babies learn new vocabulary. So they might hear about a horse in “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” see a picture and hear the word again in the book Moo, Baa, La La La, and pretend to ride a horse when we play “Trot Trot to Boston.”
3) Here’s my favorite reason: having a theme makes it really easy for me to transition verbally from one activity to another, and model “baby conversational skills” to the caregivers. When I do storytime, I’m very conscious that I’m “on stage” giving a performance. I’d like that performance to be as smooth as possible. Without a theme, I personally wind up saying the same phrases as transitions over and over: “OK, that was great! Now let’s do a song/rhyme/bounce/book.” Over time, this starts to feel a little disjointed to me. When I use a theme, it’s easier for me to build little bridges from one activity to the next. For instance, after Moo, Baa, La La La, which ends with the words, “What do YOU say?” I might repeat that question, then refer back to one of the animals in the book and say, “What does a cow say?” After we’ve all said Moo! together, I’d say, “That was great! Let’s sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and we’ll listen to what some other animals say, too.” To me, this type of transition feels very smooth and keeps my storytime moving along at a steady pace.
Themed transitions like this also give me opportunities to model “how to talk to babies” to the caregivers. After singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” with a few puppets, I might get out the sheep puppet again and ask, “We just sang about this animal. Do you remember what it is?” Obviously most of the little ones aren’t going to answer! But I’m showing parents that you can ask them questions anyway. I ask a question, then pause (during which usually the grownups answer, which is great! They are modeling to their kids too!) Then I say, “Good job! It IS a sheep! A sheep grows soft wool to keep it warm.” This shows how caregivers can expand on short answers and provide their kids with even more vocabulary and language. Then I might keep the sheep in my lap and say, “Let’s sing a song about a sheep and some wool. Let’s sing “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”
I don’t believe that this is the only way to do storytime, and I totally believe that you can plan efficiently and offer repetition and do smooth transitions and model how to build language skills without using a theme for baby storytimes. But it’s much easier for me if I do!