A Cappella and CDs In Storytime

One question that comes up again and again when I talk with people about storytime is the best way to include music. Recently Julie, Anna, and Kendra all wrote great posts about singing in storytime. (Special thanks to Julie, who wrote that post as a direct favor to me when I needed some help. Superstar!) [Update 3/28: Lisa has a great post on this topic, too! Update 4/10: ALSO Katy has a detailed post and lots of good thoughts!]

As it happens, I have a lot of opinions about this (are you surprised?) but also as it happens, I use both music CDs and a cappella singing in my baby storytimes. When I was first starting out with baby storytime, I borrowed a structure and basic outline from some colleagues, and have found myself sticking to it over the years. Over time I’ve experienced and heard some pros and cons for each method, so I thought I’d list them and see what you have to add.

Playing CDs

PROS of using recorded music in storytime:

  • Allows me to toss out comments to the kids as we’re moving and dancing
  • Can share a greater range of music styles or melodies than my limited vocal range can support (can also share songs in languages you don’t speak)
  • Introduces great artists, songs, and CDs to storytime families
  • Provides support to less-confident singers

CONS of using recorded music in storytime:

  • Limits me to what’s on the CD–I can’t add in verses or take suggestions from the kids
  • One more prop to shuffle and manage during storytime
  • Songs are often too long for storytime

Singing A Cappella

PROS of singing without a CD in storytime

  • Models to parents and caregivers that they don’t need CDs to share music with their kids
  • Allows you to make up any old words to a familiar tune to suit your storytime
  • Can adjust performance on the fly: slower, shorter, quicker, longer, etc.
  • No plugs or equipment to fail (unless you have laryngitis!)

CONS of singing without a CD in storytime

  • Might not have enough breath support to project to a group a cappella
  • Might not include music at all without a CD as backup

What would you add to any of these lists?

Here’s my bottom line: If someone held my out-of-print hardback copy of The Baby Goes Beep hostage and forced me to choose just one way of adding music to my storytimes, I would hand over my CDs in a heartbeat.

For me, the benefits of having the grown-ups see me embrace imperfect singing (forgetting tunes, messing up the words, having a ball belting it out regardless), and the flexibility afforded to my storytimes by singing without a CD or MP3 player, are too powerful to give up.

But I’d love to hear your experience, and hear what your bottom line is, too! Do you have recommendations for CDs that work well in storytime? How do you manage your music equipment? Do you have advice for those who are less confident going solo? Where do you learn new songs to sing? And I haven’t even talked about playing instruments in storytime! What do you play?

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26 Responses to A Cappella and CDs In Storytime

  1. Jennifer says:

    My colleague from the school district does my baby and toddler storytimes and I do preschool and family. We pretty much use a cd for opening dance music, then a cappella for music within the storytime (although sometimes she’ll break out a cd for more dancing, or I’ll turn on some quiet music while we do our craft). Miss Pattie usually uses Jim Gill and they do shakers for opening, then mostly spoken rhymes in storytime. I have a rota of songs on cd with lots of actions that we use for opening and the kids like learning the songs. Some of our favorites include Jim Gill’s “List of Dances”, Laurie Berkner’s “Boots”, Funky Mama’s “Pop ‘n’ Hop” and Sugar Free Allstars’ “Train Beat Song” I like to sing a cappella within storytime or do chants with a strong beat because I adapt a lot. We close every program with an a cappella version of Elizabeth Mitchell’s “Sunny Day” that I made up movements for and the kids adore singing it with me.

  2. Susan says:

    I sing a lot in baby storytime for ease and as example and all those good reasons you list, but I also like to play a recorded CD too. We’ve been in the habit lately of passing out the maracas and shakey eggs and just playing a song and dancing around once during storytime. I have a lot of 18 to 24 month kids in my group too, and this is just another way to get them up and moving. I also think of it as a nice way to highlight our music collection in the library and encourage them to check out the CDs. I’m a big fan of Laurie Berkner, but I try out lots of different CDs all the time. We’ve been having a very young crowd come to our bilingual storytimes too, so it’s been a nice way to get them up and moving and just put a CD in the other language.

  3. Katy says:

    I actively try to incorporate both into my storytimes. For most of the songs I use in storytime, I do a cappella. Last storytime session I had a goal to try to end as many storytimes as I could with versions of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” customized to that week’s theme. I was pretty successful (although I think there was a week or two that stumped me, and we just sang the regular version). I love modeling to parents and kids that they can be creative with language, and I have had some great suggestions from the audience that I’ve incorporated on the fly.

    I actively tried to incorporate some recorded music in each storytime this past session, too, and I was successful most weeks. I decided that I really wanted to include more gross motor movement for my preschoolers, and I found that worked well with pre-recorded songs.

    I do a sensory storytime for preschoolers with special needs once a month, and I do incorporate both singing and recorded music in that, too, but I do include more prerecorded music in that. I find that the exact repetition of the recorded music is really helpful to my audience. Also, I end that session with bubbles blown from a Gymboree bubble blower–very difficult to sing and blow at the same time. The bubbles are very popular, and I find that timing the end of my bubbles to the end of the recorded song makes that transition easier for the kids.

    I actually edited down this comment because I had so much to say. I think I may write you a blog post in response, if you don’t mind!

  4. Melissa says:

    Katy, great thoughts! Bring on that blog post!

  5. Mary Rieck says:

    Recorded music also exposes kids to different instrument sounds and great rhythms. I like to use both.

  6. Allison says:

    I sing a capella for most of my songs, but I do use an Ipod that has an extensive list of songs to add here and there. Some of my favorites are”If You’re Happy and You Know It” by Party Like a Preschooler, “Driving in My Car”, “There’s a Song in My Tummy”, and “There’s a Little Wheel Turnin’ In My Heart”. I am always looking for new songs to add and would love to know if anyone has other good sources. I’d love to learn how to play the guitar or ukelele someday…but that’s for the future!

  7. Melissa says:

    Ladies, thanks for all your great thoughts and song recommendations! It’s great to approach storytime with a flexible mindset and be able to incorporate the techniques and tools that work best for you. I will be checking out all of these songs!

  8. Rick says:

    I was blogging about ELL stuff the other day and I re-discovered the fantastic TED video from Patricia Kuhl: http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies.html

    It is so fascinating to learn that babies’ sensitivity to sounds is much higher when they are interacting with a real person.

    That isn’t to say we don’t interact with babies when we play CDs. But, if we aren’t singing along with the CD they may be missing out on an opportunity for positive language engagement.

    I haven’t ever played CDs at baby storytimes (except for some soothing instrumental music before or after the storytime). I frequently play CDs at toddler and preschool storytimes, though. Still, I prefer to sing a cappella. I’m a horrible singer… but I really want to show kids that it is fun to sing.

  9. marfita says:

    I go a cappella before and during storytime, but finish up with a cd that involves movement. This year I’m using “The Animal Boogie” and next year I’ll be back to “The Mackchicken Dance.” I have started adding a bit of ukulele back-up (after 2 years of practice) of a song and despite this week sounding like Tiny Tim unable to make up his mind to go baritone or falsetto, I still managed to get looks of delighted surprise from a couple of my little ones. “I didn’t know you could sing!” said one, who’s been listening to me sing for seven months – but it didn’t count, I guess, without the ukulele. I don’t pull it out all the time – in case that will drive anyone away – but if I learned a song that goes with a particular storytime, such as “When the red red robin goes bob bob bobbin’ along” for my springtime/bird/egg storytime, or one verse of “Puff the magic dragon” for the dragon storytime, I’ll work up the nerve to perform.

    I have always sung a cappella in storytimes, but still wanted to add music – and the comment from the kid above just confirms that they don’t really consider my singing to be music. Oh well!

    I recommend the ukulele – being an easy instrument to learn, having lots of free chord charts on the internet (http://www.scorpexuke.com/ and http://www.doctoruke.com/songs.html), and being eminently portable and relatively inexpensive. Little kids are a very forgiving audience!

  10. Kendra Jones says:

    Love this, Mel! And thanks for mentioning my post.

    One of the reasons I like to add music is for cueing. WE play the same Clean Up song by Laurie Berkner before storytime each week (and clean up the toys while it’s playing). The toddlers now understand that when they hear that song start, it’s time to clean up.

    My favorite thing to do lately is sing a song a cappella for a few weeks in storytime and then start using the music with the song. It makes things a little more interesting, but still familiar. Plus, it’s another cue after a while. When babies hear the open notes to Noble Duke of York by MaryLee Sunseri, they all start to grin because they know what’s coming next.

    P.S. I have been known to stop a song before it’s over, due to it’s length. So far I’m not sure anyone has even noticed. 😉

  11. Melissa says:

    Thanks, Kendra, great point about cueing! And you’re absolutely right about just stopping those songs. It’s one of those things I think where if you do it with confidence and without apology, everyone will accept it.

  12. molliekay says:

    I use an iPod and a speaker dock (with remote) to play songs before storytimes. During storytimes, I sing a cappella. It helps my concentration and flow if I’m not scrambling around with tracks and such, plus I’m just more comfortable on my own.

    I’ve never had much of a problem with projecting my voice, but as my attendance has increased, I found the need to use a microphone.

    Occasionally I’ll bring out my keyboard to play. I only know three chords, so my song choices are limited (“London Bridge” and “Twinkle Twinkle”), but I just make up new lyrics to use.

  13. Two of us present baby story time at our library. We use both singing and recorded music. Neither of us is a good singer, and we’re both self-conscious about that, but we think singing is too important and too much fun to leave out. And we also want parents to understand that singing, dancing, swaying, and rhythm contribute to their babies’ brain development and learning, and also helps strengthen family bonds. The joy of music and singing is for everybody, not just professional performers.
    We use recorded music because there is so much fun stuff out there and we want to share it with families. Plus all the different kinds of music and instruments and ways to sing and dance. We have shakers and jingle bells and rhythm sticks for the kids too. Our latest favorite is H.U.M. (Highly Usable Music) All Year Long by Carole Peterson. I also love Jim Gill and Hap Palmer and Steve & Greg and Charlotte Diamond, too. Lots of good stuff to dance to.

  14. Melissa says:

    Excellent! And thanks for the tip for HUM…I didn’t know about them!

  15. Allison says:

    It’s great to hear about the music recommendations…thank you! I am always on the look-out for new songs to add to my program. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to find out about new kid songs, and I’ve slogged through so many bad ones just to find one option. Does anyone have a better idea?

  16. Katy says:

    Mollie, what a great idea about playing music before storytime. I may try that next week to set the mood!

  17. Juliet says:

    I have recently been told that I cannot use recorded music during storytime due to copyright violation. This is a system wide mandate. Has this come up for anyone else?

  18. Wendy says:

    We typically use a combination of a cappella and recorded music in all of our story programs. It’s extremely easy for us to play a recorded track because all of our programs are presented via PowerPoint, and we use a slide-changer remote throughout the program!
    I’ll admit that I’m notorious for putting down my remote, say, on the tray of the flannel board and then not being able to find it later; but it’s a fair trade because having all of our lyrics, titles, etc. displayed large-scale is a great boost to our parent participation! The remote has been “borrowed” by some of the tinier patrons, but sometimes I can avoid this by having a storytime assistant be my slide-changer.

    I also make it a point to tell parents that no one has to be a good singer in storytime. And we don’t “mess up” the lyrics – we make new ones!

    We also have an iPod and dock for when we don’t need specific songs, e.g., background music during a craft. We just let it shuffle.

    Kendra Jones mentioned something interesting for which I do the opposite: when I’m introducing a new song in my baby program, I will use the recording to help everyone get their bearings. Then, after 2-3 weeks, I leave the music out. We always have first-timers who don’t know the song yet, but by then, we always have at least a few families who are able to carry the tune. I like to show them that they can do it on their own.

    We ALWAYS have a recorded entrance song. We almost always follow up with an a capella hello song. Most of the songs in the middle tend to be classic tunes (often with theme-adjusted lyrics), which we’ll sing a cappella, but often there is at least one recording. (Raffi “shakes his sillies out” with us and Jim Gill judges our “silly dance contests” frequently. If I’m leading the preschoolers, I like to mix things up with Laurie Berkner or the Old Town School of Folk Music or Kathy Reid-Naiman, but I do adore Jim Gill.) Most of our programs have goodbye songs to sing a cappella, and then we do a craft with some background tunes.

    Marfita mentioned playing ukelele. One librarian in our system does that with her little ones, and the program is WILDLY popular. It’s completely bananas – over 100 people!

    Katy also mentioned bubbles, which I use every single week in my baby program. The Gymboree (mouth-powered) blower makes prolific, long-lasting bubbles that float and float and float. Alternatively, many companies make “bubble guns” that light up in addition to spitting bubbles out with force (but are best found during the summer, anywhere from toy stores to grocery stores). I like to play a fast-paced song about two minutes long and use the “guns,” because I like to do bubbles during a high-energy part of the program, and I find that babies under 6 mos. focus hard on the flashing lights. Older babies follow the bubbles, and walkers love to reach up and catch them. The “ukelele branch” uses the Gymboree bubbles during play time, wandering around and quietly creating bubbles while no singing is required. Speaking of the baby play time, I always have about 20 minutes of recorded music programmed to play during play time, starting with upbeat songs and moving into lullabies. It paces most babies right into nap time, and parents naturally start picking up toys – usually before the last song has played!

  19. Melissa says:

    Holy cow! What an amazing amount of good advice! Thank you so much for taking the time to type it all out. I love hearing everyone’s perspectives. I may have to try out the ukulele!!!

  20. Melissa says:

    I have heard this before, in fact a colleague is going through this right now. When I hear what their lawyer reports, I will share it if I can! There is a very old discussion on the PUBYAC listserv archives: https://mail.lis.illinois.edu/hypermail/public/pubyac/6320.html Does anyone else have a good, definitive answer on this?

  21. R. Jones says:

    The guy who wrote the Pete the Cat picture books, Eric Litwin, has a whole website of songs that he actually WANTS teachers, librarians, and parents to use. You can find it at http://www.tlgmusic.com .

  22. Melissa says:

    Thank you!!!

  23. Tracey says:

    Thanks for this post because this is something I’ve been struggling with. I use prerecorded music for preschool story times but not often for the babies. I like letting parents know that it’s okay if you can’t sing, just hearing your voice is great for your baby. Also, there is not that much children’s music I actually like, so I often feel my heart isn’t in it. However,I do think it’s important for the babies to get some fine motor skill practice using shaker eggs and bells. So, what I’ve compromised on is playing CDs after the program and passing out bells and shakers then. This has the added benefit of giving me the opportunity to speak individually to each family.

  24. Melissa says:

    Really nice compromise, Tracey! Thanks for sharing your strategy. It’s good to have options!

  25. Sarah says:

    I currently run three different story times for ages birth through preschool with upwards of 74 participants at a single story time. And I have a voice which consistently brings in compliments from my story time participants. However, I deem this to be a problem, because they won’t sing with me. I have visited other story times with singers who aren’t maybe the best and all the kids and parents belt out the tunes with them. In mine, I am actually startled when I hear a prominent voice singing with me. I will see them all doing the actions, but if their singing I can’t hear them. I do believe this can be a drawback. Children need to hear the parent’s voice during story time and out. My only hope is they’ll sing to their children at home, even though they won’t with me. And I do quite frequently make mistakes when I’m trying new songs and still parents aren’t necessarily backing me up. Maybe I will try incorporating more recorded music with easy repeating lyrics and see if I hear more participation. Thanks for the post. It made me think a lot.

  26. easy says:

    Thanks for this post because this is something I’ve been struggling with. I use prerecorded music for preschool story times but not often for the babies. I like letting parents know that it’s okay if you can’t sing, just hearing your voice is great for your baby. Also, there is not that much children’s music I actually like, so I often feel my heart isn’t in it. However,I do think it’s important for the babies to get some fine motor skill practice using shaker eggs and bells. So, what I’ve compromised on is playing CDs after the program and passing out bells and shakers then. This has the added benefit of giving me the opportunity to speak individually to each family.

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