Adjusting Storytime On the Fly

Last week I talked about how important it is to be flexible and responsive to your audience during storytimes. There were a lot more examples about possible ways to do this than I wanted to squeeze into that (already) long post! So here’s a list of tricks I’ve used and read about for adjusting your storytime as you go. This list is SO not complete! What are your tips?

Adjusting “up” (your group is older than you planned)

  • Stop and ask open-ended questions as you go through the story
  • Ask the children to make predictions about what will happen next
  • After you’ve read the story once, go back, and have them retell the story to you as you turn the pages
  • If you’re singing a song like “Wheels on the Bus,” ask the children for ideas for additional verses
  • Add an action song (“Shake Your Sillies Out,” “Hokey Pokey,” etc.)
  • Do a cumulative chant such as “Button Factory” or “My Aunt Came Back.”
  • Tell a familiar story like “Three Little Bears,” but mix up the details and let them correct you. (“Once upon a time there was a family of rhinocerouses that lived in the woods…”)

Adjusting “down” (your group is younger than you planned)

  • Skip one of the books you had planned on reading
  • Stop and explain vocabulary words, or emphasize plot points
  • Count only 3 things instead of 5 for a flannel, or 5 things instead of 10
  • Sing only 2 or 3 verses of songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” or “Spider on the Floor”
  • Substitute an oldie but goodie such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for a less-familiar or a more complicated fingerplay
  • Or do the new fingerplay, but explain it all first, and then do it 2 or 3 times in a row

And how about adjusting for bigger or smaller storytimes than you expected? What do you do then?

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5 Responses to Adjusting Storytime On the Fly

  1. Amy says:

    One thing I do if I notice there are a lot of babies or younger children in the audience is either is make a point of saying “if your child can’t do the actions on their own, help them move their bodies,” or I’ll explain how you might do Itsy Bitsy Spider the “baby way” by crawling a spider up their child’s arm, drawing a circle on their tummy for the sun, etc.

    When I’m using songs, I also try to think ahead of ways I could modify them if I have younger kids who haven’t developed some of the skills needed to do the actions (like you talked about in your last post). I use an opening song by Peter and Ellen Allard for one of my groups, and one of the verses is blinking your eyes. For the younger kids, I say “or you can open and close your hands instead of blinking.”

  2. Anna says:

    Oooh, love this! I do a LOT of “on the fly.”
    My storytimes often include kids 0-6, so I use both groups of tips all the time. For a wide age range, I also add as many motions/sound effects as possible–especially for a longer book. The littles are engaged by the participation, and the more in-depth story engages the older kids. I always lead with my longest/most complicated book and get easier from there.

    I also don’t require registration, so my storytime attendance ranges from 11-35 kids. For an extra-small group, I’ll let the kids participate more (they can put pieces on the flannel board etc.) and I’ll let them lead more–Should we sing, or read another story? What story should we read? Sometimes I’ll sit down on the floor with them. Usually a ST with a smaller group is shorter and we go to craft sooner. If they just aren’t into it, that’s ok!

    For an extra large group, I’ll sub out anything new/complicated/I’m not familiar with for things I know by heart/tried and true. It’s a lot more people to keep engaged, so I make sure everything I’m doing is BIG and attention-grabbing. I add in more songs when I have an extra large group–especially silly boisterous movement songs and activities, and usually will read less books than originally planned. Better to read less and keep them engaged than painfully slogging through a book after you’ve lost their attention.

  3. Linda says:

    I’ve been doing Silverhair and the Three Kangaroos for years. “Someone’s been skiing on my bed!”

  4. Melissa says:

    Ladies, these are fabulous ideas!

    Amy, I love your language for the baby’s grownups…”Help them move their bodies” and doing things the “baby way.” It’s always good to explicitly tell the adults it’s OK to do things differently, since some of them are really keyed in to doing things the “right way” even when we know there isn’t a “right way.” Thinking ahead about ways to adapt our activities is a great strategy…better to be prepared and not need to change anything than to feel like something’s not working and not have a plan!

    Anna, all your thoughts are great…I should start a second On the Fly list to capture the bigger/smaller tips!

    Linda–Wish I could hear the whole version of Silverhair, since the skiing on the bed already had me laughing out loud!

  5. Love all of the ideas! Great post!
    The thing I remember the most from my Early Childhood Education classes was the tip:

    “Be prepared and be flexible.”

    That is my storytime motto ~ even though at the time my professor shared it, I thought it was contradictory. :o/ I was so young and naive! LOL!

    Over the years of working with young children and their families, I have come to recognize that being prepared and flexible is actually complimentary ~
    The more prepared you are, the more flexible you can be.
    The more flexible you are, the more prepared you feel.

    My life as a storytime presentator is so much easier with this motto! :o)

    Here is a specific tip I use in my preparation that helps me switch things up on the fly: Always think ahead about things that your audience can be encouraged to do during the reading of a book.

    For example, ask them to repeat a phrase with you or ask them to make the sound of each animal as it is introduced into the story. Asking your audience to participate in this way has them more focused on your story/book. They don’t want to miss that chance to say, “Eeewww!” everytime the little old lady eats a bug or to say “Meow” or “Baa” when the story brings in a cat or a sheep. This tip works quite well with all ages and is such a simple thing to add to your storytime fun. :o)

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