Advice for New Storytime Providers

…from those who aren’t so new at it.

Last week we taught one of our regular “storytime basics” classes to staff at my library who are preparing to do storytimes for the first time. The day before the class, I sent this plea to Twitter and the Flannel Friday Facebook page:

“Teaching a class to 9 newbie storytime peeps tomorrow! What’s your ONE PIECE OF ESSENTIAL ADVICE to someone just starting out?”

Boy, did I get some great stuff. In no particular order, here’s what everyone had to say.

(When I knew Twitter handles and blogs off the top of my head, I included them. If I haven’t made all the connections among your online personas here, let me know, and I will add them in!)

My advice–be flexible, if it’s not working, move on! Oh, and don’t forget to have fun!
–Tracey | Twitter: @tcy28 Blog:

Storytime themes are a tool, not a prison. Early on, themes helped [me] discover material, now I use what works whether it fits or not. [Also,] allow yourself AND your [storytime] plan to be FLEXIBLE. When I was new I did a lot of “This or This” in my plans so I could adjust.
–Anna | Twitter: @opinionsbyanna Blog:

Love what you do. If you love your material, you’ll love using it. And just as importantly, you have to LOVE your audience. When you connect with them, it’s one of the great highs in life!!!
–Lisa | Twitter: @librarylady61

Don’t try to imitate or be another storyteller. Let your personality shine through, bring something diff[erent], and be yourself! 🙂
–Tera | Twitter: @teramichelle

Go with the flow! Sometimes a storytime works, and sometimes it flops. Don’t beat yourself up when the flops do happen!
–Michelle | Twitter: @michelleannlib

If the book’s not working, ditch it and move on.
–Marfita | Twitter: @marfita

If I may add another: mentally or physically, mark out places where you should not break the author’s spell. e.g. “See, the duck is here,” is fine at some places, but when story and prosody are in full swing, keep reading, THEN go back to point out, clarify, etc. as needed.
–John | Twitter: @JohnBarnesSF

Movement – do some activities that make movement – when your crowd gets restless have something silly to do that will hold their attention for a moment and they can settle down for the rest of the activity.
–Deborah | Flannel Friday Facebook group

My advice is be yourself! I know it sounds cheesy, but when I started out, I had people trying to convince me that their way of doing story time is the only way, and I went home in tears because I couldn’t fit that mold. Sure, you’ll want some of the basics to be the same no matter who is doing the program, but the most valuable thing I’ve learned in my year of doing story times is that you should do what makes you comfortable, what you like, and what makes you feel confident in front of an audience. Because what people really fall in love with, as much as the stories and activities, is the human connection they make with the story time provider.
–Katie | Twitter: @sharingsoda Blog:

If a book has a great story but is too long, don’t be afraid to paperclip pages together. It’s not a crime to skip pages!!
–Jen | Twitter: @happylilcloud

No matter how awesomely fun you prepared your storytime to be, there are going to be days when you have to abandon ship and come up with a new plan on the spot to adapt to the group you have. It’s a lot easier to change your plans than to desperately try to get the group you have on board. You’ll have more fun and they will too.
–Amy | Flannel Friday Facebook group

Gentle and quiet or Let’s put on a show — either style is right, if it’s right for you. Observe different storytellers to settle on what works for you! [Also], it’s about the joy of the literature. Remember that!
–Sharon | Twitter: @ReadingChick Blog:

Connect with your audience & get to know them. Be relatable. If you make a mistake, laugh. And keep going.
–Anne | Twitter: @sotomorrow Blog:

Everyone has their own style and the trick is to find yours. Choose books that you really like and that will shine through. If you’re lukewarm about a book, the kids can tell! Try and be silly if you can – the kids do NOT judge and will love you if you are!
–Mary | Twitter: @daisycakes Blog:

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t have high attendance at first. You’ll build a following the more you do storytime, and before you know it, your classes will be well attended.
–Mollie | Twitter: @molliekay Blog:

If you mess up, no one cares! They don’t know that you forgot a line of the fingerplay, they don’t know that you skipped an activity because everyone was restless. In one of my first groups, I turned too many pages, I said “Whoops!” and went back. One of my kids replied, “I do that all the time, Miss Katie.”
–Katie | Twitter: @katietweetsya Blog:

Don’t be wedded to a theme. When I was a newbie, I’d pick my theme first and then try to find stuff to fit it. Some themes are cute or clever, but too hard to find age-appropriate books for. My storytimes got much better when I started with a really excellent book and built a storytime around it. MUCH better than picking a mediocre book or one that’s not well-suited to the age group just because it fits.
—Andrea | Flannel Friday Facebook group

Love the books. that’s what they will pick up on, I think this has been said already in several ways. And read loud enough for all to hear but don’t shout at them. 🙂
–Angela | Flannel Friday Facebook group

Only use books you love, love, LOVE!
–Holly | Twitter: @codykidsread

This entry was posted in Storytime & Programs, Training and Mentoring. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Advice for New Storytime Providers

  1. Mary says:

    This is all VERY HELPFUL advice! Mind if I link to this from my blog?

  2. Melissa says:

    Link away!

  3. Barbara Huff says:

    Thanks for sharing these! I have one to add to the list.

    Have a fun movement activity, song or rhyme in your back pocket at all times to use when you need to redirect the “squirrely whirlys”. It’s not life or death, it’s STORY TIME!

  4. Laura says:

    I’ve been doing baby and toddler programs for 7 years but sometimes I need some new inspiration, ideas, and helpful hints. Sometimes I even still feel like a beginner! Thanks for all your helpful info and enthusiasm! I’m so glad that I discovered your blog!

  5. Melissa says:

    Laura, thank you! I think keeping a “beginner’s brain” is one of the best things we can do for our storytimes. Have a happy new year full of fabulous storytimes and happy babies, and let me know what new things you try!

  6. Thanks for compiling these tips! I’m bookmarking this to share with new Children’s Librarians.

  7. Larissa Stretton says:


    Thank you so much for your website…it is an amazing help!!! I landed my dream job working in my hometown library and so want to do a wonderful job. I have worked at a living history museum for 5 years, even doing a storytime for two years while there (although all the books had to be farm/history related..thankfully there are a ton of farm books along with a craft) so I am comfortable in front of all ages of people. It was a mixed group, but now I am required to do a weekly storytime for three different age groups 4-5 down to 0-23 months. Because I care so much, I’m nervous and your site has been incredibly helpful!! Thank you!

  8. Melissa says:

    Yahoo!!! Hooray for great new jobs. Hooray for more storytimes! You are going to do a great job. I am glad you found some help here on Mel’s Desk! Let us know how it goes!

  9. Pingback: This week’s Trifle: Gala Darling, Victoria Beckham, and Librarianship at s a r a h s a x t o n . c o m / b l o g

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