Here’s the last in a short series of posts outlining the essential elements of successful storytimes. Of course, these are MY essential elements…yours may be different & I would love to hear what they are!
I’m wrapping up the list with the element of flexibility. I’ve talked about loving storytime, knowing the material, and engagement, and you’ve heard how I consider storytime to be a performance. Well, just as with any live performance, things don’t always go according to plan. Being ready and willing to adapt as we go, as we plan and as we present, will help us deliver better storytimes.
Respond To Your Needs
Storytime doesn’t exist in a vacuum! Our ability to plan and perform is affected by what else is going on in our work week or our home life. We should be ready to adapt our storytime plans based on our particular needs that day, or week, or month.
If much of your time is currently consumed by a special project, try not to stress yourself out by planning brand-new or demanding storytimes for awhile; rely on old favorites for a few weeks. (If you don’t currently keep a paper or digital record or file of your past storytimes, I highly recommend that you do!) If you’ve been out sick or are having a low-energy day, try switching in quieter songs, or present a rhyme as a seated fingerplay instead of a standing action rhyme.
Maybe you’ve been tripping over your own tongue lately when reciting rhymes; you can give rhymes a break and use activities for which you don’t have to memorize anything for a week or two. Many of us have to do many storytimes during each week–rather than do the same thing over and over, try adding extra activities and books to your plan, so you can easily switch to new things if you feel yourself getting bored. Or maybe you get too worn out if you change things up too often, and it’s better for you to stick to the same plan every day.
The point is to try to be aware of the factors that affect our storytimes, and experiment to discover what adjustments will make the process and the presentation as smooth as possible.
Respond to Your Audience’s Needs
Of course, we’re not the only ones in the equation! Being flexible also means being prepared to adjust our storytimes to our audience’s needs. We don’t have to invent a solution on the fly, although I know some amazing storytime providers who can. We can prepare some possible adjustments ahead of time, and be ready just in case.
For instance, if you give drop-in or all-ages storytimes, you know that one week you can have a much younger crowd overall, and the next week wind up with all big kids. Even my baby storytimes can vary a bit—we have weekly registration and a birth-24 month age range, so some weeks I might have mostly infants, and the next mostly walkers and talkers. Having an extra “older” and “younger” book next to me means that I can make a last-minute swap if I find myself looking at a different group than I expected!
Or perhaps you might go ahead and read the same book as you had planned, but adjust your presentation depending on your group. Often you can stretch a “toddler” book for a preschool crowd just by stopping and asking questions and making predictions together. Or maybe you might stop and comment and make predictions yourself, to help a younger group understand and enjoy a longer story.
There are lots of tactics and strategies for these types of adjustments. (Hmmm…sounds like another blog post!) I used to write down about five sure-fire ideas on an index card and keep it next to me. Then if I looked out on a supremely wiggly or disinterested group, and my mind went blank, I could glance at my card and prompt myself with something else to try.
Being flexible is important because it helps us acknowledge and accommodate our own changing personal needs. It helps us respond to the actual families we have in front of us, not the average, typical group we plan for. And making connections with our families—connections with books, with songs, with rhymes, with information, with us, and with the library—is what storytime is all about.