Essential Elements of Storytime: Flexibility

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.

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7 Responses to Essential Elements of Storytime: Flexibility

  1. Kendra says:

    Yes! For toddler storytime, especially, I tell people the #1 thing is being flexible. You might just have to ditch a book, or do a different one so bring a couple extras to sub in, just in case. Or like I did this week, you might totally change themes based on your mood that morning (though I don’t advise doing that!). With back to back storytimes for the same age group I’m able to swap things out in between based on the first group’s reaction to it. Almost every time I leave out a book, or read a different one for the second group. And the songs will vary as well. Just gotta feel the crowd (this also goes with your performance and engagement pieces!).
    SO glad you did this series. Will be making it required reading for anyone I ever train for storytime.

  2. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much! “Feeling the crowd” is such a nebulous thing to say, but it’s exactly what happens…if you can think of any specifics to share about what this means for you, please do, we’ll all be listening! I’m building a post for next week on tips & tricks for adjusting on the fly…hoping for lots of comments and input on that one!

  3. Laura says:

    I try to be flexible with storytimes and have more things planned than I actually have time for. For preschool storytime I will choose 5 or 6 books and sometimes pick which one I am going to read based on the mood or the age of the crowd. If they’re especially wiggly I might do an action rhyme where they can get up and move, and I’ll have a quieter fingerplay in mind if there is a larger group than normal or they are all sitting nicely and paying attention. The storytime space isn’t very large and I don’t want to do a vigorous action rhyme and have the kids stepping on each other if there are a lot.
    Baby storytime runs around 25 minutes, but if they get squirmy and fussy I will and have cut it short.
    I LOVE these blog posts! They are extremely helpful and informative. I always love hearing how other library people conduct their storytimes.

  4. Melissa says:

    Thank you! I had a great time doing the thinking for this series and coming up with my top 5 essentials. These are great tips for making adjustments during storytime! Watch next week for a post about just this–I hope to gather lots of that input from other storytime pros so we can build up a super list to share.

  5. Anne says:

    One of the really interesting things for me lately is adapting to doing storytime while expecting a baby. Being in the 3rd trimester has made it difficult to do some of the more active activities that we used to do at ST. We definitely do a lot less jumping and dancing these days.

  6. Melissa says:

    I believe it! This is definitely an adjustment!

  7. LOL! Melissa, I guess I am reading your post backwards so I mentioned my take on flexibiity in my comment on your most recent post. Guess I should start your posts at the beginning. ;o)

    Anne, one of the years that I taught preschool, I was pregnant and due the first day of our summer vacation. It was a very unusual year ~ to say the least!

    I wasn’t sure I would make it all the way through to my due date because I had not worked as a preschool teacher with any of my other pregnancies.

    I wish you all the BEST with yor pregnancy and with your new little one! You will look back and wonder how you made it through those storytimes! AND you might be surprised at how smart your little one is. S/he has been absorbing all those songs, fingerplays, and books from the very beginning. LOL!

    Btw, my son waited until I finished teaching for the year and he arrived on his due date! See smart baby! ;o)

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