All professions have tools, and one mark of expertise is knowing how to choose the best tools for the job, and knowing how to use them well. For storytime providers, our tools include the books, songs, rhymes, and activities that we use in storytime. Selecting age-appropriate materials that work well for a group audience, and becoming thoroughly familiar with them, is a critical aspect of successful storytimes.
Know What Is Appropriate
To craft a storytime that is enjoyable and effective, we need to be aware of the characteristics of books, songs, and rhymes that make them developmentally appropriate for different ages of children.
I remember when I was just starting out with storytimes, and I wanted to share one of my favorite books with the group for a Food storytime. But “Bread and Jam for Frances” was just too long for the young preschoolers I had, and we were all drooping by the time I made it to the end of the story! Nowadays I save Frances for Kindergarten groups and choose stories like “All for Pie and Pie for All,” by David Martin for the younger kids.
I had a hard time writing this post, because there’s just so MUCH to say about selecting age-appropriate materials, and ultimately I can’t squeeze it all in to this post. But learning how long of a story a 1 year old group can sit through, versus a 3 year old group, versus a 5 year old group, is part of this process. We need to experiment, too, to find the right combination of stories for an all-ages or family storytime. And spending some time reading about what gross motor and fine motor skills a typical baby, toddler, or preschooler is likely to have mastered will help us choose fingerplays and action rhymes that will be enjoyable challenges and not frustrating experiences.
We also need to become familiar, through trial and error, with the kinds of materials that work well in a group setting. I love “Each Peach Pear Plum” by the Ahlbergs, but it’s too tricky for a large group–they can’t all get close enough to see the details and “spy” the characters the text is asking them to look for. Inviting one child to do all the motions in “From Head to Toe,” by Eric Carle, is a lot of fun–but when 20 kids are kicking like a donkey it’s a completely different situation!
So knowing our materials well and building an expertise for how they will work in a group helps create a successful storytime, but there’s another aspect of “knowing the material” that’s critical as well.
I know not everyone feels the same I as I do on this one, but I believe that the best presenters are the ones who do not have to look at their notes extensively or read song lyrics or rhymes off of cue cards. They know all the verses to the the songs they are going to sing. They’ve practiced all the motions to the fingerplays. They have read their books at least a couple times before storytime–possibly dozens of times if it’s an old favorite.
It takes more effort and preparation to become this familiar with the material, but when we are, it helps us give better storytimes. This is because it frees us up to pay closer attention to the audience, and gauge their reactions and their engagement. We can make better eye contact with the children who are listening to us, which helps them stay focused. I also think when we have our songs and rhymes memorized, it’s easier for us to invest the words we say with more expression and give them a more dynamic reading…something else that helps keep young children’s attention on us. Last but not least, when we KNOW we know what we’re doing, we feel more confident, and that confidence translates to a more effective presentation (which is another one of my essential elements).
So knowing our stuff, is, I think, an essential element of successful storytimes. What are your thoughts? Let us know! And come back next week to find out what else is on my list!