The No-Prop No-Book No-Sweat Storytime

Do you ever have nightmares about storytime? I mean, literal, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-sweating nightmares? I do. Sometimes in my dream I have a huge group show up for storytime and no matter how much I try, I can’t make them hear me past the first row. (Which, if you’ve ever heard me in person, you know is a really silly thing for me to get stressed about, since my voice is really loud and years of marching band taught me how to breathe and project and usually the people in the front row want to be in the LAST row. Oh well.)

But most of the time when I have a storytime nightmare it’s this: I find myself in an unfamiliar library and I know I have storytime in a ridiculously short period of time, like, 3 minutes. And I’m running all over the place looking for the books I want to use and they’re not on the shelf and I don’t know where the flannelboard is or the supply room or even a chair to sit in and I just keep running and panicking until I wake up. Bleh.

Well, one time after one of those nightmares, I thought: I need a plan for a storytime that doesn’t need anything. Not one book, not one puppet, not one piece of felt. Then if I’m ever in a pinch, I can just sit down and launch into it, and wallah! No stress. So this idea has been kicking around for a long time (I think I remember talking to @sethers about it once a million years ago on Twitter) and I finally mapped it out. My rule was that it had to mimic a regular storytime experience as closely as possible, with all the bits and pieces and stories and songs and action stuff, rather than a storytelling experience, which is in my mind a completely different animal.


OPENING: Good Morning Song
[Long ago I adapted a Greg & Steve circle time song for storytime.]

Good morning, good morning, good morning to you
Good morning, good morning, good morning to you
It’s time for our stories, there’s so much to do
Good morning, good morning, good morning to you.

Are you ready to go on an adventure today? We’ve got lots of places to visit. But to get started, we’re going to have to cross a bridge. And have you ever heard what happened when the Billy Goats Gruff needed to cross a bridge?

STORY: Billy Goats Gruff

They made it across the bridge, didn’t they? What type of bridge do you think it was? Was it skinny? Long? Hmmm. Those are all good possibilities. Let’s see if we can be different kinds of bridges.

STRETCH: Bridges

Can you make a curve with your body? Put your feet on the floor and your hands in front of you. Now push your bottom in the air! [bear walk position] Good stretching! We’re being arch bridges now. What if we sit on our bottoms? Put your hands behind you and your feet in front of you…can you lift your bottom off the floor? [crab walk position] Now we’re suspension bridges! One more bridge…stand up and find a partner. Can you hold hands and raise them up? Now you’re a drawbridge…a drawbridge lifts up to let boats go underneath. Here I come, I’m a big boat…let go of your hands and lift them up so I can float by! Toot toot! Thank you! You were all super bridges. Why don’t we sit down and pretend to be boats now?

ACTION SONG: Row Row Row Your Boat

Let’s be rowboats. Rowboats have oars that you use to push the boat through the water. You sit and reach and pull and then sit and reach and pull again…like this! That’s it, good job. You guys know a song about a rowboat, so let’s sing it together.

Row row row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
Life is but a dream.

What if we’re on a really fast river? Can we row and sing quickly? [Sing again]
What if we’re on a really lazy river? Can we row and sing sloooooowly? [Sing again]

What did you see while we were rowing? Did you see any animals? I saw a bunch of cows eating the long grass on the riverbank. How about you? Oooh, lions? And dragons? Nice. Should we go looking for some other animals now? Why don’t we go on a bear hunt?

STORY: We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

Jump in bed and pull up the covers! We’re never going on a bear hunt again! … But wait a minute. There’s so many of us in this bed I’ll never get to sleep. Let’s roll over and see if we can make some room. Are you ready?


There were five in the bed and the little one said, “Roll over, roll over!”
So they all rolled over and ONE FELL OUT!

There were four in the bed…
There were three in the bed…
There were two in the bed…
There was one in the bed and the little one said, “Alone at last!”

Now I can get some sleep! Yawn! Everybody curl up and go to sleep…now yawn and stretch! Stretch your arms! Stretch your legs! It’s a beautiful day! I have another story about two friends who tried to visit each other on a beautiful day.

STORY: Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle
[I learned this story first at a Pam Schiller workshop, but it’s also in “What’ll I Do With the Baby-O?” by Jane Cobb. It’s a great, simple story with easy actions for everyone to join in on. Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle are your thumbs, and their houses are your fists.]

Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle went walking up the hill and down the hill to visit each other, didn’t they? How else can we go visiting? Can we go in a car? Or a boat? Yes, sometimes in a plane. How about a train? Let’s make our fingers into a train.

FINGERPLAY: This Little Train

This little train runs up the track
It goes toot toot! And then runs back.
The other little train runs up the track
It goes toot toot! And then runs back.

[Run your pointer finger from your wrist to your shoulder, then when you say Toot toot! touch yourself on the nose. Repeat on the other side with the other finger & arm. Same nose probably though. 🙂 ]

Have you ever ridden on a train? There’s a fun train that goes up into the mountains and you can look at the trees and the roads while you ride. Have you ever ridden on a horse? Let’s sing a song about a lady who came through the mountains with six horses!

SONG: She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain

She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes
She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes
She’ll be comin’ round the mountain
She’ll be comin’ round the mountain
She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes

She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes…

What if she didn’t have horses? What if she rode in a racecar?

She’ll be driving in a racecar when she comes…

[Sing other verses…in a silver rocket…riding on a skateboard…]

CLOSING: The More We Get Together

The more we get together, together, together
The more we get together the happier we’ll be
For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends
The more we get together the happier we’ll be.

Thanks everyone for coming to storytime today! Next time Miss Melissa will have all her stuff with her. Pinky swear.

Have you ever had a storytime nightmare?

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23 Responses to The No-Prop No-Book No-Sweat Storytime

  1. Kendra says:

    Uh, Mel… after that storytime they won’t ever want you to bring your stuff again!
    This is so fun! I may have to “forget” my books and props very soon.

  2. Melissa says:

    I know, right? What a great way to show that you don’t need anything fancy to have fun!

  3. KathyK says:

    Some say intelligence is the ability to make connections. If so, this is brilliant! I am putting this in my “Do” file and really look forward to it. Thank you.

  4. Melissa says:

    Aw, thanks Kathy! If you really roadtest it let me know because I won’t be running it by my babies. 🙂

  5. Rick says:

    This is proof you can do a storytime anytime and anywhere! We are not bound by books, props or anything! Great motivation for memorizing tons of awesome stories, rhymes and songs.

    One of the benefits of having a toddler in the house is the fact that I have been able to memorize countless books, like Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You?. Now that I think about it, that would make for a great recitation.. no book needed. There is just the right amount of prompted interaction: “He can sound like a bee, Mr. Brown can buzzzz…. how about you? Can you go buzzzz, buzzzz?”

    My nightmares all take place after storytime.. when the parents come back to tell me the book I read is giving their kids nightmares. It’s usually Guji Guji. 🙁

  6. Melissa says:

    Rick, this is a great way to think about this! I went with traditional oral stories for this plan, but you’re right, there’s many picture book texts that would work memorized and told…it would be fun to gather a list somewhere. Sorry about Guji Guji…my worst picture book is Shadow by Marcia Brown. The cover scares me to death!

  7. Meg says:

    Oh, so many nightmares! Before each new session (we operate in five-week sessions), I inevitably have a nightmare that I am totally unprepared for story time. No mat on the floor. No CD player. And NO BOOKS!!! Yes, I know I could wing it (I did several times this summer when our story time volunteer was a no-show), but I really appreciate the suggestion that we can pull off story time even without mats, CD players, props and … GASP … books! Thanks, and hopefully I won’t have my usual nightmare next Monday before our first Autumn story time.

  8. I have definitely had story time nightmares! In mine, I am usually in an unfamiliar library and I have all my stuff, but I can’t find the story room. Often I can hear everyone in the room, waiting, but just can’t get to them. The other children’s librarian at my library reports that she has similar nightmares. I have done plenty of story times with just books and no other props, but never thought to plan one without books. I might have to give it a try – this post is great!

  9. Melissa says:

    Katie and Meg–what terrible nightmares–it must just go with the territory! I hope the nightmares hold off this fall and you have lots of great storytimes. If you do a no-book storytime, let us know!

  10. Oh well done! I used alot of storytelling in my storytimes (like including storytelling in every one) and wonder if that art is fading away for newer folks in the field. It has meant I am always prepared for storytimes – and letting kids picture a story with their own imaginations is a powerful literacy in a society that is rigid in providing imagery for kids. Imaginative literacy is the next frontier we need to tackle!

  11. Melissa says:

    Marge, yet another reason it drives me crazy I only have baby storytimes…would love to challenge myself to include more oral stories in my plans! I agree it’s great for children to listen and activate other ways of thinking and learning.

  12. Abby Johnson says:

    Melissa, I love this post!! That’s such a great idea to have this storytime plan in your back pocket. I, too, have had the storytime nightmares… Usually in mine, I can’t remember the words to the song I had planned to sing, I can’t find the books I want to use, and/or I have a huge unruly crowd and I can’t get everyone to settle down and pay attention.

  13. Melissa says:

    OH, the unruly crowd version! *shudders* As much as I don’t like anyone having nightmares, it’s kind of nice to know it’s not just me!

  14. Kelly Clark says:

    I really loved this post! I’m a great believer in always having a few oral stories “in my back pocket”. And as much as I love felts, puppets, etc and use them along with books in storytime, it’s quite liberating to know that if those resources were not available, storytime would still go on, and it would be fabulous!

  15. Melissa says:

    They could take away our stuff and we would STILL knock it OUT OF THE PARK! Thank you! My one longer book (in addition to Goldilocks, Three Pigs, etc) that I have down cold is Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock. <3

  16. Rick says:

    Oh… I’ve got another storytime nightmare. I’d like to hear other’s thoughts on this: I’m reading a book like “Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes” or doing a finger counting rhyme and a child starts crying because they have a different number of fingers or toes.

    This hasn’t ever happened to me… but I’m always worrying that it will. So many fingerplays focus on number of fingers. Surely this has happened to someone?

  17. Melissa says:

    Rick, I won’t read that book because of that issue–not because I’m afraid a child will cry, but because if I *did* have someone in the audience with a different number of fingers or toes, the ableist presumption of the book would embarrass me. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of 5 Little Pumpkins or something like that, though. Let me see if we can round up some other folks to weigh in on this one!

  18. Amy Koester says:

    Mel, this storytime plan is beyond fantastic. I think I’m going to use the premise–back pocket storytime elements–in trainings for staff both new and veteran. It’s ALWAYS a good idea to have go-to, ready-to-use program elements. ::rethinks fall outreach plans::

  19. Melissa says:

    Thanks Amy! It was super fun to put together. And a good reminder about how much I really do have “ready to go” at any time! Let me know what you do with your training so I can steal it back for ours. 🙂

  20. Mickie says:

    THIS. is brilliant!

  21. Melissa says:

    Thank you! It was fun to plan.

  22. Kim says:

    Great post! I’m glad I’m not the only one that has nightmares about storytime. Mine are often about not being prepared at all. I’m in my own library’s storytime room, but I forgot to pull books or pick songs and of course, the room is packed. I too find myself waking up in a panic about it. I love the idea of having an on-the-fly storytime in my back pocket just in case.

  23. Melissa says:

    Kim–I am discovering that most of us have those nightmares! I am interested that your version has you in your familiar room, just without all the things you need. Very nervewracking!

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