What Not To Do?

So I am having such a good time with this conversation about Best Practices in storytime! Thanks to everyone who has added their two cents, either online or in person. I have so much to ponder! I feel like Pooh Bear going, “Think think think think.”

I am starting to draft my own take on a Best Practices in Storytime list and hope you have a list forming of your own. I’m not quite there yet, though, and am craving even more input! If you are, too, here’s another angle for us to take:

Thanks to my colleague Bob for suggesting a new train of thought in a recent Twitter conversation. He said that sometimes focusing on what makes for a bad storytime can be productive, too. Rather than saying, “You must do X,” you say, “Craft your own approach, just avoid doing Y.” This can give staff some latitude to create their own storytime style.

So how about what NOT to do in storytime?

    Don’t choose bad books?
    Don’t mumble?
    Don’t run longer than 30 minutes?

This list would be just as subjective as a best practices list, wouldn’t it? What have you been told not to do? Do you agree with that advice?

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29 Responses to What Not To Do?

  1. Anne says:

    Miss Anne’s first rule of storytime: It’s OK as long as Miss Anne is not crying.

  2. Melissa says:

    LOL Anne! Talk about covering the essentials!

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  4. Tracey says:

    Oh, here’s one. Don’t just barrel through a book you’re reading during storytime without interacting or at least reacting in some way to the book and/or to the kids. I had a supervisor once who did this–she managed to make Where the Wild Things Are no fun to listen to! Not good.

    Also, don’t read a book woodenly, without expression. Character voices aren’t necessary but read a book using not just your voice but with your face and your body too. That’s what makes reading out loud so much fun!

  5. Melissa says:

    Yes! We need to respect the book and the audience and pay them both the compliment of spending time and energy on them.

  6. Abby says:

    Don’t just use books! I was always told to mix it up during storytime – use songs, rhymes, felt stories, props, etc.

  7. Melissa says:

    That’s a good one! This is my advice to new storytime providers as well!

    And yet, at my first job out of library school, I worked for a system whose storytimes were JUST BOOKS. We sat in an open area every day for 45 minutes reading picture books, and families would drop in and out and stay for as many books as they wanted. I’ve never done anything like it before or since, and that library has since changed its approach. But I have to admit that it grew on me as a concept. There was a certain appeal in choosing fabulous books and presenting them well, with lots of expression, dialogic reading, and conversations about unexpected connections between the titles, without worrying about pulling anything else together. I keep thinking this would be a nice service to offer alongside our traditional storytimes…a way to showcase and market great books and authors!

    We do tell our staff to look for opportunities to “Stop Drop and Read” with our young patrons…if there are kids in the children’s area, and you have a minute, why not sit down with them a book, if it’s okay with their caregivers? Of course, that’s predicated on the incredible idea of “having a minute,” but it can be fun when it happens.

    Thanks Abby!

    Anybody else have an experience like that with storytime?

  8. Anne says:

    I’m not sure a lot of these things are hard and fast rules either (OK, my no crying rule is!).

    I could easily go over 30 minutes if you include the other non-story activities at some of my storytimes (might spend half that much time just playing parachute & sometimes we do a craft).

    Bad books is pretty subjective too (remember that SLJ review of Pete the Cat? You can read it on Pete’s Amazon page. Clearly I see something in Mr. Pete’s story that the SLJ reviewer did not).

    Although mumbling is probably best avoided (unless you’re mumbling for some sort of dramatic effect).

    I do think there is a lot of room for your own personality/style but I think there should be library-wide goals for each storytime so things have a purpose reflecting the library’s mission. It’s OK to have fun, but how educational should we be? It’s also fun to watch Dora (maybe) but does your system frown on showing movies (or maybe they like you to incorporate quality Weston Woods-y productions sometimes?_)

  9. Melissa says:

    Anne, I am having such a good time trying to think of absolutes and then coming up with exceptions to the rule, just like you do here. It’s been a very clarifying exercise!

  10. Anne says:

    I apparently have a lot of thoughts, but I wanted to say that I think it is tremendously helpful for a new librarian to observe a few storytimes performed by different presenters before attempting to put on his/her own.

    And then, of course, it is preferable for the newbie to be observed by a veteran and get some feedback. Maybe they can even “team-teach” for a few sessions so the newbie doesn’t feel like “OMG everyone is watching me and I’m all alone!”

  11. Melissa says:

    Keep the good thoughts coming! It’s not like we’re going to run out of room!

    I love the idea of watching veterans if at all possible. When you’re new, sometimes you really have no idea what you might like to do or not until you see it in action. And that’s not just good advice for newbies! I’ve been doing storytimes for over ten years and I learn something new every storytime I watch. We are working with supervisors in our district to encourage as much storytime visiting as possible, and if we’re lucky we’ll be able to require one off-site observation a year to really get folks to think outside the box.

    Co-presenting is such a wonderful way to ease an inexperienced person into storytime. The challenge is always finding room in the schedule for both staff members to be off the floor at the same time!

    Thanks Anne!

  12. Tracey says:

    I am the first to drop a book and sing You Are My Sunshine or Head, Shoulders in storytime, and I have an unhealthy love of flannelboards, but I also love love love the idea of taking the opportunity to just read, plain and simple. In fact, if anyone wants to come over, I will read you the book of your choice right now. ๐Ÿ™‚ Wouldn’t that be a fun storytime? Advertise (or not, spontaneous would work too) and call it something fun, preselect a great-to-read-outloud bunch of books (making sure you can match ages and enthusiasm levels) and let the kids decide which one(s) they want to hear, then go to town and dialogic-read your heart out! *Someone hire me and let me do this* ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Melissa says:

    Tracey, I would hire you in a minute!

    And really, is there such a thing as an “unhealthy” love of flannelboards?

    When I worked at a bookstore, we used to do “new book showcases” and I think a reading-only storytime could work in the same way…show patrons what books they might like to give as gifts, or help them find new authors to explore with their kids, or give them an opportunity to see how they can read expressively to their kids.

    Or, what about a program for all those parents who come in and say, “I have to read to my daughter’s class! What do I choose?” You could do a presentation in August on great books and reading tips for them!

  14. marfita says:

    Awww, some really good books are tear-jerkers, no matter how many times I read them. So I warn the kids that “miss marf might cry over this one!” There are a couple of examples of this, but they aren’t springing to mind at the moment.

    Here’s a Don’t that should stick: Don’t simplify the vocab! Shortening the story or paraphrasing if interest flags is one thing. I have censored the more gruesome bits of In the woods: who’s been here?, depending on the age of the group. But I always use the hard words and take the time to make them understandable, either by my actions, pairing it with a simpler synonym, or flat-out defining it quickly.
    I used Robert Sabuda’s Christmas pop-up today while waiting for the rest of the group to show up and the M in this book stands for “manger.” I spent a little time explaining what a manger is (and how we don’t eat baby Jesus). I even have to explain “icicles” to these SCians. At age 3 and 4 they might not have seen any ice that wasn’t in swee’tea. Because we were waiting and there was no plotline, I could dawdle over these words. In fact, I went over the book two more times by request.

    Don’t try to do something unprepared. I violated this just this morning. I was listening to one of my disreputable xmas cds and heard Art Carney’s story of the Doodle-ee-bop. I just knew they’d love the silly name of this mysterious toy and there are no more xmas storytimes after this week so I just had to use it. I goofed it up a bit, but they didn’t seem to notice. It was worth listening to my Storytime Conscience screaming imprecations in the background to see them giggle.
    I had practiced a cut-and-tell until I thought I knew it and still messed it up last week. So preparation might not be as adequate as you think. Just learn to … adapt, adopt, and improve! Heh!

  15. Anne says:

    I thought I was the only one with a flannel board sickness. I have spent many happy ref hours cutting out felt and laminating clip art. Good times!

  16. Barbara Huff says:

    Please, please, please do NOT rush the pictures by the kids so fast that they focus only after you have gone by. This really drives me crazy when people hold up the book and before I have time to see what they are talking about the book is gone. Some kids just take longer than others to focus. This kid included! ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Erin says:

    This is just my list of do’s and dont’s ive used over the years.
    Never go into a storytime without a plan (a plan b always good too). Winging it might sound fun to some but, they are rarely a good. It’s good to have a few go to storytimes in your supplies for emergencies ( boss forgot to tell you a group was coming etc…)
    Never be afraid to put down a book that isn’t working doesn’t mean it’s a bad book it just isn’t working for this group.
    Always have a good mix books, fingerplays, flannels and props.
    Remember to pause in books with repeating words to give the kids a chance to sat the word or phrase (or parents in younger groups).
    Have fun with the literacy skills. Make the featured one into a game or a song. Something to make it interactive. Flannel boards are great for this.
    Always smile you even on a rotten day a smile in storytime goes a long way.
    Try not to tell a child they are wrong. If you put a square on the board and they say it’s a circle correct them in a fun manner.
    Don’t be afraid to act silly. If you aren’t willing to stand up and go all out while singing the wheels on the bus choose something else.
    If at all possible give each kid a few seconds of personal time at the end. Use their name and thank them for coming tell them you hope they come back. It makes them feel special and builds good kid/librarian relationships.

  18. marfita says:

    Great comments, Erin!

  19. Melissa says:

    Super list, Erin! I agree with them all–I like seeing a couple of things no one else has mentioned yet, such as finding time for each child, and smiling even if you don’t feel like it. We are performers and sometimes we have to fake it till we make it! The kids don’t care if we are feeling grumpy. They deserve a good show.

    I like the idea that a plan doesn’t mean you have to follow it exactly. Sometimes you will alter it and sometimes you will switch to another plan. Just today a colleague said, “Whenever you see a group of kids having a good time in a program, you know that somebody put a lot of thought and effort into making that happen.”

  20. sharon says:

    I may be over-the-top entertaining and you may approach it with a gentler voice. Both are okay. Know what kind of story time you are comfortable with. Own it.

    Be honest. I was nervous the first time I did a magic envelope. The kids (and adults) applauded when I was successful. Children know what it’s like to try something new for the first time. I think it’s comforting for a child to see an adult try something new and succeed — or fail and know it’s okay.

    story time is about Language acquisition. don’t be afraid to use big words and repeat them often.

    When in doubt, do 2 songs. It’s a good way to stretch things out.

    I’ve recently discovered it’s okay to repeat a book.

    mix up your materials. There have been storytimes, I’ve done one actual, physical book.

  21. Melissa says:

    Hey, Sharon! These are wonderful reminders. I love “be honest.” I think that’s part of the “performance” piece of storytime. If we are authentic, then our audience responds to that. That fits right in with “own your storytime.” The kids deserve someone who is committed to giving them the best they can. And you know how much I appreciate the early literacy piece!

    Thank you for adding to the conversation!

    PS. What’s a magic envelope????

  22. Tracey says:

    Don’t forget the adult caregivers at your storytimes. Over the years, I had developed the tendency to do storytime for the kids and ignore their caregivers, so when I started to emphasize early literacy techniques for the caregivers, it was quite the transition for me. But storytime can be for the adults too.

  23. Melissa says:

    This is a big one at our district, Tracey! We are hoping to model and share early literacy activities during storytime, so we really encourage providers to include the grownups in their sphere of attention. It can be tricky to split your attention between 2 audiences, but valuable too.

  24. Sharon says:

    Magic Envelope: the parts make the whole!

    for christmas magic envelope you’d need clipart of snow, a tree, some popcorn, presents, ornaments etc.

    you put it in one part of an 8.5 x 11 envelope…say some magic words Fa la la la la or something Christmasy

    then the magic happens… in another envelope that’s taped together with the flap hidden is a picture of a christmas tree. Viola. the parts make the whole. Did I explain that well?

  25. Melissa says:

    Cool! I think I get it…you put several separate images into the first envelope, wave your magic wand, and out of the second envelope you take one picture that incorporates all the different ideas in the first envelope? What fun! This is TOTALLY new to me, I love new ideas! Did you ever post about this idea on your blog? I’d love to see pictures!!!

  26. michelle says:

    Sometime I’ve read the same book so many times throughout the week that as I’m reading it my mind starts to wander and I begin to just read words; while I’m mentally making my grocery list I’ve lost my little listeners as well. Staying focused on the story makes it authentic for them.

  27. Melissa says:

    Absolutely! That’s definitely a challenge for those of us who do lots of storytimes during the week. If we aren’t engaged, there’s no reason for our kids to stay involved either. Thanks!

  28. I’ve been doing storytimes for 20+ years and never get bored…and, while occasionally a storytime doesn’t go well (cranky children happen), most of the time the energy is palpable. My programs generally run about 30 minutes plus a 5-6 minute Weston Woods DVD story at the end. I’m always finding new things to add — sign-language songs (I call it “dancing with our hands”), deliberately using numeracy elements (research shows that children’s mathematical skills at kindergarten are a very strong indicator of future academic success), interactive storytelling with puppets and props, using songs and stories with repeated refrains so the kids join in, and much more. I’ve started a blog of my storytime plans at carolsimonlevin.blogspot.com — working hard to post years of backlog — but I’m also eager to connect with great ideas from other people — and welcome links and suggestions in the comment box! It is great that we have so many resources for sharing…and that Mel has provided us this list as well!

  29. Jessica Kaercher says:

    I’m learning so much from everyone’s comments! I’m curious about ways you all transition to the different books, flannel boards, etc. (especially if not going with the theme). I find this to be the most challenging. What’s your advice?

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