Every week on Wednesday I head to storytime. It’s challenging, rewarding, occasionally makes me want to tear my hair out, and is one element I have a lot of control over.

And chances are good that many traditional children’s librarians will tell you I’m doing it wrong. Generally speaking, I don’t do a craft every week, show a video, drag out new fingerplays, wear an apron, use handpuppets, make extensive use of feltboards, hand out a song sheet, give out a take home activity/sheet, or have a snack.

Why is this?

First, you have to keep in mind my audience. Though billed as a “pre-school” storytime, I have children from four months through five years. Most of the kids are in the two to five year range. Because this is our one storytime that doesn’t require sign up, I get different kids every week. Grandma brings her visiting grandchildren, parents who are in the building on a random Wednesday, everyone comes by. Such is not to say I don’t see several of the same kids week to week–my core group is about 7 children–but today I had 16 kids, at least six of whom I’d never seen before. Not being able to plan for specific age, ability, and numbers changes a lot of how one plans storytime. However, I’d probably only modify it heavily if I took on an 18 month and younger group.

So what do I do?

We start every week with a talk about the weather. What color is the sky? How does it feel outside? Did you wear a sweater? It’s something almost every child will respond to you about–even if they don’t know you. It’s subjective to each child and allows personality. It’s also a sneaky way to introduce vocabulary (words like overcast, foggy, muggy, and dreary).

Next I ask the kids what they think we might be reading about–based on the covers of the books. I always bring in more books than we have time to read so they have some options to take home. Usually a few of those books do follow them out of the room. I do this to encourage observation of the book covers that are in the room. I usually pull for a casual theme (cats, pigs, astronauts) and while they’re quick to catch the theme, often they’ll go for the details as well.

Note: Yes, I’m asking a lot of questions but if you ask a kid a question, he/she’s going to give you an answer. (Thank you Laura Numeroff)

Welcome Song: We sing the same song every week, and the majority of the regulars sing along. We wave hands and arms on the first two rounds and then the third round of the song gets changed up. Most popularly of late we’ve been waving our feet.

Read Books 1 and 2, possible rhyme or song in between.

Stretch Break: “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” –gets the kids up and moving, can be repeated at various speeds, most of the kids can sing it with you–all of the adults can. (And should.) If they are still squirmy a round of “Noble Duke of York” helps also.

Books 3 and 4, possible rhyme or song in between

Hand stamps

Announcements are fit in somewhere, either after book 3 or before/during hand stamps.

And this takes 35-40 minutes.

A lot of the reason it takes me so long is that I prefer to engage in a lot of dialogic reading. Before we even open the book, I’ll ask questions. My kids have quickly grasped that there is the title and author on the cover of the book and I’ve said the words “the illustrator, the person who drew the pictures, is…” more times than I’d care to count. One of my favorite “break up the monotony” tricks is to pick up a book incorrectly and to ask if we’re ready to read.

(Book is Upside-Down and Backwards)
“Are we ready to read?”
“No? Why not? What’s wrong with the book?” (Identify it as upsidedown)
(Book is Backwards)
“Now are we ready? No? What’s wrong?”
(Book is front ways but again, upside down)

This can easily go one for several questions. But I can sneak in the fact that an English language book opens to the left and pages turn from the right to the left hand side. The letters are upside down. The kids may recognize that it’s not correct but not know why, and it’s my job to fill in the blanks. You can also make sure they’re not totally onto the game by asking with a book that IS correct and then go through the “Are the letters right side up? Does a book open this way ?”

Once we get into the book I will continue to ask questions or invite other responses. “How do you think the pigeon feels?” (We heard that a lot last Tuesday–I read all Mo Willem books for storytime) “What color is the….?” “What is he holding?”

or one of my more recent favorites “What do you see?” This works best one small group days where I can ask them to come up and tell/show me/us what they see on the page. On an intricate page, that can be a lot! Each kid wants to identify something different. Whatever they say they see, I reaffirm it, repeating it back to them in a positive manner. This means that sometimes I’m saying utterly ridiculous things that aren’t what an adult would identify in a picture at all (e.g. a round shape sticking out of the water–I recognize it as the pig’s belly in a swimsuit but to Patron Age 2.5 it’s an Easter egg).

It sounds very simple, and it is. There’s just enough structure that the kids have a general idea of what we’ll do each week. And a clean simple format like this allows me to add things in without it becoming overwhelming to the parents or the children (or me). Adding in traditional songs like Wheels on the Bus or Pattycake allow the parents to take the song home with them. I prefer to keep flannel boards and fingerplays to a minimum. The kids don’t usually remember the fingerplay three minutes after we’ve finished it so I’d rather look for an effective book than an ineffective rhyme. Flannel boards are similar fun–occasionally. And while a craft is a wonderful addition–I’ve also been in complete burnout because of trying to come up with crafts that will go together quickly and might actually make it home.

I do like to focus a little more on early literacy and that’s where a lot of what I DO do comes in. Asking questions, introducing them to words like author and illustrator, talking about how to hold a book. Bringing in strange vocabulary and encourage the kids to read wordless books. It’s different from any other children’s librarian I know and different from how my coworkers do it but so far, the kids seem to enjoy it.

So feel free to join us on Wednesday morning and welcome to storytime.

Today, we’re going to read stories.