Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Seven Tips for Satisfying Library Preschool Programs

Pictured: Chester, my storytime monkey. Every year, I'd celebrate Chester's birthday on my birthday. Every year, Chester turned 3 years old, and he baked cardamom sugar cookies for the children and their caregivers.

MotherReader would like you to submit tips related to children's books for her November 2007 Carnival of Children's Literature. I didn't have any tips specifically related to children's literature this year, so I made some new ones. Please add your own library program tips in the comments section.

Seven Tips for Satisfying Library Preschool Programs

1) Start the opening song late. Before I had a child, I was incredulous that these caregivers couldn’t get it together to bring their children to the storytime room at 10:30 am for a mere 30 minute storytime. After I had a child, I understood the reasons for the tardiness. My solution: I would pretend to start the program with a warm-up song. By the time the late-comers arrived, they thought the storytime had already begun. At 10:35, after the warm-up song, I’d make any general announcements that I needed to convey, and then start the official opening song.

2) I used to have a number of guidelines for the caregivers before I began my programs. Now, I have just one: turn cell phones and pagers off. Everything else (the rowdiness of the children, the nannies chatting away in the back, the toddler grabbing the cardboard and construction displays off the walls) is gravy. In the end, no one can truly control a child, but for thirty minutes, a grownup can control electronic noises.

3) You really don’t need a specific theme. If a unifying theme helps you prepare a storytime, that’s great, but don’t choose mediocre books just so you can read 5 books about frogs or fingernails. Choose books for their pacing, their ability to convey plot in a short amount of time, and how much you yourself enjoy the books. If you need something to unify them, there’s always “And now, for something completely different!”

4) Read your picture-books ahead of time. I cannot stress this enough. The one time you think, “Oh, I’m sure this book will be just fine” will be the one time you realize midway that the book is tedious, too long, or simply too weird for you at that juncture.

5) While some people are not comfortable with their singing voices, I prefer the storytime leader’s own natural voice, no matter how weak it may be, over playing recorded music. Whether you play an instrument or rely on your voice alone, when you lead the audience in a song, you are the one in charge. Besides, if you’re playing prerecorded music, there will always be the young toddler who persists in crawling behind you to unplug the player.

6) “Eensy Weensy Spider” often calms a fussy room. For slightly older kids, suddenly bursting into “Simon Says” will compel the room to order. I don’t know what it is about “Simon Says,” except that children don't want to be caught putting their hands on their heads if Simon didn’t Say for them to do it. The mortification is too much to bear.

7) Have a good ending song or rhyme. All flaws are forgiven with an ending that helps everyone walk out feeling good. I'm a fan of "Roly Poly" for the wee ones, and a song or poem in 3/4 time for the older ones.

A few of my favorite picture books for preschool storytimes:

Zzzing, Zzzng, Zzzng! --Phyllis Gershator
Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County--Janice N. Harrington (long)
Mama Don’t Allow—Thatcher Hurd
Round Trip—Ann Jonas
The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle—Margaret Read MacDonald (long)
Flossie and the Fox-- Patricia McKissack
Guys From Space—Daniel Pinkwater
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World—Marjorie Priceman
Saving Sweetness---Diane Stanley (long)
Twenty Four Robbers—Audrey Wood


Anonymous said...

Awesome tips. I like how you added to be sure to pick books you yourself enjoy reading.

As for point #5, I'm all for someone singing their heart out, even if they can't, but, man, one librarian at a story time I attend...well, I just have to sit far away. I'm sorry, but she sounds like, I dunno, a cow in heat. It's really bad. She challenges my beliefs on singing loud even if you can't. I guess, actually, it'd be one thing if she sang badly-but-with-pride, but she just sings very lowly and very, very off-key.

Now I sound like a jerk, but, well, it's bad!

Saints and Spinners said...

Jules: I've never heard a cow in heat, but I may have to amend #5 to say, "If you can't sing, chant!"

Philip said...

Who is Simon, anyhow, and how come he gets to say what people do?

Saints and Spinners said...

Phil: I've always wondered the same thing myself.

Rebecca Hickman said...

I agree wholeheartedly. The best way to control a group is to be engaging--not to rattle off a list of rules.

Saints and Spinners said...

40 Forever: When I was a newbie librarian, there was a book that was supposed to be indespensible for storytimes. However, the list of rules was the equivalent of a straitjacket. I had someone posted to stand guard so that latecomers could not interrupt the procedings. Hah! It took someone older and wiser than I to point out that I needed to restructure the program so that it could accomodate latecomers. Whether we like it or not, the library storytime as a hallowed space vanished with the advent of television. (I can't imagine actually allowing a few minutes for quiet reflection between each story, as my storytelling textbook recommends. No such thing would actually happen.)

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Chester? Unless I am very much mistaken the photo was of our old friend B.Gorilla Esquire. Still living in Seattle's urban jungle?

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Great tips! With little ones I find that anything can be put to music and things go much smoother when one is singing. Doesn't matter how good your voice is, in my experience. I have had kids out-sing me!

Lone Star Ma said...

I agree about the rules. I most like librarians who most like kids. Our old children's librarian was great and we loved her, but I could tell she didn't have kids of her own by the frequency with which she redirected touchy toddlers. When she was promoted to branch manager, we got a children's librarian who is a grandma (she used to be the librarian at my older daughter's elementary school). She's not as giddy or silly or inventive as the career-focused youngsters, perhaps, but she gets kids and likes them. She's laid back and I think I like that better than any master-performer.

Abby said...

I heartily second tip #4. It's never happened to me, but one of my professors in library school told about a time she picked out a picture book about a dog to read in storytime... only to realize in the last pages that the dog in this particular book died. O_o

Thanks for the tips and book suggestions!! I'm totally trying out Simon Says with our kindergarten group in the spring...

Anne said...

These are great! I personally love #5 the most. One day I will be proud of my awful voice!

Susan Kusel said...

These tips are terrific! Thanks so much. I agree with you completely about #1... I am much more sympathetic to tardiness now that I'm a parent.

Saints and Spinners said...

Susan, Anne and Abby, Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! If you have any other tips, please feel free to add them. I may end up doing the "addendum" post.

Anonymous said...

What an excellent list! I just found this post, but wanted to congratulate you on it - it's all true. I'm going to link to this post in my own blog - hope you don't mind.

Number 3 & number 5 are definitely worth noting. I've been a children's librarian for about 30 years, & I've always done all my own singing and ukulele/banjo playing, and the kids always like that better than the stories. (I know there are some folks who can't carry a tune, but hey, -most- people can. As for "topics," I haven't used any for decades, & have never felt the loss. I only read stories I really like.

And #1 has served me well throughout my career. Great list!

--Walter Minkel, New York Public Library: The Monkey Speaks at

Unknown said...

I like the tip of starting the opening song late. Preschool age kids can be very unpredictable. Doing these for a preschool program seems like it would allow everyone to get there and not have to miss anything. Than at the same time the kids that are there on time have something to listen to or do.