~ Nell Colburn, a 40-year pro
County Library, was asked by a colleague to create a list of top 10 best practices for storytime a few months before she retired.
Her passionate heartfelt belief is that storytime is for
children AND adults; it is not a kids-only affair.
Ms. Colburn’s top 10 tips include:
1. Make direct comments to adults during storytime. The library’s intention is that adults are at storytime not just to hold onto the babies, but rather to “learn how to foster early literacy skills to prepare their children for learning to read” and to learn from librarians how to interest their children in books. Making comments during storytime, such as “Singing and rhyming help children learn that words are made up of different sound combinations”, which help children sound out words when they are learning to read--provides adults with evidence from research that storytime is legitimate and has educational value.
2. Ensure active adult participation in storytime. No sitting on their hands! Adults need to be encouraged to fully engage, “shaking out their wiggles, clapping, singing, dancing, and encouraging kids as they interact with the books”.
3. Hang large-print copies of regularly used songs and rhymes on the wall, or have a collection stapled together in a take-home handout. This helps adults learn the words and practise with their children, as well as keep them on track so they can more easily concentrate on doing the actions.
4. Establish clear expectations for both adult and child storytime behavior. When adults are engaged librarians will have fewer “adult behavior challenges” such as chatting or talking on cell phones. Effective instructions should be positively worded and focus “on what storytime participants should do, rather than what they should not do”. It is also important to make adults feel comfortable if their child causes a disturbance. Explaining beforehand that it is appropriate to take a fussy child out for a moment until it has calmed down, and then to come back in, and that it’s ok for two-year-olds not to behave like five-year-olds (such as getting up and wandering around), puts adults more at ease.
5. Welcome all attendees warmly and make them feel comfortable. It is inevitable that there will be latecomers due to child meltdowns, traffic tie-ups, or some minor home crisis. Encourage latecomers to seamlessly slip into the group. Nell also advises that some cultures have a more relaxed regard for time, which is culturally appropriate for them; this is another factor to consider in the librarian’s approach to latecomers, as long as they don’t disturb others when they arrive.
6. Feature poetry and nonfiction books in storytime. Pair them with the picture books chosen for storytime. “One of storytime’s main purposes is to introduce children and grown-ups to the riches of the library’s collections”, but adults often need a nudge in the direction of poetry and fine informational books for children. Try Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (authors Prelutsky and Brown; Knopf, 1986), “a gem containing a great selection of poems to match with pictures books” including poems about “mud, puppies, and other ordinary things that delight small children and connect storytime to their immediate world”.
7. Invite participants to explore the collection. Ms. Colburn’s pet peeve is when participants run out the door right after storytime! Staff should not be expected to return to the public service desk directly after presenting the storytime, rather let them be available to encourage adults—and even take them to the shelves—to find something wonderful to take home.
8. Set up a small selection of enticing materials in the program area. Adults often like to linger and socialize, so to encourage them to also visit the shelves, be prepared to do some impromptu booktalks of great kids reads, and include cool materials for adults, too.
9. Continue our education in storytime techniques. Nell insists that the best way to grow our storytime skills is through observation. “We should all get out of our own libraries and observe our colleagues elsewhere several times a year…learn new rhymes and songs from colleagues, see how someone else approaches a title and discover which new titles work well for them.”
10. Storytime is not a performance; it’s an interactive experience between you and the people in front of you on any particular day. This really takes some pressure off the librarian and keeps the focus on the children, after all, “Storytime is not about you; it’s about the children.” Nell is certain that this is best-practice-number-one and it will hold fast for another 40 years!