When Storytime Attacks: How one librarian attacked back

This week we are featuring a librarian who had some issues with storytime and how she worked them out.

I Am Librarian, Hear me Roar!

I Am Librarian, Hear me Roar!

Let’s start a discussion!  If you have had a similar experience, please share in the comments, or link to a blog post if you’ve written about it.

Would you have done anything differently?

Can we talk about why library school students don’t have a required practicum or something so they can actually do real, live storytimes (or reference/RA, etc.) before they are thrown to the preschool wolves? Ok, maybe we can save that discussion, but that is always my first thought when I hear about librarians like Brytani who are thrown in and fortunately have the natural talent to succeed.  But I digress. Here’s Brytani’s story.

You can send any pats on the back or questions to Brytani at brytanifraser@gmail.com.

I began my career as a children’s librarian in an outreach role, performing fifteen minute storytimes for preschool classrooms. I loved everything about it. The children were attentive and sweet, they sat quietly and listened to directions, and they cheered everytime I came into the room.

A few months ago I started working at a new library where I was to perform two storytimes a week for four and five year-olds. Traditionally, these storytimes were caretaker-optional, a prospect that seemed pretty simple to me. It would basically be my own classroom environment, right? What I forgot to factor in is that I have no experience as a teacher or parent and the children who were coming to me often didn’t have much experience in daycare or preschool either.

My first storytime was a disaster. The kids ran circles around me, put their faces against our windows and doors, ran up and down the stairs in our room, and two boys even started fighting on the floor. When it was over, I was shellshocked. At first I went to the back and put my head in my hands. Then, I locked myself in the storytime room for thirty minutes. I went over it in my head again and again trying to figure out where I went wrong. I went home and cried. (I should tell you that at this point in my story, I had about six months of cumulative experience doing storytimes.)

The next day I came back resolved to take a few simple steps at a time and see if it helped. First, I attacked our room. It’s a pretty exciting place. There’s a parachute draped from the ceiling, there are toys lined up in our windows, the room is painted lively colors, we have steps and we have beanbags. I took away everything that wasn’t stapled down. No more toys, or beanbags, and now the kids had squares to sit on around the flat area of our room. Keeping them on the flat portion on their own square, I thought, might keep them from using our stairs as springboards and give them some concept of personal space. It also gave them a point to come back to after doing a lively activity. I also made sure that I outlined a few important rules at the beginning. One, I introduced the concept of listening ears. (Eyes are on me, sitting quietly, and listening.) Two, we keep our hands to ourselves. Three, we follow directions…or else. (Sometimes I have to send one out and let my co-workers locate his caretaker.)

I also thought that establishing some routines might be helpful. I came up with a structure that I follow everytime and I use three songs as my touchstones. The books and the activities change each week but our songs help the group know where they are and, obviously, get out some wiggles. My storytimes for this bunch are as interactive as I can make them and often feature acting out stories, puppets, and many games. I also end with the same games each week: Little Mouse, Little Mouse and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.

The kids got better and better each week, especially as some of them became established visitors. At first, I felt good about getting through two books each week and focused a lot on other activities. Now, two months later, I am able to read three books and have started introducing teaching moments. We learn letters each week and play I Spy for words that begin with that letter using laminated clip art on our flannelboard. They still don’t like that they can’t pull out a beanbag and play like jumping beans on the steps but they are starting to love our literacy activities more and more each time and there have been no more fights.

Thank the storytime gods!

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About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on November 5, 2013, in Storytime Badassery. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Wow! I believe you are amazing! My first classroom was 4-8 yr olds in a mental health facility, so I get where you are coming from! Luckily, I had a wonderful teacher and 2 others next door to help me with the transition! You have wonderful skills and these children are so lucky to have a creative, talented person to start them on the road to the classroom!

  2. Brytani, I had to deal with a milder version of your scenario and came up with very similar solutions that have worked wonders for making storytime fun & interesting for everyone. Nice job!

  3. Story time can be either a miraculous occurrence or hell on earth. I have never lead a story time session but as a Nanny I’ve seen a lot of them. It definitely depends on what ages you’re talking about, but when it comes to the 2-5 bracket, I think you are right on point with structure. I like how you mentioned getting regulars, it helps the newcomers listen and pay more attention, and a consistent routine is perfect for that. The toddler I look after is all about movement, so the more dance breaks the better. I also really enjoy the teachers that interact with the kids while they read a story, rather than just reading the book and almost ignoring the kids. Great tips!

    • Interacting with the kids is probably my favorite part of leading our preschool storytimes. I like to ask them questions while we read to gauge/boost their comprehension and I let them think out loud for a few seconds until it’s time to turn the page. (At which point I just say, “Okay, shhh, everyone. Back to our story. Let’s see what happens next.”) I also like to have a hands on activity toward the end that incorporates a nonfiction title.

      I can totally understand why some presenters might not like to open up discussions. It can be really hard to get them focused again on the book if they’re feeling really chatting.

  4. This is a great post and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I, too, had no story time training, other than watching my coworker one time. For Mother Goose (12-24 months), I was given a “script” from my predecessor, and for Tiny Tots (birth-12 mo), I did a combo of making it up and visiting a few other programs at local libraries. I think it’s great to go to other neighboring libraries and see how they run their programs, and then incorporate your ideas. The internet also has so many wonderful blogs, etc to learn from. I am currently getting my MLIS, and noticed that my program offers no training, which I think is a shame. I wonder if ALA, or local state library conventions, would consider offering training sessions for newbies.

    • I would really like to go to some neighboring libraries and see how they do things. It’s something I’ve been trying to make work with my schedule but they never seem to have storytimes on my days off. I have watched many on Youtube, though, and I have seen several storytimes presented in different libraries while working for them and interning.

      My MLIS program didn’t offer storytime training, either, or any kind of programming classes, for that matter. We had a children’s literature class and that was it for youth services in the public library. When I interned, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go for adult or youth services so I just focused on reference and helping with programs that were for the whole family. Later, when I decided on youth services, I went back to the library system I interned with for ECRR training, thanks to my employer at the time. My state offers some training via webinars, but I can’t think of anything that’s in-person. I certainly could have chosen to get some experience with storytimes during my internship, if I had asked for that.

      I think for the most part, youth services in the public library is one of the most collaborative career fields imaginable…but it does seem hard to find opportunities to be an apprentice for storytimes. I would think that for the most part, children’s librarian grow under a supervisor who provides that training and relationship. I just happen to be in a position where that is not the case. So, I learn as I go.

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