How I Plan: Family Storytime

Image Credit: The Library Book by Tom Chapin & Michael Mark, illus. Chuck Groenink (Atheneum BFYR, 2017)
As I’ve seen and read about storytimes over the years, I’ve taken note of the variety of ways presenters plan. The general structure is fundamentally the same but there are also nuances: recurring characters, trademark songs, themes/no themes, crafts/no crafts, etc. I think it’s all fascinating. Here is my post to throw into the storytime blog ring.

Storytime Structure

I’ve found Jbrary‘s Toddler Storytime Planning Sheet to be a helpful template because it covers the basic components I use in my all-ages Family Storytime: books, puppet/flannel activities, songs, and rhymes. But, since I tend to use the same songs and rhymes (with one or two exceptions) in every storytime, I find myself actually looking at my planning sheets less and less.

Why so much repetition? After spending a chunk of time trying to stock my themes with songs and rhymes that fit perfectly, I realized I was doing it more for myself than the kids. Besides, kids love repetition—and their brains do too!

Here are my storytime staples:

I also use a visual schedule in every storytime. This is something I picked up from my year working in early intervention. It sets up expectations about what will happen during storytime but, more importantly, it levels the playing field and creates a welcoming environment for kids who have trouble transitioning.

My schedule, which is placed on my felt board, contains a card with an image and caption (I use Boardmaker‘s icons) for each part of storytime. The cards are arranged in a column.

For Family Storytime, there are eight cards:

  1. hello: for the hello song
  2. sing: for songs/rhymes
  3. read: for a book
  4. puppet: for a special puppet guest
  5. sing: for songs/rhymes
  6. read: for a book
  7. goodbye: for the goodbye song
  8. play: for open-ended play after storytime

I never stray from the schedule I have put up—though I do adjust it for different programs.

Book Selection

After ALA Annual 2017 in Chicago, I experienced a paradigm shift regarding storytime and book selection. The main revelation: storytime is social justice and racial equity work. Storytime presenters have a responsibility to plan their storytimes intentionally. I used to choose a theme and then match books to that theme. Now, after taking a cue from Echo, a guest blogger on Jbrary, I select the book first—a diverse book. From that anchor text, I extrapolate a theme (sometimes a social justice theme) and find another text to pair it with.

I tend to choose books that allow for the most interaction with my audience. Inspired by Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach, I try to engage readers in all aspects of a book. And, since my storytime crowd is classroom-sized, I am able to spend a lot of time letting readers really dig in to what we read.

Perhaps my favorite piece of advice comes from Nell Coburn of Multnomah County Library: “Storytime is not a performance; it’s an interactive experience between you and the people in front of you on any particular day.” As a Family Storytime presenter, I have to be flexible and adapt quickly to meet the needs of the audience. It’s a delightful challenge, and I love adjusting my storytime practice as I learn new things.

Do you plan storytime differently? I’d love to hear your process in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “How I Plan: Family Storytime

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