Room Setup– Blankets and pillows really help contain little ones and make the parents more comfortable too! My song sheets are directly behind me so no parent has to figure out the words to the songs. I sing the same songs every week, so usually by week 3 they have them all memorized. At the beginning of each new 6-week session I will usually introduce a new rhyme or two and rotate out others. This keeps the content fresh and helps me not stab my eyes out from singing the same 10 songs for months and months.
|Bouncing Babies (0-9 mos) Set-up|
For my 1 year old storytime I use a slightly different set-up. The pillows and blankets are just tripping hazards for their unsteady toddling and I need more space for the group. I used 10 spots for this picture, but I usually set down 16 of them and have a wider circle. I set down these small cushions only for the first session. If I put them down each week kids will eventually start fighting with them and it becomes a huge distraction for some. Setting the room up the first class helps everyone understand the shape I want them to sit in, and is worth the headache for the first session. I've tried simply telling the caregivers to sit in a half-circle and they all seem to forget what it looks like if I don't do the cushions at least once.
|Little Movers (10 mos-23 mos) Set-Up|
Nametags: I still hand these out as the caregivers and babies are walking in. This helps me memorize their names and get a count for how many are in attendance. I remind caregivers to stick nametags on their child's back so they can't reach them. If your class is small enough, make a nametag for the parents too!
My Introduction: I always start each session with a welcome. For the first two classes of a session I will also explaining the timeline of what will be happening.
"Welcome to Storytime! My name is Miss Brooke and I'm so excited to see you all today. We're going to read great books and sing a lot so everyone get your singing voice ready! All of the words to my songs are on the wall, so please sing with me because your baby loves to hear your voice. If your little one is having a rough day feel free to step out and come back if you can. If you need to leave early I promise I won't be offended. Just come back and try again next week. Is everyone ready?"
|Song Wall: 11x17 sheets taped together and laminated|
Timeline: "Storytime usually last about 15-20 minutes. We always start about 5 minutes late to give everyone enough time to come and settle in. Once storytime is over I will throw out book and toys and you all can stay and play! This is a great time to make new friends and have some one-on-one time with your little one."
Caregiver Introduction: The first few classes of a new session I also go around the circle and have my caregivers introduce themselves, their child, give the child's age, and a fun fact about them. The fun fact can be stressful for some caregivers at first so I always say, "You can tell me something they love or something they hate. Tell me about a milestone they just hit or just something you just really want me to know about them!" I start out the exchange with my name, how long I've been in La Crosse, and a fun fact about myself. This helps break the ice because I always make it super ridiculous. The introductions combined with the nametags make learning names much easier for me.
Books: I have changed the way I approach books in infant and baby storytime. I used to go into storytime with a plan for 3 books. This is WAY too much in my opinion. I did it this way because that's what I read on a lot of other outlines and in different books. I stuck with this for about a year before I realized I was making reading a forced activity. Yes, I would still have a few kids by the third book but the majority were lost. I now do one book as a reader and the group does one book with me for choral reading. Two books for the entire storytime. The rest is singing, talking, dancing, and rhyming. This has made the storytime experience a much more enjoyable one for both myself and the participants.
Flannel Game (Little Mouse or The Shape Game)
Choral Reading (Usually a different book each week. I always start and end the session with Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr. though)
Shakey Eggs/Scarves/Parachute (I usually only do one during each class. Sometimes I will hand out shaky eggs to get the parachute back though.)
|Buy it here|
Playtime: Are you playing at the end of your baby storytimes? If not, start immediately! It is such a great time to make those bonds with caregivers and to encourage and model play with their babies. For a list of toys I use check here. I always put a stack of books out first and then my toys.
If I have a storytime immediately after one group I will put my clean-up bin down 15 minutes before the next class. If there is no group in the programming room after then I let them stay as long as they want.
I also stopped handing out bubbles to my parents. They were such a headache. They spilled everywhere, parents didn't really want to use them, and kids wanted to just drink them. Instead, I took the genius advice of Kendra from Read, Sing, Play and bought this bubble blower from Gymboree. Stop whatever you're doing and buy this immediately. You basically become a bubble machine. The kids will flock to you which is nice for the parents who want a moment to catch up with their storytime buddies. Plus you get a lap full of babies!
A refill bottle lasted me an entire year, because you have to use so little of the solution to get SO MANY BUBBLES! Gymboree should really just hire me to sell these at ALA. Maybe we can make a black market type thing at ALA? So many possibilities....
Organization: I started storing my toys in plastic bins. This keeps kids from losing focus during the storytime. I also have the book I'm reading and the bubbles (ignore them in this picture) hidden in my tote bag. Keeping my table more organized has really helped with the overall chaotic-ness of storytime. I know exactly where everything is and the kids can't grab anything off the table I don't want them to have. Invest in plastic bins.
Cleaning: I use Lysol wipes on everything after my storytimes. I take the pillow covers and quilts home every other week to wash them. Any item I give to the babies, I assume they will try to eat so I plan accordingly with how I'm going to clean it before my next class.
Final Thoughts: This is simply what I do. Maybe you read 5 books every storytime and love it. Maybe you read and sing the same books every single storytime. Maybe you think you storytime is the best and you are never going to change it.
My challenge to you is to ask yourself- Do your kids and caregivers love it too? Are you reading all 5 books simply so you can say you read 5? Are your caregivers starting to roll thier eyes when you announce it's time for The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Have you had some caregivers who have heard the same books and songs for multiple years?
Please just stop and reflect about your storytimes. If you're struggling to plan or not enjoying them as much as you once were then it's time to change it up. Try only reading a few books. Try singing more and using different songs. Use CDs. Try whatever you want, but simply try something different. As our dear friend Albert Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." Don't let storytimes drive you insane! I hope it is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of your job. Need to talk about it or have questions? Email me at berasche at gmail dot com.