A storytime that doesn’t go so well is still important

As I mentioned last week, my Saturday storytimes morph a little more every week into a flexible, come-in-when-you-can-leave-when-you-want type event. This isn’t on purpose for me. Storytime families have been coming in early or late, asking for storytimes before or after the scheduled time, and the kids have started asking in the middle of storytime to do certain activities like play with the puppets or skip to craft time. I’ve been answering each of these things as they come. “No, I can’t do storytime right now because I have other work to do.” Or maybe, “I can read one book right now and you can do the craft.” “No, it’s not time for a craft yet,” and, “our rule is we can’t play with or touch the puppets until after I’m done with storytime.”

This weekend, it all happened at once. I had one boy arrive on time with his grandfather in tow. I thought, “Okay, if it’s just going to be me and him, I’ll do a book or two and some songs and then I’ll give him the craft to take with him or do here.” So I started off with this plan with a song. He was new, so I sat with him and showed him all the motions. I found out pretty quickly that he wasn’t a dancer, though. So I moved on to a book. His grandfather was telling me before storytime that he was a pretty good reader for his age, so I stopped at words in big print to let him read it. He really liked this and after seeing him perk up again, I tried another song. Success this time! He was dancing with me! So far, so good.

While we were dancing, I noticed a family in the back of the room was dancing too. They were leaving the library area and passing through our event space where I do storytime, and mom couldn’t seem to decide if she wanted to bring the kiddos or not. By the end of the song, a couple of my regulars had arrived and were sitting in the chairs meant for adults.

I slipped up here. I should have immediately done something like Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear–an activity that demands participation. Instead, I was thrown off by the funkiness of arrivals, and read a book. The girl still in the back of the room recognized it immediately and told her mom she wanted to listen. They came and sat down. At the end of the book, I realized it was time to do something to bring everyone together and I went to my go-to storytime song, “Goldfish” by Laurie Berkner. It seems to work with a huge variety of age groups, so I love to do it almost every week.

This time, though, not a soul joined in. They were all seated in the chairs by this time, so the kiddos felt too awkward or comfy to move to the mat to dance. At the end of the song, the mom and daughter who joined at last decided it was time to leave. My two regulars were also asking if they could go do the craft. I decided to give myself a break and cut it short. I skipped my last book and a couple other little activities and went straight to Little Mouse, Little Mouse–the game I play at the end of every storytime so kiddos know it’s almost time for crafts.

After the game, the three remaining kids and I went to the tables to do our craft. I calmed myself by saying, internally, “so it didn’t go well, but it was still important.” And I really believe that. I believe that a storytime that isn’t well received is better than no storytime and I believe that the time I share with the kids is meaningful and appreciated, no matter what. The two girls, my regulars, are native Spanish speakers, so at the end of storytime,  I spend a lot of time just talking with them and letting them use the flannel board and puppets to play the games I teach them. It’s probably one of the best parts of storytime for them. Plus, I got to know the new boy and when his grandpa asked if he had fun, he smiled and nodded fervently.

I think that as presenters, we are all really hard on ourselves. We see what it’s like when everything goes perfectly and we make that our goal and our norm. We’re just people, though, and we can’t blame ourselves when we slip up somewhere or have circumstances beyond our control influence the flow of storytime. Every time I have a day like this one, I just remember all the days that have been excellent and realize my average is still pretty good.

As for how to make things easier for myself in the future…I think I’ll start by taking away some of the chairs from the event space. If there’s only enough chairs around the mat for parents, instead of a full set up, it should make it easier for caregivers to direct their kids to the action space–in my case, the storytime carpet. I will absolutely take suggestions on how to handle when kids ask for different activities during storytime. I typically just say, “no, it’s not time for that right now.” I think I might need to say something along of the lines of, “it hurts my feelings when you ask to stop storytime,” though.

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3 thoughts on “A storytime that doesn’t go so well is still important

  1. I love the title of your post! I think at the end of the day, as long as kids get something out of what we provide, it’s a win. In my experience, sometimes it’s just better to skip to whatever the kids are waiting for. I have stopped in the middle of a story or cut out a song/fingerplay if kids aren’t interested. It feels a bit embarrassing, but I would rather the kids have fun than try to get to the end of the story or do a fingerplay when there are children running amok in the program room. Keep fighting the good fight! 🙂

  2. I don’t feel weird about skipping some small activity like fingerplays or songs to do something else, but this particular girl almost always asks to play with the puppets or do the craft. Doing that would effectively end storytime altogether. I think she’s become like this because the former storytime leader would do a storytime for her anytime upon request, so she’s just accustomed to flexibility.

    • Oh, gotcha. I have one kid that asks in the middle of stories, “Is it parachute time yet?!” and gives a big sigh. Nope, dude…still at the very end…30 minutes from now.

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