by Angie Andre,
Tredyffrin Public Library
You may have heard parents talking with each other about how much fun their children have in storytime. They share stories about the cute things their little ones do based on what they learn in storytime; learning to clap with the abc song, singing wheels on the bus all day long, pretending to read aloud to their stuffed animals. We love to hear these positive outcomes of storytime but sometimes I get the feeling that parents just think of storytime as a 30 minute entertainment show librarians put on for their children. I can understand why parents might think this way. Storytime is fun, children are engaged, and if we don’t tell them otherwise parents might think storytime is toddler recess at the library.
We are very deliberate in our storytime activities and we need to share this with our parents. We aren’t just reading a few books and singing a few songs. Reading aloud to children gives them the opportunity to love reading in a special way.
During storytime we should be sharing why we are doing what we do. Teach parents that they can, and should, read at home with their child. Break down the parts of storytime, piece by piece, and teach them how to practice at home. We communicate the how, but we also must communicate the why. We should share with parents and caregivers how we are preparing children for reading. Stories allow us to visit new worlds and plant the seeds with young people that can grow into a special appreciation of literature. Keep in mind where it all started: storytime.
What do we do in storytime?
We read stories, sing songs, practice fingerplays, ask questions, jump, dance, share, point, play, count, shake eggs, throw scarves, bang sticks, and yes, we have lots of fun. We do all of these things in storytime and we do these things for reasons. We are preparing children for reading and literature appreciation.
Why do we do what we do?
I am going to break down three of the most common activities you will see in a storytime at most any library; singing songs, playing, and reading stories aloud. For more details about storytime and how to share our intentions with parents visit the Every Child Ready to Read website.
Singing songs is a great way to engage children and bring the group together. When we sing songs something magical happens to the words. The words are spoken slower. Children have a better chance of learning new words when we sing them, especially if we frequently repeat the same songs. Clapping to the beat of a song helps children to prepare for counting. The repetitive clap can easily transition to a counting song or game. Adults may tire of hearing the same song over and over but repetition gives the child the opportunity to learn rhythm, sounds and words.
As Fred Rogers says, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” What child doesn’t enjoy playing with brightly colored toys? At the end of storytime we provide a time for open play where children and adults play with toys. This is a great opportunity to explore with children, and let them tell you about what they are doing. They love to share stories about their play. This sharing is supporting language development and creativity.
The majority of a storytime involves reading stories aloud to a group of children. We read stories to children to support their learning and awareness of language. We want children to learn what a book looks like and how we turn the pages. We read the stories slowly and with emotion to share the experience with the children. They become involved in the story and start to realize that the pictures relate to the words on the pages. Children are developing their letter knowledge and their print awareness.
Reading to children supports their phonological awareness. Children begin to learn that words are made up of sounds and sounds have meaning. As children listen to stories they develop their imagination and the ability to create their own stories.
Children are practicing pre-literacy skills in storytime. Children love to come up to the books and point. Sometimes they point to a picture and say a nonsensical word. This is great! They are practicing and learning that sounds are related to pictures. Children are practicing pre-literacy skills, the skills they learn before they start to read words. Speaking with children is important as young ones start to learn about language. Reading to children enhances the child’s exposure to many more words than they would experience in a usual conversation.
Storytimes are an important part of any children’s department. We need to share with our patrons that we are supporting PA Forward and Basic Literacy. While doing storytime it is helpful to make a quick side note explaining the reasoning behind our storytime activities. It can be as simple as explaining that you are supporting print awareness as you point to the words as you read them to the children. Social media is a great way to educate your parents and caregivers about the details of storytime and how they support basic literacy. A Facebook post about how reading rhyming books with children supports phonological awareness can reach many interested patrons. You can print bookmarks to hand out that explain the importance of storytime and list tips for practicing at home. Posting flyers and posters in your storytime area and throughout the library highlighting storytime benefits will help you communicate to parents that librarians are thoughtful and deliberate in what they do in storytime and we are eager to teach parents and caregivers how to practice at home.
Share what your library has done to promote basic literacy for the children at your library through the PA Forward Best Practices Short Form, and see what other libraries are doing on the PA Foward Best Practices Database