Yesterday I subbed for a preschool storytime at one of our member libraries. Having come from a library that had librarians in each age group, this was the first program I’d done for the preschool set in… awhile. I thought I might share my plan and some tips, since this time of year is prime time for vacations and illnesses, and you may find yourself (an adult services librarian, director, library assistant, shelving aide, on-call reference librarian, archivist) asked to be a last-minute substitute for a beloved storytime. Because let’s face it, it may not happen all the time, but it will one day. Sooner rather than later, depending on the size of your library and staffing. And I hope you find this post useful.
Having come from education and libraries, I can tell you that being a substitute is one of the toughest jobs there is. That’s because children, as chaotic as they may seem, thrive on routine and familiarity. And sorry, substitute, but that already puts you in the negative zone, because you’re different.
But here’s the thing: You’re not supposed to be as “good” as the regular storytime provider. Families may ask about their regular storytime routines. Please take these as what they are: expressed appreciation for the storytimes they know and love. They are not a criticism against you. I promise that if you were their regular storytime provider, they would love you just as much.
Are you here with the ability to plan a little ahead? If you have the time, it’s totally worth it to engage with the following resources as a primer to storytime:
Storytime 101: Rethinking the Basics: webinar by Brooke Newberry
Essential Elements of Storytime: series of blog posts by Melissa Depper
I consider these kind of a crash course in what storytime is about and what considerations storytime providers make when creating a storytime.
Are you frantically planning a last-minute storytime? Are you possibly scared of interacting with children? Here are some tips to make it the best you can:
1. Read the books ahead of time. Practice if you have the time. Once you know what’s in the books, you can prompt the kids to sing, repeat a phrase, or make a loud noise.
2. At the beginning of storytime, introduce yourself and tell everyone it’d be awesome to see everyone participate, including the adults.
3. Once you start the storytime, do not correct any behavior. Their routines are already thrown off kilter, so looking past the wondering toddlers will be the easiest way to keep your storytime flowing smooth. It can be easy to focus on the kids NOT paying attention, but focus on the ones who are engaged. When it’s clear you’ve lost THEM, it’s okay to stop in the middle of a book, shake your sillies out with a song or Simon Says, and go back to the book.
4. Talk and read to kids under 5 like you talk to your pet when they’re being a REALLY GOOD pet, all of the time. Pretend the group is not 30 cats but 30 of your particular kitten, so interested in everything you say. Smile.
5. If you want to have kids who will sit and listen to all your stories, you’ll want to pepper in songs or something. It’s okay to just have a CD to play songs with that you dance to. Really. It’s fine.
OKAY! Now that you’re on board to attempt a storytime, here is my go-to subbing plan.
It works for me because I’m really into all of these things, and every book has an interactive element. It’s okay if other books or songs work better for you, but let’s face it, you might be here with 20 minutes until show time. Try these out:
Intro song: “Hi everyone, you’re my new friends so I thought we could sing a friend song first. It goes like this: Hello Friends, Hello Friends, Hello Friends, It’s time to say Hello. (A short variation on “Hello Friend” by Dr. Jean that I learned from my former coworker Kelsey) Can you sing it with me? Let’s sing!” [sing one more time]
Book: Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Dean & Litwin [for great inflection ideas and the song, watch the live telling here] (note: drink enough water before storytime that you won’t break into a horrible coughing fit during your first “oh no!)
Book: Count the Monkeys by Barnett
Song: [Just like the intro song, sing one verse so everyone can get a hang of it] Bubble, Bubble Pop at Jbrary
Song: Elevator Song at Jbrary [We actually started the next book when I saw the crowd losing some focus. Do the up-and-down part 3-4 times faster and faster!]
Book: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Brown [I like it when kids get to ROAR in the library]
Song: “Now we’re going to clap our hands really slow, them really fast!” I did a variation on Clap Your Hands that I learned from my former coworker Brooke. It’s really just the first part, and you drag it out really slow as you sing through the line. You then spontaneously burst into the fastest clapping you can manage while you say “clapclapclapclapclapcap”. Preschoolers think this is HILARIOUS. I’m unsure why except that Brooke is a genius.
Book: Dinosaur v. the Library by Shea [I told you!]
Song: “Good Bye, Friends” to the same tune as the intro song. Thanks, Kelsey!
This took 25 minutes. Afterward, I had a coloring sheet available related to the books (I actually created a sheet out of Dinosaur. I can’t share it publicly, sorry, but if you google “coloring sheet dinosaur” or “coloring sheet tiger” you could find something that could work). While coloring sheets get a bad rap, providing them after an active program like storytime can help them settle down as well as practice their fine motor skills and creativity.
What are your tips for that one-time storytime sub?