Friday, November 14, 2014

The Best of the Best that Makes our Storytime a Success

There are four phrases that describe what I think makes the Toddler Time program at the Dwight Foster Public Library in Fort Atkinson a success: engage them from the start, keep-it-moving, make it interactive, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Engaged toddlers at the Fort Atkinson public library
From the moment the 18-36 month-olds walk into our story time room, we try to engage them.  For starters, the toddlers pick out a different theme-related sticker every week to put on the nametag wall.  It doesn’t take long for the regular little ones to remember and look forward to that weekly routine.  And it helps the newbies get over their shyness as they walk into a room filled with new faces. 

From the opening chant, currently “Open Shut Them,” to our closing signed-song, “The More We Get Together,” I try to keep this program moving with: stories, chants/songs, sitting and standing activities and an art project at the end of the half hour. So, we march, clap, whisper and shout. We stand and sit, wiggle and jiggle, shake the shakers, bang the sticks, fish for magnetic letters and even play a mean game of toss the beanbag. With a fast-paced, jam-packed agenda, we usually finish the program with only a few distracted kiddos. 

The center-piece for Toddler Time is the stories which can be difficult to find for this varied age group. I look for picture books that have a story line, albeit simple. Then I have the toddlers help me
A young listener is captivated by storytelling
tell the story.  I start by introducing the characters and telling the little listeners which parts they will play as we read the story.  So, with the help of their parents, they shout out a repetitive phrase or make animal sounds, call out the colors or count out the number of chickens, eggs or piglets on the page.  Making a storytelling experience interactive takes extra prep time but can be the difference between capturing and losing a little ones attention.    
When I find a chant or song that goes over well, like “Ba Banana” or “Five Green and Speckled Frogs,” it immediately gets forwarded into my next week’s agenda. I repeat, repeat, repeat these chants for two or three weeks before retiring them to my electronic page of “bests” to use again at a later date.

Feedback corroborates that what we’re doing works. One mom said, “Where do you come up with your art projects?” Another said, “I’m going to use that song for our bedtime ritual.” And my favorite is the mom who told me how her son, who stands and stares at me with wide-eyed wonder during the entire Toddler Time program, will sing the songs and act out the motions all week long at home. 

Engaging the toddlers from the time they arrive, keeping the program moving, making the storytelling interactive and repeating the best of the best for a number of weeks are some of the methods I use to achieve a successful “toddler” story time program.

Cindy Vergenz, Youth Services Library Assistant
Dwight Foster Public Library, Fort Atkinson, WI