Ask a Storytime Ninja: So Many Ages, So Few Storytimes

Question:

I’m looking for some information regarding storytimes in libraries with under a 10,000 service population. Specifically, I’m curious as to how you incorporate all ages into very few storytimes. Right now, I have the following three in-library storytimes:

Itty Bitty Storytime (Ages 0-2)

PreK Storytime (Ages 3-5)

Family Storytime (All Ages, but we usually see ages 2-7 at this one)

Our largest storytime by far is our PreK, but a number of the families dislike that the storytime doesn’t hold their young kids’ (ages 1 and 2) attention or that the after-storytime craft is too complicated for the younger age group. I’ve tried to be accommodating by providing and after-storytime sensory play area that usually isn’t set up, etc., but I haven’t changed the focus age of the storytime. I’m also trying to add more repetition from week to week without “getting stale.” (I already use the same structure, opening/closing songs, etc.)

The families also seem resistant to trying the younger storytime and we’ve had trouble building a regular attendance base for that program.

I’d be very interested to hear from other libraries that have had this type of problem (or if this is a unique problem for me, that’s good to know too) and how you’ve approached or successfully resolved the issue.

Answers:

Bridget (@bridgetrwilson) says:
I do a preschool storytime that’s advertised for ages 3-5, but in reality is for 0-6 because I am the only children’s librarian with 4 branches to serve. Back in 2011, I sent a query out to PUBYAC. I received several responses, but somehow forgot to send a compilation to the listserv. Here is the compilation now.

Michelle (@mmlibrarian) says:
I know some librarians will not have siblings in their story times because of space and it gets so complicated with the different ages.I have had the same problem too. During the summer I have to limit it to an all age (primarily though 1-5) because of the limited amount of time available for programming. Parents with younger kids will say it is not geared towards their children. Next time I will have more of a mix of materials (songs and books for a variety of ages in the same story time). However if a parent or caregiver says it is too long or the story was too complicated, you have to explain that it is for all ages, so we are trying to accommodate everyone. Then I will tell them that I have a story time for their age group during the fall (this is usually Mother Goose for the babies/pre walkers) if they are interested. Also I will explain that they do not have to feel bad if they need to leave early because the story time is too long for their child or they cannot do the craft. Also you can explain that this particular story time. Let’s say for example, Pre-K story time is geared towards ages 3-5, siblings are welcome but the story time is more for their brother or sister. I am also curious why they are resistant to the story time for the youngest kids (0-2). Good luck.

Rick says: One possible solution is to advertise the storytimes more around what happens in the storytime, as oppose to labeling them around age requirements.

For itty bitty, you could say: we will share songs, lap bounces, tickles, 1-2 short books, and information about how to make books a part of your regular routine.  There will an opportunity to meet other parents while your child plays with stimulating toys.

For preK, you could say: we will share longer stories, flannel stories and other participatory activities that help kids practice focusing. Etc., etc., etc.

I think it is really important to set the expectation up front so parents and caregivers know what their getting themselves into.  Do you know what I mean?  While labeling the storytime with an age group works for us, it doesn’t always work for parents.  I think they assume their child is advanced and should be at the higher level.  When you focus on the activities more than the age of the child, it makes it easier for them to match the right storytime with their child’s abilities.

A toddler storytime could be called a “music and movement” storytime and it would still be about the same thing.

A baby storytime could be called a “lap bounce” or something that makes a stronger connection between the parent and child interacting one-on-one.

A preschool storytime could be called a “sit and listen” storytime (although that has a weird tone…).

This is such a perplexing topic.  I’m hearing more and more people report that 4s and 5s are less frequent at storytimes than they used to be.  I typically skew most of my storytimes toward the toddler age, because that is what I’ve seen come into the library the most (in places I’ve done storytimes).  Also, if there is any way to be as flexible as possible.. bring a big selection of books to storytime so you can grab the one that fits the audience the best.  And older kids have an easier time participating in a younger activity than the other way around.

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