Guerrilla Storytime at #pla2014: The Recap!

Something like 90 of you amazing guerrillas showed up to the Guerrilla Storytime at the 2014 PLA Conference to mingle, advocate, and swap ideas and strategies for outstanding, meaningful storytimes. Brooke and I could not have anticipated such tremendous turnout and participation for the last day of the conference. Thanks to everyone who participated! I hope you’ll all consider how throwing your own Guerrilla Storytime can benefit your library system, your local PLN, or your state association. Guerrilla Storytimes for everyone!!

Need persuading? Just check out the amazing expertise shared at the #pla2014 session.

Brooke started everyone off with her new favorite welcome song for 1-3s: The Good Morning Train song, complete with train noises and space to greet each child. Get kiddos to make the “choo choo” sound and motion along with you!

Challenge question: What are your favorite storytime props?

  • Song cube – Make a cube by taping together empty small boxes (book tape boxes work great), then cover each side in paper and an icon to represent a common kids song (e.g., I’m a Little Teapot, Grey Squirrel). Toss the song cube in storytime to determine what group song to sing
  • For “On Top of Spaghetti” – A plate with white yarn for spaghetti, red yarn or pom poms for tomato sauce, and a brown pom pom with a string attached to be the wandering meatball
  • Popsicle plates on sticks with animal images on them – Excellent for use with Laurie Berkner’s “Pig On Your Head”
  • Chicken puppet to go with Laurie Berkner’s “I Know a Chicken”
  • Cloth bag – Give kids clues about the objects in the bag before you pull them out. You can do animals and their sounds, red objects for Valentine’s Day…
  • Magic bag – The letter of the day goes in, and an object starting with the letter of the day comes out
  • Dr. Seuss hat filled with puppet letters – Turn your hand into a “letter crane” (make crane noises!) and pull out the puppet letters one by one. When they’re all out of the hat, they combine to make a word.
  • Storytelling apron – Great for baby time because little kids can’t just run up to the flannel board and knock it over. One librarian even takes her storytelling apron to budget meetings to help advocate for what youth services needs!
  • Puppet – The puppet pops up to explain new vocabulary words as they come up in stories

Challenge question: No one is dancing with you! What do you do?

  • Pull kids up for a well-known song like “Ring Around the Rose-y”
  • Use props and scarves to give everyone something to hold and dance with so they feel less awkward
  • Kids don’t want to dance because they don’t want to hold hands? Grab some puppets for kids to hold onto.
  • Own the fact that dancing can be awkward, but is totally fun! Have the caregivers own it, too
  • Start storytime with a big action song to set the tone for interaction, or warm up with a different activity before an action song–gauge your audience
  • Let attendees know it’s great if they want to dance in their seats, “dance in small ways”
  • Do some partner songs and tell kids and caregivers to partner up
  • Appeal directly to the grownups and let them know you want them to dance, too
  • Constantly model what you want grownups to be doing–you never know which caregivers may not be native speakers of English and so prefer modeling over instructions
  • Give an early literacy sound bite: “You set the biggest example for your child–they will learn when you do things with them!”
  • Share the lyrics and actions so everyone can follow along
  • Use humor to gain participation: “Wow! Nobody in our group knows how to clap? Can the grownups help me show the kids how to clap?”
  • Sound bite: “Your kids are going to like dancing with me, but they’ll love dancing with you!”

Challenge question: Uh oh, an ambulance pulls up next to your storytime window and the kids rush over to look. What do you do?

  • Sing the “These are the People in Your Neighborhood” song from Sesame Street
  • Go to the window, too, and talk about what’s happening
  • Talk about relevant vocab and make the siren sounds to turn it into a learning opportunity
  • Make an activity of waving goodbye to the ambulance to move back to storytime
  • [A few attendees shared some horror stories of when this exact situation happened to them: a firefighters storytime, complete with firefighters and firetruck, where a car accident happened right across from the library during the firefighter demo; an ambulance needing to be called for the children’s librarian who was gushing blood through the nose; and police telling the librarian at an outdoor, riverside storytime to clear the area so they could remove a dead body from the river. Yikes.]

Guerrilla query: Lots of the grownups are talking while you’re reading/singing/storytiming. How do you get them to engage with their kids?

  • Ask pointedly: “Are the grownups using their quiet voices?”
  • Shame them with “the look”
  • Emphasize that “we need to work together as a community, so let’s work together to make storytime fun”
  • Open storytime with an intro that gives caregivers a clear out to step outside of storytime to take a call, etc.
  • Emphasize that talking after storytime is a great way to have early literacy conversations with kids
  • “You are your child’s first and best teacher. They want to do what you do, and they will imitate what you do. Let them imitate your enthusiasm for storytime!”
  • Hand out all props (shakers, scarves, etc.) to everyone, including caregivers, to send the message that grownups are participating, too
  • “Let’s turn on our listening ears! Turn it [key in lips], lock it, put it in your pocket”
  • Before storytime, tell kids to pull out their imaginary cell phones and turn them off. Be silly about telling them “No tweeting, no selfies, no instagram!” They have heard the words and will think it’s funny, and it’ll send the message to grownups
  • Change the physical space of storytime–put all the chairs up front so folks can’t sit in the back and talk
  • Tell parents why you want them involved–that’s an advocacy message!
  • Make eye contact
  • Take it as a good time to make an early literacy talking point directed at the grownups
  • Assess the situation–Is the caregiver being disrupted, or are they communicating with their child?
  • On the flip side, if caregivers are over involved and answer questions meant for kids, you can say “It’s awesome all the grownups know their colors. They must have had lots of practice when they were little. Now let’s practice!”
  • Start storytime with a friendly invitation to put away distractions, like this sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”: “Be sure to turn your cell phones off so they do not distract us / Please join along as we sing songs / It’s always good to practice. / Storytime is starting now / Storytime for you and me / So sit back and enjoy yourselves / And we will all leave happy!”


Challenge question: What’s your favorite way to incorporate narrative skills into storytime?

  • Kamishibai and wordless stories
  • Get kids involved in acting out stories
  • Ask “What’s going to happen next?”
  • Tell a story without a book–use felt or simple shapes to tell a well-loved story together
  • Read a great story, like “Caps for Sale,” then use props to retell it
  • Use books with lots going on in the illustrations but perhaps few words
  • Connect a theme from a story to one from an earlier story
  • Use great apps like “The Monster at the End of This Book” and linger on pages with plenty of questions about what will happen next
  • Repeat a single story each week, like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, so that kids practice telling a story
  • Use wordless and near wordless picture books and invite kids to tell the story
  • Pull out apps to supplement stories, e.g., animal noises, to continue stories like Polar Bear, Polar Bear
  • Share a story with a simple sequence, then repeat it out of order so the kids can correct you and learn how stories work

Movement interlude: “Form the Orange” – In addition to the group participation (captured on video by Angie Manfredi), one guerrilla said she also has a verse for corn: “Form the corn/Shuck the corn/Pop the corn”

Guerrilla query: How do you pull the kids back into your activity after they start their own “storytelling” (e.g., “I have a dog!” “My grandma has a dog!” “I have a cat!”)?

  • Make a habit of ending storytime with kids getting a sticker or high five; then, in storytime, tell kids to come give you a high five/get a sticker after storytime and to tell their stories then
  • Create a stick puppet with an image of the interrupting chicken to signal when interruptions need to stop
  • Ask a yes or no question to the entire group to move away from a single “storytelling” child
  • Use the interruption to consider if it’s time to segue into a movement element
  • Turn it into a parent tip: “Sometimes stories don’t work, and that’s okay!”
  • Sing a familiar one-liner (e.g., “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) to get attention

Guerrilla query: Storytime starts with corralling of the kiddos into a line to walk to the storytime room. How do you get the kids to be in a line without running ahead of you and each other?

  • Get a rope and tie knots in it; use the rope to keep kids in line but in personal space
  • Turn the line into a train and use train vocabulary–storytime provider is the conductor
  • Turn the line into soldiers on a mission–“Shh! We don’t want the enemies to hear us!”
  • Don’t make any part of the line seem better than others–no line leaders!
  • Have kids come to you instead of corralling them –> “Change the structure to get the outcome you want”
  • Invite the kids to pretend they are walking on the moon or swimming through the ocean
  • Tell kids to show you their tippy-toes

Guerrilla query: What do you do when a caregiver pulls out a snack for their kid during storytime?

  • Some libraries incorporate a snack or lunch into the program — lunch bunch
  • Say that possible food allergies mean no food in the program room
  • Invite the eaters to quietly exit the program to eat and then come back when they are done
  • Put your storytime rules on a poster behind you–easy to see, doesn’t take up time stating rules
  • Decide if it’s worth worrying about. Good rule of thumb: Pick 3 deal breakers, and don’t worry about the other things that happen

Guerrilla query: What do you do about wandering younger siblings in a preschool storytime?

  • Tier your storytime so there are elements for everyone
  • Get caregivers involved to corral wanderers
  • Invite everyone to “Find a lap for a lap song!”
  • If you have young kids in an older kids storytime, plan more action stuff. And keep in mind that what’s good for younger kids is still good for older kids!
  • Have stuffed animals for older kids so that all the “big kids”/caregivers can have a little kid to do storytime elements with

Were you in attendance at the #pla2014 Guerrilla Storytime? Did I forget anything that needs to be included? Feel free to call me out in the comments!

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