Ask a Storytime Ninja: How to be Amazing

Our latest installment for Ask a Storytime Ninja is all about best practices and what you need to know and do to present fabulous storytimes. Want even more ideas for training yourself? Check out Storytime University!

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I have worked in libraries for 3 years now in many facets, but I am an aspiring Children’s Librarian. I have started playing a ukulele, but what else should I be doing to become an amazing Storytime Librarian?


Answers from June Ninjas:


Lisa says: It’s great that you’re learning a musical instrument, but I would table that for the time being. It’s more of an advanced skill for storytime. It’s really hard to control your audience, and to get kids to participate in body movements if you’re playing an instrument instead of clapping your hands, etc. There are plenty of great songs out there you can play and model to the children what to do during the song (go here for ideas).


There are plenty of things you can do to get some experience under your belt! Can you shadow the children’s librarians you currently work with? If not, call around local libraries and ask them. I’ve been doing preschool storytime for about eight years now and I still learn tricks from watching others do storytime!


You can check out awesome storytime blogs and get ideas for storytime extras (flannel boards, puppets, Five Little Whatsits, games, crafts, songs) to give your program all the important extras to support Every Child Ready to Read.


Watching video clips is helpful when first learning how to incorporate all these fun activities into storytime (especially if you work in a small library). I make basic ones for a one-person storytime, and Beyond the Book has a mix of one-person and department ideas.


Once you have an idea of what actually happens in storytime, the best thing to do is practice, practice, practice! If it’s not possible to test out your skills in your current library, try elsewhere. Of course, I would go outside of your town for this so you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes. Can you be a guest reader in a preschool? Can you volunteer at the Parks & Rec department? Does your high school or college have child care centers you can go to? Does your friend have a preschooler that you can have a storytime playdate with? You can offer it as a special birthday party gift?! Any experience will not only help you become a children’s librarian, but you can also use these people as references when making the big leap to applying for a children’s position. Good luck!


Julie says: I am totally lifting this from my blog, but it’s really and truly my best advice:
1. Always go to the bathroom before storytime–yes, you, the librarian. Sure, suggest the kids go, too, but you must go.


2. Have an extra story, song, and fingerplay in mind in case one of your choices falls completely flat, or if things run short, or if the toddlers are mesmerized and sitting still and you want to grab the chance to cram them full of more literature goodness.


2.5 BUT, if something bombs with one group, don’t assume it will bomb with every group. Retry things occasionally; you might be surprised. Except for The Great Gatsby. No group of children will ever enjoy a reading of The Great Gatsby.


3. Slow down.


4.Buy Hugh Hanley’s CDs and learn how to sequence a musical program. He knows how to warm kids up, whip them into a frenzy, and then bring them back down again. Indispensable. Tell him Miss Julie sent ya.


5. Get the parents involved. Tell them that if you’re going to flail around like a crazy muppet, they can do it, too. What happens in storytime, stays in storytime. Parents are a child’s first and best teachers. Remind them of that. Also, when doing the freeze dance or the hokey pokey, talk about the cardio benefits of really throwing themselves into it, or talk about how they can build their biceps by lifting their baby during baby time.


6. Themes are okay, but sometimes the best theme is “Good books that I love to act out.”


7. Cross stitch these wise words from Bryce and hang them up in your storytime room: Chaos or disinterest in your program is not their fault, it’s yours. From this post.


8. Most importantly: you need to be having fun. Yes, you. If you’re not radiating joy during your storytime, no one else will have fun, either. Pick books you love, songs you adore, fingerplays that make you giggle. Librarian, amuse thyself, and the children–and parents–will follow.


Kim says: Ok, Julie’s list is an all-encompassing best of the best, so I’ll try in vain to add to it. 🙂


1. Be flexible! (Which goes along with Julie’s #2.) For instance, don’t be afraid to stop a book right in the middle of reading and move on to something else it if it isn’t working. This is where it also helps to over-prepare and have some favorite songs/rhymes in your back pocket. I once subbed in toddler time for another librarian and the kids were so crazy I just put down the book I was in the midst of reading and did “Open Shut Them” with them!


2. Find an opening and closing song/rhyme/etc. and stick with it for every storytime session. Kids love and need the routine!


3. Props and visuals are always good. I regularly check Flannel Friday for ideas to enhance my storytime. Even if you aren’t a felt-cutting prodigy, you can find some great flannel stories and songs where you simply print and cut out clip are. Some of my favorite props to use are:

– Shaky eggs

– Scarves

– My song cube:

– My Rabbit in the Hat Puppet:

– My Magic Listening Dust Box:


4. Always be on the lookout for new rhymes and songs to use. I love Jbrary’s YouTube channel!


5. Keep up on what other librarians are doing. I use Feedly to receive blog updates from some of my favorite storytime blogs. Also talking with other librarians via Twitter or Facebook or even in-person helps keep me from becoming stagnant. If you are on Facebook, join the Storytime Underground Facebook group. I once asked for some new baby storytime rhyme ideas and was able to plan my entire summer session with the responses I received! It’s fabulous for crowd-sourcing.


6. Parroting Julie, pick books/rhymes/songs that YOU love. If you are enjoying storytime, so will your kids!


7. Don’t force yourself into being the presenter you’re not. If don’t feel comfortable singing without a CD track behind you, DON’T. If you aren’t crazy about using puppets, DON’T. Every storytime presenter has a different style and there’s no one correct way to do it.

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