Oh, how we love care providers who use library visits as their break time. SIGH. Our featured ninjas have some suggestions for dealing with this situation. Maybe you have some ideas, too? Please share in the comments (and hey, if you’re signed up for Storytime University, there’s a badge for that! If you’re not signed up, what are you waiting for?!).
I have a preschool storytime on both Wednesdays and Fridays. During summer reading I had a daycare provider start bringing about 6 kids or so to the program. They are some of the worst behaved children. It’s mostly the one child that I have trouble with. He constantly talks and when I say something to him, I can just see in his eyes that it’s going in one ear and out the other. He does nothing but look at me and say “hey, hey, hey, hey” until I say something. And if I don’t let him say what he wants he will continue to do so. His provider says nothing helpful AT ALL. She always has her phone out. This past Friday was the worst. I did nothing but stop and tell them to be quiet and sit still. They refuse to listen to anything I say about it. After our craft, they proceeded to get in the toys for the babies, (that were hidden I might add), take stuff off the walls, and even got into my craft cupboard! She said NOTHING. I’m strung out with them already because everyone else in all the other age groups are so good! What should I do? I’ve already clarified the rules several times.
I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I guess we all get patrons that have us repeating, “Don’t be in an orange jumpsuit,” silently in our heads when we want to strangle them. In my answer I’m assuming you’re not the supervisor and that care providers are required to stay with charges during programs.
Your supervisor needs to take the lead.
Anything you say or do will be used against you to your supervisor anyway, so meet with them. Don’t state, “This woman is making me want jury duty!” Properly frame it: “This patron is disrupting others’ library experience, her charges destroyed tax payer provided resources, and though I’ve taken proper measures to remedy the situation, the patron has shown zero respect to me and those around her.” Then suggest you speak with the patron together and state she has one more chance to straighten up her act or she—not the children—will receive a 3 month program ban. She can visit the library, check out materials, but cannot attend programs, meaning she cannot bring her charges by default. (They can attend programs with capable caregivers.) I picked 3 months because bosses negotiate bans downward, so it will probably be closer to 3 weeks. After the ban is lifted she can return provided she and her charges obey the rules.
Whether they agree with a ban or not (and if not, have the supervisor observe matters), you both still need to explain the situation to the patron. She might get upset that there’s not a sign explicitly stating it’s not the McDonald’s playground. Don’t worry about this because a) you told her this was not acceptable, and b) people who treat you in such a manner are not deterred by signs. (The latter was explained by ALA Transformer presenters when I asked, “What about signs for crazy people? You know, the ones who would leave a four year old alone at the library?”) She might try to blame you when this is about her. Or she might blame the children. That would be pretty low, but I’ve seen it. Should she pull this, in the words of a colleague, ask her, “Do you hold yourself to the same accountability level as a child?”
No one wants to answer yes to that one…
Start by addressing the issue directly with the caregiver. Explain that storytimes are participatory for everyone attending. Behavioral issues during storytimes are to be addressed by parents and caregivers as the storytime leader needs to focus on the whole group. If a child or children are need a minute to refocus, it is advisable for the group to take a break outside of the storytime and return to the storytime once the child or children are ready.
Then, create interactive components to each storytime where children and their caregivers play a game together. This will require some extra work and creativity on your part but will harvest the participation you’re looking for in the storytimes. Activities can range anywhere from playing with a large parachute as a group to one on one – or in this case one on six – where kids identify their caregivers toes, legs, knees etcetera with post-it notes.
Be sure to keep your supervisor informed and don’t hesitate to put up a “no cellphones” sign.
It might be time to have a friendly chat with the daycare provider. You could try addressing her as part of a larger group of adults; “Hey grown-ups! Let’s all put down our phones and stay engaged with the stories like the children are!” Or if you don’t think this will work, you can speak with her directly. Try to use positive language and include her in your solution. Your ultimate goal is for her to become a partner in the solution. For example, “Your daycare group are a really enthusiastic bunch, and seem to really enjoy coming to storytime! I love how much interest they take in the stories and myself. I’ve noticed that it can be a bit hard for them to follow some of my library rules, however. Especially the one about having a quiet voice while a story is being read. You know them best; do you have any ideas on ways to help them be more successful here?” This brings it to her attention but doesn’t blame her or the kids in any way. It may be hard because you seem pretty annoyed with her, but try learning her name and being comfortable talking with her peer to peer. That way, if one of her kids is having a really challenging day and your attempts to rein it in aren’t working, you can call her in by name and ask her to take the kid for a walk or a break at the back of the room. It may be that having to actively participate in caring for the kids during storytime will be so annoying to her that she’ll stop coming. Or it will be so annoying to her that she’ll work harder on setting expectations for them before they come. Either way, I think if you see this as a “two adults working together” solution, it seems less daunting. Good luck!