Ask A Storytime Ninja: Awkward Baby Storytimes

We’ve got an amazing question today all about baby storytime! The ninjas really knocked it out of the park on this one.




The Question: 

How do I make the baby story times less awkward? I sing songs and do read some books, but I always feel really awkward. I try to keep the books about body parts and things, but really struggle with this. I can do toddler and preschool story times no problem…… it’s just the babies I struggle with. Help!


After emailing and asking for some more clarificiation the question asker sent back:


I guess I could use any tips or tricks to use with the babies.  We usually do 20 minutes of books/songs and then play with toys afterwards.  How do you approach teaching rhymes to the parents and babies? Can you suggest any good ones? I would love love love suggestions for baby books to read.  I often feel that I’m reading the same ones (which is great…) but would love to expand our selection.  I feel a little less “awkward” when the books are interactive, or talking about body parts that the parent/guardian can touch on the baby.  I just want to get everyone engaged.  Any advice would be awesome.


The Answers:


Tracey says: 

I agree storytimes with babies can be a bit awkward since, as you say, you don’t get the same feedback as with the older children. However, I have found some tricks to make it a more enjoyable experience. While my preschool and toddler storytimes are geared toward the children, in baby storytime I really try to engage the caregiver as well as the child. As each person arrives, I hand out bells, egg shakers or scarves. This immediately provides an opportunity for the caregiver and baby to interact.


I also limit the number of books to two: one read aloud and one choral reader that we all read in unison. Interactive books such as lift the flaps, counting books, or songs in book form are all good choices. My favorite authors for babies are Karen Katz, Jane Cabrera and Leslie Patricelli. They all have simple language and colorful illustrations.


The rest of the program is made up of hand rhymes, bounces, action songs, lift rhymes and circle dances. These activities really allow the caregiver to participate with the child. We repeat Open Them Shut Them and This is Big Big Big every week. Action songs like Head Shoulders Knees and Toes and If You’re Happy and You Know It are also fun. Some weeks I will have a lyric sheet for the caregivers to take with them to practice the songs at home. I try to stick to simple actions like clapping, blowing kisses, tickling and tapping feet. Usually any action the child can do themselves or the parents can help with works well. My goal is to get the children and caregivers interacting and laughing together.


Puppets are something else the babies really love. One of the biggest attention getters I have is something I modified from an idea at I took a square Kleenex box and cut the bottom out. I put a puppet or stuffed animal inside. I tell the babies the animal is very shy and let’s help him come out, then I have the puppet pop up. It always gets a smile. This is a nice way to remind my caregivers that they can do simple things like this at home too.


Just a quick word about themes. The themes I use in baby storytime are really more for the caregiver than the baby. Some examples of recent themes used are: sign language, the five senses, importance of talking to your baby and the connection between music and literacy. This gives me an opportunity to talk about the different resources the library has on these subjects and to let caregivers know how easy it can be to work early literacy skills into everyday activities.


I hope this is helpful. Mel’s Desk and Jbrary are where I get most of my rhymes and songs from. Jbrary has a You Tube channel with a lot of great ideas for children of all ages.



Emily says: 

These are great questions. First of all, yes, baby time is VERY different from toddler or preschool storytime. Here are some basic tips, unique for baby time, that should help things run smoothly:


-Open your program the same way every week by introducing yourself, and laying out some guidelines that will ensure everyone is comfortable (not awkward!). Like “children this age like to explore, so it’s okay if they wander–but please grab them if they go ____ (whatever is off limits)” and “yes, they may cry and that’s okay; the door is always unlocked so feel free to take a break outside and come back in when they’re ready.”


-Repetition, repetition, repetition! Use the same four/five songs & rhymes to open and end your storytime. Reuse classic rhymes throughout (patty cake, itsy-bitsy spider, etc). Read a book twice over two weeks. Repetition is what helps kids learn at this age! I open with the same hello song, action rhyme, and lap bounce (our favorite is “Little Red Wagon” by Raffi) and close with a goodbye song and a bubble song (while blowing bubbles). Itsy-Bitsy gets used a lot, and then I can introduce variations to help build vocabulary (opposite: great, big hairy spider, synonyms: teeny-weeny spider)


-The younger the kid, the shorter then attention span. I’ve found that doing my rhymes and songs “rapid fire” helps keep everyone involved (including parents!). That means I say/sing the rhyme once, then everyone joins in the second time. Then I move right into the next rhyme quickly, without an introduction. Even when I’m passing out books or props (they love their jingle bells!), I sing a song about it. Since a lot of your program will be repeated week-to-week, your regulars will learn quickly and sing/rhyme along with you.


-Intersperse literacy/development tips for parents throughout, to make them feel their time spent with you was fulfilled. For instance: “singing songs slows speech helping kids learn words” or “rhymes helps kids with phonetics” etc.


-Play time at the end is perfect because it lets the parents connect with one another and lets the babies practice social skills. Try starting your play time with introductions (names, age/stage of child), so parents start communicating to each other about their children right away.


As for the other part of the question: favorite books! I love most anything by Karen Katz (Babies on the Bus is a favorite because everyone can join in on the actions) or I also used Eric Carl/Bill Martin a lot with our collection of animal puppets (babies LOVE puppets!).


Hopefully these tips can help. Most important of all: have fun and be happy! If you have a good attitude, it will be easier for others to have one, too.


Anita says: 

The intro below from Melissa Depper’s blog (cited as ‘mels desk ‘on the storytimeunderground Home Page) may help to set the purpose for a baby storytime; it guides my selections for parent-child interactions at this level. Additionally, we model some of the activities with a large stuffed doll or toy. Sometimes the baby faces us and sometimes it faces out for the songs and fingerplays – I find it helpful to review this excerpt before starting prep for this age group.




Parents, when you play lap games and bounces with your baby, it makes them feel secure and happy because they are close to you. Their brains release endorphins, which make them, feel good and actually reinforce learning, too. In this case the learning includes hearing the sounds, rhymes, and words of our language, and helps lay the groundwork for becoming good talkers, readers, and writers later on.


With these thoughts in mind, some of our best sources are the board books and flap books. We look for bright pictures and simple stories, too. The “That’s not my Bear” series is popular, as each child feels the page for texture as we read. We may pass around bears to share during the story and each child gives a special hug as we put the bears away for another time. These sessions are filled with activities. We intersperse rhymes, rhythms and matching activities between two or three stories before retiring to a craft project to end the set. I would say our recipe for success is: a rhyme to start, a story, a song or fingerplay, a story, a matching game, another story, an activity with scarves or instruments and exit for craft. The storytime lasts about 15 to 20 minutes with 10 minutes for the craft. For a six-week series, the songs, fingerplays and matching games remain the same.


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4 thoughts on “Ask A Storytime Ninja: Awkward Baby Storytimes

  1. Profile photo of MelodyMelody

    I had great success with simple flannel boards in baby storytime. Make sure they are durable and during play time the babies and caregivers could come up to the board and play with the felt pieces. They were so amazed to see them stick. The caregivers were very good about making sure all the pieces came back and it really helped me forge relationships with the families.

    Are you doing a name song during your storytime? Even when I had a huge group, I made sure to sing every baby’s name and would go around the circle so the baby could see me and i could see them respond to their names. It made me a lot more comfortable with my babies.

    I love using books that give caregivers an opportunity to interact on each page. Some favorites include:
    Freight Train by Donald Crews (I hand out shaker and before we turn the page, we chant “chugga-chugga choo-choo!”)
    Clip Clop by Nicola Smee (great for bouncing babies)
    I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy
    Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox
    Toot Toot Beep Beep by Emma Garcia

  2. Profile photo of Abby JohnsonAbby Johnson

    My turning point in becoming comfortable with baby storytime was realizing that it’s really more for the parents and caregivers than it is for the actual babies. Yes, we want the babies to have fun and they will have fun, but I keep my focus on modeling for grownups rhymes, songs, activities, and reading that they can continue to do at home with their child.

    I completely second the need for lots of repetition – I repeat TONS of stuff every week – and what’s worked for me is to plan lots of different things so that you’re always switching it up to keep baby’s attention – song, song, book, rhyme, song, bounce, etc. It sounds like a lot, but if you’re repeating a lot of stuff each week, it’s not that much planning. (I should say here that I don’t use themes with my baby storytimes, but I think that’s a personal preference.)

    I have several blog posts about books I’ve used at baby storytimes (the best ones can be made interactive in some way – this helps keep the kids’ attention) and how I run my baby storytime on my blog:

    And Jbrary and Mel’s Desk are both invaluable resources for me, too!

    1. Profile photo of Abby JohnsonAbby Johnson

      Oh, and I would also say that for me personally, teaching rhymes and songs got a lot easier when I got my own baby doll so I could model how parents could do the motions, etc. with their child. Not everyone is comfortable with this, and you might prefer to use a puppet or stuffed animal instead of a doll, but it’s helped me greatly in showing parents the motions instead of feeling like I have to explain them always.

      Also, Jbrary’s videos have helped me step outside the box and include many different kinds of rhymes – bounces, tickles, diaper changing rhymes – and I introduce them just like that: “This next rhyme we’re going to do is a great one for changing diapers!” or “Here’s a song that would be fun to sing at bath time!”

  3. Profile photo of Allison M.Allison M.

    I can totally relate to this question! When I first started doing baby story times, I felt like the parents were just staring at me with a blank look on their faces, as the babies gurgled away. I reached out to Melissa, of Mel’s Desk, and received excellent advice :) !

    After doing this story time for a number of years, I now have a routine and break up the program into little “sets”. There is are two opening songs with the ipod (Can’t Wait to Celebrate and Hands are for Clapping) and I dance around with my Mr. Bear puppet. I then bring out the bubble gun and we sing Hello Bubbles and There Are Bubbles in the Air.

    Next up are puppets! I find it so much easier to engage the little ones with puppets. We sing a mixture – Three Green and Speckled Frogs, Three Little Ducks Went out to Play, Old MacDonald, Itsty Bitsy Spider.

    For books, I love a book that we can sing. Jane Cabrera is great. I also have a bunch of the same title board books and we will sometimes read together out loud.

    Props are wonderful – pass out shakey eggs and sing I Know a Chicken with the ipod or scarves and sing Let’s Go Fly a Kite.

    Lastly, we all stand up and make a circle – caregivers hold babies face outwards and we sing the Toaster Song, the Elevator Song, and Go in and Out the Window (thanks so much Jbrary!).

    This lasts for about 25ish minutes and then it’s time to take out more board books to share and toys to play with. It took me a while to get comfortable with this, but as a previous person mentioned, this is great for the kids but really for the grownups!

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