Ask a Storytime Ninja: Energizing a Small Group

This week we have answers from both our May ninjas and our June ninjas! Sort of a happy mistake on my part (I blame it entirely on Summer Reading!!!). Enjoy the additional responses!




The Question:


I have a preschool storytime for 3- to 5- year-olds that sometimes only has 4 participants. When the numbers are that low, I am really challenged to inject energy into the extension activities, which tend to fizzle out. I don’t want to just add another book to fill the time. Any suggestions?


Some more clarification for this question:

Extension activities: scarves, shakers, parachute; wiggles song/dance. They like having something in their hands, as opposed to following motions.

By “fizzle out”, it just seems that they feed off of each other’s “boredom”, if I can put it that way.


The Answers:


From Nancy:


Nothing takes the wind out of my enthusiastic sails than a small, quiet group.  Using manipulatives like scarves, shakers and bean bags is a great way to get the kids’ minds off being self-conscious…usually.  When a group is shy or quiet, I like to make the activities interactive, like playing Kimbo’s “Pass the Bean Bag” from their Bean Bag Activities CD.  To make the group feel more empowered, maybe having a pair of dice that they roll which determines which song and what manipulatives they use would work, too.


Playing simple games is an option when music fails (don’t forget, playing is one of ECRR2’s 5 Practices!). One preschool group I had loved playing “Red Rover, Red Rover” under the parachute, which can be done with as few as 4 kids. If you don’t know names, just calling out “Red Rover, Red Rover, let someone in a blue shirt come over!” (or another distinguishing feature) works; then that child ducks under the parachute and crosses to the other side.  “Hot Potato” with scarves is interactive and challenging because the scarves are a little harder to hold on to while passing them to another child.  I clap a rhythm that they pass to (they have to pass every clap), and the clapping gradually speeds up as they play. I make silly faces at them until someone drops the scarf; the person who drops it gets to make silly faces at the group until the next person drops the scarf and so on.


Adding another story might be a great idea–if you get the preschoolers involved.  Give them each a piece of a flannel story to add to the board at the right point of the story keeps their attention as they wait for their cue to help. Or even handing out props to tell the story is engaging.  I did Baa-choo (Sarah Weeks) with stick puppets–each child got a set of characters printed out then attached to craft sticks to help me tell the story; they could go home and retell using the props.


When all else fails, I remind myself that they are still getting something from storytime through the books and extension activities.  Not every child expresses enthusiasm overtly.  I bet they still go home and talk about what they did in storytime that day!


From Michelle:


I second everything Nancy suggested! It is so hard when you have a group that seems unresponsive. It is important to keep in mind that the kids are still getting a lot out of storytime. If you haven’t already think about adding the caregivers to the storytime. I think storytime is always better with caregivers. After all, the mission of storytime is to also help guide the caregivers on early literacy initiatives – that is hard to do if the caregivers are not in the room.


Additionally, never be afraid to do what is right for the group. If you have a quiet group that loves stories, give them more books! Extension activities are great, but if they are not connecting with the kids, don’t keep trying something that isn’t working. If you have a group of listeners, then I suggest trying some more complicated books. Spend time with the stories, talk about the book before and after you finish. See what they connect – you might be surprised at how much they are taking in. I’d also try some wordless picture books with a group like this. I’d ask them to narrate the story and make sure to ask a lot of questions. I’d also suggest some activities where you explore stories in different ways. Read the book, then do a book related activity. The kids can help you retell the story (check out Flannel Friday for ideas!).


Lastly, when groups are small I like to eliminate the “performance” aspect of storytime. If you are able, I’d suggest sitting on the floor with the kids. Make it a bit more cozy and comfortable. That might help the kids feel more open.


From Lindsey:


Already awesome suggestions from Nancy and Michelle!


Michelle mentioned sitting on the floor with the kids. I have always done this and I love how it allows me to meet them eye to eye. I feel like it really engages each child when you are on their level. I tried it once in a chair and felt like I was reading AT them, not TO them (or sometimes WITH them!)


I always try to choose interactive books that allow me to ask questions and get the kids really involved that way. Mix It Up or Press Here by Herve Tullet are really great for small groups like that. It’s hard to do with larger groups because everybody wants to be involved. But, with 4, it would be perfect!


If you are able to, I always like to take my kiddos outside if it’s nice. We blow bubbles, sometimes I break out the sno-cone machine or have snacks outside, if you are able to do that as well. I think part of my mission as a children’s librarian is exposing them to things that are new or that they don’t do everyday. We’ve played twister outside and hopscotch. Not typical things for a StoryTime, but playing and interacting with others is so important. This also allows for the parents and caregivers to talk and get to know each other. A lot of times, this parent interaction alongside with seeing their children having fun is what makes them come back every week. They start to form real relationships outside of the library and that’s a beautiful thing to see.


Another thing that I’ve recently started using are story stones. They are these little smooth stones with pictures painted on them in a little canvas bag. I have each child who wants to come up and pick one out of the bag and just show me. They then have to tell a story about that item without giving it away and have the other kids guess what it is. This is a great way for the children to interact with each other with little interference from me. Sometimes, they ask me for prompts, but usually, their imaginations are so wild, they come up with better stories than I could ever dream up. They have really enjoyed that so far.


Always remember that we have one of the most important jobs–instilling the love of reading to children. Be it 4 or 400, each child that picks up a book excitedly is a success!


From Chrissie:


Everyone has made excellent suggestions!


I think the most important thing to know about extension activities is that you have to be open to trying new things. Sometimes if I see an activity is not working, I’ll shorten it and move on to something else.


Instead of trying to come up with new activities each week, use what you already have so you’re not spending extra time on preparation and set up.  I like to go back to my cabinet full of stuff, when I’m stuck. With 2’s & 3’s, I typically do some sort of matching activity every once in a while with laminated pictures with magnets on the back. For example, I’ll put the picture of the red mitten on my magnetic board and the child with the red mitten will bring it up. This can be boring for older preschoolers so I’ve tried to go a little further and offer a sort of scavenger hunt for them. I’ll take my matching game and hide one set of mittens somewhere around the storytime room or children’s area.  I’ll give the small group a couple mittens and tell them to go find their mates. It gets them up and moving and they love looking for stuff!


I am also a big fan of the parachute. I use the parachute for rhymes and songs, but something I do with all ages is “make popcorn.”  The children who have been coming since they were babies look forward to it no matter how old they are.  It is an excellent way to have children follow directions and fun at the same time. I have a bag of mini beach balls that I use as our kernels. I have the children pour the oil into our pan (the parachute); then the oil starts to sizzle and get hot (make appropriate sizzling noises.) I start tossing on the kernels and they start to pop! We pop for about a minute then I have the children collect the balls and throw them back on the parachute and we start again. They know we are done when I ask them to put the balls back in the bag.


Retelling the story is a great way to expand on what you’re already doing. I know it was mentioned earlier, but with a group this small I can use our puppet collection or simply put a few stick puppets together and each child is a character in the story.


Still fizzling out? How about asking the children what they like about storytime? That might also give you a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.


From Abby:


When I have smaller storytime attendance, I will usually sit on the floor with the kids, which may ease some of the intimidation factor and encourage them to participate more. I try to get the kids as involved as possible. When you have a small group, it may be possible for the kids to help you turn the pages or get close up and take a close look at the pictures, find objects in the pictures, etc. I tend to use smaller, quieter extension activities to reflect the mood of the group. Instead of doing a song with big actions and dances, I might stick to fingerplays or a song like “My Hands Say Hello”. Then if you’re noticing that they’re getting kind of fidgety, that might be time to stand up (or keep sitting) and shake some sillies out. If you’re doing a felt story, maybe they can help you put the felt objects on the board. You might try rolling a ball back and forth, letting each child have a turn to receive and roll or toss the ball back to you. A small storytime might be a good time to bring out a puppet that everyone can take turns hugging since you won’t have a crowd to overwhelm you.


From Natasha:


When I have smaller storytime attendance, I will usually sit on the floor with the kids, which may ease some of the intimidation factor and encourage them to participate more. I try to get the kids as involved as possible. When you have a small group, it may be possible for the kids to help you turn the pages or get close up and take a close look at the pictures, find objects in the pictures, etc. I tend to use smaller, quieter extension activities to reflect the mood of the group. Instead of doing a song with big actions and dances, I might stick to fingerplays or a song like “My Hands Say Hello”. Then if you’re noticing that they’re getting kind of fidgety, that might be time to stand up (or keep sitting) and shake some sillies out. If you’re doing a felt story, maybe they can help you put the felt objects on the board. You might try rolling a ball back and forth, letting each child have a turn to receive and roll or toss the ball back to you. A small storytime might be a good time to bring out a puppet that everyone can take turns hugging since you won’t have a crowd to overwhelm you.


From Lindsay:


This is such a good question.  The size of your storytime group can really make a difference in what format will work best.  Do you think it would work to put an activity in the middle of your storytime?  Sensory Storytimes are often formatted this way, with a set of books and songs followed by a hands-on activity.  Breaking it up this way can help keep the kids’ attention.  Or, can you extend other elements throughout your storytime?  For example, do a story that the children can participate in, like Natasha suggested.  You could do a flannel story one time, then a second time, having each child contribute a piece to retelling the story.  Parachute games and challenges might also be just the right fit for your smaller group (if you have a small parachute), and they’re great skill-building and teamwork activities, too.  So Tomorrow has some great suggestions here and Libraryland here that you could use throughout storytime, or as a fun closing routine.


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One thought on “Ask a Storytime Ninja: Energizing a Small Group

  1. Profile photo of KerenKeren

    I asked this same question on Pubyac a few years ago. Here are the compiled responses. I had good luck with the kids handling flannel pieces and with “Hickory Dickory Dare.” Good luck! I’m way more comfortable with 50 than with 5.


    We are all too familiar with small storytimes here! Generally at least one of our class times each session has less than 10 kids that attend. Here are some things we do with them:

    – Have them help you put up pieces for felt stories. Or create felt pieces of different colors that go along with your theme and call up the colors one at a time, inviting kids to put them up on the board.

    – Pass out bells, shakers, or other musical instruments and shake them in rhythm to a song, or even just put on a music CD and have them shake to the beat for a little bit. Having a CD might make parents less self-conscious about getting involved since they’re not feeling like everyone can hear their singing voice.

    – Something I do with my baby storytime, but that would work for older children as well, is to take a tambourine around and ask the kids/parents to beat out the syllables in their child’s name. Great for phonological awareness and something nonthreatening that gets the kids involved and might make them more comfortable interacting with you. Or even just say a rhyme or sing a song, beating out each syllable and then afterwards, take the drum/tambourine around and let each child hit it.

    – Get down on the floor to read and let them look closely at the pictures.

    – For a bigger group, I like to use an active opening song like Shake Your Sillies Out. But for a small group, I’ll use My Hands Say Hello:

    (To the tune of The Farmer in the Dell) My hands say hello My hands say hello Every time I see my friends My hands say hello

    And repeat with feet, ears, knees, whatever. Ask the kids for suggestions but have some ready in case they’re shy. I like to always end with “My tongue says hello” and sing it with my tongue sticking out.

    I hope this helps! Good luck!


    You’re right: reading to small groups is a totally different ballgame. But it’s a fun opportunity to pull out those books that have small illustrations (such as Snow, by Shulevitz), or even pop-up books (a few weeks ago, One Red Dot worked really well with a small group). It can be interactive, but in a different way – for example, I read The Monster at the End of This Book when I have a small group, and then each child gets to turn one of the pages.


    With smaller groups you have more opportunity to build a sense of ‘family’. Our story time attendance fluctuates, so when a group is smaller I change the participation to more personal sharing. You never want to ask a group of 100 kids if they have a dog too, you’ll never get on with the story! With 8 kids, though, that’s no problem.

    As families are coming in and getting settled I may tell them about something I saw this week or even something my own kids did. I’m modeling storytelling and establishing/building connections. They will usually tell me a similar story (or one completely unrelated!), by the end of which we can segue into the stories of the day. They are thrilled when you remember to ask them the next week about that new puppy or if their scar from the fall off their bike is all better.


    Great question! I’d love to see other people’s advice, but here is what has worked well for me.

    -Felt/flannel board games and stories. You can check my blog ( ) to see pictures and descriptions of ones I have been using, but they are an easy way to get a smaller group to participate. All you have to do is let them come up the the front and put a piece on the board. Or for a really small group, I use a portable felt board (it actually rolls up for storage) and put it in the floor in front of us (we usually sit in a semi-circle).

    -Reading pop-up or lift-the-flap books. Things that you can’t do with a bigger group (because they will crowd each other out) work great with a smaller group. Try Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. I used the patterns from and glued them to a piece of posterboard so they would be bigger. Then I pasted the words on the back. The kids love to lift the flaps!

    -Read books based on familiar songs and stories and have people fill in the words. Sing Wheels on the Bus, etc. that people know and will be more likely to chime in on. I also like Big Cat, Small Cat by Ami Rubinger for this because the kids have to fill in missing words.

    Abby the Librarian also has a good blog post on this:

    Hope some of this is helpful!


    Yes, I know what you mean. Sometimes you have those really small…truly intimate groups…and they are a totally different animal.

    One of the things I feel I can do with a smaller group as opposed to the larger group is to play a fun game with a puppet/stuffed animal.

    Everyone knows Hickory Dickory Dock…. but how many people know Hickory Dickory Dare?

    Hickory Dickory Dare
    The ______ flew up in the air,
    Farmer Brown soon brought him down,
    Hickory Dickory Dare.

    Whatever my theme is or the time of year, I pick a stuffed animal or a puppet and I recite the verse and throw the “pig” or whatever it is up in the air the first time around.

    The second time around I toss the “pig” to a child in the group. If it’s a really young one, I just sort of hand it to them. And then I get them to hand/toss it back. The whole time I am saying the verse. Child by child I make my way around the room, saying the verse:

    Hickory Dickory Dare
    The pig flew up in the air (I toss to the child) Farmer Brown soon brought him down Hickory Dickory Dare…. (I have my arms outstretched for them to throw it back to me.)

    The parents see what’s supposed to happen and they help the child…. the children wait with great delight for their turn to come around. Some of the boys especially use this as their chance to demonstrate their future major league pitching arms:) So beware:)

    It’s a lot of fun..

    Another thing you can do with a small group is to play a song and then have felt pieces made from diecuts for kids to come up an put on a flannel board. If you have them in different colors, then you can call up the red group or the blue group. Little Red Caboose and Twinkle Twinkle both lend themselves to this. (All the red stars come up….alll the green trains come up)

    Good luck


    You probably have asked them to bring a friend. 5 to 10 kids AND parents makes a group of at least 20 people here. You can get to know children and parents better of course. Not sure of the age group you are working with but have a variety of books to use if you have just 5 kids, 10 kids or hopefuly more. Engage smallest group with stories that have the good old “repeated phrase” Repetition of opening and closing songs should be good for large or small groups. Time just gets shortened if only one of my registered 3 babies comes, I spend a little more time asking how they read to their baby or give pre-reading skill and a book or rhyme to reinforce. Keep going and good luck.


    In my Family Storytimes I sometimes only have 10 -15 kids and parents. I always include parents by making sure the kids get them egg shakers, scarves, and bells. I encourage the parents when they participate and the kids get a kick out of Mom and Dad joining in.


    Use music and puppets. One of my favorites is the 5 Monkeys in a tree…
    any counting song with monkeys works. You use the puppets and teach them to use their hands as pretend puppets.
    I use the furry hand glove with 5 little monkeys. If you don’t have the funding to purchase the expensive puppets there are lots of patterns online that can be printed and made easily. I actually used a pattern from a craft book in the library to make my alligator. The good thing about the smaller groups is that you have the opportunity to get to know your young patrons more personally.


    My Story Time has always been small. There are a lot of factors why*, but since it is a small group we do a lot of talking together. We talk about what is on the page, they anticipate what will happen, they count with me, (or the alphabet or the color), when we do a theme they might have (pet, favorite stuffed animal, have you ever been on a plane?, etc.) we talk about it. Sometimes if there is repetition in the story, I can get them to say it for me. “But he was still
    hungry…” We’ll talk about “is this an imagination story?”, etc. A
    lot of the things that would be very disruptive in a large group work for us simply because it is a small group.

    Some people like a small group because they get to sit within 5 feet of me. It’s a more US group than “me and them over there”.

    Also, since it is a small group we can do a lot of stories in a half hour of reading and our art projects can be a little more intensive or they can just spend more time doing them.

    Small groups can be fun too.

    *(We have several other story times spread over the days of the week, over our 4 branches and any time between 10 am and 6:30pm. The one at my branch is the afternoon one (1:30 pm) and as a consequence I often have mostly 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 year olds since it’s prime naptime for the younger ones and is kind of considered the “training for school” kind of story time, which works fine for me.)


    The irony is that some of your parents are probably thinking, “Isn’t this a great storytime? It’s so small and cozy!”
    My groups are medium-large, and I still have to remind my parents to help with the songs & rhymes: “Okay, let’s do _______. Your Mamas will help!” And at the end of the song, “Good job, everybody!” It’s inane, but it sometimes helps.

    With groups this little, you make storytime very personal. I don’t know how old the children are in this group, so I’m going to pretend that they are preschool age. Have a favorite toy theme, and each brings their favorite toy & gets to tell the rest of us its name. Have a theme on gatting dressed, and they wear their favorite outfit. Start each storytime by asking who has lost a tooth, had a birthday, gotten a haircut, etc. It lets each child get attnetion, and helps the other children learn to listen to others & take turns talking.


    At my current library I have the huge crowds, but I’ve worked in a couple of locations with small groups. What I did, to make the program more interactive, was have the kids make predictions about the story as I was reading it — so the story was a conversation. I also tended to know the kids and would chat with them — this works once you know the kids. I’ve also changed things up as the storytime goes on — I’ll ask if we should do this song or that – the kids are more excited/into it when they feel like they are a part of it.

    As for parents/caregivers — its hard. One thing that worked for me, in the beginning, was to concentrate on the kids and not worry about the adults. If you have chatty adults, make an announcement as the programs begins and stop if/when the adults get too distracting.

    Good luck; it will get easier — or at least more comfortable!


    For the small groups you have the chance to do more interaction and more intricate activities than you would with large groups. Think about projects you could never possibly attempt with a larger group like multiple pieces to a craft or having play time with fake fruit where you can act out a whole story with the kids, I like to think of these as opportunities that are different but can have more layers to them than you could attempt with a larger group. Hope this helps!


    I have the reverse situation at my branch, and occasionally even give storytimes for one child!

    I learn the name of each child (writing them down so that I do not
    forget) and address individual children throughout storytime. A fun introduction rhyme that my coworker uses is “Hello My Friend, and how are you? Tell us your name and we’ll clap for you!” In small groups the children (and parents!) seem more comfortable once they have been introduced to each other with this rhyme.

    At our branch we also create half-sheet handouts with the lyrics and tune of each song. Since I drop a word or miss a beat on a regular basis, the parents never feel too out of place! :) Repeating a standard opening and closing song each storytime also works well for a smaller group. Parents will pick these up and develop a greater comfort level.

    Hope that some of this helps!


    I work at a library in a fairly small town, and sometimes our story times are small too. I have found that the smaller groups offer opportunities that you don’t have with a really big group.

    I sit on the floor, and with a small group the kids can all sit close to me and find things in the pictures when we read a story. Sometimes I ask them to look for things, sometimes they volunteer things unasked. With a small group you can allow more of this and respond to children individually more, too.

    I can do interactive songs in which the children contribute elements, and everyone will get a turn! “Going on a Picnic,” “Great Big Man,” (Carole Peterson) and “Pig on her Head” (Laurie Berkner) are a few examples. You can sing a “hello” song in which everyone gets named (example “Hi, ____ I see you” to the tune of “Skip to My Lou”). You can single each child out for special attention with “____ is wearing…” (Education Through Music).

    I let the children “help” put things on the flannel board. We play “Little Mouse” and everyone gets a few turns – they love this!

    Maybe part of your discomfort is just caused by the fact that this situation is not what you are accustomed to. My experience has been that my audience takes their cue from me: if I’m having a good time, they do too. When you find things that work for you and start feeling less awkward, they will too.

    Good luck, and have fun!


    Over the past few years our storytim attendance have decreased greatly. I was very comfortable with having 16 – 24 preschoolers in a group, but I find I am now dealing with 4 – 7 children instead.

    Some changes I’ve made include making the stories more interactive with the children handling puppets and flannelboard pieces. For example, with Duck on a Bike, each child held the appropriate folkmanis puppet, made the appropriate animal noise during the correct point in the story and at the end of the story we all “rode our bikes” around in a circle in the program room. Some other stories I’ve used successfully include Harry the Dirty Dog and Dog’s Colorful Day. I find a lot of very useful ideas in Storytime Action and More Storytime Action by Jennifer Bromann.

    A number of flannel stories or poems have only a few pieces which the children put up on the board as I read the appropriate poem or short story. Starting off your program with Willoughby Wallaby Woo is also a fun way to personalize your program.


    I do my storytimes year-round and use the same two opening and closing songs each week. It’s surprising how many kids/parents come a couple times in January and still remember the songs when they appear again in July. I’d also suggest doing a lot of classic song/rhymes that the parents will already know: twinkle twinkle, baa baa black sheep, row row row your boat, etc. I tend to mix them up a lot so the parents feel comfortable but no one gets bored. For instance, I’ll slap a black sheep up on the felt board, sing baa baa black sheep, stick up a red sheep and start singing baa baa red sheep…we have lots of different colors or sheep, fish, birds, etc. that I use in these situations.

    Smaller groups are perfect for more tactile handouts as well. We have thousands of extra envelopes given to use by a Hallmark store so each kid will get an envelope filled with that day’s handout and when they tear the envelope to shreds, I just replace them. Some days I hand out laminated muffins, apples, and bananas. We sing “do you know the muffin man?” while waving around our muffins. Then we take out our apples and sing, “do you know the apple man?” Other days they get envelopes filled with colored birds. They take our their two little blackbirds and we say the rhyme. Then they take our their two little purple birds and we say “two little purple birds sitting on a hill” and continue with whatever color birds we have. Or, you can just keep it simple and hand out scarves or shakers, too.

    Finally, my absolute favorite part about those days when I only have a few kids is that I take a puppet around to each kid and let them say hello to it (pet it, hug it, kiss it, whatever). On regular days when the room is packed all the kids WANT to touch the puppets, but it can’t possibly work. This is their chance and they love it! J

    Good luck!


    I personally love the smaller groups….you can get so much more initmate with the kids….they seem to want to sit closer, and I really involve them in the story…”what do you suppose will happen next?”…..”does anybody see where the bee went”…” who sees the fairy hiding?”, etc….I also use some music in between books, related to the theme….that really integrates, and relaxes the parents and kids…..a few fingerplays, puppets…they love to see the puppets….hand stamps at end…..hope this helps!


    Sometimes I miss working in smaller libraries! It’s great to be able to really get to know the kids and the parents and to develop (professional) relationships with one’s customers. I agree that certain activities tend to “flop” in smaller groups (particularly with adults in attendance), but there are other types of activities you can do that would result in bedlam (or a large number of children missing out on participation) in a larger group.

    With a small group, you don’t need to fall back on “participation stories and songs.” You can engage the group, talking directly to each child, and asking for questions and personal connections with the literature. For example, when reading Growing a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert you could go around the room and ask the kids to tell you about a time when they grew something, “Does anyone have a pet plant? Has anyone ever planted a seed or helped a grown-up in the garden?” Sometimes you’ll get a child to shy to speak up in even a small group–you might ask if they want to whisper what they have to say to their grown-up & have the grown-up say it aloud to the group. This is actually a great way to encourage language development and help everyone connect with the books on a personal level, as well as for you to get to know your customers better. Don’t forget to include the grown-ups in your conversations. You never can tell what you’ll learn. I didn’t realize we had a little expat group from South Africa in our community until I asked during a recent storytime (on African art and literature) who had been to Africa.

    Another fun thing to do in a small group is to give each child an object to add to the story. (This does take lots of coaching on your part, at least at first.) For example, you could tell the story of “Stone Soup” and let the children’s be townspeople–have a big pot and let the children take turns coming up and adding different items to the soup. Just make sure you have enough on hand for everyone. (If needs be, you can always let more than one child play the same role–for example, maybe more than one townsperson has carrots hidden away.) You know those books based on “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”? (“There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow, etc) You can take a box, cut a hole for her mouth, paste a picture of a woman, and let the kids come up and “feed” her the various items as you get to that part of the book. You can do this with a flannel board as well–let the kids come up and add stars to the sky for a storytime on outer space, etc.

    Have fun with your smaller storytimes!


    I’d definately go with more flannel board activities. There are so many stories that you can have audience participation in now. Also songs like 5 little ducks, 10 little pumpkins, can work if you assign each kid an object and a line. Then if there’s 10 kids, just do the song twice with different participants.


    My evening storytime group, Sleepytime Tales, is ALWAYS small.
    I usually start out by saying that tonight is going to be an intimate group and that we have to make up for everybody missing the fun.
    If there are older kids in the audience we either have the Sleepytime Tales Players, and the kids are invited to act out the stories. I also encourage the kids to be guest readers and if the story is something with a repeating text they are asked to help read the story.
    Do you do a craft? If so, then you could do a reverse storytime, crafty thing first and story afterwards.
    Good luck


    I have small groups most of the time 10-15 kids. Recently I have been using fun stories where I can give each child a felt board piece. I read the story once, then give them each a piece and read the story again and when their piece comes in, they get to come up and put it on the board. If the story doesn’t have enough pieces add multiples of an animal or whatever is in the story. They like doing it, it teaches them patience, and they get to help tell the story. Also I play felt games where I hide a felt mouse behind colored houses and they close their eyes then guess where the mouse is (mostly with the toddlers).

    More involved crafts are doable with smaller groups.

    They love I spy type of activities too. You can have them search for things in the room by counting how many there are etc. (I used accu-cut lizards in different colors when I did a chameleon storytime. ) Some of them were a challenge to find 😉

    We also like to use puppets near the end of some of our storytimes. This is great because the kids can take turns playing with all the puppets and act out their own stories. A previous library I worked at used the parachute one week, band instruments the next, painting a picture the next, etc. Each week that portion of storytime was different!

    We always start by saying hello to each other and using our names. Then we talk a little about our theme before open shut them and the first story. Music is usually includes Bluegrass Jamboree (Hap Palmer) and sometimes Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, Laurier Berkner, etc. And we nearly always do a craft.

    Hope this helps you. Have FUN!


    First I always have the cd of the song to play and I sing along. Then I tell the parents to sing with me, do the fingerplay, actions whatever and I repeat at least 2xs then move on. For stories where I expect participation, I always tell them ahead of time what I expect and then I clue them by pointing at them for their part and even say it with them.
    I will even chide them(in the nicest possible way) to do better. Small groups are good to get to know parents as individuals and soon they are laughing with you.


    I think Ami has hit the nail on the head — smaller storytimes let you interact with the kids and their parents in a whole new way! In addition to having personal conversations and connections with the kids, you can also utilize much more interactive stories and songs. A few things that have worked for me with smaller (3-5 year old) storytime groups:

    After reading In the Tall Tall Grass by Denise Fleming, we pass green construction paper cut to look like grass around the circle, and each child holds up the grass in front of their eyes and says what they imagine they can see in the tall tall grass. This is a wonderful (and easy to prep!) exercise in pretend.

    To help pre-readers begin to understand the concept of syllables and phonemes, each child taps out the syllables in his or her name on a drum, tambourine, rhythm sticks, etc. I like to say the rhyme “Rum-tum-tum, this is my drum” while tapping it out on the drum a few times to introduce the activity. If the kids get used to tapping out their names, you can change it up using favorite animals, colors, etc.

    When you have a smaller audience, young listeners can also participate more in storytelling, holding up puppets or pictures during a story, placing pictures on a flannel board, making sound effects, etc. I’ve found that when everyone has something to do during the story, people are more likely to participate. Cumulative tales like The Mitten and the I Know an Old Lady.. stories work really well with audience participation.


    You can do activities where each child has an individual turn. There are songs where each child has a verse sung about them (Mary Wore a Red Dress, etc.) and games. I do a pick up song to “Ten Little Indians”. [Is there a politically correct version of that song that everyone would recognize?!] We pick up bunnies or leaves or snowflakes, depending on the season. The kids LOVE it.


    5 to 20 is normal for my storytimes; I’ve never done the huge ones you’re talking about, so I’m not sure how those would work. I’ve not had a problem getting the kids to participate, but I do notice direction seems to work better. For instance, if I play music to start and ask them to dance with me while playing an instrument, They’ll grab an instrument and play for all they’re worth, but only one or two will dance. But if I play the Hokey Pokey, they’ll all follow the directions and even the parents join in. If we’re reading a story and I ask them to do the animal sounds or a repetitive word or phrase, I may have to remind them when the time comes, but they’re very willing. With a small group you can be much closer to them and facial expressions are more visible; just a nod or raising your eyebrows can be the signal for them to chime in. Of course, they will need to get used to you and your way of doing things. If you’ve only got five and they’re all extremely shy, you may need to ask the parents to help coach them until they get used to it. Hope this helps.


    I know, sometimes it is harder to program for the smaller groups than it is for the larger groups. When I have a smaller group, say from 2-5 kids, then I end up reading a lot more of the stories, and you can have the kids do a little bit more, like having more turns putting up flannelboard pieces on the board, or having a turn with the puppet, or doing a smaller circle game that is meant for fewer children. You can also show a “movie,” meaning a small clip from a children’s show, or do a slightly more involved craft. Sometimes a smaller group can be very nice. Othertimes it feels like it is taking forever. To me, an optimal group size is 10-15 kids. You also really have a chance to get to know the kids when you have those smaller groups. Also, listening to picture books on tape or CD also helps with the smaller groups.

    I hope what I have said helps. Good luck!


    Sometimes, if only a few kids show up, I’ll sit on the floor with them and read the stories (instead of being up at the front of the room). Also, it might help to have several stories on hand and allow the group to choose what they want to hear.

    These are just two ways I try to connect with kids who are too shy to participate.


    I know exactly how you feel! When I started this job I had the exact same problem. Here are a few things that worked for me:

    1) The kinds in my smaller groups were very reluctant to participate in songs and action rhymes at first. With the smaller groups and especially with a new person leading storytime we really didn’t have any outgoing leaders at first. I asked parents to participate with their kids, and that helped quite a bit. I also started spending more time practicing the actions with the group before we did the rhyme to help some of the kids out. That was less intimidating than jumping straight into a rhyme/song – even it it was something that most of the kids already knew like “If Your Happy and You Know It.”

    2) I also found that with fewer kids, we generally moved through stories and songs faster than with a larger group. I try to have extra stories on hand just in case.

    3) Just give it time. The kids need to get used to you too, which probably isn’t helping their shyness. Keep encouraging participation and make it clear that you want parents to help out. Feel free to throw in a quick explanation of why this participation is important too; that often gets parents into gear. Ask lots of question (we do lots of predicting what will happen next when I read stories). In time your regulars will warm up a bit more and they’ll be much more eager to participate.

    I hope that some of this helps. Good luck!


    When I have a small group I try to capitalize on the intimacy and do things you can’t do in a large group–I make a small comment about my life that week and ask questions about what they’ve been doing since the last storytime, I call every child by name, I sit on the floor with the kids while reading stories and let them get really good looks at the illustrations, we play games like Duck, Duck, Goose and Red Light, Green Light and I can do fun crafts that are usually too much work. Hope this helps.


    I have the opposite problem! =) I love working with small groups. Although you might feel more on the spot, you have the opportunity to develop stronger relationships and do a greater variety of activities.

    With small groups of younger kids (ages 3-7), I do a lot of flannelboard activities because it’s easy for the kids to gather round and see the pieces, plus they aren’t too numerous to help participate in that kind of storytelling nor to play together with the flannelboard after formal storytelling is done. If you are feeling awkward about doing things like fingerplays or movement rhymes, you might also try using puppets since you won’t need very many for everyone to hold one. Having the puppet do the activity sometimes seems less embarrassing. Or if you feel self-conscious about singing, letting the puppet be the one to do the singing takes the attention off you, and so on. A small group is also excellent for a more involved craft or playing a complicated game. In general, with this age group, I sit on the rug with the kids which helps me feel less like I’m “performing” and more like we’re all enjoying the storytime together.

    With smaller groups of older kids (ages 7-11), I tend to do more “nonfiction” storytimes where I engage the group in a conversation about a particular topic (for example, a country) and then we look together at nonfiction (not limited to books — we also looked at websites together). Then I’d usually read or tell a couple related stories (usually fiction or folktales, but there are good nonfiction readalouds) — this age group really loves long flannelboard stories, too. Again, it’s easier to do more complicated crafts or games with a smaller group.

    One of my most exciting storytime series with the small group (ages 4-10) was doing a series of food/cooking storytimes. With about 10-12 kids in the group, we were able to cook food together (using an electric griddle). The small group was the perfect size for the kids to take turns with the measuring, mixing, stirring, etc. of the cooking, and it was really inexpensive to provide the supplies for so few people. If you’re not really into cooking, or other factors would limit that kind of programming, I would encourage you to think of some other fun hobby that you would enjoy teaching the kids and exploring with them through books and activities.


    I also have small story times. I like it because the kids can all participate. If I am doing a flannel story, I hand the pieces out and the kids put them on the board. We can also play with a parachute because there aren’t too many kids. We use musical instruments and there are plenty for everyone. View it as a plus. You and the families get to know each other better than when you have a large group.
    I’ve never had small groups because our community is much like you’re the community in your last job….full of families eager for storytimes. Here are examples of some things I’d like to do but am not able to because of large groups:

    Flannel boards where each child gets a piece and can come up and put it on the board (I have ideas if you need some) Pass the bean bag game (look for CDs with Bean Bag Activities) Parachute games Hand out pieces of yarn and have the children use them to shape letters on the floor

    Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd is an easy flannel to make easy to give the kids one spot each to place on him.


    Our regular Tiny Tots Storytime (2½ – 3½ year olds) average about 10 – 12 children. But with moms, dads, nannies, younger siblings and strollers, the room can get pretty crowed pretty quick. But I always say something like what a nice cozy group we have today. The advantage of a small group is that you can let them be a little more hands on. If you do flannelboards for instance, letting the kids come up themselves and add or remove the pieces as you go along is lots of fun. Once we did a camping storytime and made felt pieces of the items we wanted to use. We sang the song to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell and incorporated the child’s name into the song: Kelsey will bring the tent… Kelsey will bring the tent….Hi ho and off we go…Kelsey will bring the tent./ Jimmy will bring the flashlight…

    As each child adds his piece, the parents beam and cheer as if the child has performed a part in a play. You can’t get that kind of audience participation in a large group. We have sometimes had to add a few pieces or let one child collect the pieces at the end so everyone has a part to do. But this works well with the small group and lets the children “own” a little more of the storytime activities. Just one idea. Hope it helps.


    I do a Preschool storytime that about 3-8 kids attend. If I have a flannel board for a story or song, I pass out the pieces to the kids to bring up and put up themselves at the correct time (with direction from me or their parents). They really enjoy getting to do it themselves. For example, I have pieces to The Very Hungry Caterpillar and they bring up each of the food items that the caterpillar eats.

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