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!

 

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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 http://www.sotomorrowblog.com/2013/08/program-idea-parachute-playtime.html and Libraryland here http://lisaslibraryland.blogspot.com/2012/07/parachute-games.html that you could use throughout storytime, or as a fun closing routine.

 

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