by Steven Engelfried
Weekly storytimes have always been one of my favorite things about being a children’s librarian, except for one part: fingerplays. Yes, I understand the importance of fingerplays for developing motor skills. And yes, they foster early literacy skills, vary the rhythm of the session, give kids a chance to participate, and all that. And I have a great time with some fingerplays. It’s just that I always find myself going back to the same old favorites, time after time, year after year.
Like “Where is Thumbkin.” It can’t be beat. It has a tune even I can sing, it’s repetitive but not too repetitive, and you can have fun with variations. My favorite version involves using a deep voice for Tall Man, a high squeaky voice for Pinky, a lively “zoop!” after each “run and hide,” and a curtain call at the end where all ten characters come out for “bows,” “kisses,” and a group hug. And I have a handful of other favorites that I probably rely on way too much.
But many of the standard fingerplays just don’t interest me much. Web and book searches turn up endless varieties of “five little whatevers” and “my fingers can do this or that,” but most just seem lame. The kids don’t mind when I repeat, of course, and it does reinforce all those important skills, but I always feel guilty for not continually finding new fingerplay treasures to mix in with the old stuff; the way it works with books.
I’ve tried making up my own fingerplays, but these are either as boring as the ones I’ve already rejected, or simply inappropriate for a preschool storytime setting. Like the time I tried to create one for a November session, but it just came out all wrong. Maybe because my own children and I had just turned vegetarian and were having a hard time getting excited about the coming holiday:
“Five little turkeys knocking at the door / One got its head chopped off and that left four! / Four little turkeys walking by a tree. / ‘Bang!’ went the shotgun and that left three! / Three little turkeys wondering what to do. / One was stuffed and cooked and that left two! / Two little turkeys trying to have some fun. / The butcher got his carving knife and that left one! / One little turkey tried to run and hide. / But it was Thanksgiving, so all the turkeys died!” Probably a good thing I never tried this one with any kids besides my own. And in the end I guess I’ll stick to my own standards, but on the rare occasions I hear someone say “I just found a great new fingerplay” I always take notice.