Two years ago my library tried something new: a 100% musical storytime called Mother Goose & More for infants and toddlers through 2 and their caregivers. We now present it 50 times a year; on the mornings we schedule the program we offer it twice. We stop admittance when we reach the room capacity of 150, which we routinely do.
If someone had told me when I first started conducting lapsit programs many years ago that it was possible to present a storytime to such a large group, a program that was instructive and inspirational for the adults and joyful for the babies–or simply that such a program wouldn’t be outright chaos–I wouldn’t have believed it. But it does work, and I believe the magic ingredient is music.
We sing everything in Mother Goose & More: every nursery rhyme, lap jog and book. Even with such a big group and so many active toddlers, everyone stays focused on the material during the 30-minute program because the music keeps them engaged. We pay attention to music–that’s why ad jingles work and why some of us still occasionally sing the ABC song in our heads when alphabetizing!
Along the way we’ve learned valuable lessons about how to make such a program successful. Here are my Top 10 Tips for designing delightful and effective early literacy programs for a large audience:
1) Present the material in a variety of ways. Mix it up and keep things moving! I sing some rhymes with puppets, show some on the flannel board (make your flannel board figures as easy to see and as large as possible), and share other rhymes with a teddy bear bouncing in my lap. I present fingerplays and use plenty of gestures and baby signs, too. I encourage older children to stand up and move to a rhyme with their whole bodies, while infants stay jogging in laps. (Later today, I’ll post a sample program.)
2) Learn tunes to the rhymes. I’ve learned tunes from many sources, but my two “go to” musicians are Kathy Reid-Naiman and MaryLee Sunseri. If you’re shy about singing, remember that Fred Rogers (creator of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) was shy, too, but he worked on overcoming it because he felt so strongly about the importance of his work. You don’t need a beautiful voice to share music effectively–think of the wonderful Dan Zanes with his endearingly raspy voice. What parents need to experience is the fun of singing together and how much their baby loves it. It’s your enthusiasm that matters, not your perfect pitch!
3) Select picture books you can sing and whose illustrations carry. Look for picture books based on nursery rhymes and songs. Most rhyming pictures books can be sung to familiar tunes such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Frere Jacques. Here are some picture books I love to sing.
4) Get up and boogie! I sprinkle two pieces of recorded music into the program which we all get up and dance to. When the attendees enter the room we hand out either scarves or shakers to use for dancing. They keep these with them throughout the class, and put them back in a box on their way out. I play all sorts of music–anything that’s infectiously danceable. I especially like songs that have a nice message for parents (for example, Elizabeth Mitchell’s rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Who’s My Pretty Baby” is a playful love song to baby and has a great dance beat!)
5) Make new friends, but keep the old: use repetition to teach and delight. We have much-loved “hello” and “goodbye” songs, and we repeat popular books and rhymes often. Most of us need to hear a rhyme several times to remember it, and we know that children want and need repetition to learn and grow. We want parents and caregivers to feel familiar enough with the books and rhymes to share them with their children at home. And I introduce new material that I’m excited about often, too.
6) Learn from others. We were originally inspired to develop Mother Goose & More when we saw a group of special education preschool teachers conduct a musical storytime in our library for their own students and the public. It was a real “aha” moment when we saw that, despite the large crowd and wide range of children’s ages and abilities, all the participants were engaged and focused–because the teachers were presenting all the material through music. I learn from talented colleagues, books, journals and blogs, discussions on PUBYAC, workshops (including the marvelous Mother Goose on the Loose program), and Music Together and Kindermusik classes. Observe how others are sharing books, rhymes and music with infants and toddlers and borrow their good ideas.
7) Employ volunteers. We have a fantastic volunteer who helps us with every program. She stays near the entrance door and helps manage the crowd: stopping admittance once the room is full, heading off runaway toddlers, etc. She has a warm rapport with the attendees and we couldn’t do it without her.
8.) Use a microphone and any other technology that helps. I use a microphone and this is critical for everyone’s ability to hear. I also use our iPod for music and we have a good sound system.
9) Share early literacy tips. We created a list called “Mother Goose’s Top Ten Tips for Raising a Remarkable Reader” based on our experience and knowledge as librarians and on early literacy research (Saroj Ghoting’s website is a fantastic resource). At the end of each program I show a poster with just one tip and spend a moment going over it. We make the list available as a handout and on our website. All the rhymes we do together are available online, as well, along with recommended book and music lists.
10) Display materials. We use six tables in our browsing area, right outside the story room, to feature picture books, board books, nursery rhyme collections, parenting books, magazines and music for families with children 0-3. Parents tell us that they appreciate the convenience of this “one stop shopping” and our circulation statistics confirm that pre-selecting and displaying materials for this audience helps get great resources into their hands.
We hope to inspire parents and caregivers to read, sing, play and share tickles and bounces throughout the day with their little ones because they recognize that it supports their baby’s healthy development–and because they’ve experienced firsthand just how fun it is at the library!
How does your library conduct infant and toddler storytimes? What’s working for you?
Our guest blogger today is Sharon McClintock. Sharon is a Children’s Librarian at the City of Mountain View Public Library in Mountain View, CA. Sharon can be reached at email@example.com
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.