Early Literacy

Mother Goose Programs Families Flock To!

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 JacquesHere 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 sharon.mcclintock@mountainview.gov

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.


  1. Pingback: A Sample Program for Mother Goose and More | ALSC Blog

  2. Tess

    Hi there,
    I also get very large crowds at my toddlertime and spend most of the time singing one thing or another. They also like chants and simple spoken hand rhymes. Like you, I have been singing picturebooks for a long time. It is a great way to teach a new song, or a variation on well-known song (Seals on the Bus being my favorite example!)
    I really appreciate that you mentioned being inspired and impressed by a storytime led by early childhood educators of children with disabilities/special needs. I am currently researching inclusive early literacy and have found that the field of special early childhood education has a great deal of expertise to offer children’s librarians. Most MLIS programs spent far to little time on early childhood development but it ends up being huge part of our jobs doesn’t it?
    Children’s Librarian, Vancouver Public Library
    PhD Student, University of British Columbia

  3. Marjorie Shaw

    Great program. I sing most of my lapsit and toddler story times.

    Unless you take extra classes, it’s hard to get early childhood information. I have a degree in it with special education certification. Knowing the developmental process is so helpful; I use it constantly! I can’t encourage people too much to take those classes if at all possible. It gives you a different perspective on behavior and abilities.

    Technical Services Librarian
    La Vista Public Library (Nebraska)

  4. Erin Marsh

    My grandmother used to sing me nursery rhymes. I in turn used her tunes to sing them to my own children. They have been very useful during story time as well!

    1. Sharon McClintock

      Nursery rhymes are such a lovely way to connect generations and pass along family traditions, aren’t they?

  5. Linda Pannuto

    I have been increasing the number of songs, fingerplays and books to sing for several years now and it is fun to see the light dawn when the group realizes we are all back together again when we sing! My groups are not as large so I am able to put the words to rhymes on poster board so all can see – for the large group perhaps using power point slides would be a way to display the words. For the shorter rhymes we sing them twice with participants joining in on the first time if they know the rhyme.
    We sing Brown Bear Brown Bear by Bill Martin to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and when we read I Went Walking by Sue Williams I have them clap for each syllable.
    Some favorite music on It’s Toddler Time by Carol Hammett and Elaine Bueffel and Good Morning Exercises for Kids by Georgiana Stewart
    Thank you for the wealth of information and inspiration.
    Linda Pannuto
    Youth Librarian
    Orion Township Public Library

  6. Shelley Holley

    Thanks Sharon- This is exactly what I am looking to do in September. I am currently having storytimes for 3’s and then another class for 4’s and 5’s. We are changing things around at my library. I am thrilled to be starting a 1’s class and researching it right now.

    1. Sharon McClintock

      Best of luck, Shelley! I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun. Let me know if I can be of any other help.

  7. Julie

    As someone who has had the opportunity to see the magic you create first hand, great thanks from the families of Mountain View.

    It is not an accident that you draw the crowds and responses that you do. Extraordinary.

  8. Lisa

    I have just completed my first year at my library as the Youth Service Librarian. I have a background in Early Childhood and work closely with our schools early learners. I am happy to say that I have finally gotten my storytimes away from the crafts and into the early literacy! I am in my second session of Baby Bounce for Infants 3-12 months! It was a slow start, but things are picking up. Thank you for all the ideas.

  9. Sharon McClintock

    Lisa, you’re welcome and best wishes on your developing program! Feel free to contact me with questions or to brainstorm.

  10. Nitya

    This sounds like a really fascinating concept. Many growing kids take great interest in stories and fiction. Others who fail to enjoy narrations surely enjoy music and tunes. That is why this concept you just mentioned sounds like a complete heart winner. Thank you for sharing such ideas on your blog for the world to know.

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