Blogger Katie Salo

The Librarian Sings Alone

Like many of you, I use a lot of music in my storytimes. I really believe in the importance of singing to help build early literacy skills and I place a high priority on singing three to four songs in each storytime.

I have always been comfortable singing in front of a crowd because I’ve been in choirs since I was a preschooler myself, so I do sing my songs a capella. All of my welcome/opening/goodbye songs are sung to familiar tunes (“If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “Farmer in the Dell”), but my storytime parents do not sing along with me!

I realize that there are lots of reasons why parents might not be singing. Many of my storytime parents are not native English speakers, and I’m sure that some of them feel their voices are not singing-in-public voices. But I want to make it easier for parents and kids to connect with music in storytime. So, I’ve been searching for ways to make songs more accessible for my storytime parents.

One of the things I’ve found to be successful is using hand-held musical instruments. We have egg shakers and wrist/ankle bells for both kids and parents to use. Kids, of course, love making noise and the parents will eagerly pick up an instrument instead of singing.

I’ve also found that using books I can sing along with will prompt my storytime parents to join in on the chorus. Some of my favorites include the Jane Cabrera books: “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and “Wheels on the Bus.” I think having a book to help parents remember the words definitely helps and I also think that having the kids focused on a book might make it easier to chime in.

This summer, I’m going to be creating easel signs with the words to my most repeated songs, as well as a song dice for the kids to roll to see which songs we’ll be singing. I plan to include really familiar tunes so that everyone will hopefully get comfortable singing along by the end of our eight-week session.

How do songs work at your library’s storytimes? Do you use recorded music? Does that seem to get parents singing along? Let me know!

– Katie Salo
Youth Services Manager
Melrose Park Library


  1. Julie

    Most of my staff uses recorded music but one person with a much more musical background doesn’t and I have definately noticed people are more likely to sing along with the recorded music–even if it is the same song. Not having the best voice myself I think the recording makes you feel a little safer, you can go soft if you forget the words or tune and the room doesn’t go silent. These days I think people are just more used to having recorded music. Many of our non English speaking parents also want to borrow copies fo the recordings we use so that they can listen at home between programs.

  2. Natalie

    I try to repeat many of my songs- once it becomes familiar, my storytime parents will join in. Also, I have many grandparents who bring children in for storytime so I try to use more “classic” songs and that typically gets them singing along!

  3. Travis Ann Sherman

    My singing is so so bad the parents try to drown me out, and that works great for everyone. I always post the words on an easel, announce the song, do the movements, and generally they’ll pipe and take over from there. Also, I pick very traditional songs. You wouldn’t think grown women would be happy sitting around singing “The Wheels on the Bus” every week, but they are. Repetition is everything.

  4. Jennifer Wharton

    Most of my parents won’t sing – but the preschoolers join in with gusto, especially after they’ve attended several sessions and parents have told me the kids sing our songs at home, so I’ve settled for that. I send the words of our songs home on our handout every week and hope! I use recorded music for our opening dancing/wiggle time, but otherwise I lead the songs myself without a recording.

  5. Jennifer Sivers-Shrader

    I always sing acapella and have had good luck with parents/caregivers singing along. You can tell who is more comfortable with the songs, but a few months of coming to storytime gets everyone to some level of comfort. I even had three part harmony for a while, two of my storytime parents were very musical. I prefer singing without a recording so we can change speed and volume as desired. My favorite is Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, I sing softer and listen to the kids take over.

  6. Amy

    Most of my parents/caregivers will sing along if it is a familiar song (either the opening and closing songs I use all year or a traditional classic), but I also can get them to sing with me if I do “piggyback” versions of songs. I usually say the words or talk about what we’re going to sing, then sing it once for them, and ask them to help me sing the next time through. Some don’t, but most of those are also the ones who refuse to engage and participate in any way, so I don’t sweat it too much. I use a mixture of recorded music and a cappella singing.

  7. J. Dorfman

    I try to have the words , at least the chorus, printed out large for the parents. I do this for fingerplays too. I say that I have the words here for those of us who can already read. But it is hard to get the adults to sing along even when asked.–JOD

  8. Danielle B.

    At the beginning of storytime, I pass out a take-home sheet to all the parents that includes a list of all the books we read, as well as the lyrics to all of the songs we sing (with a note, like “to the tune of frere jacques”). I like to give the parents a reference guide to what we do in storytime so they can recreate it at home and reinforce those early literacy skills. And when I hand out the papers, I always say “Here is a copy of all the songs we are going to sing today. I would love to hear you all sing along with me!”. Ever since I started doing this, many more parents have started joining in.

  9. tracey

    I usually say to the kids (or to the general audience), “How come I’m the only one singing?” and that usually makes the parents jump in (even if the kids are still pretty quiet). Using a joking tone keeps it light rather than accusatory.

  10. Shelley Sutherland

    Call and response songs like “The Other Day I Saw a Bear” work really well. There’s really no excuse for them to not join in because they just have to repeat what you say!

  11. Joanne Friedman

    Music is the life of my story time since I have a wide range of ages, and also large classes. After many years of playing the prerecorded songs on keyboards for toddlers, I have happily switched to a 5th generation iPod shuffle.
    The 5th generation shuffle says the names of your songs and playlists. It’s easy to pause, skip and fast forward. You won’t miss the visual display. And I love clipping it to my shirt after class. Now I never forget where I put it down.

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