Blogger Abby Johnson

Another Year of Toddler Time

We do storytimes for many different ages at my library, and I’ve posted on my own blog about Mother Goose on the Loose (for babies) and our preschool storytimes (for ages 3-5). I’ve never written about our most popular preschool program, though: Toddler Time. For us, Toddler Time is for 2- and 3-year-olds with a caregiver. We offer it twice a week and generally have between 20-40 people at each session. I think one reason it’s popular is because it reaches that sweet spot where kids are ready to be engaged in programming outside the home but many of them haven’t started preschool yet.

Coming up with age-appropriate activities and stories was a challenge at first, but now we’ve been doing it consistently for several years, so we’ve got a good structure and planning has become much easier. So, what do we do?

Photo by Abby Johnson, NAFCPL

Children start off the morning by picking out a nametag and writing their name (or helping mom or dad write their name) at the Children’s Reference Desk. We use laminated construction paper nametags and crayons to write on them. The nametags are strung on loops of yarn for children to put around their necks. After Toddler Time, children bring their nametags back to us and we wipe them off to use again (or replace tags that have been crumpled, etc.). Kids like to pick out the color they will wear that day and it’s an easy way to insert writing (one of the early literacy activities!) into their day. Also, having a nametag makes it easier for the librarian doing the program to interact with the children, praising good work or correcting behavior.

We start out each session with a short spiel to parents with any announcements we need to make. Then we go over the “rules cards”. These were inspired by Miss Mary Liberry and have come in really handy in keeping the chaos level down! We make sure to go over each rule and if we need a rule reminder, we pull out whichever rule card we need so the kids have a visual clue.

Photo by Abby Johnson, NAFCPL

Here’s a typical program outline:

Opening Song: The Wheels on the Bus – We start every Toddler Time program with this song, which has resulted in our Toddler Time coordinator Miss T being called “The Wheels on the Bus Lady” by some of the children.

2 or 3 short books, story props, or felt stories. We try to switch it up to keep the stories very appealing. If we’ve chosen a longer story, we might paraphrase or skip some portions of the book.

Action Song: We Hit the Floor Together. This is also repeated each week. We do some of the same actions and then may ask the kids for suggestions depending on the group.

1 or 2 more stories, rhymes, or songs.

Stand Up and Stretch. We stretch high and low and then anyone who has any sillies can shake them out. Then we say the rhyme “Handy Spandy, Sugar and Candy” to get everyone seated again.

2 or 3 more stories, rhymes, or songs.

Stop and Go with Bells. We pass out bells to everyone and play a Stop and Go game. Playing stop and go games with young children is a fun way for them to learn this concept, so we do it every time.

Felt Activity. This is an activity that we do each week and we’ve incorporated it into many of our preschool storytimes, too. We have sets for each of our Toddler Times that have pieces in different colors or shapes or sometimes with numbers on them. We pass them all out and then ask children to bring up their piece and put it on the felt board when we call their color, shape, etc. Not only does this help reinforce concepts like shapes and numbers, but it allows the children to practice taking turns and to get comfortable approaching an adult outside the family (for now it’s the librarian, but eventually it will be the teacher!).

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is? This song is repeated every week and used in most (if not all) of our preschool programs. Children know when they hear this song that it’s time to transition to something else.

Playtime! Each week, we invite families to stay for 10-15 minutes of play time after the storytime program. We bring out our bucket of toys (soon to be refreshed with some new ones that we’ve recently purchased!) and put on some music. This is a good chance for librarians to interact with children and parents, for parents to have some social time, and/or for parents to engage with their little ones.

It seems like we do a LOT with these toddlers, but each activity or story is very short. Including many different types of activities and changing it up often helps capitalize on the short attention spans of very young children. Our total storytime program lasts about 30 minutes and then we have the optional 10-15 minutes of playtime afterwards.

Photo by Abby Johnson, NAFCPL

Miss T is our Toddler Time coordinator, so she has developed this basic structure with input from all her colleagues in the Children’s Room. She has also developed most of the thematic plans and now has been doing it long enough that she’s got themes for the whole year if she doesn’t feel inspired to make up any new ones. She often does feel inspired, though, and she likes to develop new themes that go with our Summer Reading Club theme or themes that are requested by parents (such as “Manners”).

Do you do programs for young preschoolers? Share tips, tricks, and favorite books in the comments!

— Abby Johnson, Children’s Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN

(Updated to redirect obsolete link, 4/25/20
ALSC Blog manager)


  1. Angela Critics

    I love the Stop and Go with Bells idea. I am stealing it for my next Toddler Time. They love bells or shaky eggs. Our Toddler Times are shorter, just 20 minutes. I always end with music to dance to while shaking the bells followed by the same closing rhyme. Afterward the children bring me back the bells and receive a hand stamp. That hand stamp is almost as important to the little ones as playing with the instruments.

    1. Michelle Peltier

      I love the hand stamp idea!

  2. Michelle Peltier

    I am the early literacy specialist at my library (Mooresville, Indiana). My 2’s and 3’s classes were so big last semester that I have split them up. I’m hoping this will give the 3 year olds incentive to sit and listen a bit more (we’ll see!). When the kids and caregivers arrive, I have bubbles set out so they can blow them while waiting on the rest of the group. I also have small fabric drawstring bags that hold any hands-on materials we’ll be using for the class, like stick puppets, instruments, or board books. I really like the idea of the ‘stop and go’ game…I’m definitely going to try it!

  3. Vicki Kouchnerkavich

    I ‘borrowed” an idea from someone in our library cooperative which the children love. I call it our “Game”, but what it really is, is an envelope for each child & their grownup. They come get the envelope from me & take it to their grownup. The envelope has usually 7-8 pairs of clipart pictures which they have to match (think Memory Game). My group is for 18 months to 3 years old, so I tell the parents if the younger children cannot match, talk about things that are the same, different, alike, colors etc. After completing the “Game” they return the envelope to me. I use these over & over but switch them out. Granted I am dealing with only 12 children or so. I also got the envelopes donated by a library patron who used to work for American Greeting cards, so there is no expense in the purchase of the envelopes.

  4. Kim

    I do the todder time at my library for 2’s and 3’s and it’s one of my favorite groups. I invested in the Rabbit in the Hat puppet from Folkmanis: and I use him in my opening routine every week. I hide the bunny in the hat and I say the phrase “Bunny, bunny in the hat way down low, won’t you come out and say hello?” Then I have the toddlers say the magic words with me: “I love books” and the rabbit will pop out of the hat. Then the rabbit sings hello children to the tune of “Frere Jacques” and the children sing hello bunny back. They absolutely LOVE it!

  5. Allison Stewart

    I have recently started a toddler storytime in our branch in Washington State! It was much needed as a transition from baby hour to preschool storytime.
    I have a similar action to the stop and go with the bells…we share the entire floor with the public and do not have a separate room or floor for the children’s area. I made 3 circles out of foam (red, yellow, green) and glued them onto large craft sticks (tongue compressor size). When we do our stop, go, slow activity I have the toddlers stand up and we talk about what each color means if we were cars on the road (the boys love this!)
    Red-stop! stop! stop! Yellow- slow!slow!slow! Green- go!go!go!
    When I show the yellow, i have the toddler slowly stomp their feet
    green- fast, fast, fast stomp their feet (run in place)
    red- stop in place and freeze.
    We also switch it up with body parts (wiggle hips, wave hands, shake knees, etc)
    Plus, I tell the parents/guardians/care takers when they are driving home talk about when you come up to a stop light what the color is and what will the car will do when it sees the colors.

  6. Kathy Pearson

    We’re a very small library but I want to start a pre-school program. This information if very helpful to me. Thanks a lot!

  7. Elisa

    I tried seeing the word for We Hit the Floor Together, and the link took me to a site that had Asian words on it.

    1. Mary Voors

      Thanks for the heads up, Elisa. I redirected the link so you could hear the words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *