Blogger Abby Johnson

Storytime: What Is It Good For?

Photo by US Army, Cpl. Hwang Joon-hyun, Yongsan Public Affairs
Photo by US Army, Cpl. Hwang Joon-hyun, Yongsan Public Affairs

Why do you offer storytime at your library?

Is it just for entertainment? Is it to give kids and parents something to do? Is it to get them to step inside the library? Is it just because you’ve always offered storytime? Is it because storytime is what libraries have?

I really try to remain nonjudgmental about everyone’s library offerings for youth. Every community is different and libraries need to be doing what’s right for their community. It means that not every library will or should offer the same programs and services.

But the purposefulness of storytime is where I draw the line.

Every community with young children needs programs to help them succeed in school. And that’s exactly what storytime brings to the table.

I cringe when I hear a librarian say that his or her storytimes are for entertainment.

Yes, storytimes are entertaining. Yes, they give kids and parents something to do. Yes, they are generally something public libraries are expected to offer. But storytimes are so much more. And we need to be saying that at every opportunity to everyone who asks.

As I have educated myself and my staff about early literacy and child development, it’s become imperative that every early childhood program we’re offering at the library is based on developing early literacy and school readiness skills. Every activity we include is there for a reason and if a parent asked why we chose that activity, we could tell him or her what skill we’re learning or practicing.

We are professionals. You are a professional. Don’t sell yourself short.

And the best thing? The very best thing?? You’re already providing these skill-building activities in your storytimes. I guarantee it.

Singing? You’re developing phonological awareness – helping children hear that words are made up of smaller sounds. Teaching rhythm helps children learn to think spatially (math skills!).

Reading stories? You’re encouraging print motivation – getting kids excited to read by sharing fun stories with them. You’re demonstrating how a book works: how you open it, how you turn the pages.

Doing a craft? You’re helping young children practice fine motor skills that they will use when they learn to write. Maybe they’re practicing following directions. Maybe they’re unleashing their creativity.

Bringing out some toys for play time? Play is a wonderful learning activity for children. Playing with children encourages oral communication, which leads to children hearing and learning more and more words.

You’re already doing all these beneficial activities naturally in your early childhood programs. But many people (parents, community stakeholders, maybe your director, maybe your trustees) don’t know that having fun in storytime is actually an essential learning experience. It’s our job to tell them that. And that’s how we get to keep our jobs.

“Entertainment” can easily be found elsewhere. But free programs that build early literacy and school readiness skills don’t grow on trees.

We know we have the most fun in the library. But we’re not doing storytime just for the fun of it.

Not sure how to explain the cognitive benefits of your storytime program? Check out some of the following resources to get started:

What do you say when someone asks you why you provide storytime? How do you spread the good word about early literacy and school readiness in your library?

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


  1. Renee Perron

    When I began working at my current job in a Children’s Library, I had to get used to storytimes being referred to as story classes. The librarians I work with feel that by changing the name of the program, we can better promote what it is we do when we read, sing, dance, count, participate in parachute play, create art work with the young children, etc. Also, when the seasonal program booklet goes out for families, sometimes information about the early literacy skills that are developed through the storyclasses are listed.

    On a similar note, when I was a preschool teacher, I would always get bothered when people say, “Oh, you just play with kids all day.” I would observe that parents and caregivers wouldn’t always understand the art activities that went home and why we were doing them. I started to type up little blurbs for families explaining the activities I would engage the children in and explain how the read aloud, project, art activity, group activity, or game addressed gross/fine motor skills, letter recognition, counting, rhyming, working together as a team, or the process vs. product concept etc. I would attach these notes to items that would go home, or just put them in the child’s cubby to explain activities that we did at school that didn’t always have an end product. Parents apprecaited the communication and I think it helped some adults better understand early childhood education. I think we have to remember that fact, not all adults understand child development and early learning in the way in which someone who has education and experience with children does. And we shouldn’t hold that against them, but instead help to educate them! It is the children who will benefit the most.

    1. Alysa

      Story Classes! Love the idea of calling it that! So perfect.

      And I heartily agree that educating parents about their kids’ education is the way to go.

  2. Tess

    Just want to say… AMEN!

  3. Ami

    Well, if story times are just for entertainment, then why don’t we just let volunteers do them? Anybody can read a book out loud, right? Ugh. We just started our regular schedule of story times today, and I have a blog post up of the craft we did with it. Talk about your fine motor and sensory play! We learned science (Woah! You have yellow paint, but it’s coming out green! How come? Do you think maybe it’s ’cause you’re doing it on top of the blue? What happens if you just paint it on the white? That is so cool!) I gave parents a handout about interacting and encouraging attention, while pleading with them not to stay away “until he is ready to sit still”. THIS is where they learn to sit still(ish) and interact while still taking turns. If they all sat like statues and gave me there rapt attention, I would get freaked out and have them tested for the zombie virus. We did predicting (Hello! Is This Grandma?) and made inferences (Tea with Grandpa) and talked about thinking outside the box (Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon) while sharing stories about our grandparents (making connections, story order). If I am just entertaining, why does it take me so darn long to plan each one-hour session? Why don’t I just pop in a Spongebob video???

    steps off soap box.

    Ahem. Thank-you for a well-written post.

    1. Ami


    2. Deborah

      A library system in my area DOES have volunteers do their storytimes (cringe). Many of their residents hop on over to my library system for storytime because they appreciate the quality of ours programs.

  4. Anne

    Amen Renee! I agree. I used to think of storytimes as fun, before ECRR gave us some “backbone”. I knew the kids were learning while they listened but we couldn’t explain it as well. I love it! I still think they are fun, but there is SO much more that goes on–and throughout our building as well.

    I’m sure to include a tip for all parents in storytime, so the modeling we do can go home with them. As well as some great ideas for the future!

  5. Alyssa


    We do this to help you and your little ones. Yes, we have fun, but we are also learning. It is possible to do both at the same time!

  6. Margo Tanenbaum

    Abby, thanks for an excellent post! I am going to share it with others in my library system.

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  8. Alysa

    Fantastic post! Now I’ve gotta get us to a storytime… 😀

  9. Tess

    Storytime (by any other name!) has always supported early literacy development, even before we knew much about how that all worked, the brain science behind it etc. Kids learn through engaged, social, language-rich interactions with people who care about them. Play (and the fun kids have while playing) literally builds human brains so we have always been doing important, valuable work through storytimes. The more we know, the more understand how vital and valuable it is that all families have somewhere to come and share language and literacy in their communities. I am very proud to be a part of this profession. Storytime rocks! Keep up the great work!

  10. Diane Hutchins

    Thanks for this great post. You may be interested in the breakthrough research that was led by Dr. Eliza T. Dresang at the iSchool at the University of Washington, in partnership with the Washington State Library and the state’s Early Learning Public Library Partnership. Project VIEWS was able to use scientific methods to prove that public library storytimes really are effective in helping children learn to read when early learning principles are emphasized in the delivery of those programs. Find out more about the study by going to the PLA conference page ( and scrolling down to “Every Child Ready to Read 2 – Does it Really Work? …” Several handouts are available, including the slides from the presentation. OCLC/WebJunction will be launching a small-scale pilot with Washington and up to 4 additional states that would offer training on the VIEWS methodologies through the WebJunction platform.

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