Guest Blogger

Engaging Adults in Storytime

My library had a concert last week with Charlie Hope, winner of the Juno Award for Children’s Album of the Year. We had over 200 in attendance and it was a magical experience. Charlie’s beautiful voice and interactive songs delighted the audience of young children and parents. Afterward, she told me it was one of her all-time best audiences. She was impressed that our parents were so attentive and happy to join in the singing and dancing with their kids.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Hope
Photo courtesy of Charlie Hope

It got me to wondering: what helps children and parents focus and get the most enjoyment and learning benefit from a musical performance or storytime? I think establishing practices in your storytimes that encourage everyone to pay attention is the key.
Here are my top techniques for helping adults, as well as kids, stay engaged during programs:

  • Ask adults to silence their cell phones and tuck them away during storytime. I explain briefly that parents are role models for their children and that when parents are focused on the program it helps children focus, too. Paying attention takes practice, and that’s one of the important things we’re helping our children do in storytime–practice paying attention.
  • Ask adults to save conversation with nearby adults until after storytime. We put out books to browse after storytime and this is always an opportunity for parents to socialize–an essential part of our programs, too.
  • Use techniques that encourage parent participation. Early literacy consultant Saroj Ghoting recommends giving parents a specific part in a story. For instance, I read Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons in my two-year-old storytime recently and had the parents alone say the refrain “Did Pete cry? Goodness no. Buttons come and buttons go.” When adults have a role in the story, they know they need to listen and be ready to ham up their part!
Giving parents a role in The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin. Photo courtesy of the author.
Giving parents a role in The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin. Photo courtesy of the author.
  • Use rhythm and rhyme to engage everyone in the action. Singing books works like a charm. I find this is especially true with songs that lots of parents know and love like If You’re Happy and You Know It or The Wheels on the Bus. The versions by Jane Cabrera make terrific storytime books, for instance, because the bright and heavily-outlined illustrations carry so well in a group.
  • Count. To introduce a song or rhyme I often say, “I’m going to count: 1, 2, 3, go, and then we will sing (or say) it all together.” I then count clearly, showing my fingers. Even if parents are chatting during the “1”, everyone is usually on board by the time I get to “go”.
  • Calm and re-focus the group when you need to with simple breathing exercises, such as this one: ask everyone to pick an imaginary flower, then slowly breathe in its nice smell and blow out on its petals. Or ask everyone to take a big breath, hold it for a few moments, and then slowly let it out. These quick exercises help everyone relax and get ready to listen again.
  • Whisper. If you feel you’re losing the group, drop your voice briefly to a whisper. Everybody loves a secret!
  • Puppets are engaging for all ages. I took ALSC’s Storytelling with Puppets course and learned a lot about presenting stories and songs using puppets. Instructor Steven Engelfried’s YouTube channel has lots of great stories to get you started or enhance what you’re already doing.
A puppet with personality! Photo courtesy of the author.
A puppet with personality! Photo courtesy of the author.

We know how much children benefit when their parents are engaged in storytime: when parents listen to the stories and songs they have something to talk to their children about when the event is over, and those conversations lead to an enriched vocabulary and a better understanding of the stories and their meaning for the child. And as Jim Gill points out, when adults join in the music play the child learns more from the experience. Perhaps most importantly, your event becomes an opportunity for parents and children to connect and create joyful memories at the library!

What do you do to help children and adults stay engaged during storytime?


Sharon McClintockOur guest blogger today is Sharon McClintock. Sharon is a Youth Services Librarian at the City of Mountain View Public Library  in Mountain View, CA. Sharon can be reached at

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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


  1. Angela Reynolds

    Excellent tips! Thank you — I am sharing with all my storytime staff.

  2. Vicki Kouchnerkavich

    Excellent advice! I see parents/caregivers use storytime as a time to get on their phones in a quiet way to do whatever, but totally unaware of what is going on in the program.

    I can’t wait to gently use your suggestions! Everyone will benefit.

  3. Melvyn

    Hey, I know that puppet! Great tips for librarians to engage, not only the kids, but the parents as well. Thank you for sharing Sharon.

  4. Sharon McClintock

    Thanks for your kind comments. I learned many of these techniques from colleagues over the years, and lots of trial and error!

  5. Judy

    Thank you for the tips and tricks. I’ve seen you use them very effectively to rope in those parents!

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