Blogger Amy Steinbauer

Story time and… (Improv Your Story Time)

A few years ago, I presented at ALA Annual about how story time could be improved with improv techniques. To me, improv and story time naturally go hand in hand. They both rely on flexibility, spontaneity, and giving and receiving. While I haven’t been practicing improv as much anymore, I have really hit a sweet spot in my story times, and I think it is the improv coming out.

For months, I had been feeling the blahs… and now. Everything has clicked into place. So what has suddenly changed?


I have created more opportunities to have fun and interact with the crowd. Instead of being the sole performer of the 30 minute period with all eyes on you… I have been leaning into the fun, spontaneity, and chaos of story time!

In improv, we learn that it takes two to build the scene— to set the relationship and game in motion… hence the “yes, and” trope. Your ideal moment is someone agreeing with what you say and then adding something new to the game.

In my story times, I call out to the audience a moment to indulge some silliness. A moment to suspend disbelief. A moment to play and pretend. And because I have asked, and offered— my community is ripe to respond.


Feel the fear:

I exaggerate my expressions and reactions to things in story time. If there is a shark, spider, alligator or anything remotely scary, I like to close the book quickly and pretend to be scared. Toddlers love this! I then do this several times. They also love repetition, and it is a moment to pan your crowd if you have a large group.

Action required:

There are so many moments for “Peek A Boo” in story time. If you are introducing a new character in a story or if there is a moment of hiding– play peek a boo! Hide behind the book– hide to the sides, hide below or above. Again, repeat- repeat-repeat. Small children (baby/toddler) need around 12 seconds to comprehend what is happening. That is a lot of peek a boo!

Play Pretend:

I love doing dramatized story telling moments to gain little ones attention and have a moment of fun! I do a bit using “Grandma’s Glasses” by Laurie Berkener. Before we start, I ask them to make their glasses and their book using their hands. Then I tell them that my book is magical, but sometimes when I open it, it scares me! I slowly open my book and things scare me– a snake, a bee, and a lion/dinosaur. Then we rub our hands together and think of something we love a lot. And finally, we sing the song. I use this right before our last book, to fill in some extra time!


Adults are at your programs- try to make peace with that! I make jokes to parents/caregivers– it is a simple and easy way to build a community in your story time. We can’t always control how adults participate in story time, but we can help by trying to make ourselves approachable and our programming accessible. Caring for children is hard and isolating work, and I try to remind myself to be mindful of annoying behaviors, and instead of fighting them, find a way to connect to them.

In conclusion: 

I use lots of silliness to play pretend with the little ones. I try to keep in mind who story time is for, and how I can serve that. I have been trying to let go and let it flow… not stressing over the ideals of a perfect story time or how to make the caregivers value the program more. When we have fun in our programs, it translates to people enjoying the program more. We are the ones to “sell” it, which is one of the reasons that not everyone can do our jobs. If you are feeling burnt out with your programs, then maybe look at taking an improv class. If you live in a major city, look out for some free intro programs!


One comment

  1. Abby Connors

    Fantastic ideas! Thank you! I like to be silly too but hadn’t tried the being so scared I have to close the book idea. Love it.

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