ALA Annual 2019

Cookies and Conversation: Early Childhood Programming

On Sunday, June 23 at ALA Annual, ALSC’s Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee (ECPS) hosted a Cookies and Conversation chat in the Networking Uncommons. The goal of this chat was to hear from children’s librarians across the country about what support they would like from ECPS in order to help ECPS plan their next project. We highlight a handful below, but check out the ALSC Connect page for the full set of topics covered.

The first topic was storytime must haves and things librarians want to reevaluate including in their programming. Generally, all of the librarians agreed.

Must haves:

  1. Songs and music
  2. Flexibility, including knowing when to throw your plan out the window
  3. Letting children get up and move!
  4. Talking WITH the children, not AT the children
  5. Involving the caregiver as much as possible

Things to Reevaluate:

  1. Themed storytimes
  2. Product Art – it’s all about process art now!
  3. Not embracing chaos

This discussion brought up another valuable question – what makes a storytime a storytime and not just a playtime? The answer to this question was a bit more complicated and nuanced. Does a storytime have to have a book to be a storytime? Some librarians said yes, others said no. The librarians that said no mentioned that baby storytimes do not need books because the babies cannot actually see the books. Other librarians pointed out that the books are really for the caregivers during baby storytime, and further, some librarians stated that baby storytimes should only have books if they have one book for each baby/caregiver pair, where the librarian can model how to engage with the book and baby for the benefit of the caregiver.

One aspect that everyone agreed on is that whether or not you choose to have a book present in your storytime, you definitely need to bring attention to the importance of print awareness, even if it’s not done through using a traditional book!

The next topic of conversation is a popular one that does not seem to be disappearing anytime soon – engaging parents and caregivers. How do we successfully engage parents in our library programming? Do we think caregivers purposefully check out during storytime book readings because they do not have to interact with their child during this part?  

Some suggestions for engaging caregivers consistently included:

  1.  Asking a different caregiver to hold each book while you are reading
  2.  Having caregivers read one of the books during storytime
  3. Reading books with jokes in them that adults would find funny
  4. Having a playtime after the program and letting caregivers know that this is when you can chat
  5. Embarrassing caregivers a little by asking them to put away their phones mid storytime. Eventually, other storytime goers will police these caregivers for you!
  6. Asking kids in the middle of a program to go find their grown-up, and then start a caregiver/child activity
  7. Give the caregivers active roles during the storytime
  8. Only give the manipulatives (like scarves and shakers) to the caregiver and tell the children to get them from their caregiver

Other programming challenges that came up were how to market your programming successfully – some caregivers only want to attend educational programming, others only want to attend fun programming. How do you write a description and market a program that has both? A couple of suggestions included:

  1. Visiting and borrowing some of their successful program descriptions
  2. Reading Serious Fun: How Guided Play Extends Children’s Learning

Ultimately, some potential webinar topics that arose from our robust conversation are:

  1. Logistics of incorporating STEM, especially tech, activities into storytimes
  2. Transitions from one activity to the next in programming
  3. Relationship building and the importance of modeling
  4. Infant/Baby Storytimes
  5. Connecting early literacy to school readiness (shameless plug: check out for materials and resources on this topic!)
  6. Inclusive storytimes – not having a special storytime for children with special needs, but making all storytimes inclusive.

What do you think our next project should be? How do you engage parents successfully in early childhood programming? What do your baby storytimes look like? Let us know in the comments!

This blog post was written by Kristen Rocha Aldrich, who is currently an ECPS member, co-chair of Quicklists, and the Associate Program Director of Too Small to Fail at the Clinton Foundation. You can contact her at 

 This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Programming Skills

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