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Glimmers of Hope: Sidewalk Stories

Hope! I can feel it in the air! Spring is upon us, COVID numbers are down, vaccinations are rising, and we here in California are moving down the color tiers of restrictions. We moved from the unrelenting purple tier to red last week, and more and more places are opening their doors to the public for the first time in a year!

We are gearing up for our own rapidly approaching re-opening date at my library. Our doors are still closed to the public at the time of this writing. We have, however, started to do some outdoor programs, most notably Sidewalk Stories! The name is the program’s descriptor. We plunk down hula hoops at socially distanced intervals, crank up the sound system, make a little barrier, and away we go! We’ve completed three weeks of stories so far. I’ve learned a few things that I wanted to share in case you are just starting this sort of outdoor programming as well.

Audio

  1. Get yourself a good portable sound system! My fellow librarians, I promise you: no matter how fabulous your storytime plan is, it will surely flop if no one can hear you. Do not try to do storytime outside without amplification!!!! We bought an Anchor system and it completely rocks.
  2. Buy a microphone with an xlr chord  or a wireless mic to accompany your sound system. Also, buy a mic stand. You will not regret these purchases. They are worth every bit of fundraising you might have to do to get them. My opinion on lapel microphones? Meh. They tend to get all swishy sounding when they rub into hair and clothing and get bumped by arms and chins. But if it’s all you’ve got to work with, make it work!
  3. Speaking of sound: if you play an instrument, you will want to try to amplify it as well. Again, there’s no point in putting your heart into something if no one can hear you!  This is a really nice amp that’s super portable and light weight and does a terrific job. I love mine.

Visuals

  1. The important thing with your visuals is to make the BIG and BRIGHT! Everything gets washed out in the sunlight. If you have oversized books, now is the time to pull them out!
  2. Because it is so much harder to see a picture book outdoors, you might consider brushing up on your storytelling skills! All the old classics work: Little Red Hen, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Three Little Pigs, etc. In fact, I did a little Jbrary version of the Three Little Pigs on our YouTube channel that would be perfect for outdoors.
  3. If you’re looking for some lesser known storytelling stories, check out the books of Margaret Read MacDonald. She completely kills this category. I am so grateful for her work.

Logistics

  1. Set up registration! We never used the registration feature before on our events calendar software, but it has quickly become our most valuable tool. All of our outdoor storytimes are capped to stay within our county guidelines. Make sure your sign-up language is clear. You will want each breathing individual, no matter how young or old, to be registered for the event. We use Demco’s Evanced, and it has made registration relatively painless. You can check out the language we use here.
  2. Barriers are helpful. We’ve tried to make ours colorful and friendly while still doing the job by attaching a bunch of tissue paper flowers to the gates. Barriers help keep staff safe, and they set the tone that we take social distancing protocols seriously.

Social/Emotional Learning

  1. Quarantine lasted for about one year. Many of the kids that come to storytime are two and three years old. That means a good chunk of their lives have been spent in a fair degree of isolation. I noticed that many were a bit overwhelmed at their first storytime. Even though we keep our numbers low, it was still a lot more people gathered together than many of them have seen! They were REALLY QUIET at the first storytime! They’re loosening up now at week three.
  2. Programming outdoors can be an exercise in fighting lots of distractions and sensory overload. At our first Sidewalk Stories, we had a passenger train go by, as well as a fire truck and ambulance with sirens blaring. Surprisingly, the kids stayed attentive! I acknowledged the distraction “I hear a train! Can everyone make the sound of a train? Choo-choo!” and moved on. The kids rolled right along with it.
  3. I terrified one child at the first Sidewalk Story by playing my music without any introduction. She was okay with the guitar, but when I pulled out my drum, it was just too overwhelming. Poor thing. I have learned! I now send out a welcome note to all the families a few days before Sidewalk Stories begins. I tell them that we are going to be playing live music and making some noise, so they might want to familiarize their children with instruments. I link up our YouTube page so they can see our staff singing and playing music. Also, I have stopped launching straight into an opening song. I introduce myself first, and then I introduce my instruments gently. It seems to work a lot better.

It feels so fabulous to see people in the flesh again! I am so grateful for the skills that I have learned during our pandemic year, but nothing is sweeter than turning the corner on the road back to normalcy. I hope that you continue to stay safe and healthy, and that you savor every minute of your in person programs like you never have before!

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