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Planning for Outdoor Storytimes

I miss in-person storytimes. I miss the cacophony of voices prior to settling into our opening song. I miss encouraging full body movements of the Fruit Salad Song without worrying about fitting everything into the camera frame of a computer. Most of all, I miss watching toddlers scurry about on the fringes of the storytime crowd, absorbing everything. The joy and chaos of an in-person storytime always brings a smile to my face.

Now that it’s growing warmer and nicer weather (if not actual sunshine) more consistent, I see many librarians considering outdoor storytimes. I planned an outdoor storytime run as part of my summer programming last year; then Covid hit and shut everything down. Now I’m excited to bring this plan to fruition.

What do you need for an outdoor storytime? Here are some things to consider.

Where?

Does your library have an outdoor space on its property to accommodate a small gathering? Mine doesn’t, so I partnered with the local Parks & Recreation department to use a city park. Is there an organization you can partner with? If you’re using an outdoor space away from your library, check the parking and bus situation. Is the space accessible to patrons with and without cars? Strollers? Wheelchairs? Is there a bathroom nearby?

What’s it like?

Make sure you spend time in the space at the time you want your storytime to take place. Who else uses the area? What other distractions will you compete against? Is the grass wet in the mornings? Perhaps you live in an area that sees beautiful weather all summer. Here in the Pacific Northwest, rain can happen anytime. What are your contingency plans if the weather turns south? What if it gets too hot? I plan to hold my storytime in a large gazebo to shelter us from any rain or excess sun.

How will you keep everyone socially distant?

You can easily block benches to create obvious distance, but large grassy spaces present different opportunities for creativity. On the Storytime Underground Facebook page, I’ve seen ideas like using hula hoops or picnic blankets to create designated spots for families to sit, carpet or padded mat squares situated 6 feet apart, or even using lawn chalk to mark preferred seats. It may be worthwhile to keep a camp chair or two around in case you have some parents/caregivers for whom it’s difficult to sit on the ground and invite people to bring their own.

Can you be heard?

Not all distractions are of the visual kind. What other sounds will you compete against? It may be worthwhile to purchase a small microphone you can affix to your shirt or hang around your neck. If you’re going to play music, make sure to bring a portable stereo or amplifier.

Can you be seen?

A challenge of social distancing is that some folks will be further from you, the books, and a felt board (if you use one). One way around that issue is to use oversized picture books. If you have multiple copies of the same title, you could have these available for folks to follow along as you read. (Depending on your library’s Covid protocols, you may need to clean or quarantine any items touched by the public.) You could also try to act out the story instead of showcasing the illustrations.

Consider replacing traditional felt pieces with larger props like puppets or stuffies, as wind will simply blow them away. If you hand out or display lyrics for the audience, how will you manage this in an outdoor setting? I typically repeat my songs and rhymes twice and use the same songs and rhymes each week, so I’m choosing not to distribute lyrics to parents and caregivers.

Will you wear a mask?

Pay attention to the Covid restrictions of your area when planning an outdoor storytime, as some places may require masks even if you’re outdoors and socially distant.

To craft or not to craft.

I follow up my storytimes with directed play instead of a craft. Unfortunately, our early learning toys are still out of commission due to Covid concerns. Luckily there’s plenty of ways to present a craft in a socially distant manner: prepare grab-and-go kits to make the project at home, hand out separate supplies to families in their socially distant seats, or if you have tables nearby arrange for one or two families per table.

I hope this encourages you to try leading an outdoor storytime. Though still different from a traditional storytime, families will be so thrilled to be together in some capacity they likely won’t mind any glitches along the way. Best of luck!

This blog post addresses the following ALSC Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.

Meg Beade is a member of the Early Childhood Program and Services Committee and a Youth Services Librarian at Kitsap Regional Library. 

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