All children’s librarians have been there. You’re at the front of the room, trying to interest a group of preschoolers in a carefully curated selection of storytime books and songs, and rhymes. But there’s a current of conversation coming from a corner of the room. Is it a parent interacting with their child? No! It’s two adults carrying on a conversation with one another without regard to the disruption they are causing.
Or how about this one? You’ve put on a song, and it is dance time! But wait! There are at least five caregivers who are glued to their phones. You try to make eye contact, but you’re not on their radar at all. It’s so frustrating! We expect inattention from children. It is developmentally appropriate. But adults are a whole different matter.
What are some tips and tricks to get adults engaged in storytime?
First, let’s start with what NOT to do!
- Do not let frustration get the better of you. It is a breach of storytime protocol to shame caregivers by calling them out directly. I guarantee it will backfire.
- Do not try the silent trick. This is the one that teachers use. They stop talking until the people carrying on side talk eventually realize that they are being disruptive. It is a little more passive than a direct call-out, but it’s still likely to backfire and cause them shame.
- Do not just try to shout over the adults! You’ll end up making yourself hoarse and it will make everyone feel a little unmoored.
Okay then! What are some ideas that do work?
- Use a microphone. This is a game-changer. Storytime is inherently noisy, and microphones give you an advantage over everyone else in the room.
- Start with a bang! Save quieter portions of your storytime until the group has found its groove. A lot of conversations happen as people get settled. You’ll set yourself up for success if you have SEVERAL opening songs and activities. I personally like to do one opening song on my guitar, then do a gathering song with drums.
- Enter the “audience” space. During the drum opening that I mentioned above, I like to take the drum around for each child to have a chance to hit it. This sets the tone from the beginning- storytime is interactive! You’re going to have to stay on your toes! If you only remain up in the front of the room during storytime, it’s easy for adults to get into a passive mindset. Invade their space! We are in this together!
- Make your expectations clear at a time everyone can hear them. A statement of ground rules is important after the introductory activities have finished, and before you get into the meat of your storytime
- Lay it all out. I say that we anticipate that they will be communicating with their children throughout the storytime, but I ask them to please refrain from having adult conversations. I ask them to participate as much as possible during storytime. The more they do, the more their child will benefit from it.
- Acknowledge tough days. I make a point of acknowledging that kids can have tough days, and assure them that there is nothing to be ashamed of in that! If their kid just can’t settle, they can feel free to look for some books while we finish the storytime, and come back for playtime that will immediately follow.
- Change things up! Bring lots of different elements into storytime. You can always pass out manipulatives like shaker eggs, scarves, or rhythm sticks. Caregivers will have to help their child with this, and it usually causes such a ruckus that they look up from their screens. Or, try rearranging the whole group into a different physical configuration for an activity, like dancing together in a circle.
- Compliment caregiver interaction. If a group is being awesome, I let them know! It lifts the vibe in the room!
Everyone is going to have their own storytime style. Find YOUR thing, and let it fly! Whatever you do, be as welcoming as you can and make everyone feel that they are a valuable member of the storytime community. Community is, after all, a key part of what we’re creating, and it takes all of us to make it.