We’ll Link to That: Winter 2018

Hey, hey, the Winter 2018 edition of the YAACING newsletter is here!  This quarter we’re sharing our favourite oral stories to use with kids from a wide range of ages.  We encourage you read to the entire issue though for even more youth services ideas. You can find all of our columns for the YAACING newsletter on our professional development page.


The art of storytelling is an important aspect of a children’s librarian’s job. Oral storytelling can be daunting, so we’re sharing ten of our favourite oral stories that can be used with kids of any age. Try these in a storytime, a spooky stories around the campfire program, or at your next Summer Reading Club visit.

  1. Chicken in the Library
    This must have been written by a librarian- it allows you to talk about your collection, explain how to seek, locate and check out books at your library AND finishes with a goofy frog pun. Adapt to fit your library and group, this would work for toddlers up to school age kids.
  2. Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle
    You might not think of fingerplays as stories- but trust us, the narrative patterns, characters and story arc all fit the bill. This is fun and easy to do and your toddlers will be asking for it each week, especially as they master the motions with their fingers and hands. Feel free to add in extra bits or shorten it up if kids are getting squirrely.
  3. The Mouse Family Takes a Walk
    We learned this story that uses ASL at a Mother Goose training. We love how the ending includes a positive message about bilingualism. Great for toddlers and up, especially when you repeat it each week.
  4. Grandfather Bear is Hungry
    If you’ve got a bear and chipmunk puppet, you’re all set for this one! This story gives a reason why chipmunk has stripes down his back. It works well in the spring when animals are waking up from hibernation.
  5. Pigeon and Turtle Go to New York City
    This folktale is from Haiti and includes poop jokes and chances for the audience to participate. Recommended for preschoolers or school-age kids.
  6. 10 Fuzzy Chicks
    Short rhymes can function as introductory oral stories for babies and toddlers. This one uses our hands to tell the story of ten chicks hatching. Perfect for spring and summer storytimes.
  7. Little Clapping Mouse
    This story’s got rhythm! Add in some clapping to help those kids that need to move while talking. We love how this one rhymes and we recommend it for toddlers on up.
  8. Billy Goats Trip Trap
    Speaking of rhythm, this story’s got a real beat too! The rhyming couplets make this an easy way to share the classic story with little ones and even infants if parents try it as a bounce. Want to spice it up? Try incorporating rhythm sticks or other musical instruments.
  9. The Three Little Pigs
    Another classic story told through rich rhyming language. This version was written by Carol Ashton and is fun to do with children young and old. Encourage little ones to hold up their fingers and tell the story along with you.
  10. Be a Seed
    This little rhyme reminds us that stories are taking place all around us- even in nature! Have kids try it first with their hands and arms and then tell it again from crouching to standing. A great little story for spring.

Do you have a favourite oral story you love to share with kids? Send us an email at jbrary@gmail.com with your suggestions!

Guest Post: Modeling Pretend Play at Storytime

At our November Library Services for Children Journal Club meeting we discussed executive function.  One of the ways we can help children develop executive function skills is through pretend play.  Stephanie M. Carlson is a professor and director of research at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. She wrote an article about why pretend play helps executive function and states, “We think it’s because pretending puts “psychological distance” between a child and the task at hand. Pretending helps a child step back from a problem and think about it from multiple angles. It helps him see different options for finding a solution. Pretending also uses the same brain networks as real behavior. So if a child practices using pretend play, it’s more likely he’ll use those same brain networks in real situations. It’s similar to the advice “fake it till you make it.”

Today’s post is a guest post by my friend and colleague Kate Lowe. Kate Lowe works as a children’s librarian in Vancouver, BC.  She enjoys testing out new storytime material on her 4 year old son. She is also living proof that anyone can learn to play the ukulele.  She’s here to share 9 ways we can encourage pretend play in storytime.  We’re taking the research and putting it into practice!


Research shows that there are a million and one great reasons to encourage children to engage in pretend play. So how can we encourage the parents, caregivers, babies, toddlers and preschoolers at our library to play “make-believe”? By showing them how it is done and reminding caregivers to try this at home.

1.  Lay an Egg

If you’ve got egg shakers at your library you have everything you need to demonstrate imaginary play. Well, an egg shaker and a willingness to make a fool of yourself in front of a room full of storytime families.

  • Step 1: Take an egg shaker
  • Step 2: Sit on it
  • Step 3: Squawk and flap like a chicken
  • Step 4: Lay the egg
  • Step 5: Cradle it in your hands and treat it like a delicate baby. Proudly show the egg to the audience.
  • Step 6: Ask if they are ready to play with shakers too

2.  Row, Row, Row Your Ukulele

Pretend your trusty uke is an oar to help you paddle down the stream. Try putting the instrument down and all of you can paddle together. It’s a nice variation on the traditional rowing actions. You can even change the words to “Paddle, paddle, paddle your canoe gently down the stream…”

3. Felt Piece Meet and Greet

Before starting a felt story take two of the felt pieces and bring them to life with sounds and movement in the air. You only need a few moments of clip clopping the horse along the top of your felt board, or having a cat chase the mouse up your arm to give your audience the idea.

4. The Original Hand Puppet

Turn your hand into a puppet named Herbert. After a fun storytime activity turn to your hand and have a conversations:

  • You: “Did you like that Herbert?”
  • You (aside to the audience): “This is Herbert.”
  • You: “So did you like the song Herbert?”
  • Herbert (nodding): “Yep I did!”
  • You: Let’s give ourselves a round of applause for that song!
  • Herbert: “Good idea”

Best advice I ever got from a puppeteer was: Look at the puppet when you’re have a conversation with it. Look at the audience when you are talking to them. The audience will follow your attention.

5. Sweep Up

Storytime scarves are the ideal pretend play tool. They are light, colourful, and they provide have endless possibilities for play. Remind caregivers that most homes have a rag, cloth or small blanket that will work for at home. Before you do a song or rhyme, take a scarf and turn it into a duster, or a broom and pretend to sweep. Clean the dust off your chair, your legs, some of the children’s feet…

6. Costume Change

The song “My Hat it Has Four Corners” demonstrates how a scarf can be a hat or a superhero cape.

7. Grow a flower

The rhyme “Here is a Green Leaf” demonstrates how a scarf can be a beautiful flower.

8. Baby Doll

Children have a special skill to turn any object into a baby doll. Take a puppet and start to rock and burp it. Pretend for a moment or two that the puppet is your baby to love and care for. A few scarves stuffed inside another scarf then tied with an elastic makes the head and wispy body of a lovely little doll. After a minute of caring for your baby you can tell the audience you are ready to move on to a song or book. Ask the audience to say goodbye to your little friend. If you are finished with the puppet or scarves, carefully place them somewhere safe to keep the illusion going.

9. Book Time

Library staff are always trying to model how to treat a book gently, but you can take it one step further and pretend the book is a baby, a piece of glass, or precious friend. We can talk to the book, hug the book, and cradle the book. Especially if it is a favourite book that you decide to bring out a number of times during a series of storytimes. The book can become a familiar friend and treated with special care. You could make the book a special sleeping bag, a coat, or give it a special box to sleep in. There are endless possibilities.

What storytime objects have sparked your imagination in storytime?  Let us know in the comments!

Pacing a Toddler Storytime

You all know I have a soft spot in my heart for toddler storytime.  I encourage you to check out the posts on our storytime resources page to learn more about how I plan, what books I read, what felt stories work, what songs I sing, and how I incorporate props.  But recently something about how I do toddler storytime has changed and it has everything to do with pacing.

Awhile ago I read a book by Megan Dowd Lambert called Reading Picture Books with Kids. That link will take you to my review of the book and why I think every person doing storytime should read it.  It taught me how to read picture books with kids and the value of slowing down while reading. Over the past year I’ve taken that philosophy and applied it to toddler storytime in general. If there is one thing I could teach my former storytime self it would be to SLOW DOWN.

I think there is an unspoken pressure to try and cram as many components into a storytime as possible. Read three books! Sing 10 songs! Do two felt stories! Bust out the puppets and the egg shakers and the scarves! And don’t forget the bubbles! While all of those things are great to feature in storytime, we do our toddlers a disservice when our pace quickens in order to get it all in.  When you look at toddler brain development and language acquisition, you find that toddlers need:

  • Repetition: They learn through repeated singing and reading of the same songs, rhymes, and stories.
  • Time to Think Before Responding: When you ask a toddler a question you need to give them time to process the question and then form an answer. I like asking yes or no questions or questions with two choices in toddler storytime because those are the first types of questions toddlers learn to answer.  You may not get a chorus of yeses, but adding in an extra 10 seconds to your wait time will help you slow down.
  • Serve and Return Conversations and Sentence Elongation: Babies begin learning language through the conversations adults have with them. We ask a question, pause, listen to them gurgle and coo, and then respond back. This encourages them to keep making an effort at language. Toddlers also benefit from this serve and return model. You can add in sentence elognation to build their vocabulary. For example, if they point to something and say, “bird!” then you can say, “Yes, it’s a bird. A big blue bird.” This helps build their vocabulary and understanding of how language works.

I’ve found that these things can’t all occur when I’m jumping from one song to the next without hardly a breathe in between.  Sometimes it feels like the only way to control the chaos is to just keep plowing through the material. Not only does that have the potential to further lose the attention of the toddlers, it also makes it hard for any newcomers or ESL attendees to follow along.

I’ve had a few people ask me to film my storytimes so they could see what slowing down really looks like. Unfortunately I am unable to film due to the privacy of my storytime attendees at the library. But I can provide a toddler storytime outline that describes where I take moments to pause and engage.  I didn’t include any props besides puppets in this storytime.  These 10 things take us 30 minutes.  Of course, this is just one way to do a toddler storytime and I am by no means an expert! This is just what has worked for me.

  1. Welcome Songs
    I’ve got big storytimes (60+ people), so I usually come into the room, walk around and say hello to everyone, and then start singing “Well Hello Everybody, Can You Touch Your Nose?” as a gathering song. It signals to caregivers that it’s time to start and it gets the kids engaged. We do at least five verses: touch your nose, clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up high, sit back down. A few of them are always action-oriented.  If people are still coming in the door I’ll add a few more verses. Once we’re finished I do my welcome message (a modified version of #2 in this blog post) every single week – you never know who is new! Then we sing Hello, Friends and end by turning to the person sitting next to us and introducing ourselves with our names. Before we sing Hello, Friends I go over the signs for hello and friends every single week. I don’t rush this part. Because we’re a big group and can’t do songs that use people’s names, I really want to build in a chance for people to get to know each other.  It also helps slow down the pace of the storytime and gives caregivers a chance to get settled if they came in a few minutes late.
  2. Roly Poly
    At this point I used to jump right into my first book and with smaller groups that still works. But when I’ve got a big group I find that caregivers are still coming in at this point.  It makes it really hard for the toddlers to focus on a story when people are trying to find a seat. I do not blame caregivers at all! In fact, I always smile and welcome them in. It just means I sneak in another song before reading the first book. One way to slow down the pace of your storytime is to break down a song before singing it. With Roly Poly, first I have everyone hold up their hands, then we squeeze our hands and make a fist, then we put one hand over the other, and then we roll our hands. Toddlers get really excited because they know we are about to sing their favourite song.  Adding this step scaffolds the song in a developmentally appropriate way that makes it more accessible for toddlers.  We sing it at least two times through.
  3. Read a Book
    Don’t know what to read at toddler storytime? I’ve got you covered. Here’s part 1 and part 2 of my favourite read alouds for toddler storytime.  Here’s where I try really hard to consciously make an effort to slow down. Before we read we look at the cover and talk about what we see. I say the author and illustrator’s name and say something like, “She wrote the words and she drew the pictures.” When reading I keep my pace slow and steady and ask only a few questions as  I read.  Toddlers are at a language acquisition stage where pointing and labeling is key. So I point and label a lot of the images in the book. It’s also a great chance to use sentence elognation. You can ask what they see and then expand on the word they provide.  My favourite part is getting everybody to say, “The End!” together when we finish the book. I also love to hug the book when I’m done and say something about how much I love stories.  A really easy way to incorporate an early literacy tip in storytime is simply telling caregivers why you picked the book to read.
  4. Song with Felt Pieces
    To help toddlers match words with objects I put up pictures or felt pieces that match the songs we sing.  There are so many to choose from. Some of my favourites are Baby SharkSlippery Fish, Bananas Unite, or Knife, Fork, Spoon Spatula.  Rather than jump right into singing, I’ll pull out one of the felt pieces and say, “We’re going to sing a song now. And it’s a song about a….shark!” When we do Baby Shark I then take a moment to put the shark on the felt board, ask what colour it is, ask if they like sharks, etc. Here’s where it’s important to build in that wait time when you ask questions.  Once the song has been introduced then we start singing. If it’s a longer song like Baby Shark I’ll probably only do it once through, but for shorter songs I do them 2-3 times. I repeat these songs every week because that’s how toddlers learn.
  5. Felt Story
    My preference is to do a felt story version of the book we read. I’ve written about how to do one story many ways before and believe it offers toddlers a chance to practice the language and internalize the story featured in the book. If I can’t find a felt story version of the book then I’ll try to pick something thematically related to the book. Again, just as a way to build the vocabulary around a certain topic.  As with reading a book, I’ve tried hard to slow down my pacing with felt stories. I try to pick ones that have audience participation elements or repetitive phrases caregivers can say with me. Here are my favourite felt stories to use: Part 1 and Part 2.
  6. Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
    At this point we need to get up and move!  I like doing Zoom, Zoom, Zoom for multiple reasons. Firstly, toddlers love it.  Secondly, you can do multiple verses that encourage caregivers to play with lyrics. I made a felt set that helps me slow down my pacing.  Before we start singing I pull out the rocketship felt and say, “Wow, what is this? It’s a rocketship!  Where should we go in our rocketship?”  Then I pull out the moon piece and say, “The moon! It’s a big, round, yellow moon. Let’s go to the moon. First we need to warm up our engines.”  Then we rub our hands together and start singing.  We go to the stars and the sun. Before going to the sun we put on sunblock and sometimes our spacesuit. Adding in these elements slows down the pace naturally and allows toddlers a chance to process the language before you sing.
  7. My Two Hands
    This is my go-to transition song. I like it because the first part still has lots of action in it.  I use this one every week and once the toddlers learn it they are so into it.
  8. Farm Animal Puppet Song
    At this point I sometimes pull out scarves or shakers, but most of the time I feature some puppets. Puppets grab a toddler’s attention unlike a song itself.  I try to stick with familiar tunes like Old MacDonald or The Cows on the Farm Go Moo, Moo, Moo (Tune: Wheels on the Bus).  Then I rotate through different animals. I like throwing in an oddball animal like an octopus because it’s fun and gets the kids to help me think of the sound. To slow down my pace, I’ll pause between each verse and do a reveal game. Try pulling the puppet’s leg or tail out of your bag and asking what animal it could be. They love to guess and it gets caregivers to help their toddler focus their attention.
  9. Rain is Falling Down
    At this point we are nearing the end of storytime and the focus is on calming and settling.  Any lullaby or gentle song will do. I like Rain is Falling Down because you can have caregivers move their fingers down their child’s back or arms and then play peek-a-boo on the second verse. I’ve added a third verse about snow which goes, “Snow is falling down, shhhh.” Before singing this song I’ll put up the felt pieces that match the song and we’ll talk about making rain with our hands. After the song I put my hand on my heart and say, “My body is feeling nice and calm now. I feel very peaceful. How do you feel?” Build in some wait time to see if toddlers will answer.
  10. Goodbye Song
    And that brings us to the end!  We sing Goodbye, Friends three times through and then the kids come up to get their stamp. We’ve got lots of ideas for goodbye songs though.  In an attempt to get to know the kids I’ll ask them to say their name when they get a stamp, but realistically this doesn’t always happen with such big groups. Of course I walk around afterwards and talk to kids and caregivers one-on-one. I like to take the book we read with me and ask them if they liked it or just point to the cover and say, “We read a book about dinosaurs today. Big, green dinosaurs!” I’m all about modeling to caregivers.

And that fills 30 minutes. Sometimes I can get a second short or singable book in there, but usually not. And that’s okay! The focus for me is on strategies that cater to a toddler’s language development, enjoyment of stories, and caregiver participation.  In terms of repetition I will switch out the book and felt story from week to week but I keep all the songs the same for an 8-10 week session.

How do you pace your toddler storytimes? Any tips for slowing down? Please leave a comment with any thoughts!