New to Storytime: Choosing Songs and Rhymes

Welcome back to my new to storytime series! This series of blog posts breaks down the different components of a storytime and is aimed at people who are just beginning as storytime leaders. Check out the other posts here:

How do you decide which songs and rhymes to sing at storytime? Why do we sing at storytime in the first place? How do you incorporate songs and rhymes into a storytime?  This post will try to answer these questions. It’s important to remember that everybody does things differently and that’s okay! Finding what works for you is part of your development as a storytime presenter.

Singing and rhyming are an important early literacy component of storytime. Not only are songs fun, but they also serve as a learning tool for children as they reinforce early childhood concepts. Songs and rhymes boost memory as children absorb new vocabulary and learn how to follow directions. They also break down language into smaller parts, called phonological awareness, which allows kids to hear the smaller sounds in words as they learn to speak.  Many songs have hand or body movements that accompany them offering kids a chance to be active participants using their bodies. Fingerplays in particular help children strengthen their finger muscles which they need to hold a pen or turn the page of a book. Lastly, singing as a group is a great way to build a sense of community and friendship among your community members. It fosters a sense of belonging and connectedness, one of my storytime goals.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some strategies I’ve learned when it comes to the “how” questions.

Repetition

To me, what you sing at storytime is far less important than how often you sing it. Kids learn from repetition.  They learn sentence structure and vocabulary words when they hear a song again and again.  When I start a storytime session I choose about 8 – 10 songs and rhymes I’d like to feature as my “core” group for the 10 – 12 weeks. I try my best to use these songs every storytime. They make up about 80% of the music I use each week. That extra 20% is saved for other songs and rhymes I rotate in. Sometimes they are connected to a particular theme or book I’m featuring. If I find something that’s a total hit then I make an effort to put it into more frequent rotation.

Providing Lyrics

This depends on your community, but I’ve found that providing the lyrics to the songs either on a flipchart or projected onto the wall/screen helps caregivers participate in storytime. This is partly because I have a high number of ESL caregivers in my community who have asked for lyrics to guide them.  Because I repeat so much though they learn the songs eventually. Just something to consider as you get to know your storytime audience.  Some people provide lyrics on a piece of paper or on a bookmark at the end of a storytime session instead.

Using Felt Pieces to Accompany Songs

I created super simple felt pieces to accompany the songs I do most often. I use these felt pieces to introduce the song’s vocabulary, an especially helpful practice for toddler language acquisition.  Having a visual representation connected to the lyrics helps kids understand the meaning of a song.  Alternatively, you could print a picture and hold it up. Doesn’t have to be fancy! My favourites to use are Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Baby Shark, and my food themed set.

Using Recorded Music

I don’t use a lot of recorded music in my storytimes because I think it’s important to model to caregivers that it doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like, but when you are new to storytime it can help you feel more comfortable. I used to play “Jump Up, Turn Around” by Jim Gill at the end of all my toddler storytimes because it helped kids learn how to follow a few simple directions. Other people play music as families enter the room.  If you’re looking for good recorded music to play in storytime check out Recorded Storytime Music: A Primer.

Multilingual Songs and Rhymes

Don’t be afraid to add in songs and rhymes from languages besides English. Perhaps you speak another language or you have community members who do. They can be a great resource to finding out which songs are popular in another language.  Using  multilingual songs and rhymes exposes kids to a variety of cultures and can help make people from different backgrounds feel welcome in your space. I’ve gathered lots of Spanish song resources on my Bilingual Storytime Resources post, but I also love the multilingual selections on StoryBlocks.

Types of Song

I weave in these five categories of songs into all of my storytimes. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many songs to do from each. Instead, I’m intentional about planning a storytime that involves a variety of songs that match the energy of the group and the early literacy goals I’ve set.  If you’re looking for a certain type of song, please make sure to check out all of our thematic YouTube playlists!

Opening and Closing

I do the same welcome/hello song and the same closing/goodbye song every single week. This helps provides a consistent opening routine to your storytime and signals to kids that storytime is starting.  I wrote about my favourites a few years ago, but I actually do three opening songs in a row because it gives caregivers who are a bit late a chance to get settled before we read the first book. My current rotation is Well Hello Everybody, Can You Touch Your Nose (verses: clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up high, shake your hips, beep your belly, sit back down), Hello, Friends, and Roly Poly. I make sure at least one of the songs involves movement because I like giving kids a chance to get their wiggles out before I read the first book. My closing song is Goodbye, Friends. There’s so many options though! Check out our Hello and Goodbye Songs playlist.

Fingerplays

Hand rhymes, aka fingerplays, are great for strengthening finger muscles. I usually do one of those right before or after a book and connect it to the content of the book. For example, if we read Mama, Look! by Patricia Murphy I would follow it up with Here is the Beehive to continue the conversation about nature and insects.  Check out our Fingerplays and Tickles playlist for tons of ideas.  I’ve also written about my favourite fingerplays and tickles for babytime and my favourite

Action and Movement Songs

Kids need to get up and move. Not only do they get heir wiggles out but they also learn through movement.  I pull these out mostly during the middle part of my storytime when kids have already sat through a book or two and need a chance to burn off some energy. As mentioned above, I use felt pieces with a lot of my movement songs.  I usually do about 2 -3 in a row before transitioning to a more literacy based activity like a felt story. Sometimes though you end up moving and grooving the bulk of storytime if that’s what is keeping the crowd engaged. Check out our complete Movement and Dancing Songs playlist and my Songs to Get the Wiggles Out and Favourite Dancing Songs blog posts.

Transition Songs

A good stroytime leader knows how to move kids from one activity to the next. That’s where transition songs come in. The hardest transition for me is getting the kids up and moving and then getting them back down on the floor to listen to a story. My go-to transition song is My Two Hands. I also like Everybody Take a Seat.  Dana wrote an excellent blog post with tons of other ideas for songs and rhymes that help kids transition between activities.

Soothing Songs and Lullabies

After we’ve read books and danced and sang and amped ourselves up, I end storytime with a few gentle, soothing songs and rhymes. I like to model taking deep breaths during this part as well. My go-to songs are traditional nursery rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and the ABC song because they are well known and have a lullaby quality to them. I also use Rain is Falling Down with my felt pieces.  We’ve got some other great suggestions on our Lullabies and Soothing Songs playlist.

How do you choose which songs and rhymes to feature in a storytime? What are your favourite song and rhyme resources? Let me know in the comments!

It Takes a Neighborhood to Nourish a Children’s Librarian: Introducing “The Cardigan”

I can’t even tell you how much excitement I have for this announcement! When Katherine and Allie told me about The Cardigan I immediately asked if they would write about it so I could help spread the news.  Read on to learn about this amazing resource for library staff serving children.

Who We Are and the Vision

We (Allie & Katherine) are two Children’s Librarians working together in a public library in Oklahoma. Katherine primarily works with early childhood kids and Allie works with elementary kids.

Before working with Katherine, I (Allie) worked in a small rural public library in another state. It was my first full-time Children’s Librarian position out of library school. In this new position as a solo Children’s Librarian, it wasn’t long before I began to feel a little alone. I spent my free time researching great resources (like Jbrary!) to help me feel connected and up-to-date, but soon finding the time, support, and energy to research the relevant information left me exhausted.

This is a trend we have both noticed since becoming Children’s Librarians:  finding relevant and current professional development resources can be challenging, tedious to sift through, or costly. So we dreamt up the idea of a newsletter: a visually appealing platform made up of high-quality, bite-sized information related to the profession with real-world implications. Articles posted on social media can be difficult to keep track of, so the newsletter format allows us to preserve all of our resources in one place. Each newsletter will be turned into a PDF and accessible through a Google Drive folder. In this way, we hope to create a repository of the best tools available to help us become excellent at our jobs.

The Cardigan Newsletter

This newsletter is called “The Cardigan” and drops in your inbox on the 20th of every month. In every newsletter, we will explore the following topics with links to professional resources:

  • Learn. Deepen your knowledge on a topic related to Children’s Services.
  • Play. Play is a right! Learn quick tips to optimize play experiences in libraries.
  • Plan. Learn about an interesting program you can easily replicate at your library.
  • Consider. Libraries are for everyone! Read resources about the importance of inclusive Children’s Services.
  • Connect. Discover new places to find content.
  • Reflect. Where we reflect on the deeper questions regarding Children’s Librarianship.
  • Read. Check out some of our favorite books.
  • Ask. Where we answer your questions!

After some reflection, we settled on “it takes a neighborhood to nourish a Children’s Librarian” as our motto because we want to center in on the reality that we need each other to be happy, healthy, and effective librarians. We are both relatively new to the profession, and we hope to create a digital “neighborhood” with Children’s Librarians of all strengths and competencies.

This will happen in three ways:

  • Our “Celebrate” section: We want to celebrate your awards, promotions, and hard work!
  • Our “Share” section: You can e-mail us your cool programs and initiatives related to Children’s Services and we will select a few to feature each month.
  • Our Instagram and hashtag: We are going to use our Instagram (@thecardigannewsletter) to feature other ideas and programs, and the “shares” we aren’t able to fit in the newsletter. Tag your library-related Instagram and Facebook posts with #thecardigannewsletter so that we can see what you are up to!

How to Join the Neighborhood

We hope you’ll join the neighborhood and subscribe to The Cardigan! This little newsletter is our humble attempt to contribute to the need for professional development in our field; we know it won’t solve all of our problems, but we are excited to do our part and would love to have you along for the ride.

Here are four action items:

  • Subscribe to the Cardigan here.
  • Contribute to our first “Ask” section. Email us at thecardigannewsletter@gmail.com with “Ask” in the subject line with any library-related question.  We will do our best to answer, but if we can’t, we will bring in an expert.
  • Contribute to our first “Celebrate” section. E-mail us at thecardigannewsletter@gmail.com, with “Celebrate” in the subject line, along with a brief description (2-3 sentences) of your successes. Celebrating coworkers is also welcomed; please ‘cc them in the submission e-mail so that we can get their permission to be featured. Examples of things to celebrate include: trying something new, practicing radical self-care, getting a job, getting published, being a great coworker… Whatever you deem to be an accomplishment!
  • Contribute to our first “Share” section. You can e-mail us your cool program ideas at thecardigannewsletter@gmail.com, with “Share” in the subject line. Please include at least one photo, along with a short (100-150 word) description.

We can’t wait to see you around the neighborhood!

Katherine & Allie

LSC Journal Club: Fall 2018 Recap: Evaluating Early Literacy Programs

Our Vancouver chapter of the Library Services for Children Journal Club held our fall meeting last week to discuss how and why we evaluate early literacy programs such as Mother Goose and storytime. We read and discussed an article about a research study designed to evaluate the impact Regina Public Library’s Mainly Mother Goose program on caregivers support of the development of early literacy for their children.  Here’s a summary of the article and our discussion.

Article Summary

This article aimed to understand how the Mainly Mother Goose program may contribute to caregivers’ engagement in the development of their child’s early literacy skills. Noting the lack of research related to public library program evaluation, especially with regards to early literacy programs, the researchers gave a brief literature view and pointed towards studies out of Idaho and Ontario that showed positive impacts of preschool programs and parent education initiatives. This study used a quasi-experimental design to survey caregivers before and after the program and conduct interviews a few months later. They asked the following 4 research questions:

  • Do parents report an increased use of the following nine early literacy skill development activities after their participation in the MMG program? (see article for complete list of activities)
  • Do caregivers report an increased number of library visits after participating in the MMG program?
  • Do caregivers report an increased sense of confidence and competence in using storytime materials and activities after participating in the MMG program?
  • Do caregivers use what they learned in the MMG program at home?

The results of their study showed no statistically significant change in the use of the nine early literacy skill activities. Because the study evaluated for changes in frequency of behaviour it was noted that many of the caregivers reported a high usage of the skills on the pre-test thus leaving little room for improvement.  The study included results from the program when it was hosted in the library verses when it was hosted at an outreach site. Caregivers at the outreach sites had higher rates of change in the nine early literacy skills. For the remaining research questions, there was an increase in the caregivers visits to the library, their confidence, and their usage of activities at home. Yay!

Group Discussion

Our group started by discussing the nine early literacy skill development activities the researchers chose to ask about. How did they decide on these nine? The don’t give any information regarding the selection of these skills and we noted that they inquire heavily on the skills of talking and singing. None of the questions had to do with play which we know is how children learn.  Some of the skills were very similar – talking a child vs. asking them a question – that we questioned the usefulness of the nine skills too.  We wish the researchers had given a little background on how they chose those skills and how they were connected to research.

We also discussed the researchers choice to evaluate for a change in frequency of behaviour. Our criticism, which was noted in the article, is that very little change will be observed if the caregivers are already exhibiting the behaviours before the intervention (i.e. the Mainly Mother Goose Program.) Especially when surveying caregivers who are already coming to the library on a regular basis, it’s not surprising that there wasn’t a huge impact on the nine skills. Seeing the results of the outreach site visits differ was a good justification to us that our community outreach efforts are much needed and have the biggest impact. We thought the other three research questions gave more valuable information because they showed a changing view of the library and how our programs can impact caregiver attitudes.

This study led us to think about why we do evaluation in the first place. We came up with a list of reasons to conduct research studies that evaluate our programs including to prove our impact on families, to build credibility with our organizations and community members, to push for more money and funding to increase our capacity, to identify gaps in our programming, to contribute to the body of research literature on evaluation, and to assess for learning outcomes of children and caregivers.  We noted the difference, however, between outcome evaluations and satisfaction surveys. If you are wanting to gauge what your caregivers enjoy, what they’d change, what they don’t like, etc. then that is different from an evaluation that measures learning or knowledge acquisition. Before planning large scale evaluation projects it’s important to consider why you are doing them, what you hope to measure, and what you will do with the data when you are done.

This article evaluated caregivers, but there has been recent research that evaluates children and storytime presenters. We talked about the VIEWS2 research study from the University of Washington and how they observed storytimes to see if children display specific early literacy behaviours. They also designed an intervention for the storytime presenters and proved that it helped them be more intentional about early literacy in storytime which impacted the kids as well.  What are the pros and cons of evaluating these three audiences: children, caregivers, storytime presenters? How would the study change based on your audience? It all comes back to what you are hoping to gain from the evaluation. If you want to improve your skills as a storytime presenter then you wouldn’t necessarily ask for caregiver feedback. That’s something a peer or mentor could provide more meaningful feedback based on observation. It was very exciting to see the new research coming out of the VIEWS2 project and even more exciting to see free training being developed based on this research called Supercharged Storytimes.

We ended the discussion by asking ourselves: As children’s librarians are we researchers? Do we view ourselves that way? Were we taught to do research and value research in our MLIS programs? There is so much data we collect through our children’s programs that has the potential to speak to library boards and donors about the significant impact we have in our community. But much, if not all, of that data remains unanalyzed as we do not have capacity in our jobs to conduct research studies on top of all the other day-to-day priorities.  It’s interesting to note that some libraries are joining with universities, such as Calgary Public Library and Mount Royal, to do this research together. Perhaps that is a model we can use in the future.

If you’re interested in starting a Library Services Journal Club in your area, please let me know and I’d be happy to help!