Repetition in Storytime, Part 1

The other day on Jbrary’s Instagram account I put a poll out asking people to vote on my next blog topic. 61% of you voted for repetition in storytime! I’ve been thinking about repetition a lot lately. Here are some questions I’ve been pondering:

  • What role does repetition play in brain development and language acquisition?
  • How much repetition do you or should you include in storytime?
  • What are different ways to use repetition with young children, particularly in storytime?

When I first started as a children’s librarian I didn’t have a clear answer to any of these questions. I remember learning the basic “repetition is good” mantra in my MLIS children’s courses, but I wasn’t confident in how to effectively translate that message into a storytime program or a storytime series. Now that I’ve been doing storytime for five years and have spent time reading relevant research I’d like to come back to these questions.

I’m breaking this discussion into two parts. This post will cover the what and the why – What is happening in the brain when we repeat words, sentences, and stories to children? Why does repetition aid in brain development and language acquisition? I will write a second post exploring the question of how – How much repetition should we include in storytime? How should we structure our storytimes? What are different ways to repeat content?

Early Brain Development and Repetition

When babies are born their brains are ready to learn. Every time they are stimulated by something in the their environment – language, people, physical sensations – their brain cells reach out and make neural connections. Neural connections in the brain are called synapses, and when they are stimulated repeatedly they become ‘hardwired.’ Hardwired means they are less likely to be pruned as the child grows older. When we repeat information it makes these synapses thicker. The brain recognizes these thicker synapses and keeps them because they are strong.

This image from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University shows the amount of synapses over the course of 14 years and the natural pruning process. Repetition of language and stories in the early years helps make that middle picture full of strong synapses that are less likely to be pruned.

Saroj Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Diaz summarize this process in their book Early Literacy Storytimes @ Your Library: Partnering with Caregivers for Success. They say, “Children ages three to ten have three times as many synapses as an adult. As a child grows, there are fewer synapses, but they are more organized. Some of the synapses are pruned. What makes some synapses stay and some be pruned away? Repetition! The synapses that are used repeatedly are the ones that are kept, and the ones that are little used get pruned.”

Repetition and Learning

For adults, hearing the same story again and again can be quite boring. We’re not experiencing anything new or unexpected. But for young children, repetition isn’t boring at all. In fact, when they repeat songs or books they are experiencing it in a new way each time. The first time a child hears a song or reads a book, for example, they are often just taking in the experience. With books, most of their attention will be on the pictures. When they experience it again they build on their knowledge – they will start to notice different things and begin to learn from it. Concepts and words become part of their memory and they are able to recall it later. A blog post on repetition summarizes it perfectly: “…as they repeat the process again and again, they go from experiencing to anticipating, from understanding basic concepts to exploring the activity to its fullest extent.”

There have been recent research studies that aim to understand how repetition impacts learning. A 2015 study found that parents who repeated words to their 7-month-olds have toddlers with larger vocabularies. I particularly like this study because it stresses the quality of conversations not just the quantity of words we say. Another study done in 2013 showed that children learned more words when they read the same story repeatedly in a shared storybook setting. That’s not the only reason we read books over and over again with young children, but it does exemplify the learning benefits of repetition.

The Benefits of Repetition

  • Outside of words and stories, repetition also helps babies and toddlers learn the consequence of an action. Ever seen a toddler drop their cup or pacifier over and over again? They are learning about cause and effect.
  • Repetition helps young children remember information and build memory. Having a working memory is a key step in developing executive function skills.
  • Repeating an action or learning to say a word eventually leads to mastery. When a child masters a skill they feel proud and happy!
  • Kids generally thrive on routine and certainty. Having daily routines or experiencing repetition through play is comforting and gives a child a sense of security. This helps them build trust and feel safe. Children need to be feel safe and love for their brains to turn on for learning.
  • When we repeat stories, kids begin to internalize them and can join in the storytelling. This increases their feeling of self-worth. That feeling of affirmation that “I can do this, I know what I’m doing” is invaluable for every little learner. A great self-esteem booster!

This post covered why repetition is important to learning and how it affects brain development and language acquisition. The next post will explore how we can support repetition in a storytime setting. I’d love to hear your ideas on how much and what you repeat in storytime! Feel free to leave me a comment below.

2019 Picture Books Featuring Babies

Do you have a favourite moment of your work week? I feel like 99% of the time mine happens in babytime. I mean, I got high-fived by a 10-month old today. Hard to beat that in my opinion.

I’m always on the lookout for new books to share in babytime, either to read aloud or to put on display. Here are some 2019 picture books that I think will be great to share at babytime. I haven’t read any of these yet. They just got that cover appeal. Let me know in the comments what new releases you are looking forward to sharing in babytime this year!

And don’t miss the other books in my 2019 Picture Book series!

I am always looking for ways to incorporate more languages in storytime.
Bilingual with a beat? Yes, please!
I hope this one is singable!
This looks perfect for pointing out body parts.
A sequel to the lift-the-flap feminist guidebook for babies that came out last year.
Baby animals still count as babies.
Finally a baby mermaid book! By a classic author too.
I’ve seen lots of good buzz about this one and think it would be great to give to parents at babytime who have multiple children.
A story about expecting parents and bonding with a newborn.
I think some parents would love this one. Or love to pass it to older siblings.
Babies AND dogs?!
This book instantly reminded me of the way my niece used to say “shoes” which was a very drawn out “shooooeeeeessss.”
Follow the baby orangutan as it goes on a wild adventure through the jungle.
You wouldn’t know it from the cover but this is an alphabet book!
A rhyming jaunt through the busy life of a little one.
Perfect for all those future activists.
Diverse depictions of families fill this story of a stroller that gets passed along to people in the community.
Is this the only book about twin babies in existence? Fills a gap regardless.
I’ll cheer to that!
I am always on the lookout for books set in places outside of North America. This one takes place in West Africa.
I’m crossing my fingers this one makes a good read aloud.
Babymoons. They are all the rage these days.
It’s actually about baby moons!!
Can we please take a moment to appreciate the side eye that baby in the stripes is giving?
A great gift for new parents.

On a side note, I’d love to get feedback from everyone regarding these types of posts. They are fun and easy for me to write, allowing me time to work on my more meatier posts in the meantime. Do you enjoy them? Do you like seeing what’s coming out soon? Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts or requests!

New to Storytime: How to Read Books to a Group

Are you new to storytime? Welcome to the family! Storytime is probably my favourite part of being a children’s librarian. I’m writing a series all about the basics in hopes of helping those who are just starting as storytime leaders. This post will discuss tips and tricks for reading books aloud to a group. Don’t miss the other posts in the series:

Before Reading

Read the book ahead of time. Check to make sure it’s in good condition and there aren’t any ripped, damaged, or missing pages. Practice saying the words out loud so you get a feel for the rhythm or flow of the story.

In storytime, find a place to sit (usually at the front of the room) where everyone can see you. My storytime groups are big so I sit on a chair. If you have a small group (5 or less children) you can get away with sitting on the ground with them.

Before jumping into the story, take time to read the title, author, and illustrator. I like explaining to kids that the author writes the words and the illustrator draws the pictures. Point out things on the cover and ask kids to guess what the story will be about. You can run your finger along the title to draw their attention to print. If the book has a unique orientation, like Shake the Tree, take a moment to talk about how the book is different. All of these things help kids understand how books work and boost their reading confidence.

Something I was taught in one of my MLIS courses was the mechanics of reading aloud. I highly recommend this video of Dr. Brian Sturm from the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill that covers how to hold a book, how to position your body, and how to turn pages.

Another thing to consider is how to arrange your storytime space in general to allow families to view the book. I place little cushions around the room in no particular order. I don’t mind if kids sit near me, in fact sometimes kids with vision impairment need to be closer to see the pages. In the video Dr. Sturm recommends a 90 degree angle for best viewing. The size of your group and the size of your space will affect how you configure your read aloud experience.

During Reading

Slow Your Pace

Almost everyone I’ve ever observed at storytime reads too fast. Me included! Working on slowing my pace has been a goal of mine every since I read Megan Dowd Lambert’s book. Kids need time to process language and answer the questions you ask as you read. Toddlers especially benefit from a slow paced reading.

Scan the Book

Because my groups are quite large I do have to scan the book while I read. Scanning is when you turn the book from one side to the other so that everyone has a chance to see the pictures. Trust me, kids will let you know if they can’t see! If I know the book by heart, I will do this as I say the words. Otherwise I do it after I read the words which helps slow down my pace.

Make it Interactive

Find ways to model interactivity while you read. Examples include asking open-ended questions, adding a movement, or having everyone say a word or phrase together. Saroj Ghoting has an excellent brochure on interactive reading with a list of open-ended questions to choose from. When I read books like Firefighter Duckies! by Frank W. Dormer I teach families the repeating phrase and correlating made-up gestures before we read the book so they can do it with me as I read. You can also pause at the end of a sentence and have the kids fill in the blank. For babies and toddlers, labeling objects on the page is a great way to support their language acquisition. Making the read aloud an interactive experience models to caregivers ways to make reading engaging for their little one.

Make Connections

Kids will often do this naturally, but it’s great to make a connection between the book and something in the child’s life. Anchoring information to something they already know helps the information stick. You can also help them learn new words by explaining their meaning and connecting them to the picture by pointing to it as you read.

Try New Things

Try reading a book standing up. Try reading a book with a partner. Try “reading” a wordless picture book and have the kids tell the story. The smaller your group the more flexibility you’ll have to try new things, but even with large groups I encourage you to take chances and evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

Use Your Voice

If you have a big group like me you have to be able to turn on your “storytime voice.” This voice is louder, more exaggerated, and more outgoing than my usual voice. If you are reading a book with different characters you can experiment with different voices. Try using dramatic pauses and emphasizing the words that appear bigger on the page. A quick search on YouTube for library storytimes will result in multiple videos featuring examples of how to do this effectively.

After Reading

One of the ways we can support the early literacy development of our storytime kids is by extending the book. You can do simple things like ask the kids what their favourite part was or pick a stamp that matches something from the book and tell caregivers to use the stamp as a conversation starter later in the day. Some libraries are able to offer a craft component to storytime. I recommend choosing a process art activity related to the book. If you’ve got space for a book display, put out books connected to the theme that might feature similar or related vocabulary and concepts. Lastly, try retelling the story, either that day or the following week, in a different form. When kids hear the same story in a different format it helps reinforce the narrative structure and vocabulary. I love reading a book one week, doing the felt story version the next week, and doing a puppet version the following week. See my planning a storytime session post for examples of how I do this.

What are your tips for reading a book aloud to a group? I’d love to know what works best for you in the comments!

Nonfiction Storytime Books

Raise your hand if you forget to read information books at storytime.

*Raises hand*

It’s true. It’s not that I don’t want to read information books at storytime. I think it’s mostly that I’m more aware of fiction and thus more likely to try it out in storytime. But I would really like to change that. Not only would reading information books in storytime raise awareness about that part of our collection, it also caters to kids who like facts. So I’ve done some digging and gathered resources for all of us who would like to be more intentional about including nonfiction books in storytime.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge that some books blur the line between fiction and nonfiction. Just checking a book in two different library catalogues will often give two different results. Nonfiction Monday had a recent blog post with some examples. Some of the books listed here may be catalogued as children’s fiction in your system. Cross checking these one with your library’s holdings is a great way to get to know your library collection better.

Online Resources

Let’s start with other people who have shared their wisdom on this topic. Check out these webinars and blog posts:

Authors and Series

It’s helpful to know key authors and series that have multiple information books that work well in storytime. Here are some of my favourites:

Recommended Reads

And here are some of my favourite nonfiction books to use in storytime. I’ve given ideas for books you could pair them with if you wanted to stick to a theme.

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
The super large format makes this a great choice for large groups. Have kids come up and put their hand next to the animal on the page so they can compare. With only 1 -2 short sentences per page this one works great for toddlers and preschoolers. Pairs great with From Head to Toe by Eric Carle where you can act out animals of sizes.

All Kinds of Friends by Shelley Rotner; photographs by Sheila M. Kelly
I love the big photograph spreads and the short amount of text. Perfect for babies and toddlers alike. A true celebration of friendship. There are so many great options to read along with this one if you want to stick with a friendship theme.

Baby Animals Moving by Suzi Eszterhas
This one is a little text heavy so recommended for smaller preschool groups up to grade 2. Surveys a variety of animals and how they get around in the natural world. The wildlife photographs are the star. Don’t miss the author’s second book Baby Animals Playing.

Baby on Board: How Animals Carry Their Young by Marianne Berkes; illustrated by Cathy Morrison
Inquisitive preschoolers will love learning about how different animals keep their babies safe. I like how each spread focuses on one animal so you can spend time discussing it or quickly move on to the next. If you have a small group it would be fun to pass out stuffed animals or puppets after reading and have the kids practice carrying their “babies.” I’d pair this with a lively book like The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz.

Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer; illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon
A short and sweet journey through the circle of life in the forest. Good for small groups due to the size of the book. Read it with toddlers and label each object; read it with preschoolers and help them make connections between the objects. Pair with a fall themed book like The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri to see how animals fit in the ecosystem.

Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre
Sayre is a master of nature photography and lyrical writing that feels like poetry. I love reading her books at the start or end of seasons. Don’t miss Raindrops Roll and Full of Fall for autumn and her upcoming Bloom Boom in 2019. For another snow-filled story read Snowballs by Lois Ehlert and make some snow people.

Bird Builds a Nest by Martin Jenkins; illustrated by Richard Jones
Yes, it’s about birds but it’s also about forces! Follow Bird as she pushes and pulls things in nature to build a nest. Perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. If you focus on the concept of building try Bigger Bigger by Leslie Patricelli too.

Birds Make Nests by Michael Garland
Someone once told me, “The world would be a better place if everyone was a bird watcher.” This book helps fulfill that wish. Simple sentences show a variety of nests. Each bird is labeled so you can give specific names if the kids have the attention span. Any bird themed book would pair well, and I’d definitely use my Two Little Bluebirds rhyme.

Bubbles: An Elephant’s Story by Bhagavan “Doc” Antle
I sent this book in with my niece’s Grade 2 class and they loved it as a read aloud. It’s narrative nonfiction, telling the story of Bubbles and how he was saved from ivory poachers. I think Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown ties in nicely with the message around the hope of animals being able to live freely in the wild.

Counting on Fall by Lizann Flatt; illustrated by Ashley Barron
Part of a Math in Nature series that goes through the four seasons, this book has a counting challenge on each page. Best for preschoolers – Grade 1. The spring and winter books are more challenging, so I’d stick with this one for an under 5 storytime. I encourage caregivers to take the book home so they can spend more time on each page. I’d pair with something lighthearted such as Everybunny Count! by Ellie Sandall.

Different? Same! by Heather Tekavec; illustrated by Pippa Curnick
This one is so clever! Each spread shows four animals and the kids have to guess how they are similar. Perfect for preschool groups who can’t read yet (the answer is written on the page). Really stretches the kids to think creatively.

Every Day Birds by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater; illustrations by Dylan Metrano
Perfect for toddlers, this book describes one bird per page in a simple sentence. The illustrations are bright and colourful. For a funny tale featuring an assortment of feathered friends use Froodle by Antoinette Portis.

Fabulous Frogs by Martin Jenkins; illustrated by Tim Hopgood
A wonderful introduction to our amphibian friends. This one works well with preschool – grade 3. I admit Darwin’s Frog kind of grossed me out but still cool to learn about! Bust out Big Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems after reading this one.

Families by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
Diverse families are photographed and featured in this text that describes what different families look like and how families interact. Great for toddlers and up. I love reading with one of Todd Parr’s books about families.

Fantastic Flowers by Susan Stockdale
I love the use of metaphor in this flower book. Try asking the kids what they think each flower looks like. Perfect for springtime when flowers are blooming so you can encourage families to spend time comparing what they find outside. Pairs perfectly with Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert.

A First Book of the Sea by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Emily Sutton
One of my co-workers starts every storytime with a poem which I think is a lovely idea. Living right on the ocean, I’m drawn to this collection about the sea. The pages are large and the poems are filled with unique vocabulary. A beautiful start to an under the sea storytime.

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell; illustrated by Bob Shea
An animal guessing game that uses the poetic form of haiku. Works great with preschoolers who will feel proud when they know the answers. A great way to show caregivers how fun poetry can be! Pair with another guessing game like I Spy With My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs.

I Am the Rain by John Paterson
A poetic take on the water cycle and all the ways water exists in the world. I like it for the short text that allows you to add in more detailed explanations as you read with preschoolers. The book is written from the point of view of water which is also unique. Pair with a rain-filled story such as A Good Day for Ducks by Jane Whittingham.

I’ve Got Eyes: Exceptional Eyes of the Animal World by Julie Murphy; illustrated by Hannah Tolson
From my 2018 list, this one is perfectly illustrated for large groups. For older groups read the complete text, with toddlers read the first sentence on each page and label the animal. Pair with a fun body part book like We’ve All Got Bellybuttons by David Martin; illustrated by Randy Cecil. And don’t miss Murphy’s companion book I’ve Got Feet: Fantastical Feet of the Animal World.

Life-Size Farm by Teruyuki Komiya
Similar to Actual Size listed above, this book lets kids see farm animals up close and personal. There’s two more in the series Life-Size Zoo and Life-Size Aquarium. Great for big groups. Pair with any farm animal story of your choice.

Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward; illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Longer rhyming text makes this a good choice for preschool – Grade 2. Discover all the burrows and nooks animals carve out for their babies. Storytime Katie has lots of other ideas for houses and homes themed storytime.

Mice Mischief: Math Facts in Action by Caroline Stills; illustrated by Judith Rossell
Follow Mice on their silly adventures as you figure out different ways to add numbers to equal ten. The text is very simple. You can have kids use their fingers to count on each page. It pairs great with Balance the Birds by Susie Ghahremani which also deals with number combinations to figure out balance.

Neighbors: The Yard Critters by George Held; illustrated by Joung Un Kim
Another storytime poetry read aloud win. Bright, large pages feature poems about all the little critters we find outside. Try reading one of the poems during a bugs and insects storytime. Don’t miss the others in this series: The Yard Critters Too and The Water Critters.

Once Upon a Jungle by Laura Knowles; illustrated by James Boast
Follow the life cycle as you venture deeper into the jungle. I love the way the illustrations pop off the page due to the dark background. The repetitive phrase “Once upon a…” is a great for toddlers and the text is brief. Preschoolers will engage more with what happens to each animal and how it contributes to the ecosystem. I think this one works great with The Wide Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner; illustrated by Jonathan Lambert which also features wild animals and what they eat.

Roar: A Dinosaur Tour by Michael Paul
A simple introduction to dinosaurs that is perfect for babies and toddlers. The pages are big and bright, the sentences simple. Go the extra step by learning how to pronounce each of the labeled dinosaurs to wow your crows. I love the end pages with include a phonetic spelling guide. Choose your favourite dinosaur book to read with it.

Shades of People by Shelley Rotner; pictures by Sheila M. Kelly
I’ve done a series of blog posts on the importance of talking to kids about race from a young age. They are naturally inquisitive. This book introduces the concept of race and ethnicity and encourages us to celebrate all skin colours. Any of the books on All About Me theme would pair well.

Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley
A simple depiction of the range of emotions “tough guys” experience. The text is straightforward and short, making it suitable for toddlers and preschoolers. Pause on each page to identify the emotions of each character. A wonderful example of how feelings know no gender. I’d pair with my new favourite board book Why the Face? by Jean Jullien.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney
Don’t forget fairy tales are catalogued as nonfiction! From my 2017 list comes this classic tale retold by a master storyteller. Try doing it as a felt story or puppet story the following weeks to practice telling stories in many ways.

Water is Water by Miranda Paul; illustrated by Jason Chin
This one has spare text and lends itself well to discussion as you follow two kids through the water cycle. Also a great everyday diversity title. Read more about the physical properties of water in Wet by Carey Sookocheff.

Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney
Written as a series of questions a child asks about where they will live after being displaced. A serious topic and the photographs don’t shy away from showing sadness and worry. A great choice for fostering empathy. I think the diverse version of Little Mouse shared by Storytime in the Stacks further illustrated the places people call home.

Who Eats Orange? by Dianne White; illustrated by Robin Page
From my 2018 list, this one teaches the concept of colour with an amazing variety of animals. Go the colour route with another storytime pick or go the food route or stick with a book about wild animals.

Who Has These Feet? by Laura Hulbert; illustrated by Erik Brooks
I love me a guessing game book. The repetition of the question is great for toddlers and preschoolers will love to correctly identify the animals. An all-star choice. Definitely don’t miss the companion book Who Has This Tail? Goes perfectly with Dancing Feet by Lindsey Craig; illustrated by Marc Brown.

Whose House Is This? A Look at Animal Homes – Webs, Nests, and Shells by Elizabeth Gregoire; illustrated by Derrick Alderman and Denise Shea
A question and answer book that explains the purpose behind each creature’s home. I love the repetitive nature of the question and the rhythmic language. Great for preschoolers who are learning about the creatures around them.

Whose Poop is That? by Darrin Lunde, illustrated by Kelsey Oseid
Look if it has poop in the title you know your under 5 crowd will love it. Skip the longer facts if you got a high energy group and just identify each turd pile. I encourage caregivers to take the book home to scour the details. I think Dinosaur vs. the Potty by Bob Shea is a perfect match with this topic.

Flannel Friday: A Peanut Sat on a Railroad Track

Dana and I may live on opposite sides of Canada right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t swap storytime ideas through text messages! Dana sent me an “I love storytime” moment the other day when she shared a picture of a felt story she made of the traditional children’s song, “A Peanut Sat on a Railroad Track.”

Sad to say we don’t have a video of this song on Jbrary. You can find it on YouTube easily though, like this one described as a “gross kids song.” Why stop at one verse though? My co-worker Adam Smith wrote additional verses that Dana based her felt pieces on. He’s given me permission to share them here. If you’ve got a silly preschool group or a K – 2 class visiting, you’ve got to try this out. Trust us.

Dana made her felt pieces by printing clipart images and pasting them to felt, then cutting around the edges. So easy! I love how she put a number 10 on the train to match the first verse. Here are the other verses:

A potato sat on a railroad track
To see which way the train goes
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Mashed Potatoes!

An apple sat on a railroad track
Feeling a little lost
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Apple Sauce!

A chickpea  sat on a railroad track
Wondering what that sound was
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Humous!

An avocado sat on a railroad track
But it got up too slowly
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Guacamole!

An olive sat on a railroad track
Feeling a little sad
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Tapenade!

A sesame sat on a railroad track
Roasting a little weenie
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Tahini!

A tomato sat on a railroad track
having a little poop
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Tomato soup!

An eggplant sat on a railroad track
listening to the wind go wooooosh
Around the bend came the Number 10
Toot Toot
Baba ghanoush!

And here are some bonus holiday verses:

A pumpkin sat on the railroad track
Having a little cry
Around the bend came number 10
Toot toot
Pumpkin pie!

A loaf of bread sat on the railroad track
Huffing and puffing
Around the bend came number 10
Toot toot
Stuffing!

A soybean sat on the railroad track
Enjoying a cup of tea
Around the bend came number 10
Toot Toot
Tofurkey!

Can you think of any other verses? Hit me up in the comments with your rhyming geniusness.