Building Your Storytime Confidence

Last week we got an email asking how to build confidence in delivering a storytime, especially if you’re new to the field or not used to working with young children.  I wrote up these tips, and rather than having them disappear into the interwebs, I decided to share them here in case other people are looking for some ideas on how to become more confident in providing storytimes to children ages 0-5.

1. Find Songs You are Comfortable Singing

It takes some time to figure out what works for you.   It may be worth spending an afternoon just listening to songs and picking out the ones you enjoy and that you think you’ll remember (don’t forget to factor in the nerves – I always forget things when I’m nervous).  Other things I look for are the vocal range – it’s harder for me to sing lower pitched songs – and repetition of lyrics. Some of my favourites that kids and parents LOVE are Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, The Elevator Song, Roly Poly, and Open Shut Them. But everyone has their favourites. Our most popular video is Mmm, Ahh Went the Little Green Frog but I honestly hardly ever sing it in storytime!  Having about 5-6 songs that you are really comfortable singing was very helpful to me when I first started.  It’s also okay to rely on the classics – ABCs, Twinkle, Twinkle, etc. I also made a song cube and we roll it every week to determine a few songs.


2. Use the Same Hello and Goodbye Song Each Week

One of the things that keeps families coming back to my storytimes is the right mix of repetition and new material.  One of the things they love is our hello and goodbye routine.  I do Hello, Friends using sign language and the parents get so excited when their toddlers start signing.  Having a set start and end to my storytime outline also made me feel more comfortable with storytime in general.  On the same vein, I only introduce a one or two new songs a week – the kids need the repetition.

3. Choose Age Appropriate Materials

When you’re first getting to know a group of kids, it’s common to choose too long or too complicated books for storytime.  I am a big fan of books you can sing or books that encourage participation.  And I always, always practice reading the books out loud before storytime so that I know the plot, the words, and can think about any early literacy messages I want to sneak in.  In terms of songs, we’ve got playlists for different ages: babies, toddlers, preschoolers.

4. Ask a Co-worker to Observe You (and Vice Versa)

This can be nerve wracking but getting someone to give you feedback can be a big confidence booster!  They’ll let you know all the things you did awesome and things you can improve.  If you’re not sure where you’re going wrong, having another set of eyes can shed some light (or simply let you know you already rock!).  Ideally, this person would be someone who also does storytime and can look for things like book selection, pacing, interaction with kids, early literacy message, etc. On the flip side, try to observe as many other storytimers as possible. I’ve gotten so many good ideas from watching my colleagues, and it’s perfectly acceptable to take the things you like about their style and adapt it to yours.

5. Build Relationships with the Families

Something that has really helped me feel more confident is getting to know the families at my library. Know their names – the kids, especially.  That way when the toddler is trying to pull the felts off the board you can say, “Felt stories are so fun, aren’t they Sophie?  But we’re going to leave those up there for now and play with them later.” You can also ask the kids to sing with you before you start a song.  For example, I say something like, ” Who’s ready to do Roly Poly? Jayden are you ready? Show me your hands; let’s start rolling them like this.”  Having that connection with the kids and parents lets them know that I care and that I am friendly.

6.  Check out Storytime Underground

They are a phenomenal resource.  Have a storytime question? Use their Ask a Ninja feature and lots of librarians will give you advice! They also have Storytime University that has challenges for you to complete.  And their Facebook page is open to anyone who wants to ask a storytime question. This is a great way to build your skill set and get your professional development on.
2023 Edit: Storytime Underground no longer exists, but there are a variety of librarian groups on social media sites like Facebook.

 7. Try New Things

Don’t be afraid to try something different.  If you’re taking over for another librarian, it’s totally fine to mix things up.  Maybe his or her style isn’t your style. I started to incorporate egg shakers, scarves, and bells into storytime because that’s what I love. My co-worker on the other hand uses tons of puppets. Both work great for our families! So don’t be afraid to switch things up and ask the families for feedback.

So my fellow storytimers, what are your tips? Please leave a comment with your ideas!

28 thoughts on “Building Your Storytime Confidence

  1. These are great tips! I second your suggestion to watch as many people do storytime as possible. Not only do you get to see how others present the books and songs, you also get to see how they interact with kids and parents– this is such a big part of storytime. Always have fun is my other tip– if you are not enjoying what you are doing, likely the kids won’t either– so find the books and songs and felt stories and activities that make you smile. And experience is key. Just keep doing it and some day you’ll be giving advice to others in the same boat.

    1. Words of wisdom, right there folks! Thanks, Angela for your sharing!

  2. Choose books you’re comfortable with, or take the time to get comfortable with them.

    1. Great point! I was very intimidated by the Don’t Let the Pigeon… books at first and didn’t use them in storytime for months because I didn’t feel comfortable reading them. After sharing them with my niece at home, there one of my go-tos, espcecially for K-2.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with all of the suggestions so far. I might also add to not be afraid to abandon something that isn’t working… whether it’s a book (even in the middle of it???) or practice that you thought would be great but just isn’t happening for the particular group of children/parents. You can always revisit it another time or with a different group! Along with that — sit where you want! My coworker likes sitting on the floor, but I’m more comfortable on a chair for most of the storytime. She uses individual mats for her group of storytimers….that doesn’t work for me! Be who you are!

    1. Thanks, Marge! Those students are lucky to have you!

  4. Great advice! I think it can take some time before you find your storytime stride. I second your recommendation to observe as many people as possible. Co-workers and other library staff members are gold mines, and it can really click to see someone do a song or story in-person!

    1. I totally agree about it taking time – I should have mentioned that. The more I did storytime, the comfortable I felt and the more confident I became in the program.

  5. I would add… practice! Sometimes I only have time to run through a book quickly, but I try to practice aloud several times. One time I made the mistake of reading a version of Chicken Little where Foxy Loxy eats everyone up! That was the first and last time I read a story without checking it out first!

    1. haha – yes I’ve done that before too! Great tip!

  6. Hey there, I’m a student in an MLIS program and I’ve just started wielding my storytime chops. The biggest problem I’m having is transitioning between books or songs without an awkward bump in the flow of the storytime. Do you have any recommendations for how to transition well?

  7. Great post, thank you! Do you know where I might be able to watch videos of story times? I don’t have much possibility to see them in person. I love your videos of individual songs too!

    1. Hi Joanna, we don’t know any library or person that shares full storytime videos consistently. However, when we search “library storytime” into YouTube we do see many videos libraries have uploaded that show a portion of the storytime. You can get a good 10-15 minute look. One of these days we’ll gather up all our little friends and film a version for Jbrary. We’ve been asked this question many times!

  8. Thanks for all the great information! Re: full storytime videos, the Los Angeles channel “LA Cityview 35” on Youtube has recently been filming and posting a great series from the system I work in, called “Storytime at the LA Public Library.” It shows full storytimes from Los Angeles Public Library children’s librarians throughout the city, including baby, toddler, and schoolage storytimes, as well as excerpts from one Drag Queen Storytime.

    1. Wow, what an amazing resource! I am definitely bookmarking this so I can send it to people who ask in the future. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Thank you for the rich resources! As a new youth services assistant, storytime has been the area where my confidence is weakest.

    Just a heads up, the link to Storytime Underground is no longer valid. May want to remove that or update it.

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Cassidy! So many broken links nowadays…I’ll fix this one.

  10. Hello! Thanks for your site and all the information! The link for Storytime Underground brought me to a questionable-looking website. Wanted to give you the heads up!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I will remove the link now that Storytime Underground is gone.

  11. Hello!
    I’ve been asked to run a Baby Storytime and it has been many years since I have even assisted in any storytime!
    I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. I’ll be using Jbrary for lots of advice. Thank you for all the information!

    1. Baby storytime is the best! I have many posts on the topic and hope you find them useful. Most importantly, have fun!

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