Revamping Baby Storytime: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ‘Chute

As an on-call librarian, I do many babytimes throughout Vancouver to groups of many different sizes.  Since July I’ve had the opportunity of providing the baby storytime to one particular branch each week, allowing me to cultivate relationships, grow the attendance, and try new things.  On average, I get about 20-30 caregivers + babies per week which is a great number for me. I’ve been able to adapt my babytime to meet the needs of this group, and I’m excited to share how I’ve changed things up since last summer.

The babytimes at my library are 30 minutes long.  When I first started doing babytimes, I stuck to a pretty straightforward outline. Each week I did:

There is nothing wrong with this babytime outline.  In fact, I still go back to it when I get really big groups (100 caregivers and babies is not an uncommon occurrence at Vancouver Public Library).  But with a smaller group, I wanted to challenge myself in two ways: add more play opportunities and add more 1-to-1 reading opportunities.  My goals became a lot easier to reach when my best friend sent me a 6′ parachute for my birthday in January.  I also discovered a tub of egg shakers collecting dust on one of my work shelves.  So with my new tools in hand, I created this new, more flexible baby storytime outline:

The last 10-15 minutes of structured play time varies each week.  I usually hand out the egg shakers first and we sing a few shaker songs.  The babies get to hang on to the shakers for the rest of storytime.  Then we break out the parachute and I lead a few songs.  Most caregivers put baby on their laps, but a few lay baby down so the parachute is over them.  All of the parachute songs I do come from these amazing blog posts:

We’ve been especially loving The Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Elevator Song, The Wheels on the Bus, If You’re Happy and You Know It, Give a Shake, and Roly Poly. Basically, all songs we’ve done without the parachute before. Once we’ve had our parachute and shaker play time, I bust out the bubbles and we’ll sing this bubble song together.  Next I bring out a bin or two of board books and encourage caregivers to spend some time reading one on one with their baby.  Parents end up staying much longer than the 30 minutes, either reading, playing, or talking to other parents. Sometimes I have to leave after the 30 minutes to help other patrons, but oftentimes I can stay and develop better relationships with the adults.  This includes modeling how to read with baby, dropping in some early literacy tidbits, talking to parents about any new baby milestones, and of course, singing with the babies!

I feel like adding in these play elements and being more flexible has made my babytimes more enjoyable for everyone.  As far as librarianship goes, I’m pretty new to the field. But I think being open to trying new things has helped me grow immensely, and I’m excited to see where my babytimes go next!

To end, here are some pictures of my baby storytime space and materials.

babytime
Babytime Materials: Parachute, Song Cubes, Egg Shakers, Bubbles, Song Lyrics
Babytime Set-up with Parachute, Board Books, and Egg Shakers
Babytime Set-up with Parachute, Board Books, and Egg Shakers
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30 thoughts on “Revamping Baby Storytime: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ‘Chute

  1. Thanks for sharing this! During our Baby Rhyme Time, we always have a book that we call a “choral reader,” which is the same book given to each parent and we read it together. They have the freedom of reading in unison with us OR reading it specifically to their child and asking their child questions and making observations.

    1. Hi Amber, thanks for your comment! I love the idea of a “choral reader” book. I’m assuming your library has a set of books it reserves for this purpose? I could still see doing it with some of my smaller babytime groups if I ordered in the books ahead of time. Definitely something I’d like to try!

  2. I found out that I’ll be leading baby storytimes in a few weeks (I’ve only ever done preschool storytime) and I’ve been mining your blog/pinterest page for ideas cause you guys are awesome 🙂

    Question about the pic with the parachute and books: it looks to me like there are different books all around the parachute, is that so baby and grownup can have one-on-one reading time?

    1. Hi Julia, thank you for the lovely comment. Yes, the books around the parachute are for one-on-one reading time between the caregiver and baby. I know some library systems have reserved sets of board books so that everyone can read the same thing, but at my branch we just have a general board book collection to draw from. If I take a lot of time doing the parachute or egg shakers, then the parents can read to baby after the program has officially ended. I just wanted to promote the collection and make sure babies had a chance to play with the books. Please let us know if you have any other babytime questions!

  3. Great resources! I am working on making a few changes to our baby/toddler storytimes. What age is your baby storytime? I’ve seen birth-12 months, birth-18 months, and birth-24 months in various places. Thank you! 🙂

    1. For this group it is birth – 18 months, but 90% of the babies who attend are under a year old. If a 17-month old or 18-month old shows up and is running around and more active then I let the parent know that we have a toddler storytime for 18 months – 3 years that might be more enjoyable for them as we do lots more movement and dancing. Then I let them choose which program suits them best. For me, I try to stress to parents that the age groups are just guidelines; they can choose the storytime that fits their child’s needs.

  4. I love the subtle change to have play be a part of storytime instead of just having casual playtime afterward when families hang around! Did you find it hard to change it around? I am taking over a former Mother Goose on the Loose style and I am not a fan but don’t want to confuse the families who are used to it.

    1. It wasn’t too hard to change, but I think that’s because I had a group of very flexible, open-minded caregivers. They also saw how much their babies enjoyed the shakers and parachute, so that was all the convincing they needed in terms of adding in more play time. It was still a structured, directed form of play so the program still felt “on” rather than everyone doing their own thing. I’ve done MGOL too, and I would say adding in other elements might be tricky. You could try starting a conversation at the end of one storytime to see if the caregivers are interested or would be open to trying something new. Maybe pull out a prop one week just for a few minutes. That’s a hard question though!

  5. I would like to use the parachute for my next babytime class. The majority of the babies in my class are 4-6 months old.
    Do you have any suggestions for parachute play with this age group?

    1. Hi Alyson,
      I think there are different ways you could use the parachute with this age group. You could just lay it out on the ground for the babies to lay on and crawl on. Just being able to feel a different texture and see the bright colours is a great learning experience for them. The other option is to ask parents to either hold their baby in their lap or lay them on a blanket on the ground. Then you can sing songs as you and the parents wave the parachute over the babies. Here’s a great post with ideas for songs: http://laughterandliteracy.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/parachute-play-with-babies/
      I found starting with simple, familiar songs helped the parents feel more comfortable with the parachute. So try starting with songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Roly Poly, The Wheels on the Bus, etc.

  6. I’d like to try out the parachute storytime, but I need a parachute…where does one acquire a 6 foot parachute? thanks!

  7. Would you be able to put up a video of you using the parachute in baby storytime? I’d like to see how you utilize it in action. Thanks!

    1. Unfortunately I’m not able to film my storytimes due to privacy issues. I do plan on writing up a more detailed post about using a parachute in babytime as part of the baby storytime series I’m writing right now. Stay tuned!

  8. Have you ever had the issue of only ONE baby/child showing up at storytime? How would you handle to individual attention?

    1. Yes, I have had one baby show up. It was when I first started at a new branch and the attendance at babytime was spotty at best. I thanked the caregiver for coming and asked her what she’d like to do. Because it was just her and her kid, I took the opportunity to make it more personalized and laid back. I told her she didn’t have to stay if she preferred a group atmosphere, but she hung around and we sang some songs and played with some toys. It wasn’t really a babytime – it was more of a chance to get to know one family well. I asked her if she had any favourite songs (a chance for me to learn!) and I asked if there were any routine type songs she’d like to learn (i.e. bath time, getting dressed). I was also able to talk to her about the importance of play while modeling it with the child. I think when there is only one baby you can let the caregiver lead the way.

  9. I love your ideas!
    Have you organized a baby play date before? I was just looking for ideas of homemade, sensory toys. I have a few ideas- empty cereal boxes for a building station, tin foil taped to the floor for babies to crawl across etc.
    I haven’t found a babytime outline online specifically for a baby play date though.

    1. I haven’t! One of my dream programs, for sure. I first read about baby play dates in this SLJ article about a super fun program at the Brooklyn Public Library: http://www.slj.com/2013/07/standards/early-learning/read-play-grow-enhancing-early-literacy-at-brooklyn-public-library/#_. Many bloggers have shared ideas for sensory play with babies. Here are some links to get you started. I hope they help 🙂
      Play, Baby, Play series by Read, Sing, Play: https://klmpeace.wordpress.com/?s=play+baby+play
      Baby and Toddler Art series by Library Bonanza: https://librarybonanza.com/baby-toddler-art/
      Play, Baby, Play series by Reading with Red: http://readingwithred.blogspot.ca/2015/10/play-baby-play-play-around-at-library.html
      Baby and Me: Messy Sensory Play by Miss Michelle @ MPL: http://www.missmichelleatmpl.blogspot.ca/2014/07/baby-and-me-messy-sensory-play-library.html
      Crafts for Babies? by Alison’s Library: https://allisonslibrary.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/crafts-for-babies/
      Sensory Bags at Babytime by Fat Girl Reading: http://fatgirlreading.com/a-week-of-sciencefest-programming/
      Baby Craft: Sensory Bags! by Falling Flannelboards: https://fallingflannelboards.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/baby-craft-sensory-bags/

  10. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple years (but it doesn’t feel that long!) now, since I started the baby story time at my library.
    I’m wondering if you have any tips on getting caregivers involved during story time, especially nannies? I get 15-25 adults plus their kids on a regular day, but 75% of them are nannies and babysitters. Our age guideline is under 2 years old, so I have a lot of walkers in my group.
    My other question is about talking to parents after story time. What do you talk about? Do you start the conversations, or let them come to you?

    1. Hi Frankie, thank you for sticking around the blog for so long! It definitely doesn’t feel like almost 4 years. All of my tips for getting caregivers involved in storytime can be found either in Dana’s blog post about engaging caregivers in storytime (https://jbrary.com/engaging-caregivers/) or in one of the posts under the “Managing Storytime Caregivers” category in the Storytime Underground archives (http://storytimeunderground.org/resources-2/ask-a-storytime-ninja-archives/). I hope you find some applicable tips in there – don’t forget to read the comments too! For your other question, I often do a little walk around at the end of storytime to thank everyone for coming and practice waving goodbye with the babies. While I’m doing that I say things like, “Rosie was smiling so much when did the lap bounces. Does she have a favourite at home?” or “Wow, Austin is almost walking! Has he be able to take any steps?” So I guess I usually make an observation about the baby’s development or behaviour and take it from there. If it’s a new storytimer I’ll invite them to come back and ask what they liked about storytime. Once I get to know a group, I sometimes talk about more personal stuff too like if I have a vacation coming up or holiday plans. Most caregivers don’t approach me if I’m not making myself visibly open to talking, so that’s why I try to initiate it. I’ll also ask if anyone needs help finding a good book to take home or if anyone needs to get a library card for their baby. It can be a great chance to connect caregivers to library resources. I hope these examples help! Let me know if you have any follow up questions 🙂

  11. How do you create that segue in the program to get individual caregivers reading to the babies? I really like that idea and would like to incorporate it into my baby storytimes. Especially seeing that the caregivers don’t pay much attention to the board books that I put out on display (despite the encouragement to peruse and checkout a few titles to read with baby at home).

    1. In my program I don’t have sets of the same board book we all read together. Which would be really useful in making that segue easier! What I do is have board books lying around on the parachute or on the ground (rather than on a display table) as the babies themselves will show interest in the books when they can see them. I’ve often seen caregivers start reading to a child when their baby crawls over and tries to pick up the book. For the way my babytime program runs caregivers often read to their babies before and after the program when they are getting settled or before they leave. If I did have a time during the program when I wanted to encourage everyone to read, I’d be really direct in my language: “Okay everyone, now we’re going to read to our babies. Everyone grab a book and let’s all talk about what we see on the cover.” Or you could have a prompt of some sort that helps them read the book, like suggesting they talk about the colours they see on each page. Overall, the fact that the caregivers are coming to your program and are engaged is an accomplishment!

  12. Hello! Let me start by saying that I love your blog. I have recently started working in a youth department in a library and have been tasked with creating the lapsit program which I have no experience in! I don’t even have kids of my own. I’m very excited but also pretty nervous and your resources have been huge on helping me! My first session is in 3 weeks. I’m curious about transitions between songs and activities. Some blogs I’ve read that transitioning between songs can be stilted or awkward. Does this ever happen to you? Do you transitions a certain way or do babies not really care? Also I saw that you use a big flip book for songs. When you first started, was it hard to get moms involved or singing along? I’m worried that I’ll be singing these songs and moms will just look at me like I’m crazy! Thanks so much ladies!!

    1. Hi Sophie, thank you so much for your kind words! What a wonderful task you’ve been given – lapsits are so much fun! Sometimes transitions can be awkward, especially when you are first starting out. Don’t let it get you down! It can take time to figure out segues that work naturally with the way you talk and the order of your songs. If you have a small group you can build in time to talk to the caregivers between songs to help move them along. For example, after singing a diaper changing song I might ask them if they ever sing songs while changing diapers. Then I would say, “another great time to sing songs is when you are bathing your baby. Here’s one that I really love.” The babies don’t care – lapsits are all about the caregivers. Sometimes grouping the songs by infant care task (diaper changing, rolling over, bouncing/playing, dancing, feeding, getting dressed) can help make the transitions easier. I have a post about this topic coming out in 2018, so keep your eyes peeled. When you’re first starting out I’d recommend doing what feels most natural to you and then changing things up as you get more comfortable and learn about your group. As for caregiver participation, it really depends on your audience. I have a large ESL population who did not grow up learning traditional Western nursery rhymes, so even things like Twinkle Twinkle were not familiar. Having a flipchart with lyrics was a lifesaver for both me and them. I think it also gives the message that you want them to join in. I always encourage them in my welcoming message to sing with me too. They’ll need time to learn the songs, so if they aren’t all singing the very first week don’t worry. Keep repeating the songs and encouraging them to sing. You can also ask them to share childhood favourites as a way to get them involved. That puts you in the learner seat which is nice for them to see. I’m sure everything will turn out fine! And remember, leading a storytime takes time and practice so be kind to yourself 🙂 I was a nervous wreck when I first started.

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