It is a common and challenging part of our job and it’s not going away anytime soon: engaging caregivers during storytime. While it got a mention at our Guerrilla Storytime at BCLA 2014 we thought it’s enough of a challenge to warrant its very own post. So here we go, our strategies for welcoming parents and caregivers to storytime and ensuring they stay involved all program long!
Build in Time to Connect
Allowing time for caregivers to meet and chat before and after the program is one of the most important elements of storytime. It helps families connect to and support each other. It also means that folks (like the kids) get their chatter out before your program begins, which is always a good thing. And then after the program if possible continue to make the storytime space available to families who wish to stay and hang out.
Another way to connect with caregivers is by having them introduce their little ones. We love this post on Storytime Underground about how and why it’s great to get to know all members of your storytime crowd, big and small! If you have a large group try having people turn to the family closest to them, say hello and introduce themselves before turning back to you.
Finally, storytime can be alienating for families who’s first language is not English and it sometimes results in tuning out behaviour from adults. We’ve found that learning a few words, a verse or a song in another language earns major smiles and engagement from parents (and grandparents!) who normally check out. So, we’ve sung their praises before but we cannot say enough about Burnaby Public Library’s Embracing Diversity Project. Check them out for videos of songs and rhymes in 15 different languages!
Choose Content Wisely
Which brings us to content! As children’s library people we’re experts at choosing songs and rhymes that are developmentally appropriate and fun for little ones, but sometimes it’s tough to select storytime material that invites caregivers in too. Here is a quick list of our favourites in three very important academic categories…
- Songs and rhymes that require two sets of hands: Cup-of-Tea or Pat-a-Cake
- Songs and rhymes that end in a tickle or raspberry: Here is the Beehive or Wiggle Waggle Went the Bear
- Songs and rhymes that can be a game: Peek-a-Boo or Popcorn Kernels
Another method to involve parents is to hand them a scarf, shakey egg or set of rhythm sticks. We’re serious! Manipulatives are a sure fire way to get kids excited and to encourage caregivers to model and help their child participate. While they can invoke a certain level of chaos (we talk about handing out and collecting items in this post) they provide a great opportunity to engage caregivers. For more ideas about using egg shakers, scarves and rhythm sticks feel free to head over to our posts to read more.
This may seem super obvious but rather than get frustrated with caregivers when they’re not taking part in storytime invite them in with clear language and reasons. While I love me some passive aggression it’s only fair to give the (reasonable!) adults who bring their little ones to storytime the benefit of the doubt. At the beginning remind them that storytime is a time for them to spend with their children and empower them to be their child’s best teacher. Half way through kindly draw their attention to what you’re doing and say “adults, I’ll need your help with this one!” and at the end thank them for being involved all storytime long. Might take a little practice but with a little asking and a little explaining why we do what we do you’ll have the parents on your side in no time!
As I adjust to a new branch and new storytime crowd I am reminded of how tough it can be to not only win caregivers over but to get and keep them singing. These are a few ideas and strategies which are currently working for me and I would love to hear what works at your storytime, please leave ideas and comments below!