Engaging Caregivers in Storytime

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…

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.

Be Honest

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!

11 thoughts on “Engaging Caregivers in Storytime

  1. I always handed out shakers to parents, even the ones that didn’t look like they particularly cared one fig about shaker eggs. I think it is a nice cue to parents that, yes, I want you to do this song too! Then I’d kind of call out to them while we’re singing, like “I like how into the shaker eggs our dads are today! They don’t get a chance to be silly very often I guess!”

    I would also say in my spiel at the beginning of storytime that I want parents to sing with me! I think you’re right – people just want to know what to do and if they’re in storytime, it’s likely they really do want to be engaged with their little ones. I’d usually just make a joke about it and say something like “grownups, I need you to sing, too, or else you’ll have to hear my terrible singing!” Sometimes my literacy tip would also be about how babies want to hear their parents’ voices, not some crazy storytime ladies, and that of course what we remember about our own parents isn’t the quality of their singing, but the experience.

    So pretty much I agree with everything you guys say and please move to Texas so we can hang out and eat queso together. 🙂

    1. Ariel, yes, yes and YES!! We pretty much agree with everything you say too (and you put it so nicely!) Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts and ideas and one of these days we are going to take you up on that offer to hang out and eat queso!

  2. I know this is a very late comment in response to this post from 2015, but this summer I began using Powerpoint in my storytimes. We get very large turnouts for our toddler storytimes and I run into all the usual challenges keeping the kids’ (and the grownups’) attention. I found that if I have a very simple visual element behind me with the words to certain/most songs or rhymes it helped the adults feel more confident about participating. It also helps them learn the words! I would even have certain words in different colors to put emphasis on vocabulary or opposites or anything else that I felt would be good to point out. I made sure not to have it so visually distracting that people had their eyes on the screen instead of on me or their children. And it worked out great!

    1. I’m always appreciate of comments no matter when they come in! I’ve got a flipchart with the rhymes and songs handwritten on them. Totally old school but we don’t have an overhead projector in our storytime room. I absolutely agree that it has helped caregivers participate, especially with my high ESL population who are unfamiliar with many of the English songs and rhymes. I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you! Maybe one day I’ll be able to use “new” technology like PowerPoint 🙂

  3. Hello from Washington DC.
    I too am late in responding to this. I just wanted to say thank you for your ideas. I’ve only been doing story time since April and have a lot to learn. I used to be a preschool teacher. Part of my struggle is getting adjusted to having adults in the room during our story time. I’m hoping your suggestions will lessen the Nanny chatter that goes on.

    1. Never too late to leave a comment! I think being clear and friendly in your opening message about expectations around chatter and engagement is reasonable and helpful. Especially to the adults who are new to storytime or who may not know how disruptive they are being. If it gets really bad, I’ll stop reading a book and look at them until they stop. Then follow up after storytime with a conversation. You’ve got lots of great experience to bring to the table as a preschool teacher!

  4. We use a large flat screen television and put all the lyrics into a PowerPoint each week. It definitely helps families who may not know all the words and helps participation more. Lots of reminders for all to sing along and help me!

  5. I did storytime for 18 years and used Jbrary as a source many times. I am now working on my MLIS, and just found this post. It never occurred to me to move the socializing to the beginning of my programs. I’m planning to use this as my “aha” moment for class this week.

  6. Thank you for such great ideas. I work as a Youth LA, and I try to keep all caregivers engaged as well. When children see adults participating, they are that much more to get involved during Storytime.

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