New to Storytime: Choosing Songs and Rhymes

Welcome back to my new to storytime series! This series of blog posts breaks down the different components of a storytime and is aimed at people who are just beginning as storytime leaders. Check out the other posts here:

How do you decide which songs and rhymes to sing at storytime? Why do we sing at storytime in the first place? How do you incorporate songs and rhymes into a storytime?  This post will try to answer these questions. It’s important to remember that everybody does things differently and that’s okay! Finding what works for you is part of your development as a storytime presenter.

Singing and rhyming are an important early literacy component of storytime. Not only are songs fun, but they also serve as a learning tool for children as they reinforce early childhood concepts. Songs and rhymes boost memory as children absorb new vocabulary and learn how to follow directions. They also break down language into smaller parts, called phonological awareness, which allows kids to hear the smaller sounds in words as they learn to speak.  Many songs have hand or body movements that accompany them offering kids a chance to be active participants using their bodies. Fingerplays in particular help children strengthen their finger muscles which they need to hold a pen or turn the page of a book. Lastly, singing as a group is a great way to build a sense of community and friendship among your community members. It fosters a sense of belonging and connectedness, one of my storytime goals.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some strategies I’ve learned when it comes to the “how” questions.

Repetition

To me, what you sing at storytime is far less important than how often you sing it. Kids learn from repetition.  They learn sentence structure and vocabulary words when they hear a song again and again.  When I start a storytime session I choose about 8 – 10 songs and rhymes I’d like to feature as my “core” group for the 10 – 12 weeks. I try my best to use these songs every storytime. They make up about 80% of the music I use each week. That extra 20% is saved for other songs and rhymes I rotate in. Sometimes they are connected to a particular theme or book I’m featuring. If I find something that’s a total hit then I make an effort to put it into more frequent rotation.

Providing Lyrics

This depends on your community, but I’ve found that providing the lyrics to the songs either on a flipchart or projected onto the wall/screen helps caregivers participate in storytime. This is partly because I have a high number of ESL caregivers in my community who have asked for lyrics to guide them.  Because I repeat so much though they learn the songs eventually. Just something to consider as you get to know your storytime audience.  Some people provide lyrics on a piece of paper or on a bookmark at the end of a storytime session instead.

Using Felt Pieces to Accompany Songs

I created super simple felt pieces to accompany the songs I do most often. I use these felt pieces to introduce the song’s vocabulary, an especially helpful practice for toddler language acquisition.  Having a visual representation connected to the lyrics helps kids understand the meaning of a song.  Alternatively, you could print a picture and hold it up. Doesn’t have to be fancy! My favourites to use are Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Baby Shark, and my food themed set.

Using Recorded Music

I don’t use a lot of recorded music in my storytimes because I think it’s important to model to caregivers that it doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like, but when you are new to storytime it can help you feel more comfortable. I used to play “Jump Up, Turn Around” by Jim Gill at the end of all my toddler storytimes because it helped kids learn how to follow a few simple directions. Other people play music as families enter the room.  If you’re looking for good recorded music to play in storytime check out Recorded Storytime Music: A Primer.

Multilingual Songs and Rhymes

Don’t be afraid to add in songs and rhymes from languages besides English. Perhaps you speak another language or you have community members who do. They can be a great resource to finding out which songs are popular in another language.  Using  multilingual songs and rhymes exposes kids to a variety of cultures and can help make people from different backgrounds feel welcome in your space. I’ve gathered lots of Spanish song resources on my Bilingual Storytime Resources post, but I also love the multilingual selections on StoryBlocks.

Types of Song

I weave in these five categories of songs into all of my storytimes. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many songs to do from each. Instead, I’m intentional about planning a storytime that involves a variety of songs that match the energy of the group and the early literacy goals I’ve set.  If you’re looking for a certain type of song, please make sure to check out all of our thematic YouTube playlists!

Opening and Closing

I do the same welcome/hello song and the same closing/goodbye song every single week. This helps provides a consistent opening routine to your storytime and signals to kids that storytime is starting.  I wrote about my favourites a few years ago, but I actually do three opening songs in a row because it gives caregivers who are a bit late a chance to get settled before we read the first book. My current rotation is Well Hello Everybody, Can You Touch Your Nose (verses: clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up high, shake your hips, beep your belly, sit back down), Hello, Friends, and Roly Poly. I make sure at least one of the songs involves movement because I like giving kids a chance to get their wiggles out before I read the first book. My closing song is Goodbye, Friends. There’s so many options though! Check out our Hello and Goodbye Songs playlist.

Fingerplays

Hand rhymes, aka fingerplays, are great for strengthening finger muscles. I usually do one of those right before or after a book and connect it to the content of the book. For example, if we read Mama, Look! by Patricia Murphy I would follow it up with Here is the Beehive to continue the conversation about nature and insects.  Check out our Fingerplays and Tickles playlist for tons of ideas.  I’ve also written about my favourite fingerplays and tickles for babytime and my favourite

Action and Movement Songs

Kids need to get up and move. Not only do they get heir wiggles out but they also learn through movement.  I pull these out mostly during the middle part of my storytime when kids have already sat through a book or two and need a chance to burn off some energy. As mentioned above, I use felt pieces with a lot of my movement songs.  I usually do about 2 -3 in a row before transitioning to a more literacy based activity like a felt story. Sometimes though you end up moving and grooving the bulk of storytime if that’s what is keeping the crowd engaged. Check out our complete Movement and Dancing Songs playlist and my Songs to Get the Wiggles Out and Favourite Dancing Songs blog posts.

Transition Songs

A good stroytime leader knows how to move kids from one activity to the next. That’s where transition songs come in. The hardest transition for me is getting the kids up and moving and then getting them back down on the floor to listen to a story. My go-to transition song is My Two Hands. I also like Everybody Take a Seat.  Dana wrote an excellent blog post with tons of other ideas for songs and rhymes that help kids transition between activities.

Soothing Songs and Lullabies

After we’ve read books and danced and sang and amped ourselves up, I end storytime with a few gentle, soothing songs and rhymes. I like to model taking deep breaths during this part as well. My go-to songs are traditional nursery rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and the ABC song because they are well known and have a lullaby quality to them. I also use Rain is Falling Down with my felt pieces.  We’ve got some other great suggestions on our Lullabies and Soothing Songs playlist.

How do you choose which songs and rhymes to feature in a storytime? What are your favourite song and rhyme resources? Let me know in the comments!

8 thoughts on “New to Storytime: Choosing Songs and Rhymes

  1. Related to repetition, it’s important to me to pick songs and rhymes that have a lot of repetition within (e.g. such as a chorus). One of my biggest pet peeves is counting down/up rhymes where the words change every time. How are caregivers and children supposed to participate? So keeping all that in mind, my favorite flannel song right now is probably any variation of “1 Elephant Went Out to Play.” Lots of repetition and opportunities for math talk afterwards – e.g. how are these dinosaurs the same/different, how many can fly, do we have more dinosaurs that can fly or more that walk on land, etc.

    Love how you introduced the post with the benefits of singing and rhyming in storytime! I would add gross motor benefits (especially with songs involving the parachute or stretchy band or any crossing of the midline) and building self-regulation skills. I love stop and go action songs because are fun, help kids learn to listen and build self-control!

    1. So true about the repetition within songs. I love how you always find ways to incorporate early math skills into storytime. It’s something I’m working on doing more of, especially pushing beyond counting. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts – this post is better already 🙂

      1. Maybe we can talk about early math for our next Journal Club meet up! 🙂

        Btw, speaking of “Twinkle Twinkle…” we sang “Snowflake, Snowflake” last week and it was so soothing and magical. What is it about that tune?!

        1. If you know of any research articles about the importance of early math, please send them my way! I would love to do that as a topic.

    2. Jessica, I also dislike those counting songs with 5 ——s, where the lyrics keep changing. Not only does it make it tricky for children and caregivers to participate, I can’t remember the words to those either and have to refer to notes, which is awkward. I gave those up long ago, but I do like the ones that are repetitive such as “Five Little Ducks.”

  2. I really like your point about reassuring caregivers that it doesn’t matter what their voice sounds like, as long as they sing. I’m not a professional singer by any means, and I like to joke with my parents that I pick a different key every week because I’m not a trained musician, and that sometimes I just make up words to songs or change the tunes because I forget the real ones! It’s all about reassuring and encouraging, and demystifying early literacy. It doesn’t have to be fancy to work!

    1. Totally. That’s actually one of the reasons I started Jbrary – to show that you do not have to be a professional singer to engage with your little ones through music. And I am queen of forgetting lyrics 🙂

      1. The other reason I like just singing instead of playing recorded music is then I’m not dependent on a piece of technology. I bought a portable boom box for two of the libraries I worked at, and both times the CD player stopped working after being used once or twice!

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