New to Storytime: Planning a Storytime

Welcome new storytime leaders! This is the final post in my New to Storytime series. If you’ve just landed a job that involves doing a storytime or circle time for small children then you’ve come to the right spot. Here are the other posts in the series:

You’ve got your books. You’ve picked the songs you want to sing. You’ve considered how to incorporate visual aids like felt stories and puppets. Now how do you put it all together?

I wish there was one easy answer!The first thing to know about planning a storytime is that everyone does it differently. There is no one “right” way to plan a storytime. If you want a more in-depth look at storytime planning, make sure to check out the books on my Professional Development Books: Program Planning list. Because this post is aimed at beginners, I’m going to provide different methods of planning a storytime that cater to different styles. Find what works for you!

Theme or No Theme

Many people plan a storytime based around a theme. The theme could be an animal, an activity, a time of year, an action – you get the idea. There is an abundance of themed storytime ideas online. Storytime Katie, Sunflower Storytime, and Abby the Librarian are good starting points if you want to browse themes and get inspiration.

Rather than start with the theme, some people start with a good book and then plan the theme around that. This method ensures you aren’t sacrificing the quality of read alouds to fit a specific topic. Saroj Ghoting shares her process on how she builds a theme from a pile of books, and The Stories Guy writes about how he plans family storytime starting with a diverse book.

I’ve written about something I do which is called Storytime Flow. Rather than start with a theme, I focus on choosing good books and building connections between the different elements of my storytime. We might cover multiple themes in one storytime. The focus is on connecting with the kids and helping them see connections across topics. Jessica at Storytime in the Stacks follows a similar process and shares amazing storytime outlines.

Structured vs. Unstructured

Unstructured is kind of a misnomer, but here are two different ways to plan a storytime. The first kind is where you list everything you are going to do in the order you are going to do it. That’s the structured kind. The second kind is more unstructured in that you plan for different elements of a storytime but you don’t go into the storytime with an exact order of execution. Here is an example of a “Wild Things” storytime planned both ways.

This is the structured version. You can download the template here.
This is the unstructured version.

Even in the unstructured version there are some things I do decide beforehand because they have to do with repetition. For example, I know how the first 5 -10 minutes will look because it will include the welcome message, opening songs, and first book. From there I choose things based on the mood and energy of the group, the responses from the kids, and any interesting connections I can make. When you are just starting out as a storytime leader this may feel overwhelming and it’s why I include the structured outline as a perfectly fine option. I’ve written a lot about planning storytimes and recommend these posts for a deeper dive:

Having a set structure to your storytime can make your storytime more inclusive, especially if you provide a visual schedule which shows kids what will come next. In my experience this works best with small groups. Larger groups demand more flexibility as your crowd can quickly start to feel out of control if 30 toddlers can’t sit through one more book. Even with the structured outline though you will likely find yourself making adjustments throughout the storytime based on your group.

See how other people plan storytimes for a variety of age groups:

Planning a Full Session

Most storytimes run for a set of weeks if not the entire year. This means you’ll also want to think about how to plan a full session. Again, there is no one right way to do this. Even my own method changes constantly. I’ve written about how to repeat stories over the course of a 9-week session. Here are some other key concepts to keep in mind when looking at the big picture:

Diversity and Inclusion

Do the books you read and songs you sing in storytime feature everyday diversity? Think broadly about the types of diversity your material reflects – racial, cultural, linguistic, socio-economic, sexuality, neurodiversity, etc. Can you find books that reflect your community specifically and encourage them to share their home language in storytime? Can you include songs in languages other than English? Can we feature stories that are told in different narrative structures?

It can be helpful to keep track of the books and songs you sing over the course of a storytime session as a way to track your own inclusive practices.

Repetition

Repetition is essential for early learning. I’ve written two posts on the importance of repetition. The first post covers what happens in the brain and the second post gives examples of how I repeat stories, songs, and information week-to-week. Think about how much will be repeated each week and how this can help new families and ESL families in particular.

Early Literacy Messages

Conveying information about early literacy to caregivers in storytime is one of the reasons storytime is so important. This does not have to be done in a super formal, preachy way. I have written about how I incorporate early literacy messages into storytime in simple and personal ways. Also check out the blog round-up I hosted to see how many other children’s librarians do it. If you are new to the world of early literacy, I have some great book recommendations to get you started.

Interactivity

I learned more about this concept in the Supercharged Storytimes online module where one of the learning goals is to “increase interactivity with children during story times, observing children’s behaviors, and engage parents/caregivers to reinforce these behaviors at home and in other environments.” Over the years I’ve found that the relationship-building aspect of storytime is huge. It’s what keeps them coming back. So now I think more critically about how to choose storytime activities that allow me to interact with kids, allow kids to interact with caregivers, and allow kids to interact with other kids.

Further Learning

There are some amazing courses and webinars out there that can support you as a storytime leader. Here are the ones I recommend:

The WebJunction Course Catalog has many other webinars and courses related to storytimes. I also recommend the free webinars offered through InfoPeople on a variety of library topics. Early Childhood Investigations has a collection of free webinars for early childhood educators. Lastly, if you are a member of ALSC you can access their eLearning content for free, while non-members pay a small fee.

How do you plan your storytimes? What tips and advice do you have for new storytime leaders? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

16 thoughts on “New to Storytime: Planning a Storytime

  1. This post (and the rest of this series) has been incredibly helpful, thank you!

    1. Can you please share a link to the structured storytime outline? I love all your resources!

      1. Hi Gail, I added a link to the template you can download. Check back under the image of the structured storytime outline. Thanks for your kind words!

  2. Great post! Do you have a welcome song that includes both the name of each child AND their adult? I found one, saved it but now cannot find it on my laptop ! Thanks!

  3. Such a treasure trove of great information!
    My name is Paula Burgon. I am a youth services librarian at Salt Lake County Library System. Our system has recently hired several new youth services librarians who do not have much experience with storytimes.
    I have been asked to give a short presentation at a storytime summit that our librarians will attend. May I use some of your ideas from this post? Of course I will link your site and will credit you in anything that I use.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    Paula

    1. Hi Paula, yes please feel free to use anything that you find useful. Most of this is stuff I’ve learned from others and from experience and it’s meant to be passed along. All the best at your storytime summit – that sounds awesome!

  4. You guys are amazing and have helped me build a successful story time for overseas military families.
    We all love Roly Poly!
    Word has spread amongst our base and my preschool story time averages 60- 85 (Baby & Me 45- 70) children and caregivers. I am finding that with SO many people in a small room that the quality of the program is affected.
    Do you have any advice for large story time?

    1. Hi Megan! I feel you on the struggles of giant programs. Here are a few suggestions, although with that many people some things will be tough regardless.
      1. Repeat, repeat, repeat: With large groups I’ve found the program runs smoother when all the grown-ups know the songs and sing with me. It’s the best way to stop side chatter too. So I repeat the same songs and rhymes every week and don’t do as much variety in my material. I really need these folks to know the songs.
      2. Say something in your opening message that acknowledges the challenges of such a large group and stress that grown-up participation is key to everyone having a good time.
      3. Consider getting a mic for yourself to avoid straining your voice. People might also be able to hear you better and follow along more.
      4. Consider capping the number of bodies. I hate turning people away, but if the program is no longer working then it’s for the good of the group.
      5. Limit the amount of “extra talk” you do in between activities. Unfortunately when the group gets this big it becomes harder and harder to say early literacy tips and interact 1-1 with children. I just tried to keep the pace moving along so it didn’t turn into chaos.
      6. Encourage grown-ups to take a break outside the room if their child is having a hard time.
      7. If you have capacity, consider offering 2 back-to-back sessions to break up the group. I offer mine from 10 – 10:30 and 11 – 11:30.
      I wish I had magic answers for you! On the bright side it means you are doing a fantastic job!

  5. I really appreciate all the advice; some I have contemplated and some new. I think just hearing positive feedback from those you respect is really all I needed, thank you.
    Preschool teacher by trade, I am trying to find how to apply my experience/ knowledge to a library story time setting, which is quite a different setting.
    I am so thankful to have your resources to follow and implement.

    1. Happy to cheer you on, Megan! It sounds like you are providing a valuable and needed service to the families on the base and they are so lucky to have someone with a preschool background who is so thoughtful about storytime. Wishing you all the best!

  6. any tips for someone new coming into Storytime and having a small group of typically one?

    1. Hi Maddy, sometimes a super small group is even harder than a large group! When the group is that small I try to make it as interactive as possible with the family. For example, I would let them do the felt story with me, getting the child to put up the pieces. I would also ask for their favourite songs and sing those together. You could ask for things the child likes to read about and bring books on those topics the next week. With just one kid, it is less like a storytime and more like a conversation. I don’t think you need to plan things out as much and can go with the flow of the family in attendance. You could also try incorporating more science and math activities that you can easily set up for just 1 or 2 kids. I would try to think of it as an opportunity to try new things!

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