Planning a Storytime Session

I’ve been doing storytimes for about three years now.  In some ways I still consider myself a storytime newbie.  My process for planning is constantly changing and adapting based on articles I’ve read or ideas I see others trying. I’ve written before about how I plan a toddler storytime and how I plan a baby storytime.  Recently though I’ve started to think more intentionally about my storytimes in the context of a 9-10 week session.

We know repetition is important for learning.  And I’ve always made it a point to repeat many of the songs and rhymes we sing each week.  But I recently read an article by friend and colleague Tess Prendergast that’s published in the book Library Services from Birth to Five: Delivering the Best Start that got me thinking about repetition of stories.  Tess’s article lists repetition of stories as one way storytimes can become more inclusive to families with children with disabilities.   I knew this was something I needed to give more thought to.  Simply put, I needed to start planning.

My storytimes run about 9-10 weeks depending on the season.  It’s a mixed age group, but I mostly get toddlers and early preschoolers. For this winter session, I decided on three stories that I could adapt as both felt stories and puppet stories. They are:

  • Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd
  • Jump! by Scott Fischer
  • Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

Each story will get three weeks of sharing – once as the book, once as a felt, and once as a puppet version.  To take it a step further, I couched these stories within three larger themes.  Concepts related to the themes will be showcased in other books, songs, and flannel stories.  Here’s what my planning document looks like:

Colours and CountingJanuary 6Dog’s Colorful DayBrown Bear, Brown BearOld MacDonald
January 13Maisy’s Rainbow DreamDog’s Colorful DayLittle Bunny in a Hat
January 20Bear CountsOne Red Mitten SongDog’s Colorful Day
Rhyme TimeJanuary 27Jump!Anna MariaWhen Cows Get Up in the Morning
February 3I Know a RhinoJump!Little Bunny in a Hat
February 10Rhyming Dust BunniesThe Bus for UsJump!
Feelings and EmotionsFebruary 17Hooray for Hat!Go Away, Big Green MonsterMmm Ahh Went the Little Green Frog
February 24Hug MachineHooray for Hat!Little Bunny in a Hat
March 2Grumpy BirdThe Very Busy SpiderHooray for Hat!

In addition to the book, felt, and puppets I also do a selection of songs and rhymes.  Little Mouse usually always makes an appearance too.

I really like having this kind of overview because I can also plan out my early literacy messages a bit more based on each theme.  For example, during Colours and Counting I can talk about using spatial relationship words such as “over,” “under,” “next to,” “above” and “below.”  For my Feelings and Emotions unit, I’ll be rereading Mel’s great blog post that includes extension activities and early literacy tips.  I feel so much more organized this way!

There are so many ways to retell a story; I just happened to choose felt and puppet stories for my first go around.  In the future I hope to try draw-and-tells, stick puppets, interactive retellings (like with scarves), or even a dramatic performance.  My goal is to do write separate posts about the felt and puppet versions of each story.  That way you can see how I adapt and change the story each week, as well as get the kids involved with the retellings.

How do you plan out your storytime sessions?  Let me know in the comments!

19 thoughts on “Planning a Storytime Session

  1. Hi
    Thank you so much. I am a volunteer at a rural nursery in U.K.

    My focus has been early literacy and communication. I love your site and the children and I have been very inspired.

    As a retired teacher, I am always interested in the planning side of things and your thoughts and playlists have motivated me and energised my sessions.

    Thank you for keeping it simple. In UK we are getting bogged down with legislation about curriculum and planning. Great work. Please continue.

    1. Thanks so much, Andy! I hope the U.K legislation doesn’t take the fun out of learning like I’ve seen it do in the U.S.

      1. Ugh….the US Common Core just makes my head hurt…. >.< I understand the theory and the spirit behind these sorts of changes, but they do seem to suck a lot of the joy out of learning…

  2. I love this idea. I always do themes, and have some stories that I do multiple ways… but this is an “aha moment!” for me… putting them together in a meaningful way. Thanks for a quick and easy way to refresh (and boost!) my storytime planning!

    1. As someone who usually doesn’t do themes, it was an aha moment! for me too. So glad it’s helpful to you!

  3. I’m a newly minted children’s librarian in a tiny rural system that hasn’t had a children’s librarian in some time. Basically, I’m starting from scratch. I’ll be visiting two locations, per week or every other, and plan on doing songs, books, early literacy tip, and a small craft at the end. We have very little budget, I’m making my own felt board, but I’m wondering am I starting to simply or too complicated? I have no idea how many might attend, but there is definitely interest in the community. Thoughts on starting from scratch? Thanks!

    1. Hi Leanne, thanks for stopping by! I think your plan so far sounds great. You’ve got all the elements of a storytime – books, songs, early literacy tips, and a felt board. We don’t even do crafts at my big library because of cost and time constraints. Because you’re unsure of attendance (and possibly age range?) I think overplanning is the way to go. It’s much easier to cut stuff out than to try and think of new things on the fly, especially as a new storytimer. One thing I always forget is that you can repeat things within a storytime – especially if the group doesn’t know any of the songs or rhymes. Do the things you really love and know well – that’s my best advice for starting from scratch 🙂

  4. Thank you for the feedback, it’s very much appreciated and helpful! And thank you for your website and willingness to share your information and knowledge. 🙂

  5. At my Library we are currently exploring alternatives to the craft component of our storytime sessions. It is a main part of our sessions, but for various reasons we are looking at no longer including it. I was wondering if you didn’t have the cost and time constraints what your thoughts are on craft in storytime? Thanks for your helpful posts!

    1. Since I’ve never done crafts in storytime, I don’t have any personal anecdotes to share about what I like or don’t like about it. However, if I didn’t have cost or time constraints (the two biggest hurdles I’d imagine), I’d probably definitely consider doing crafts at the end of storytime. Perhaps not every week – I’d probably mix it up with other play-based activities – but I think giving children access and practice with things like scissors, glue, rulers, and other bits and bobs not only helps their fine motor skill development, but also cultivates creativity. I’m more a fan of process art, but I think there can be a balance with product-based art too. Here’s a good post on ALSC about the pros and cons of each: I’d probably keep the crafts really simple. For example, if we read a book about trains I’d provide a bunch of shapes and decorative “junk” and let the kids create their own trains. Take-home crafts can also provide opportunities for caregivers to discuss what the child learned or experienced that day. From what I’ve heard from others who do crafts in storytime, you really have to spend time with the caregivers talking about how to guide their children (rather than take over for them) and how to use the craft as a tool for talking. But again, since I’ve never done them myself this is all my imagined scenario. I’m always an advocate of doing things in storytime that you the librarian are personally passionate about. So if crafts have become a chore or a bore, maybe it’s time to revamp or move on to something else. Thanks so much for stopping by – I always appreciate thoughtful comments like yours 🙂

      1. Thanks for your time with this, and for sending that link – the post put it really succinctly. I think it’s time for a revamp with our sessions, as you put it. By maintaining the focus on a quality learning experience, the sessions certainly don’t always have to include a craft.

  6. Hello Lindsey! I’ve been reading your ideas and watching your videos for 4 years now. When I found you, you were a beacon of hope for me. I started doing toddler time 10 years ago. I started out with 4 children. By the time I found you Toddler Time had grown to about 80 people per session. I needed ideas, crazy ideas like mine. I have a few songs and rhymes that I do as base. I do have 5 puppets that come with me as I sing the songs or do the rhymes. I change a few rhymes per season but I repeat them for about 6 to 8 weeks. I read one book. It is actually hard to find books for kids under 3 but they are out there. Nancy Tafuri is one of my favorite writers for Toddlers. Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea on repetition of a book. I went to a training about it once but I did not put it into practice. 2018 will be the year of repetition for my Toddler Time.. inspired by you! Thank you!

    1. Hi Brenda, this was such a lovely message to get! It truly made me so very happy to read. I love Nancy Tafuri too. I feel like I should write a blog post about classic authors that work great for toddler storytime. I’ll put it on my list! I do have some toddler storytime read alouds posts already written. You can find them under the Toddler Storytime heading here: Now I’m feeling inspired too!

  7. I began storytime for the first time last week, as I was delighted to be put in charge of all the children’s programs at my library this summer. I put lots of planning into the first session, and only two children showed up. One of them had been going to storytime long before I took over, and the other was brand new to storytime, just like me. While I was glad that a new family had decided to give it a try, two kids really wasn’t enough for me to pull off a successful, energetic storytime. Do you have any tips for working with a tiny group? And in addition, any tips for getting the word out about storytime? Thanks!

    1. Tiny groups are a whole different ballgame than the 50+ crowds I’m used to seeing. Definitely a challenge to keep the energy up and to maintain the flow of storytime. When I’ve had very small groups I’ve had to let go a bit of what I think storytime should look and feel like because it’s just not possible to get that crowd enthusiasm with 2 kids. What I instead focus on is the one-to-one interactions I can have with each child which are just as valuable and important. Sometimes I’ll sit on the floor while I read them the book, I’ll ask them questions more as we read and give each child a chance to respond. You can even let them vote on which book you should read. I highly recommend reading the book by Megan Dowd Lambert called Reading Picture Books With Children as so many of her suggestions would work great with a small group. Another thing I used to do is use a recorded song here or there as that can bring the energy without putting all the pressure to sing on you and the kids. The Storytime Underground Facebook group might have even more suggestions! In terms of getting the word out I would hit up all your local community centres, health clinics, daycares/preschools, parks, etc. If you can leave posters or flyers that’s great. If you can present to a group of parents even better. There also might be some online community groups where you live where you can advertise. My favourite thing to do is to ask the people who do attend to bring a friend next time. I could probably do a whole post on advertising storytime and community outreach so I’ll leave it there for now 🙂

  8. As a librarian I understand the importance of repetition and have been meaning to take the time to incorporate it more in storytimes- I have just one drawback. Do you ever get any pushback or commenting from parents or some kids for that matter when you do the same books for 2-3 weeks? Also, I realize this is a few years old so I am curious if you are still doing a version of this today?

    1. Hi Elizabeth, thanks for your questions, even on an older post! I never got any pushback from parents or kids, but I can see how it could happen. If it did I would explain the benefits of repetition (to parents) and try to empower the child to help me tell the story. You can also add in variations week-to-week depending on the story so it doesn’t sound exactly the same. I guess if I had a large group of people who hated it I would try something else! I do still like to use this type of planning, but I’m more likely to do it only once during a 10-week session rather than three times. It really depends on if I’ve found a good story that can be used in multiple ways.

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