Toddler Storytime: How I Plan

I enjoy babytime.  And I can handle preschool storytime.  But toddler storytime – toddler storytime is my absolute favourite! Maybe it’s because I hang out with a 2-year-old on a regular basis, but I love the controlled chaos that often characterizes this group.

I’ve just wrapped up my first session of  a 12-week toddler storytime (ages 18 months-3 years), and I thought it would be helpful to share what worked with these ages.  I’ll be doing a series of blog posts over the next month on the following topics:

So let’s get to it!

How I Plan

My most successful toddler storytimes include the following ingredients:

Flexibility + Repetition + Movement + Caregiver Participation = A Good Time For All

Books are important too, but I’ve found that these other elements are more influential in determining how a storytime will pan out.  In order to get caregivers to participate, I always give out a bookmark with the song lyrics printed.  Especially if it’s a big group, having the parents and caregivers on board can make a world of difference.

I plan for a range of activities and end up using the ones that work well the kids on that day at that time.  With that said, I plan for a 30-minute program (my library doesn’t do crafts as part of storytime) with the following components in mind:

  • 1-2 books (depending on how active they are)
  • 1 flannel story
  • 1 song or rhyme with puppets
  • 5-6 songs or rhymes
  • 5-6 “get the wiggles out” activities (anything from lifting songs to egg shakers to dancing)

I will go into more detail about each of these components in my following blog posts.  Suffice it to say, when I first started doing Toddler Storytimes, I would try to plan out the order of all these different components.  While some of the planning was good (i.e. which book to read first), most of it fell apart during storytime because the kids needed something different.  So halfway through my session, I created a planning sheet that allows me to organize my thoughts, but also allows for a great deal of flexibility. I’ve included it here in case anyone would like to print and use it too.  It’s pretty simple in it’s design, but that’s why I like it!

Toddler Storytime Planning Sheet (Word Document)
Toddler Storytime Planning Sheet (PFD)

So now I have a basic idea of the types of activities I’d like to share for each session, and I let the group of kids determine what I use and what I don’t.  I may not always use a felt story and puppets, but the toddlers who come to my library absolutely love them so I make an effort to include them as often as possible.

After each storytime I’ll make little notes in each box regarding what worked and what didn’t.  Then the planning sheet goes in my “Storytime Madness” binder, making it easy to flip through when I’ve forgotten which books I’ve read or what songs worked really well.

These past three months were my first time doing a complete a full run of toddler storytime with the same community, so I anticipate the way I plan to change in the future.  But for now, this is what is working for me!

How do you plan your Toddler Storytime?  Please share your successes in the comments!

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82 thoughts on “Toddler Storytime: How I Plan

    1. Thank you! How cool that our little blog has reached Cambodia. Do you work in a library there? We’d love to learn more about your storytimes!

  1. I LOVE the idea of printing the song lyrics on a bookmark for parents/caregivers. Brilliant! Just discovered your blog today and I can tell I’ll be spending some time with it. I deliver preschool storytime weekly and Parent-Child Mother Goose. Always looking for new ideas.

    1. Hi Lizanne, thanks for your comment! You probably already saw, but we have a YouTube channel too with lots of song and rhyme ideas. Lovely to connect with you!

  2. Lindsey and Dana,
    You are so great! How wonderful to share your knowledge with the rest of us.
    Thank you for your You Tube channel and this great blog.

    1. Thank you, Linda! Thank YOU for sharing all your wonderful knowledge with us. Definitely one of our role models!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing what works for you! I have been heading a Toddler Time storytime for almost a year now. I like your suggestion of being very flexible and making it more about movement and the children. I need to do less planning as far as an outline goes and learn more songs! My daughter and I loved listening and watching all of your toddler time song suggestions. I am going to try and incorporate them into our next toddler time. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Nicole! I’ve got a new toddler group this fall, so I’m trying to keep my own tips about being flexible in mind. And yes, songs are the bread and butter of a toddler storytime 🙂

  4. It’s been years since I did a toddler storytime, so I’m rustier than I like, but I wanted to tell you that your pages have been an enormous help. “Zoom Zoom” alone has been incredibly helpful, frankly….

    Do you have any samples of your bookmarks available, by any chance?

    1. Hi John, I’m glad our resources have been helpful to you! I’m sure I have a Word document at work with the bookmark template I used. Should I send it to the email address you used to leave a comment?

      1. Hello Lindsey (and Dana),
        I would also like to have that bookmark template if it is still available, please?
        I have been doing a preschool story time at the library but will be adding a toddler time later this month. I have been looking for ideas and I am happy to have found this page. Thanks!

        1. Hi Cathy, so glad you found our site too! I do still have the bookmark template though I no longer give it out at storytime. Instead, I’ve switched to writing the lyrics on a flipchart as it saves paper. You could also project the lyrics onto a screen if you have the technology set up. I can still email you the bookmark but it’s super simple and from 3 years ago.

  5. I would like to incorporate shakers in my toddler story time but wondered about the logistics. Do you pass out the shakers and sing several shaker songs in a row or do you have parents hold them in between songs?

    1. Hi Terry- thanks for your question, shaker logistics can definitely be challenging! I tend to hand them out towards the end of my storytime and then use them for at least 3-4 songs in a row. It really isn’t worth it to use them for less than that- and then I generally sing Twinkle, Twinkle or a familiar song while I go around and collect them to signal that it’s time to give them back. Check out our post on all things shakers for song ideas and more: https://jbrary.com/give-storytime-shake/ Thanks again and best of luck!

      1. Hi!

        I run a weekly rhymetime and storytime session in west london and have been running it for 5 years, our large group can have up to 85 children along with their parents/carers.

        Just came across this lovely site and see your comment about collecting while singing, I have never thought to do this!
        We use shakers and I always give out teddy bears to help with our song actions, which also helps develop interaction, sharing and giving back after the session!

        Thanks again

        Louisa

  6. Thank you, Lindsey for these tips. I love your songs and activities on Youtube: learned a lot from you and Dana. You are my ST heroines!

  7. Thank you both for a wonderful blog and for all the songs and activities on YOUTUBE. I do weekly story times with 2-4 year olds and have a little one of my own. These fun and helpful resources “bail me out” at work and at home on a regular basis! Thanks again.

    1. I know what you mean – I use our videos all the time with my 3-year-old niece who is a singing machine. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Thanks alot for your sharing your experience . I liked alot what you are doing . Well im planning to start a storytime in Turkey soon and I ll appreaciate alot if you xan share any word documents of your book marks ? I watched the songs on youtube and they are amazing . Wondering if i can find the original rhymes on MP3 and MP4 format ?
    It would be very nice to watch a video of you during storytime with kids . I will be able to have a clear idea of how you do it ?
    well it ll be my first time in storytelling and i appreciate every advice.
    thanks

    1. Yes, we can email you a Word document with some sample bookmarks. Unfortunately, we don’t have the songs recorded in MP3 or MP4 formats. Many of the songs have been recorded by other children’s music artists, so you may try searching for the songs you want in iTunes or on Amazon. If you want to download our YouTube videos to watch with the kids, you can use a program called Clip Converter: http://www.clipconverter.cc/. Hope this helps! We love hearing how people use our videos around the world.

  9. Thank you for posting the planning template!! I’m covering a few Toddler Time programs in the next few months so this is going to be a BIG help to me!

    1. So happy to help! Please feel free to edit or modify the template in any way that suits your style and audience 🙂

  10. Hi Lindsay I’m new to entertaining preschool children and love you idea. Over the past couple of days I’ve been thinking of a way to offer story time to toddlers but want to make it interactive to keep them interested for more than 5 minutes. I been thinking about making masks for the book characters that the kids can put in front of their faces according to the story. What suggestions to do have books with this type of idea?

    1. Hello Annette, that’s a great question. Books that immediately come to mind are ones with lots of animals. I think something like Bark, George by Jules Feiffer or I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry might work well. There’s also an older title called Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern that would be perfect. Or something like The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle or I Went Walking by Sue Williams – those both have lots of animals and are perfect for toddlers. Hope this helps!

  11. LOVELY IDEAS! I will have to try them with my 4 year old. Currently researching a cute quick program her class can do at the end of the school year organized by the school parent group and some teachers **no graduation allowed:-(. I like this blog a lot. Please keep sharing what you’re doing or any suggestions for us too:-) Great job♡♡♡♡

    1. Hi Kristin, the planning sheet is a Word document. Do you have Microsoft Word on your computer? If not, I could email it to you as a pdf.

  12. Hey Lindsey, I’ve recently started doing storytimes at my library and your blog and videos have helped me SO MUCH! I loved the planning sheet! It makes a lot of sense to have some flexibility and go with the flow during the storytime.

    1. Hi Ana! Thanks so much for the lovely compliment! My toddler storytime is definitely the most flexible because of the kiddos at that age. Happy storytiming 🙂

  13. Hello! The kiddos and I have fallen in love with Zoom, Zoom and are excited to try more. I started in April as the Children’s Services Coordinator at my library and the previous coordinator had story time open for all ages. How do you hold the interest of the older kids (pk-k) while captivating the interests of younger audience members (babies/toddlers)? Any suggestions would be AWESOME.

    1. Hi Alyssa, great question! I do a Family Storytime right now which is open to ages 0-6, so I definitely factor this into my own planning. Because the toddlers simply can’t sit through a long book, I try to keep the books I read a moderate length. To keep the preschoolers engaged, I try to find books that are funny or include some preschool humour. I always start the storytime with the longest book. I’ve also found that all ages love two things – puppets and felt stories. So I’ve been incorporating more and more of those into my storytimes. Sometimes I’ll even do 2 felt stories/songs per storytime because it keeps everyone engaged. My go-to songs that work really well with all ages are Fruit Salad (we also have a video with extended verses!) and An Orca Whale (the preschoolers love when you sing it faster and faster). Brytani at The Neighbourhood Librarian also wrote a great post on mixed-age storytime activities that I think is super helpful: https://librarianneighbor.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/mixed-age-storytime-gold-some-of-my-favorite-activities/

      1. Oh, and have you heard of Storytime Underground? You can submit a question on the “Ask a Storytime Ninja” tab and other library staff will respond to you! They also have a Facebook page where you can pose questions and thousands of people have the opportunity to reply! http://storytimeunderground.org/

  14. Thank you so much for posting your resources! I’m a new children’s librarian in Hawaii (just made 3 months) and your website has been a life saver. I’ve used several of your songs with my family story time group and they love them. Printing the lyrics on bookmarks is such a great idea; I’ll have to give it a try.

    1. Hello Danielle, lovely to meet you! I’m so glad you find Jbrary useful. I still use bookmarks occassionally, but what I’ve also started to do is print the lyrics on a large flipchart that I put next to me at the front of the room. That way I can change the lyrics quickly and caregivers don’t have to look down at a small bookmark. If you have a chalkboard or whiteboard in the room that’s another way to share the lyrics. Repeating the same songs each week goes a long way as well in getting more audience participation – from the adults and the kids! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  15. Hi Lindsey and Dana,

    Absolutely love watching your videos and reading your suggestions.

    Just this past week a group of friends and I are brining Storytime into my home, instead of the library where we live–it’s monotonous.

    I’ve gotten tons of ideas from y’all, but I cannot seem to open the toddler worksheet. Can you please re-post or email it to me as I am hosting and running the toddler story times at my home once a week and need help organizing!

    Many thanks!
    Anya

  16. Hello!

    This is a great resource, even for a veteran storytimer. Thank you for sharing your process. I am unable to open the toddler planning sheet. Would you be willing to send via email.

    Many, many thanks!
    Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa, yes I will send it straightaway. I will re-upload it to the website as you are not the first person who has had trouble opening it. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Hi,
    I’m wondering if you incorporate any elements of Every Child Ready to Read in your toddler storytimes? Thanks so much for your wonderful resources.
    Rachel

    1. Yes, absolutely. I would say the 5 early literacy practices identified in ECRR are the core of my storytimes. I didn’t explicitly talk about them in this blog post, but I try to model reading, writing, talking, playing, and singing in all of my storytimes. This can look like anything from pointing to words in a book as I read it or repeating a story in different ways over the course of a few weeks or singing songs like “Mmm Ahh Went the Little Green Frog” which helps with phonological awareness. I hosted a blog round-up about how to communicate early literacy messages to caregivers that is worth checking out: https://jbrary.com/early-literacy-messages-in-action-blog-post-round-up/
      Please let me know if you have more specific questions about ECCR.

  18. Greetings Dana and Lindsey!,
    The information was very helpful. The book marks are a great idea! Could you email me your example of that, please? I started employment at our children’s library in Aug 2015, and our library youth service director found employment elsewhere in Nov so now I’ am just getting a hang of our toddler time. Your YouTube channel is very much helpful and I appreciate your guidance, as this is my first time working with a group of toddlers.

    Thank You,
    Lynette

    1. Hi Lynette, I’ll email you an example bookmark though I’ve stripped it of my library’s logo. Recently I changed my tactic to be more tree friendly. Now I use a big flip chart that I attach to an easel and have the lyrics to the songs printed there. Then I’ll give out the bookmarks at our last storytime of the session so families have them to take home. It’s been working great! So glad to hear that our blog and videos are helpful – we plan to post more about toddler storytime soon!

      1. Thank You! I’ll take the easel idea into consideration as well. Now how many participants do you get each time you have toddler storytime? Just curious as to how you handle a big crowd if that’s what you get.
        Thanks again 🙂

        1. Currently I’ve got anywhere from 25-40 people who attend. I’ve done bigger groups in the past of up to 70. I find those larger crowds of toddlers really challenging! I had to learn to let go of wanting everything to go perfectly. I had to have lots of flexibility in my program plan and be able to switch things up depending on how well behaved the group was. It is essential that caregivers participate when there are that many people in the room, so I would try to do songs and rhymes that required interaction with the caregiver. My library doesn’t do registration for storytime so it’s definitely one our of biggest challenges.

          1. O wow I could imagine that being a huge task, working with such a large group. My ‘toddler time’ has usually been, at the most, 30 participants. And yes flexibility is a must, that I’ve also learned. My library doesn’t do registration as well. How would registration differ? Sorry I have so many questions. 🙂 First time and just getting the hang of it, but I want to give the best results as I can.

          2. No worries – that’s what we’re here for! Registration would differ because then you’d only allow a certain number of children to attend. For example, some library systems cap their storytime attendance at 25 kids. If you don’t register beforehand then you can’t come in for the program. I’ve also heard of libraries that hand out tickets 30 minutes prior to the program and only those with tickets can attend storytime. This is to help overcrowding and to keep the interactions between the storytime provider and children more intimate. It’s easier to do this when you have a separate program room. My library doesn’t do this because we don’t all have separate storytime rooms, and the priority for us is to reach as many families as possible. It just depends on what works best for your library.

  19. Great! Thanks Lindsey and Dana,
    I don’t think I have any questions at the moment, but when I do I know who to ask 🙂

    Happy Storytime,
    Lynette

  20. This is wonderful. It helps so much in planning for our toddler storytimes. I like it too being more active with more songs than readings. I’ll be doing my toddler storytimes and this is so helpful

    And Lindsey can I please request for that bookmark template to my email. Thank you so much.

    MOre power!

    1. Sure, I will send it to your email. It’s pretty simple for a bookmark, but it gets the job done 🙂

  21. Good Evening Lindsey and Dana,

    I have a question…Do you ever hand out a ‘survey’ or ask for feedback about your story/toddler time to caregivers? If so, do you find them to be beneficial?

    Thanks
    Lynette

    1. Hi Lynette. Yes, we do give out surveys every once in a while. They can be a good way to see which parts of storytime your group is enjoying, which parts aren’t working for them, and what they are taking home and using with their children. Dana wrote a post about evaluating storytime with more details here: https://jbrary.com/evaluating-storytime/

  22. Thank you so much for this wonderful resource. I too am starting out as a children’s librarian and have just discovered your blog. What a find! I feel like I have struck gold.
    May I also request that bookmark template sent to my email? I hope you don’t mind. I am just starting out and I would love to hand them out at the end of a session series.

    1. Hi Susan, I’m so glad our blog is helpful! I will email you the template. It’s very simple, but you could add your library’s logo to make it look nicer.

    1. Oh, I used to keep track of what stamp I used each week so I saved that space for actually stamping the paper. I don’t keep track of that anymore, so I got rid of that box.

  23. Hi Lindsey and Dana!
    My library will be starting Family Storytimes in January. I am wondering if you have any planning resources for family storytimes and what templates/resources you use. I am looking forward to running the Family storytimes (my first ones!), but am feeling a little lost when trying to plan for a wide age range. Any advice/resources you have and are able to share would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much!!

    Also- we adore your blog. You have wonderful resources and it is wonderful that you are willing to share those resources and expereinces with other librarians, educators, and parents! Thanks!
    ~Katy

    1. Hi Katy, thank you for your kind words! I actually stopped doing toddler storytime awhile back and have been solely doing family storytimes and babytimes. My family storytimes are open to ages 0-5. I don’t blame you for feeling lost! It can be tricky to plan for this group because it can look different from week to week based on who attends. I use the same planning template as for toddler storytime. The key for me is flexibility. I way overplan and then choose what to use as storytime progresses (are they antsy? can they sit for a felt story? do they love puppets?). I only do one book near the beginning and lots of felt songs (songs that have felt pieces to match to act as a visual cue). I try to choose songs that can be adapted for all ages. For example, anything with lifting can also be a jumping song for older kids. So Zoom, Zoom, Zoom and The Elevator Song are good choices. I also repeat most of the songs week to week and don’t change things up as much as I would for a preschool storytime. I think it can take awhile to find your groove with family storytime, so don’t get discouraged! I think I’ve seen people ask this question in the Storytime Underground Facebook group, so you could search the phrase “all ages” or “multi-age” or “family storytime” there and see if you get any results. The only blogger I’ve known to address this topic is Brytani at The Neighborhood Librarian. She wrote this great post: https://librarianneighbor.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/mixed-age-storytime-gold-some-of-my-favorite-activities/. I think I’ll work on writing a blog post too with my favourite activities for a multi-age group – thanks for the inspiration! Let me know if you have any follow-up questions 🙂

      1. Awesome! Thanks for the tips, Lindsey! I will take a look at those resources you suggested and will definitely look forward to your future blog post about multi-age storytimes!

        Thanks!
        Katy

  24. Hello!
    I can’t tell you how many of your songs and videos have helped us when we’re planning story time programs! I’ve just come across this page, and am curious about your planning sheet, but it’s opening to a blank sheet when I download it (we have OpenOffice, so that may be part of it). I’m wondering if it might work better if you could send it as an e-mail? Thanks so much!

    1. I will email it to you! It is a Microsoft Word document, but you’re not the first person to have trouble downloading it. I’m going to upload it as a pdf too in case others can’t access it. Thanks so much for your kind words 🙂

  25. Greetings from Bangalore -India, I’m an early educator (Montessori trained) turned Storyteller and have just been asked if I could do a storysession for a mother-toddler group .. I sure am glad Google led me to you !!
    Looking forward to using your blog as my hettting started-bible !!

  26. Hi, Love your short song and fingerplay videos!! I would love to see a couple videos of an entire baby storytime and an entire toddler storytime, and maybe just some short videos of doing flannel stories…where do they teach that?? As if you don’t have enough to do – right? Thanks for all you do, ladies!

    1. We’ve had a request for full length storytime videos before but we haven’t been able to do it yet. Partly because we’d have to arrange our own group of friends with kiddos as we aren’t allowed to film our library storytimes. Flannel stories are a great idea though! That’s something we can definitely do more of in the future. If you search “toddler storytime library” you do get some results for 15 – 30 minute programs that libraries have filmed. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to make this happen on our channel. 🙂

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