Programming Puzzler: How do you handle super-small storytimes?

We posed this puzzler to our readers:

You’ve got your books and props all ready, your craft all set up…and only two children show up for storytime. And they’re too shy to shake their sillies out all alone.

“I’d not be disappointed at all. I used to do a separate storytime with two special needs children and it was my favorite. We actually sat in a cozy place on the floor in my office, just big enough for the three of us, making it our special place. Always capitalize on the moment – you can do the story and then repeat it again, using dramatic play, and retelling. One of the little boys did not speak at all in class, but we know he did speak occasionally at home. I gave him props to help tell the story, by holding the puppet himself, or copying hand motions. My delight came about six weeks later when he began to talk with me. It was indeed our special place and time together. My advice: “seize the moment” and tell the small audience how lucky they are to get their own special story, just for them and then, make it happen! Children really like to think they are being treated special, and you get to make it so!” -The Li’berry Fairy in Atlanta

“Being at a public library in a small community, sometimes this does happen, especially in the winter months when people don’t want to deal with the bad roads. When it does happen and we only have two or three small children I still do the program I planned, but adjust it in the following ways. I sit on the floor in front of the children instead of the small chair I usually sit on. I find that they are less intimidated and will interact more. I still do the songs I planned, but accept the fact that I may be the only one doing the actions. I joke with the moms that I am “performing” for them and tell them that is ok because even if their children aren’t actually up doing the movements they are still listening and may do them at home. As far as crafts I don’t feel a smaller group affects this except that you are able to help them more and they can have more time to do the craft. The main point to remember is to have humor in the situation and relish the one on one time you can have with each child that you may not get when you have twenty or more little ones wanting your attention.” -Tammy S.

“I start with asking parents to join me in doing a finger rhyme like “Grandma’s Glasses”. I read a short story and follow with another finger rhyme, like “Five Little Monkeys” using hand puppets. By now they’re loosened up enough to ask everyone to stand and I hand out egg shakers and put on some dance music.” -Irene K.

Kathy and Christine say:

This reminds us of the story of the city preacher who prepared a big fancy church service for his first visit to a small country church. When it was time for the service to start, one lone farmer was sitting in the church. “Well,” said the preacher, “it’s just you and me. Should we go ahead and have the service or not?” The wizened old farmer looked at him thoughtfully and said, “When I take a load of hay out to the fields, and only one of my flock shows up, I still feed that one.” The preacher beamed at him, and proceeded to give him the whole service – every verse of every song, the whole sermon, footnotes and all – everything. Then the preacher went to the back door to shake the old farmer’s hand as he left the church. “Well,” said the preacher, “what did you think?” The old timer looked thoughtfully at the preacher and said, “Well, when I take a load of hay out to the field and only one of my flock shows up, I still feed that one – but I don’t feed him the whole load!”

  • The key to making super-small programs work is flexibility. Be willing to scale back your program plan and adapt it to the kids in front of you.
  • Don’t be surprised if kids are slow to warm up without the comfort of a group. Give them time to feel comfortable with you by cheerfully forging ahead with stories or songs without calling attention to their shyness. Once they are ready, they will join in.
  • Take the time to ask the child or children what he or she likes and talk about how this connects to the story.
  • Consider a choose-your-own-storytime. Rather than proceeding with storytime as planned, lay out the materials you planned to use and let the children decide which activity they want to do next.
  • Let the kids take part in the stories by holding the puppets, turning the pages of the book, or sitting close to the flannelboard and putting up the pieces.
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