Programming Puzzler: How do you get kids to give back the cool stuff without crying?

We’ve all been there: you’ve just done a great storytime activity with scarves, shaker eggs, or instruments, and it’s time to collect those goodies – and someone doesn’t want to give it up. What do you do?

Readers respond with their ideas:

“After we use cool stuff in our storytimes (lapsit-family), singing this little ditty almost always works like magic in getting the kids to return the items (sans tears). We sing as we either offer the empty container up front, or bring it around to the kids. We can even fold up a parachute to this song. We model waving bye bye to the cool stuff as we sing, so the children can also wave!

(to the tune of “Good Night Ladies”)

Bye bye bells (shakers, sticks, maracas, etc.)

Bye bye bells

Bye bye bells

It’s time to let you go.

Then we follow up with an action song to immediately engage.”-Carla E.


“If the youngsters want the item, I let them keep it until the end of the program. At the end when they are leaving I trade it for something they can keep (often a toy that the parent has with them).”-Jill R.


Kathy and Christine say:

  • Above all, don’t panic or get flustered! Babies and young children look to adults to guide their own reactions, so if you make a big deal about their reluctance to part with the object, it’s likely to escalate the situation. Remember that parents often don’t know how to deal with the situation either (and are often embarrassed by their children making a scene), so an unflappable attitude from you will go a long way toward keeping everyone calm.
  • Make the giving back as much fun as the getting! Sing a special song, as in Carla’s suggestion above, or have the children hold their items over their heads as you zoom around the room like an airplane collecting them, while the kids make airplane noises. Or, as one workshop participant suggested, “make it go boom”. As each child puts his or her item in the box or basket, invite everyone to make a loud “boom” to celebrate it.
  • Move on to the next activity as quickly as possible. Even if someone is still upset, demonstrate your confidence in his or her ability to recover by immediately moving on to another fun book, song, or flannelboard. When adults show confidence in children’s resilience, it encourages children to have confidence in themselves.

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