Category Archives: Articles

6 Super Ways to Use Sign Language in Your Programs

There are many advantages to using sign language with young children: it reduces frustration, stimulates language development, addresses multiple learning styles, and recent research even suggests it can reduce symptoms of ADHD! But for your programs, you just need to know two benefits: it makes your programs instantly participative, and it’s FUN! Here are six super ways to get started using sign language in your program; for more great ideas, see Try Your Hand at This!: Easy Ways to Incorporate Sign Language Into Your Programs by Kathy MacMillan (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

1) Teach a Seasonal Sign:

 The Sign for Snow

 (This rhyme teaches how to say SNOW in American Sign Language.)

When the weather is cold and the icy wind blows

And you feel a shiver right down to your toes.

Wiggle your fingers from the sky to the ground.

That’s the sign for SNOW you have found!

 See a video of the sign SNOW.


2) Take a poll without losing your mind:

Teach the children the signs for YES and NO. Then ask yes/no questions about the story you are reading (“Do you think the fox will catch the sheep this time?”) and invite the children to respond using only their signs. It’s a quick and easy way to get children to participate without making a lot of noise.

See a video of the sign YES. 

See a video of the sign NO.


 3) Spice up a song or rhyme that doesn’t have built-in actions:

There’s nothing worse than putting on music and then just standing around to it. Use American Sign Language to create participative movement. For example, you could teach the kids signs for farm animals to make an old favorite like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” instantly hands-on!

See a video of the sign COW. 

See a video of the sign DUCK.

See a video of the sign HORSE. 

See a video of the sign SHEEP. 

See a video of the sign CAT.


4) Play a color game:

Extend a flannelboard rhyme into a fun interactive game with this activity. This can be used with any flannelboard that has items of different colors (Five Little Leaves, Five Funny Clowns, etc.). Teach the children the signs for the colors, then invite them to look carefully at the objects. Count to three, then have them close their eyes. Remove one of the objects. Then have the children open their eyes and identify which object is gone, using only their signs. Confirm which object was taken away by showing where it was on the flannelboard. Repeat until all the objects are gone. This activity is appropriate for toddlers and up, and enhances visual acuity, attention, and memory – all important pre-reading skills.

See videos of the signs for colors.


5) Use signs for group management:

Sometimes a sign can get kids’ attention in a way no nagging reminder can! Introduce the signs below by signing them along with the words on the first few reminders, then let your voice fall away and do only the sign. Kids will get the message (and you may find them using these signs to police each other!) Even elementary and middle school age students will respond to signed prompts without complaining and eye-rolling. Try it!

See a video of the sign PAY ATTENTION. 

See a video of the sign LINE UP. 

See a video of the sign RESPECT.


6) Use signs for a story refrain:

Teach the kids a few simple signs that they can repeat throughout the story. This will give them something active to do as they say the words, and will keep them engaged by stimulating multiple senses. For example, when reading Karma Wilson’s The Cow Loves Cookies (Simon and Schuster, 2010), ask children to sign the refrain with you each time.

See a video of the sign COW. 

See a video of the sign LOVES (for objects for activities) 

See a video of the sign COOKIE.

6 Super Strategies for Partnering with the Community

In these difficult economic times, libraries are finding it necessary to stretch their budgets, while trying to offer more services to the community. Often the library becomes the new “community center” in neighborhoods when families find their disposable income limited. This is a perfect opportunity to bring new people into the library and introduce them to all the fabulous services the library has to offer.  So how does the library continue to provide new programs for the community, while managing its own budget? Partnering with the community.

Businesses and other community organizations are also concerned about their budgets, so partnering with the library benefits everyone.  Here are some simple techniques to make it happen:

1) Bring in the schools:

Most libraries book talk at their local schools. In return, ask the school’s media specialists, art teachers, etc., what programs they could offer at your library. Teachers often need a community outreach project for their yearly review and this is an easy way for them to fill that requirement. Some ideas for perfect partnership programs include: book discussion clubs, an art class, a reading celebration night, where media specialists and librarians work together to offer activities around a theme (Caldecott awards, summer kick-off, local or state book awards, etc.).

2) Partner with local scout groups:

These groups earn many badges and awards, and often use the library as a resource. In return, ask if they would like to offer a program for the community. A princess tea? A storytime? A craft program? A matchbox truck convoy? A clean-up day?

3) Ask for resources:

Suppose you have a great idea for a program, but do not have money for the supplies or refreshments. Ask local stores or major distributors for donations of specific materials – it’s often much easier to get a donation of fifty rolls of duct tape for your duct tape wallet program, say, than a cash donation. In return, offer a thank-you in your publicity brochure and at the program.

4) Go outdoors with nature centers or parks:

Offer storytelling or storytime services to the park, and ask if they’d be willing to do a program for you. Many parks have rescued animals, or offer craft programs, which make a welcome addition to a library lineup. Again, offer a thank-you in your publicity brochure and allow them to publicize their own events while they are offering a program.

5) Bring in local businesses for programs:

Local businesses of all types have services they provide; it never hurts to ask if they can offer a program. The local waste management company can present a recycling program, a beauty shop can discuss make-up tips for prom season, fitness clubs can offer a sample class for tots, youth or adults, local martial arts groups often have demo teams, and more. The key is to think outside the box. The library offers visibility and free publicity for these businesses.

6) Grow your local garden of presenters:

Master gardeners, local cooperative extension sites, and garden stores are amazing resources for classes. Program topics can range from local pests and growing vegetables to beautifying your landscape. If your library has space, you can ask them to start a demonstration garden where the entire community can become involved and come together.

7 Super Ways to Use Rhythm Sticks in Your Programs

Sure, you know all about using rhythm sticks to tap out rhythms, but consider these creative uses for the old storytime standby:

1) Spider Legs:

Hold your sticks vertically to make spider legs, and sing “The Spider Went Over the Mountain”. Kids love to make their spider sticks walk!

2) Magic Wands:

Pass out one stick to each child and invite them to help you cast a spell! Let the children take turns using their wands to make their friends jump, turn, bounce, and sit!

3) Giant Pencils:

This exercise is great for promoting gross motor skills and early literacy! Give one stick to each child and let them draw shapes in the air, or write specific letters or numbers.

4) Windshield Wipers:

Give 2 sticks to each child and chant the rhyme below as your “windshield wipers” keep the rain away. This activity is a great tie-in to rain or transportation themed programs.

Windshield Wipers Rhyme

It’s a rainy day and down the street we go.

It’s only raining a little bit, so the wipers are going slow.

It’s starting to rain more now, but it’s not a disaster.

We know what we need to do: make the wipers go faster!

Oh no, it’s really pouring now, we hope that it won’t last.

Let’s turn those windshield wipers up, and they’ll go fast fast fast!

The rain is slacking off again, we’re not sad to see it go.

We’ll turn those windshield wipers down, and they’ll go back to slow.

Oh, look, is that the sun I see? And here comes one last drop.

The rain has stopped now, yessiree, and we turn our wipers OFF!

 5) Olympic Torches:

Give each child one stick, and stage your own Olympic relay across the room! Use an orange scarf for the flame, and have each child pass it along with his or her rhythm stick to “light” the next torch. (Make sure you play Olympic music to complete the experience!)

6) Flutes:

Make your own marching band! Have the children hold their rhythm sticks like flutes as they march around the room.

 7) Clock Hands:

Hold one stick in each hand. Review where the numbers  on the clock fall, and then call out times. The children should move their clock hands to the appropriate positions. (For older children, call out things like “dinnertime” and “bedtime” and have them supply the times!)

Ribbons and Streamers: Not Just for Parties

Ribbons and streamers are fun to incorporate into storytime and can be used in a variety of ways, all of which promote development of gross motor skills. You can use sturdy pre-made ribbons from a school and library supply company (our favorites are Lakeshore Learning’s Wrist Ribbons, which are just the right size for young children), or you can make your own using lengths of ribbon tied to dowel rods. For a less sturdy take-away streamer, tape a length of crêpe streamer to a straw.

Here are some ideas for using your streamers in storytime:

1. Share an ancient tradition:

The Ribbon Dance is a two thousand year old Chinese folk dance. Dancers use long ribbons attached to sticks to represent clouds and are supposed to bring rain and plentiful crops. Invite the children to move their ribbons in different ways as you show the sun, rain, wind, and clouds.

2. Catch a Wave:

Ribbons and streamers make wonderful waves. Make waves to your favorite Beach Boys tune, or go under the sea with a Calypso rhythm. Invite the children to stand in two rows, waving their streamers up high. Let the children take turns “swimming” between the rows so they feel they are under the sea!

3. Make a Rainbow:

Pass out streamers in a rainbow of colors. Wave them above your head when practicing your colors, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, or during a book when a rainbow is mentioned. Or share the rhyme below to reinforce color knowledge.

If your streamer is red, wave it over your head!

If your streamer is blue, shake it by your shoe!

If your stream is yellow, wave it at a fellow!

If your streamer is green, shake it while you lean!

If your streamer is pink, shake it however you think!

4. Share a Star:

Sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as you gently wave your streamers to show the shimmering starlight, or share the shooting star rhyme below:

“The Star”

There once was a star who lived up in the sky (wave streamer above head)

He twinkled and twinkled at all who came by (move streamer in small movements to represent twinkling)

He twinkled left and he twinkled right (move streamer left, then right)

He twinkled through the day and he twinkled through the night (continue twinkling)

He twinkled down at the earth and he twinkled at me (point streamer down and keep twinkling)

Until he decided Earth was where he wanted to be.

So one day he twinkled as brightly as could be (move streamer in large back and forth movements)

And became a shooting star who came down…! (slowly make streamer descend to the ground)

5. Race a Rocket:

Mark off a “course” on the floor using plastic cones or masking tape. Let the children take turns becoming “rockets” with the streamers as the fire coming out of their engines, as they skip or dance along the course.

Rocket Song (to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”)

(Name) is blasting off into space

In a big red rocket

First we count and then we blast off

(5, 4, 3, 2, 1! Blast off!) (slowly raise streamer during countdown)

ROAR! Goes the rocket. (go along course with streamer behind you)

 6. Fly a Kite:

Play “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins and pretend your streamer is a kite in the sky.

7. Share a Shape:

Use your streamer to create shapes in the air as you sing this song.

Shape Song (to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”)

Can you draw a square, draw a square?

Oh can you draw a square, draw a square?

Draw a line and then three more

They are all the same for sure

Oh can you draw a square, draw a square?


Can you draw a circle, draw a circle.

Oh, can you draw a circle, draw a circle?

A circle is round

With no corners to be found

Oh, can you draw a circle, draw a circle?


Can you draw a triangle, draw a triangle?

Oh, can you draw a triangle, draw a triangle?

Make one side and then make two,

Then make a third, that’s all you do,

Oh, can you draw a triangle, draw a triangle?

8. Write a Word:

Use the streamer to write words or letters in the air. Encourage the children to make their letters as large as possible. This activity encourages letter knowledge, gross motor skills, and prewriting skills. As you lead the letters, describe exactly how to move the streamer to create them. For example: “Let’s make a letter A. We start at the top, then make a slanted line down to the bottom. Now back up to the top, and make a slanted line going the other way. Now make a little bridge to connect the  lines. We made an A!”


Programming Puzzler: Registration or Drop-in: which is better?

We presented this puzzler to our newsletter readers. Here are their responses:

“We just recently started offering non-registered storytimes, and to my surprise, I love it! I was very hesitant to give up the idea of knowing how many people to expect, but now I have found that with a little planning, I can make just about any number of people work. Parents love being able to drop in without worrying about pre-registering.” -Katie R.

“In order to make programs more accessible to all, we don’t register programs that staff offer. If an outside presenter requests a registered program, we are happy to accommodate. Otherwise we try to estimate the number of supplies we need for the program. We are generally over-optimistic, having more than enough supplies for everyone, and we find we can always use left over items for another program.” -Sue H.

“Registering children’s programs that require specific supplies and those with a more complicated project are a must. In these financially tight times, registering allows us to purchase exactly what we need and assign the appropriate number of staff to a program.” -Mary Q.

“My library offers a mix of registered and non-registered programs, and I must admit I prefer registration. I think the parents who come to registered programs are more likely to make a commitment to attending. It’s too easy, with non-registered programs, for them to say they will come and then not do it.” -Maryann B.

“I like to keep registration only for programs that need a lot of supplies (such as our science programs for middle schoolers) or programs that might overflow our room. Otherwise registration is such a waste of staff time. If a person shows up to storytime and there is space, we will let them come in. So why bother to preregister?” -Valarianna P.

Kathy and Christine say:

Registered programs and drop-in programs both have their benefits. Registered programs help the presenter plan activities more effectively, especially when crafts or other materials are involved. Having a limited number, particularly in baby and toddler programs, can make for a more enriching experience for the children and parents. And some activities simply can’t be done with an extra large group.

On the other hand, drop-in programs convey an open-door attitude to patrons and cut down on staff busywork (after all, taking registrations and waiting lists, making confirmation calls, and just managing the registration can be quite a chore!).

To decide whether to make a program registered or drop-in, consider:

  • Is space an issue?
  • Do you need to know numbers in order to plan for specific activities or materials?
  • Do you expect an overflow crowd?
  • Do you need to limit your numbers in order to provide a developmentally appropriate program?

When planning for a non-registered program, maintain maximum flexibility by:

  • keeping crafts simple – or doing away with them entirely. Consider using coloring sheets or other easy-to-reproduce crafts instead of more complicated projects.
  • having a plan B (and C, and D…). Think about how you can adapt your materials if you should end up with a group much larger, or much smaller, than your average. Be ready to shift gears midprogram if necessary.
  • making sure your storytime books and materials stand up to the needs of a large group. If a flannelboard’s pieces are too tiny, consider redoing them as large stick puppets, or use live props instead.
  • using action songs or wiggle rhymes to help your group vent its energy and refocus its attention periodically throughout the program.
  • collaborating with other staff. We know of one enterprising librarian who, faced with an unexpectedly huge crowd at a storytime, quickly worked out a plan with another staff member to divide the group in half. One half colored in the children’s department under the supervision of the other staff member while the other half attended storytime with the programmer, then the groups switched.

Not Your Grandma’s Flannelboard

As long as there have been library storytimes, there have been flannelboards. Here are some suggestions to give them new energy in your programs. 

1) Use yourself as a flannelboard:

Put on an apron with pockets to hold the flannel pieces and tell a story on your belly.


2) Use a story-appropriate object instead of a board:

Telling a story about cooking or food? Use a pot, flat pan or spatula with magnetized pieces. How about a metal music stand for a music-related story? Repurpose an old pet carrier or aquarium to help you tell an animal story. You could even raid your local junkyard for part of an old car to use for a transportation-related story!


3) Group storytelling:

Create pockets on the bottom of a freestanding flannelboard and fill them with a variety of pieces from your favorite flannelboards. Let each child have a turn to pull a piece out and add it to the board and telling part of a story. For example: Child 1 pulls out a dog and says one sentence about the dog, then Child 2 pulls out a sun and says a sentence about the sun that relates to the first… The dog went out to play, and the sun was shining…

4) Flannelboard hide and seek:

Hide flannel pieces (apple, balloon, car…) around the room, then give each child a letter of the alphabet and ask him or her to find the item that starts with that letter. If you want to work on counting, have each child find a certain number of items around the room.


5) Make your own flannelboard:

Pass out a carpet square and a set of simple pieces to each child so the children can tell the story along with you. (This is especially great for tangrams, an ancient puzzle/storytelling form from Asia! Find easy tangram patterns here.)


6) Color match:

Make multiple pieces of a flannelboard in different colors. Pass the pieces out to each child and ask them to come up and place their pieces on the board when you call their color. Some suggestions to use with this idea:

  • “The Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”: cut simple child shapes to pass out (There was an old lady who lived in a shoe, and she had so many green children she didn’t know what to do…)
  • “Baa Baa Black Sheep”: cut sheep shapes to pass out and repeat the song several times, replacing “black” with other colors
  • “The Wheels on the Bus”: pass out animal shapes and sing the song with various animal sounds (The cows on the bus say moo, moo, moo…)

7) Mix and match forms:

Try using a flannelboard to preview a book, or to have the children help you retell a book after reading. Sing a song like “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”, then use the flannelboard to review the story/song sequence with the children. Doing so reinforces narrative and sequencing, which are important pre-reading skills


8) Play a memory game:

After telling a story, song, or rhyme with the flannelboard, play a visual memory game. Ask the children to close their eyes, then take one item away. Tell the children to open their eyes, and see if they can identify which item is missing. (Once they do, place the item back on the board to show where it was.) Repeat until all the items are gone. You can even take this activity one step further by teaching Spanish, American Sign Language, or other vocabulary for the flannelboard items, and asking the children to identify the missing item using their new vocabulary.


Nine Nifty Nursery Rhyme Activities

Nursery rhymes help children develop important pre-reading skills, such as phonemic awareness, and make language fun! Here are nine fun, interactive ideas to present nursery rhymes in storytimes:

1) Hey-diddle-diddle:

Read Over the Moon by Rachel Vail. (New York: Orchard, 1998.) This story is a clever twist on the classic nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle Diddle”. A frustrated director can’t get his cow to understand how to go OVER the moon. The story emphasizes prepositions in a fun way. After reading the story, make a large paper moon and have volunteers help you act out the various ways the cow interacts with the moon.  Then, for a surprise, use the “Magic Door to Books” trick found in Carolyn Feller Bauer’s Leading Kids to Books Through Magic (American Library Association, 1996) to walk through your moon. Review the prepositions in the book at the end.

2) The Little Spider: A Nursery Rhyme from the Philippines:

Every culture around the world has nursery rhymes. Many of the themes of nursery rhymes are similar across different cultures. Share this rhyme from the Philippines with children and ask them if it reminds them of one that they know.

The little spider, the little spider (wiggle index finger)

Climbed up the branch (move index finger up opposite arm)

The rain came down (wiggle fingers down)

Pushed it away. (show spider falling)

The sun came up (hold arms in circle over head)

It dried the branch.

The little spider is always happy. (make index finger hop up arm again)

Learn how to share this rhyme using American Sign Language in this free video featuring Kathy MacMillan.

For more terrific nursery rhymes from around the world, see

3) Hickory Dickory Dock:

Give each child two rhythm sticks and have them hold them like clock hands to show the time in each verse of the rhyme.

Hickory Dickory Dock,

the mouse ran up the clock,

the clock struck 1, the mouse ran down

Hickory Dickory Dock!

…the clock struck 2, the mouse said “Boo!”

…the clock struck 3, the mouse said, “Whee!”

…the clock struck 4, the mouse said, “More!”

…the clock struck 5, the mouse did the hand jive.

…the clock struck 6, the mouse did magic tricks,

…the clock struck 7, the mouse said, “This is heaven!”

…the clock struck 8, the mouse cried, “I’m late!”

…the clock struck 9, the mouse said, “Fine!”

…the clock struck 10, the mouse said, “Again!”

…the clock struck 11, the mouse said, “Still heaven!”

…the clock struck 12, the mouse said, “Swell!”

4) Little Miss Muffet:

Try a traditional nursery rhyme silly style! Alter the last words of the rhyme, making sure to act very seriously, as though you think these are the correct words. The kids will love correcting you!


Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her…macaroni and cheese

Along came a…dinosaur

And sat down beside her

And ask her to go to the library!

5) Jack Be Nimble:

Set an unlit candle in the middle of the floor. (A large pillar candle works well for this activity.) Recite the rhyme together, then invite the children to take turns coming for-ward and jumping over the candlestick as everyone says the rhyme, replacing “Jack” with each child’s name. This activity is popular with babies through preschool. (Parents can lift babies over the candlestick.)

_____ be nimble, _______ be quick.

Jack jump over the candlestick!

Learn how to share this rhyme using American Sign Language in this free video featuring Kathy MacMillan.

6) This Little Piggy:

Make this traditional rhyme interactive by having the children suggest new destinations and foods for the piggies. Write their suggestions on a board or flipchart, then have everyone recite the new rhymes together. This is a great tie-in for nursery rhyme, community helper or “in my town” storytimes.


This little piggy went to the zoo,

This little piggy stayed home.

This little piggy had ice cream,

And this little piggy had none.

And this little piggy went “Wee! Wee! Wee!” all the way home.

7) The Grand Old Duke of York:

Give each child a pair of rhythm sticks and tap out the rhythm of the song as you sing, moving the sticks up and down as the soldiers do.

The grand old Duke of York,

He had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill,

And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,

And when they were down, they were down,

And when they were only half-way up,

They were neither up nor down.

8) Wee Willie Winkie:

In your baby program, pass out large pom-poms to the parents. Invite them to use the pom-poms as puppets to act out this classic nursery rhyme, making the pom-pom race up and down baby’s arms and tap gently on their foreheads:

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,

Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown,

Tapping at the window and crying through the lock,

Are all the children in their beds, it’s past eight o’clock?

9) Jack and Jill:

This interactive craft is a great way to act out this favorite nursery rhyme.

  1. Print out the craft templates here.
  2. Cut a slit in the “Up the Hill” sheet along the dotted line.
  3. Color Jack and Jill, then cut them out.
  4. Glue Jack and Jill to the craft sticks.
  5. Poke the sticks through the slit in the worksheet to act out the rhyme!

Programming Puzzler: How do you open your storytimes?

We posed this question to our readers:

Song, dance, or hello rhyme, how do you open your storytime?

“I always start my Story Times with what I call the “Name Game” We clap every child’s name out three times. Beginning with my name first, “Mrs. Brady, Mrs. Brady, Mrs. Brady” Syllable by Syllable that would be four claps each time. This is to introduce children to phonetics AND a great way for us to learn each other’s names. For older children I ask them if they can tell me how many syllables they have in their name. When there are only a few children I’ll include the adults too. The children love hearing their names clapped out loud.” -Irene B.

“I like to start off my story times with a song. My song of choice is “Shake Your Sillies Out” by the Wiggles. After the children enter the room and sit on the floor, I welcome them and ask if any of them are feeling silly, them I ask them to stand up because we have to shake those sillies out. We use a lot of energy shaking them out and after the song we sit down for a story or two before we move on to the next movement activity.” -Craig P.

Kathy and Christine say:

  • Make storytime a welcoming place, different from the rest of the library. Playing music as the children enter the storytime room is one way to create a welcoming atmosphere. Even if you are doing storytime out in the middle of the library, create a special “space” for storytime by ringing a bell, striking a chime, or giving some other special signal that storytime is starting.
  • A hello song is a wonderful way to open your storytime. Greeting each child by name to a simple tune allows you to make eye contact with each child in turn and provide them a special welcome to storytime. (See our book, Storytime Magic, for lots of suggestions for hello and goodbye songs!)
  • Don’t underestimate the power of bursting into song! If you have a noisy or restless group, starting out singing is a great way to get their attention fast. They’ll be wondering what you’re going to do next!
  • If flashy theatrics are not for you, then take it to the other extreme: Quietly and deliberately, as if you don’t even notice the kids are there, sit in a chair, pull out a book, and examine the front. Chances are that some of the kids will notice, wonder what you are doing, and hush the others. Once they have settled, softly begin to chant or sing, and invite them to join you.
  • Get a sidekick. Choose a favorite puppet or stuffed animal to help you greet the children.

Programming Puzzler: How do you incorporate math and science into your storytimes?

We posed this question to our newsletter readers:

With math and science benchmarks playing an ever-more important role in early childhood education, librarians are often expected to incorporate these concepts in conscious way into storytimes.  How do you incorporate meaningful math and science concepts into your storytime activities?

“Introduce simple graphing…..when doing colors, have bags of M and M’s available. Have a simple graph with the colors listed available (we have one we found online sometime back). Have participants count the numbers of each color and record on the graph. Or do this in front of the whole group and have small bags for participants to eat. Graph other things….do you like red, yellow, or green apples? Do you like snow or not? What Easter/Halloweencandy is your favorite?” -Barbara S.

“I started a monthly program that is history or science based for kids 7 to 14. We offer programs for babies, preschool kids and teens but there was nothing for the in-between ages. The mummy program has been the biggest hit so far. There was a slideshow of actual mummies and artifacts, an online game that showed how Egyptians embalmed their dead, and the kids got to dissect a mummy that I made. I have kids that talk to me about it months later.” -Elizabeth L.

Kathy and Christine say:

Incorporating math and science into your regular storytimes is easier than you think! Here are some simple ideas:

  • Invite children to count the objects placed on the flannelboard. With preschoolers, pose simple math problems, such as, “If I take away one apple, how many will be left?” Use the tangible objects to make the math come alive.
  • Graph the objects. Create columns of like objects then count them. Ask the children which object had the most?
  • When doing crafts, count how many objects you’re gluing on or how many colors you’re using.
  • You have to count your storytime attendees for your statistics, so why not make it part of the program? Invite the kids to count along with you as you count attendees. For family programs, count how many kids and how many adults, then ask the kids to compare the numbers – were there more children or adults? Write the number on a whiteboard or chalkboard so children can connect the written and spoken forms of the numbers.
  • In a color storytime, discuss the primary colors and how to mix them to create secondary colors.
  • In a weather storytime, practice blowing bubbles or scarves and discuss wind and what makes a windy day. Is it snowing? Talk about what the temperature needs to be to snow.

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.