Category Archives: Group Management

5 Reasons to Welcome Older Siblings in Your Baby and Toddler Storytimes

1) Older siblings are role models for babies.

According to a study published in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, siblings are even more influential role models than parents when it comes to everyday situations.  “We know that having a positive relationship with siblings is related to a whole host of better outcomes,” says Laurie Kramer, professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois.  By welcoming older siblings and encouraging their relationships with babies and toddlers throughout storytime, we can foster positive relationships that impact the whole family.

2) Older siblings can help out!

Channel an older sibling’s energy by asking him to help pass out shaker eggs or hold a puppet in a story, and you’ve got an eager helper who is modeling cooperation skills for the little ones!  And here is the key – you’ve got to be prepared to guide them.  Just as parents don’t always know to sing along without encouragement, siblings don’t always know how to help out – but most of the time they are desperate to!  A little planning ahead and gentle guidance can go a long way.

3) You can model early literacy skills for the whole family.

When we model fingerplays, bounces, and story-sharing for parents, we are also teaching older siblings by example.  Encourage siblings to join in the fun and interact with their babies, with stuffed animals or dolls, or with you!  (Kathy often invites an older sibling to be her “bouncing buddy” during the lap-rhyme segment of her baby programs.)  Positive encouragement of sibling interaction with the little one in storytime will translate later into sharing of rhymes and stories in a spontaneous way at home.

 4) The presence of older siblings allows you to discuss and model coping skills for parents.

By welcoming older siblings into storytime, we open a space up for discussion of everyday practicalities – how do you select a story that will appeal to a one year old and a five year old?  How do you read to both at the same time? We can offer resources and strategies for incorporating early literacy into the real lives of families.  Many parents hold feelings of guilt that they are not doing all the things they think they should to promote their children’s language skills – especially when the demands of taking care of multiple children seem to take up every minute of the day.  By acknowledging the everyday challenges parents face, we can support more positive environments for all children.

5) Older siblings are an inescapable part of a baby’s world.

Babies and toddlers don’t exist in a vacuum.  Older siblings are a part of their world every day, and, as we saw above, can become their most powerful role models.  The reality of life for many families is that, if older siblings are not allowed in a program, no one will be able to attend.  While it might be nice to be able to offer a storytime that focuses with laser-accuracy on the developmental needs of one specific age group, the fact of the matter is that, even if you restrict your program to a narrow age range and disallow siblings, participants will still represent different stages of physical, cognitive, and emotional development.  Welcoming older siblings supports the development of babies and toddlers by supporting the family as a whole.

One last thought:

When you allow older siblings into your programs, is it with a welcoming attitude, or an impatient sigh?  (And we all know that kids can tell the difference!)  Perhaps what we need is a paradigm shift in the way we look at siblings in storytimes: not as a distraction or a potential problem, but as little helpers with the wonderful potential to be excellent role models for the babies and toddlers in their lives.

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.

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.

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.

Liven up Baby and Toddler Storytimes with Sign Language

Using sign language during library storytimes is a great way to communicate with babies and toddlers and to broaden the appeal of storytimes of your storytimes!  Check out these great resources from storyteller and nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter Kathy MacMillan to help you get started!

Background Reading:

Signing with Babies:

Benefit of Teaching Young Kids Sign Language:

American Sign Language:


Kathy’s Videos on YouTube:


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 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.

Programming Puzzler: How do you adapt your programs for a wide age range?

We posed this puzzler to our readers:

You’re presenting a family storytime, and you’ve got 2-year-olds and 7-year-olds and no one in between! What do you do?

“I think this would provide an excellent opportunity for parachute play. It appeals to all ages, and if the 7 year olds got bored with it, they could be the ones who helped lift and lower it. This storytime would need a lot more action activities with fewer books mixed in.” – Chris K.

“I would read a picture book that was a bit longer to appeal to the 7 year olds, along with another book to keep the 2 year olds interested. I would also pick movement activities that the children could do together.” – Brandt E.

“I would probably start off with a bit of a longer book to keep the 7 year olds engaged right away but would also entertain the 2 year olds. I would have a movement activity and use bean bags that the 2 year olds could shake and the 7 years old could juggle. You could also partner the older children with the younger children in an activity where the older child can help the younger child.” – Craig P.

Kathy and Christine say:
  • This is a great place to use American Sign Language! Incorporating even a few signs into a book or story will engage older kids by giving them something new to learn and do, even if the story is simple enough for toddlers.
  • Having several choices of materials on hand and being flexible within the program are key. Be willing to change courses if what you’re doing isn’t working.
  • Ask the older kids to be your helpers and model activities for the younger kids. Giving them a special job will engage them, and the younger kids will love the extra attention the big kids can give them!