Category Archives: Programming Puzzlers

How do you involve staff from other departments in your programs?

We asked readers to respond to our puzzler question, and we received some wonderful suggestions!

During Book Week we hold a sweepstake to get everyone involved in choosing a winner.  From the shortlist, staff are invited to choose a book in each category.  They can “judge a book by its cover”, read as many as they want, then mark on the entry form, which title they pick.  When the awards are announced at the start of book week, small prizes go to the pickers! ~Maureen O.

We ask staff if they have any special talents or interest.  Some staff knit, decorate cakes, are involved in their children’s robotics clubs, and more.  We then ask those staff if they would like to offer a program or ask a group their involved with to offer a program or demonstration.  It gives all staff an opportunity to be involved in programming.  ~Sarah R.

Some of our programs, especially those offered in the summer, have up 50 in attendance.  We ask staff in all departments to pitch in (with their supervisor’s approval) and help the librarian’s with the programs.  An extra set of hands is wonderful to have when passing out supplies, answering questions, and helping children with activities.  Staff complete their outreach requirements for their reviews and get to experience something different in their day.  ~Molly G.

Programming Puzzler: How do you involve staff members from other departments in your programs?

Send your suggestions to and we will post a roundup of ideas in 2 weeks. Everyone who contributes will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of our newest book, Multicultural Storytime Magic.

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.

Programming Puzzler: How do you get the word out about your programs?

We presented this puzzler to our readers.  Here’s a round-up of their ideas:

“We connected with a local churches and community groups that provide “welcome wagon” baskets to new families in town. We make sure that a copy of our library card brochure and programming flier goes in each basket.”-Sylvia Y.

“We deliver posters to interested groups in our community, including the senior center and local coffee shops.”-Chris C.

“We make sure our schools are aware of our programs and ask them to announce relevant programs in their parent email updates.”-JoAnn R.

Kathy and Christine say:

  • Don’t try to promote all programs equally – if you hype everything, that’s the same as hyping nothing! Choose a few special programs you want to highlight and focus on promoting those.
  • Take advantage of social media! Post upcoming programs on Facebook or Twitter a day or two before they will happen so people don’t forget all the wonderful programs you are offering.
  • Think about the audience you are targeting for each program and adjust your promotion accordingly. Parents of young children don’t get their information in the same places that middle schoolers do.
  • Find a newsworthy hook and involve the press! For example, early literacy is all over the news these days – why not develop a press release explaining how your storytimes support early literacy and send it to your local newspaper?
  • Network, network , network! Seek out connections with people in your community and find out what kind of programs they want from the library, and how they can help you get the word out to the people they work with every day. Despite (or maybe because of) our ever-increasing reliance on technology, we humans still trust recommendations from real people most.
  • Make sure you have a great product to promote! The best advertisement for a great program is the program itself – provide an experience that will keep parents and kids coming back for more.
  • Instead of preaching to the choir, draft them: Explain to your current storytime attendees that you need their help to get the word out about your programs. Pass out fliers for upcoming programs and ask each attendee to invite one person or family to come.

Programming Puzzler: Successful School Age Programs

We asked our readers for their best school age programming ideas.  Here’s a roundup of their responses:

“In our little library in Scotland we don’t have enough staff to have a regular school age program, but we open up our regular pre-school storytimes (when school is not in session) to a wider age range, invite older siblings, insist that carers are present, then call them family storytime! The trick is to have a craft for older siblings to do while the ‘story’ part is happening. Then an easier craft for the younger ones and carers for after. Older siblings usually want to do the easy craft too, and help out the little ones at the same time. We have no storyroom, so staff can multitask and we don’t need so many staff to cover.” -The Library Quine (aka Janet), Loons and Quines @ Librarytime

“For the last 4 years I have presented a Gingerbread House making and stories for school aged children. Each child age 6 + (accompanied by an adult) makes a small graham cracker gingerbread house. We put together the walls, then we read a story (usually The Gingerbread Girl), then we put the roof on the house, then we read The Gingerbread Cowboy. This allows the walls and roof time to harden. After that the kids put all kinds of candy on their house to decorate. I provide coloring sheets and the icing recipe for families to take home. This is a fun program that families can come to together. Often we get both parents and several of their children who come and work on the houses together.” -Amie L.

Kathy and Christine say:

  • What’s playing at the movies? Is there a popular movie that was inspired by a book? Anytime there is a highly anticipated movie based on book, circulations for that book increase and people are often interested in any programming linked to it. The perfect time to offer a movie-based program is prior to the movie, when everyone is eagerly awaiting its release. Often you can find completed programming ideas on the internet.
  • How about a contest? School age kids love to show off what they know, so give them the opportunity, whether it’s a dance contest, “Library Idol”, a good old-fashioned spelling bee, or a trivia contest based on a favorite book or series. You just need to set up the rules and the room, and provide prizes and refreshments.
  • Let the kids be the program! Invite kids to sign up for a talent show at the library. Their friends and family will be sure to come – a built-in audience!

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.

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.

Programming Puzzler: How do you do more with less in your programs?

We presented this puzzler to our newsletter readers:

It’s happening all over the country – library budgets are being cut, and children’s programming is often one of the first areas to go. How are you making best use of your time to offer more to your patrons with less time, money, or staff?

“Utilize volunteer resources by identifying skills of parents and other caregivers. They might have connections and ideas. Don’t just find out their skills, but also where they work. You could put a request like this in a newsletter.” -Hope J.

“We request grant funding and donations from local businesses to support our programs. We got a big donation of duct tape from a manufacturer to support a teen program, just because we asked for it.” -Cyndi L.

Kathy and Christine say:

  • Make sure your administrators and elected officials know how important programming is. Use the links and talking points provided in this post to help you build a solid case for maintaining programming. Ask program attendees to help too – why not develop a simple survey or form to collect information about what attendees value about programming?
  • Keep an open mind. Are there other ways you can deliver programs? Consider dropping times that are less well-attended or combining age groups to reach a larger audience.
  • Explore programs that serve multiple audiences. For example, you could recruit members of your Teen Advisory Board to present storytimes or informal readalouds for younger children.
  • Know your goals. Revisit your library’s mission statement and outreach goals and make sure that any programs you offer fit into those goals. This will give you a clearer vision for your programs, help you decide which programs to drop, and help you build a stronger case for continued funding.
  • Partner with local community organizations and business to offer programs at your library. Often teachers need to complete an outreach activity for their evaluations and are happy to offer a program. Local businesses (florists, hairdressers, etc.) and government agencies (environmental, recycling, etc.) also offer programs to libraries as a way to promote their business or services. Also, some local businesses have programs where their employees must complete an outreach activity in the community and can help with large programs the library offers such as summer reading events. It’s a wonderful way to get extra volunteers when you have limited staff for big draw events.