Thursday, July 11, 2013

Story Time Prep 101

In response to Anne's great post yesterday at So Tomorrow, below is the method to my story time madness.

How We Work It
My colleague (Kara) and I do nine story times a week through most of the year at our branch.  I do 2 Music and Movements for 2-4 year olds and 2 2 year old story times.  Kara does 3 baby story times (1 0-11 month and 2 12-24 month) and 1 preschool story time (ages 3-6).  Then, we both do one school age story time together.  On an average week we run 300 people through our story times.  Instead of planning 9 separate story times, we grouped them together in ways that make sense.  For example, 2 year old and preschool story times have a lot in common.  You can use some of the same books, although you would use less for the 2 year olds.  You can also use the same flannelboards, rhymes, and poetry.  To avoid burnout, 1 of us plans an entire story time session (6 weeks or so) of preschool and 2 year old story times.  That person also plans the school age story time.  They are responsible for pulling books, making or pulling flannelboards, and finding and prepping crafts for the preschool and school age story times.  Since Music and Movement and the baby programs are totally different, I plan all of the Music and Movement programs and Kara plans all of the baby story times.  I will admit that this works for us because we complement each other well.  I don't know how this would work with a different mix of people.

My Style
I will admit that since I have been doing this for 12 years, I tend to reuse my themes and plans 1x a year.  I used to set them up in Microsoft Word and include everything I would need for a theme-books, rhymes, flannelboards (and where they are filed), crafts, poetry, songs, etc.  Ever since Melissa at Mel's Desk posted on the ALSC blog about Evernote, I have been posting my plans there.  I am loving Evernote because I can access it from any desk with Internet (even from home!).  You can also add pictures (of your crafts or flannelboards) and web links of where you found ideas.

After coming up with (or reusing) a theme, I start off by looking for new or different books.  I will search our catalog, check my Pinterest account to see what I have pinned on that theme, and check what I have tagged in my Feedly account.  If you get stuck, the first place I would recommend checking is Storytime Katie's list of themes.  It is an awesome list!

Once I have my list of books for a theme/session, I pull the ones that we have at our location and put the rest of them on hold.  I try to start pulling books at least 2 weeks before a story time session begins as we have three locations and often duplicate themes.

After I have pulled my books, I raid my giant file cabinet to look for flannelboards, rhymes, and songs that I have stored.  As you can possibly see, I have a large collection.  It has gotten to the point where I add in Evernote where I have filed my various flannelboards and rhymes so I can find them again.

Our Story Times

On the morning of story time, we load everything we will need for the morning up on our cart and take it back to our meeting room.  Some mornings have three story times.  There is also one day where we have only a 15 minute break in between programs so everything needed is taken back to the meeting room first thing.

We use nametags for attendance.  These are put out in alphabetical order on tables.  As you can see above, we have three separate programs going this morning so there are three separate tables.  When we collect nametags back at the end of the program, we add mini stickers to them.

As you can see above, we don't have a separate story time room.  We run all of our programs in our meeting room that we share with the public.  The room can seat up to 100 chairs or 50 tables and chairs.  This gets a little icky when we have a 9:15 story time and the group the previous evening needed 100 chairs.  This means we have to add in furniture take-down to our morning duties in addition to setting up for story time.  We also have a lot of multi-children families.  It is not unreasonable to expect that we need space for 10 strollers in addition to seating for parents, siblings, and story time kids.

With a room this size, we ran into another issue.  Having an open room for a bunch of 2 year olds is asking them to run around.  There are no boundaries.  We solved this by purchasing a carpet from Demco where they sit.  Because of the natural rectangle outline, many of the parents will sit along the edge, either with their children or by themselves.  This also gives us a boundary for when older siblings attend the program.  We can tell them that they can participate, but they have to stay off of the carpet. 

For our programs, we register 15 babies or 25 in the other groups.  Part of this is due to what we can realistically handle and the other is due to the entourage.  It is not unreasonable to expect that in a 25 child 2 year old story time that there will be 60 people plus 10 strollers.

Above is our actual space where we do story time.  Personally, I am a big fan of having counters since we have so many young children coming through.  It allows me to set up, while being high enough that little hands can't grab things.

While setting up, I will go through our stack of story time books.  Since Kara and I work well together, I can trust in the books that she has chosen.  What I am looking for are 2-3 books without tons of words on a page for my 2 year olds.

Our big stack gets whittled down to what I am going to use for that particular program.  The rest of the books go back on the cart for the next program.  I like to prop the books up, because my kiddos are fond of guessing games (plus, they need really obvious clues).  We look at the books and guess what our theme will be for the week.  You may be able to see our cd player peeking out from behind the books.  While I prefer using my work iPod for programs, if we have a lot of programs in a morning, I will use a burned cd with all of our story time songs on it.

The other nice thing about counters is that you can set up your flannelboards ahead of time!  As you can see above, I have two flannelboards ready to go.  There are also folders of more flannelboards underneath in case I get desperate or we are having a super wiggly day.  While we have a story time easel, I don't pull it out all of the time.  I use it when I have flannelboards with lots of parts or when the kiddos are going to participate.  Otherwise, I will spend the whole 30-minute story time with kids petting the board.  I like my handheld boards also because we sit in a rectangle.  It allows me to move the board around the room so everyone can see.

I sit at the front of the room, right in front of the counter (kind of on the R square if you can see it above).  With the little kids, I do a better job if I am at their height.  It allows me to give them a better experience than if I am looming above them.  (As a side note, this also puts me right in front of the space under the sink.  I am able to catch the kids if they decide to dive under.  Yes, that has happened.) 

At the end of story time, all of the kids clean up.  This means that they put their shakers and nametags back in the box that I put on the floor.  Then they all get a stamp.  It is the same every week, even though I have a bunch of stamps from when Kidstamps was still in business.  The week I thought I would use Spot instead of Clifford, I thought we were going to have mutiny.  I use washable blue ink.  I have tried other colors, including red, but they just don't show up on kids' hands.

After the program, the shakers and cd player go back in the cupboards under the counter.  The stamps and cds go in one of the drawers.  At the end of all of the programs for the day, we roll up the carpet and are ready for groups to use the room.

Any questions???


  1. Lisa, did you add only your new story times to Evernote? I have almost 13 years worth of story times in Word & Excel files that would be great to add to Evernote, but it seems overwhelming to add that many years of Tiny Tots and Pre-School "lessons/outlines" to it. Any suggestions?

    1. Agreed! I was in the same boat as you. I am adding them as I go, rather than adding everything at once. The ones that I add, I add tags to so I know how I have used them (Music and Movement, Preschool Story time, etc.) and when I used them (Spring 2013, Summer 2013). As I add stuff, I make sure to add in words to the rhymes and flannelboards (separate posts with separate tags like "flannelboards"). Then from your desktop version, you can also add pictures of flannelboards or crafts. I now have 2 rounds of story times converted to Evernote and am loving it.


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