an ode to baby storytime

I was working in the teen department and I was not very happy. I was thiiiis close to leaving the library and moving on to something else when my supervisor offhandedly asked “Would you be interested in doing baby storytimes?”

Uh…maybe?

I do not have children and I’ve never particularly been a baby person. Toddlers? Love ’em. Preschoolers? Adorbs. Elementary aged kids? I understand. Teenagers? I feel your pain.

But babies?

I didn’t hold my first nephew until he was 6 months old.

And yet? Baby storytime completely changed my life.

I became obsessed with baby brains. I was convinced we could end the cycle of poverty if only caregivers knew how to interact with their babies. I quickly realized I wasn’t there for the babies, but rather for the parents and caregivers. Communicating WHY I was doing what I was doing was more important than my singing or my puppet play. Frequently, I would have caregivers tell me they couldn’t understand why their child wasn’t interacting during storytime because they’d sing the songs or do the rhymes all the time at home and I would tell them “That’s exactly what they SHOULD be doing!” I started contacting area nonprofits that work with teen parents. I wanted to reach people who couldn’t attend my storytimes. I went from offering 2 sessions a week to 3 sessions a week.

I have many people to thank for educating me along the way. My former coworker, Eileen, was instrumental in assisting me that first year. Our children’s-librarian-at-the-branch-who-I-wish-worked-downtown, Mary, was also incredibly helpful. Mary and I couldn’t be more opposite. She is like a baby whisperer. She’s so calm and even when her branch is packed, those caregivers and babies are so serene. Mine are like a rambunctious 3-ring circus of puppets! uke! bouncing! But ultimately we both have the same mission: communicate with caregivers and empower them to do what we’re doing in storytime at home.

I also can’t imagine what I would have done if I had not found Melissa Depper’s blog. She is a rock star to me. I’ll never forget ALA in Chicago where a whole mess of us crammed into a very small space for her Poster Session. Or the first Guerrilla Storyime where I blushed my way through an introduction and didn’t do a very good job of expressing just how much I appreciated her willingness to share and what a profound impact her blog had on my storytime evolution. I am grateful for her continuing encouragement on twitter.

It was 2 years ago I started on the baby storytime journey. Today is my last one for the foreseeable future. And I thought I’d pass along a few of my favorites:

  • This is BIG BIG BIG” from Mel’s Desk. It is hands down the number one rhyme caregivers say their babies catch onto first. I do it every.single.week. And if I forget? I’m reminded!
  • The finale from The William Tell Overture as a bounce. HUGE hit. HUGE. We fly up in the air during the parts you should just fly up in the air! And we don’t do the whole thing. Just the first 1:15 seconds or so. I get a chorus of babies signing “AGAIN” almost every time.
  • Brahms’ Lullaby after a particularly crazy bounce or action rhyme. I can’t actually find the source of the lyrics I use though I think it might be a mashup of Jewel’s lyrics: “Lullaby and goodnight, In the sky stars are bright, May the moon’s silvery beams bring you sweet dreams! Lullaby and goodnight, you are my delight. I’ll protect you from harm and you’ll wake in my arms.” I specifically tried to make it non-gender specific and also non-parent specific. I play this on the uke.
  • Little Mouse or Little Fox. I do the same flannel each week of a session so right now I am so sick of Little Fox and can’t wait to get back  to Little Mouse this fall. We count on our fingers for the big reveal.
  • The Milkshake Song with shakers from “Songs for Wiggleworms.”
  • Puppets at the end. My first year I did “When ducks get up in the morning” and it was a fast favorite. I’d put 3 puppets in a bag (hopefully at least 1 or 2 I could bring back to whatever story I read) and pull them out one at a time. I switched to “I took a walk to town today, I saw a ________ along the way. What do you think the _________ did say?” this summer. I gotta say, I don’t like it as much, but it’s shorter. And the big excitement is around getting to pet the last puppet. Everyone takes turns and we talk about how we all need to pet nicely!

My storytimes tend to, uh, run long (much like this post!). My supervisor has more than once asked me to shorten it to 20 minutes plus playtime which seems standard. My first year had 0-3 year olds and 20 minutes just seemed way too short for me. I always cut things short if I lose them, but it’s rarely shorter than 25 minutes. During playtime, I bring out board books and a variety of toys for them to play with. This year I also started sitting at the felt board with a pile of shapes and allowing kids to come up and put shapes on the wall. This has been another really positive addition.

Baby storytime changed my life. I would not be working in libraries if my supervisor hadn’t suggested it. I found something I am incredibly passionate about and I truly believe it is one of the most critical programs we offer at the library. I will continue to search for opportunities to reach those that need the information most: those that are unable to attend storytimes and those that honestly don’t know how important it is to sing, play, talk and read with their babies.

Baby storytime could change the world. And as every Storytime Guerrilla knows: Literacy is not a luxury.

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2 thoughts on “an ode to baby storytime

  1. What a fabulous and inspiring post! Story Time can sometimes be a challenge especially with easily-diverted-toddlers, I love the advice you gave above. Would love to hear more about the different non profits that you reached out to and how that experience developed.

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