Library Storytime: It’s a Lot More than just the Story
The secret is… the early literacy skills kids learn seem like fun!
Storytime is the Heart and Soul of the Library
To many people, storytime and libraries go hand-in-hand. But surprisingly many new parents don’t know about the storytime programs available at their local public library. Not only is storytime a great free form of entertainment for parents looking for activities for their children, but library storytime can provide a bonanza of cognitive benefits as well. In many ways, storytime is the heart and soul of the library- not only does it bring together parents, caregivers and children but it also showcases the depth and breadth of your local public library’s commitment to your community with respect to early literacy and child development.
The Benefits of Storytime for Children
We know from recent studies in child development and neuroscience that reading books out loud to your child helps develop their reading skills long before they are able to read. So how is library storytime different from reading to your children at home? There are many additional benefits:
- Your child(ren) get experience in listening to another adult, including learning how to pay attention to someone who is not their parent or normal caregiver and how to sit quietly while they are speaking
- Your child(ren) have the opportunity to become engaged in a story and to see other children become engaged as well- experiencing the public performance of literature in this capacity can be very different from reading to your child at home, when they can stop to ask you questions or decide to change books in the middle of a story
- By allowing the library to select authors and titles for storytime, you are opening your child(ren) to a potentially more diverse selection of authors, cultural backgrounds and narrative styles
- Library storytime as an event can foster a sense that the library is a special place, helping instill in your child(ren) a lifelong love for your local public library
- Making reading a fun activity through storytime helps encourage “print motivation”- i.e. the association of story-telling with excitement to develop the idea of reading as a pleasure and not a chore
The Benefits of Storytime for Parents
Library storytime is not just beneficial for your child(ren) but for you as parents as well in the following respects:
- Storytimes are free and don’t require too much planning (although some more popular offerings might require advance registration), providing a quick and easy family-friendly activity at the spur of the moment
- Library staff will model exemplary oral reading skills for storytime, such as how to incorporate the book itself into the storytelling process and how to ask your child(ren) questions that will keep them engaged as you read to them at home
- At storytime for younger children, you can learn new songs, nursery rhymes and hands-on activities such as crafting and puppetry that you can take home with you, as well as suggestions for new authors and titles of children’s books that you may not have previously been familiar with
- Library storytime is a great way to meet other parents in your community and for your child(ren) to socialize with other kids
A Storytime for Every Age
Many libraries feature not just one storytime, but several different storytime programs geared for specific ages or developmental milestones. For example, you can usually find library storytimes for kids from Pre-walking Babies age up through Age 5 or 6.
Some of this storytime programming will obviously overlap, depending on the size of the community and the pool of available library staff, volunteers and outside storytellers. Also depending on the content of the program, some library storytimes will only be open to children within the targeted age range of the program- this is to ensure both that kids too young or too old for the program are not bored or discouraged, as well as to minimize the potential disruption for kids who are the right age. Many libraries also offer “family-friendly” storytime which is open to all ages. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your local public library staff and they will steer you in the right direction!
Storytimes for the youngest children will usually feature songs, nursery rhymes and board books. At the toddler stage you will often find two distinct tracks of storytime programming: those more geared to music, dance and movement and those more focused on storytelling activities such as using flannel boards and puppets. Neither of these tracks are mutually exclusive, however, as both help foster complementary early literacy skills- singing, for example, helps build phonological awareness and rhythmic movement fosters spatial skills and counting, which are prerequisites for learning mathematics.
Libraries may also have policies and procedures regarding advance registration and restrictions on who may attend- i.e., events may be for town/city residents only, or priority may be given to residents if there is limited space for an event. Note also that for most of these storytime programs a parent or adult caregiver must accompany any children attending.
Some libraries also offer storytime “sleepover” events, where children are encouraged to come to an evening program in their pajamas. These kinds of events aren’t just a lot of fun, as they allow kids and adults to experience the wonder of their local public library at night, but they can help model good bedtime routines involving family storytime or reading to themselves at home as well.
Storytime in Languages Other than English
Recently libraries have begun offering storytime activities in languages other than English, especially in communities with large non-English speaking populations. For example, the Brooklyn Public Library has storytime programming in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), French, Japanese, Kreyol, Spanish, Russian and Urdu.
Some libraries offer bilingual storytime as well, where the programming is in both English and another language, usually Spanish. Bilingual storytime can benefit not just native non-English speakers by creating a welcoming environment for them and their children, but it is also a great educational opportunity for English-speaking children and their parents.
How to Storytime- a Parent’s Primer
Okay, so you’re sold! Here are some things to keep in mind as a parent to help prepare your child(ren) for storytime at the library
- Make sure they know that you are going to an activity where someone else will be doing the reading, as some kids are so used to their parents reading to them that they will be upset when this is not the case and tune out of the event. Also let them know that although there will be other children there, this is not a free-form playtime activity but a special time where another adult will be in charge
- A good storytime facilitator will be able to engage the children and ask them questions about the story, but make sure your kid(s) know that interrupting the speaker is not OK and that when audience participation is not being asked for they are expected to sit and listen quietly to the story from start to finish
- Get to the event early! Child development experts recommend arriving at least fifteen minutes before the event so that your kid(s) have the chance to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. Also, in the case of popular storytime programs, getting to the library early can mean the difference between sitting comfortably in front and standing somewhere awkwardly in the back (don’t forget about events that ask you pre-register as well)
- Model good behavior as an adult- this means resisting the urge to tune out of the activity either by burying yourself in your phone or socializing with the other parents. While storytime can be a much-needed break for parents, by remaining engaged you are sending a powerful message to your child(ren): i.e., that storytime and reading are important, no matter how old you are!
- Stay and use the library afterwards. While it may tempting to run off to the next activity after storytime, this is great opportunity for your child(ren) to explore the library on their own terms. If they liked the book that was read to them at storytime, help them find a copy of it on the shelf and have them check it out at the circulation desk. Does your kid already have a library card? Great! But if they don’t, this is a fabulous opportunity for them to get one
Storytime is not just a fun library activity, but the beginning of what can be a beautiful relationship for your child and your local public library. Be sure and check out what kind of storytime programming your library already has, and make sure you are in the loop for any library announcements, as many libraries offer special storytime programs in addition to their regular scheduled events- for example, a Doctor Seuss-themed storytime.
Finally, don’t be afraid to suggest new storytime programs if you’re looking for something specific and don’t find it. After all, your library is a reflection of your community, which means your ideas are always welcome!