Monday, October 3, 2011

Storytelling Training Tips
Orem Public Library Children’s Services
September 2011

Dear Storytellers,

Fall is here! And with it come the large crowds at Laptime and Storytime. Some of you have already experienced the huge Laptime audiences of over one hundred people. We have really admired how you have been willing to take on such crowds with skill and enthusiasm.

I recently heard one mom who is new to our library say that she really enjoyed our Laptime and Storytime programs. It was a good reminder to me that we have new families joining us all the time, and we are so pleased that we can offer old and new friends alike programs where they can enjoy seeing and participating in practicing early literacy skills and parenting strategies.

Because our programs are attended by several ages other than the intended audience, they can be tricky to prepare for.

For Laptime, we suggest preparing your material primarily for the babies.
        Older kids in the audience will enjoy it even if it is geared toward the youngest patrons.

For Storytime, we often get a mixed crowd with lots of younger siblings attending.
       Programs geared towards toddlers seem to work for all ages, so for Storytime we suggest preparing your elements for the preschool crowd in such a way that they can be adapted for toddlers. Usually this means making the story visual or participatory in some way. The key is to be able to adapt to the audience and hold their attention. This doesn’t mean the program has to flow without any interruptions or moments of distracted chaos. But there are things you can do that will continually draw the audience back to you.

Here are a few tips:

o Make sure the audience can see and hear.

o Hold the books so the children can see the pictures.

o Move the books from one side of the audience to the other.

o Choose big books for larger crowds.

o Move quickly and smoothly from one element of your program to the next.

o Plan a program that has elements that can flow easily from one thing to the next.

o Try showing your audience what you are going to do next before telling them what you are going to do next. After they have done it with you a few times you might be able to fit in a brief word of commentary like: “This is a fun game to play right before bedtime.”

o Practice your transitions so that you do not have to look at your notes between elements.

o Make eye contact.

o Know your songs and fingerplays so that you can look at the audience while you do them together.

o Read your book enough times that you know some of the text by heart and can look at the audience while you read. They will be taking cues from your facial expressions and your tone of voice to make meaning of the story. You can also try looking at them while you are pausing to show the illustrations. You may take that moment to say a few words about the pictures or to restate the part you just read in your storyteller voice. Again, this should be a quick thing and should not interrupt the flow of the story too much.

o Learn names.

o This isn’t always practical; however, if one of your story elements includes using names of children, go for it!

o Stick to your time and don’t be afraid to end early.

o Laptime can be just 15 minutes. Storytime can be 25.

o Ending early and on a good note can be much more satisfying than asking the parents in your audience to try to help their children be attentive through one last story.

o Choose age-appropriate materials.

o Choosing age-appropriate materials can be tricky for our mixed crowds. Keep in mind that books that are good for toddlers usually work for all ages. Songs always help—they are a signal to our brains that it is time focus. We have noticed many of you have focusing songs or activities that you do a few times during your program, whenever you need to draw your audience back to attention.

o Sometimes an overall program length is just right but a particular story is too long. Don’t be shy about shortening a book and only doing parts of it. If you really want to do a long story, think of ways you can make it participatory. Many books invite audience participation. Ask a librarian for ideas of some good ones.

o It is okay to do new things and share new ideas that will increase your audience’s knowledge or stretch their attention span a bit. Be sure to present this new information in age-appropriate ways.

o For more ideas and lists of books to use for different ages, see Crash Course in Storytime Fundamentals by Penny Peck (2009). OPL Link

If you’re like me, when you read through this list of best practices, you nod your head in agreement because it makes sense. But if you’re like me, you will also wonder if you can really incorporate all these skills into your programs. Don’t worry. Sometimes we are the most critical of our own efforts and have a hard time feeling satisfied with what we have done. As a Children’s Staff we can say that you do wonderful work! We know you have busy lives and many important commitments and responsibilities. Thank you for making volunteer service to the library a priority. How kind of you, and how fortunate for us and our community!


Amanda and the OPL Children’s Staff

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