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Practical Tips for Starting a Preschool Storytime Program at Your Library

Carolyn writes about children's literature for library, preschool, or homeschool settings. She has a BA in English Literature.

Storytime programs are a fantastic and inexpensive way to promote early childhood literacy.

Storytime programs are a fantastic and inexpensive way to promote early childhood literacy.

This article includes some practical tips for starting a children's storytime program. I started a children's story hour at my local library several years ago and I hope my experience will help you to start up a program in your own community.

Children's library storytimes promote literacy and readiness for learning in a fun and engaging environment.

Children's library storytimes promote literacy and readiness for learning in a fun and engaging environment.

Why We Need Preschool Storytime

I LOVE Storytime! When I moved to a small town in western Arizona, I offered my services as my community's storytime presenter. My experience was wonderful and I learned a few things along the way.

A high-quality story hour can set the tone for a child's educational experience, and even inspire positive lifelong attitudes about learning. Children who have been read to during their early years are much more likely to do well in school, read successfully, and enjoy learning.

This library has a great storytime setup with open space, tables for crafts, easy-clean surfaces, and easy-to move furniture. Add a few adult-sized chairs for moms with babies and you're good to go.

This library has a great storytime setup with open space, tables for crafts, easy-clean surfaces, and easy-to move furniture. Add a few adult-sized chairs for moms with babies and you're good to go.

Find a Location

Chances are that you have already identified a need in your community for a children's story hour. A local library is the obvious organization to host it, but there are other choices too.

City or Town Community Centers

Many cities host children's classes in community centers or recreation rooms. Our town regularly offers classes through their community center at a local park, especially during the summer when children are out of school.

What if you can't meet at a local library?

Community organizations may also make great hosts for your story time program. Consider the following:

  • Clubs. A Mother of Preschoolers (MOPS) chapter or similar organization could host your story time program as a direct outreach to mothers in their nursery during their scheduled monthly meetings, or as a regularly scheduled special event.
  • Churches. If you live in an area where church-sponsored preschools are common, you might consider hosting a story hour at a church.
  • Hospitals. Many hospitals have trusted volunteers who bring programming to ill children there. Other hospitals provide outreach events to their communities.
  • Preschools and Head Starts. Our local Head Start teacher invited me to read to the children in their classroom. This arrangement allowed the children there to have a storytime experience without bussing them or walking them over to the library, which wasn't big enough to accommodate them.
  • YMCA's. YMCA's and Big Brothers, Big Sisters can act as a community hub, with extensive quality programming for children.
Successful storytimes can get pretty crowded! Make sure you have a large open space, if possible.

Successful storytimes can get pretty crowded! Make sure you have a large open space, if possible.

Stroller parking for all the moms.

Stroller parking for all the moms.

Some Annoyingly Obvious Logistical Considerations

Schedule a Spacious Room

Your location is a key factor to your success. If you have the luxury of choosing where you will meet, look for a spacious room with a nearby restroom that will allow your small audience and their parents ease of movement. Many mothers bring their young toddlers to story time in strollers, so imagine what your room will look like with 12 strollers parked in it. Other mothers will have babies in addition to their toddlers, so it is nice to provide them a place to sit near the action.

Make Room For Crafting

If You Plan to Make Crafts...

If you add a craft to your story hour, you will need access to children's craft tables and flooring that you can easily clean up. It is a plus to be able to store your craft supplies in a closet or cabinet near your meeting room. Ask for a dedicated space to store craft supplies.

Your library may have restrictions about using food or other types of craft items in public rooms. It is easiest to adapt your crafting experience to the size of the group and the ease of cleanup. Find out if the room you are using is shared with another group.

You will probably need to arrange with your hosting library to make sure this room will always be available during the time you set. Our library had one room that they used for public meetings, so we had to be scheduled on a special calendar, even though the storytime program was a regular part of the library's programming.

Children love popping bubbles and playing with Play-doh. Simple activities like these are fun for children and require little preparation.

Children love popping bubbles and playing with Play-doh. Simple activities like these are fun for children and require little preparation.

Build Easy, Low-prep Projects and Activities into Your Craft Schedule

If you choose to include a craft time in your story hour, careful planning and expectation-setting can save you a lot of headaches. Most children under age 5 have limited cutting, gluing, and coloring skills. And most children and their accompanying adults may be distracted by other children and don't listen very closely to complicated directions. And remember that most of the crafts kids make don't make it out of their cars or diaper bags.

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Assembled story time crafts can take on a life of their own. I try to avoid these in favor of art activities where children are given access to supplies and allowed to get creative.

Most parents don't let their children play with play dough at home. Having a steady supply of play dough and tools to squish, roll, and imprint will provide lots of fun to your preschool crowd, and takes very little preparation and clean up.

Some people skip crafting and choose to have a play time with preschool and toddler-appropriate toys.

A sleeping child won't come to story hour, so don't schedule storytime during nap times or bed times.

A sleeping child won't come to story hour, so don't schedule storytime during nap times or bed times.

Don't Meet During Nap Time!

If your story hour is geared to toddlers and preschoolers, you should consider meeting during school hours, with breaks that match up with local school holidays.

If you wish to outreach to working families, a Saturday or evening meeting time may work better. Keep in mind that most young children have very early bedtimes, and nap during the afternoon. Our scheduled time was Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m.—not too early, not too late, and not too close to lunch time.

Source your books for storytime one to two weeks in advance so you'll have the books you need.

Source your books for storytime one to two weeks in advance so you'll have the books you need.

Plan Your Story Hour Themes One to Two Months In Advance

Plan your calendar of story themes one to two months in advance to ensure you can get the books you want to read.

Pull your holiday-themed books from circulation about two weeks before your story time program is scheduled so that they will be available during reading times. Usually you will need a bit of time to select high-quality books that complement your theme.

I tried to plan about 4 times a year. This gave me a forward-looking plan and plenty of time to find appropriate books to read and to create advertising for the program. You will want to post a calendar in a visible location at the library and on the library's web page or social media account.

Sample Storytime Themes for December

Sailors from the U.S. Navy volunteer at a children's hospital library.

Sailors from the U.S. Navy volunteer at a children's hospital library.

Use Library Volunteers to Help Run Your Program

If you are a volunteer, you will need to know and understand your sponsoring organization's volunteer policies. As a story time presenter, you will be representing your library, hospital, or school to the public, and interacting with very young children in a supervised situation.

Nowadays, public organizations routinely run background checks when volunteers are going to be in a position of trust. Some places also ask for personal references.

Questions to ask your library representative

  • What resources in the library may I use?
  • Is the area I use for story time going to be shared with other groups meeting in the same place?
  • Where will I store my craft supplies?
  • Will I have a budget?
  • If I need to be reimbursed for materials, what is the process?
  • Are there any restrictions I should be aware of, such as bringing in food?
  • Who in your organization would you like me to work most closely with?

Enlist Helpers and Experts for Your New Story Time Program

Find a supportive group of people to act as your story time team. Having help will increase the quality of your program and decrease your time commitment to the process. It is very easy to burn out without any help.

Become friends with the staff where you present your story hour. Your ally on the staff may spend some extra time advising you on special books in the collection, or be able to provide resources you might not find on your own.

If you are filling the position of a volunteer who has recently left, they may become a great mentor.

Are you uncomfortable singing but would like to include music as part of your story time program? Ask for another bubbly volunteer to be the song leader.

Children's library promotion poster. "Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town / Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown / Rapping at the windows, searching all nooks / To count the many children / Reading library books."

Children's library promotion poster. "Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town / Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown / Rapping at the windows, searching all nooks / To count the many children / Reading library books."

Before you know it, you really won't need advertising. But when you first begin a new story time program, it's a great idea to put the word out. Here are a few places to advertise.

Social Media

Advertise on the library's Facebook page and on local community Facebook groups.

Bulletin Board In The Library

Ask if you can have a bulletin board or a portion of the bulletin board in the children's area of your local library, or near the room where you meet. Use the board to post a schedule of planned story themes, book jackets, or anything else you can imagine that will draw attention to your program.

Post on Community Announcements

Make a flier to circulate on bulletin boards within your community in the form of an invitation. Grocery stores, churches, preschools, and other public community areas are great places to post information.

Submit Articles to the Newspaper

Send a press release or a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, informing them about changes to your program and special events, such as guest visitors. With a well-written press release, you might get the paper to do a feature story on your program promoting reading.

Elementary Schools

Ask your local elementary school principal if you can send home fliers about your story time program, or at least include information about your program in the lobby or library at the elementary.

Parent Teacher Associations

The national Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has a specific mandate to promote literacy, so most local PTA chapters would be happy to announce your program to their members. PTA members are usually parents or grandparents and teachers of school-aged children, who often have younger brothers and sisters at home. Ask to advertise on the PTA Facebook page, if one exists.

Put the Word Out

Talk it up. Tell as many people as you can that you are beginning a story time program for preschool children at the library. And ask your friends and neighbors to pass the information on to anyone who they think would benefit from your program. As parents begin to bring their children to the library, end your storytimes with an invitation to bring a friend.

© 2008 Carolyn Augustine

Comments

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on September 17, 2014:

I started my library career as a children's librarian. Unfortunately many communities do not have a specialist, so your volunteer work is vital to provide a part of the services so needed in the community.

I'm glad to see that many bookstores are offering story times now.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on May 09, 2011:

Lindsey, I am so happy the information was helpful. I hope your program is a resounding success.

Lindsey Whitney on May 05, 2011:

Wow, this was super helpful! We're starting a story-time in the park this summer (church program), and this was a great resource as we get started. Thanks!!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 17, 2011:

Thank you vasudha, I wish you luck with this very worthy endeavor!

vasudha on January 17, 2011:

Thank you so much.Very useful article. I am from India and want to open children Library and want to include story telling in it.Information I found here is excellent.Thanks for your amazing article.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 02, 2010:

Wonderful, wonderful hub, Wannab. I love reading to children and (besides my own) have been invited to read at my daughter's school (she is an elementary teacher) whenever I happen to be in MI for a visit.

I've never considered going 'outside' the library to create a storyhour. It has always been a part of the local library. So, your hub has given me food for thought.

BTW-I linked my library hub to this one as well.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on August 08, 2010:

Masha, I hope Olga comes back and finds your comment here. It sounds like you are both meant to find each other and that you are both dreaming of the same thing. Warm regards.

Masha on August 08, 2010:

Olga,

I just came across this website, I have been looking everywhere for a Russian storytime. If you found a place let me know where and when, if not maybe you and I can still keep in touch and I can talk to my supervisor, I work at a library BUT NOT in the Los Angeles city district, and we can set something up. Email me: mashinka823@yahoo.com

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 19, 2010:

Hi again! I hope you have good luck with the YMCA. In our area the Y offers free babysitting to members who are there for other programs. They have a strong community outreach mission so maybe that will be a good venue for your program.

In Phoenix Arizona you can take storytelling classes through the local community college system. I took a class that had a performance-emphasis about 5 years ago. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it stretched my storytelling abilities far beyond reading. The storytelling classes are required coursework for Elementary Education majors, which is great because the Elementary ed track also sometimes has a class on children's literature that would require reading hundreds of children's books. You could potentially audit a class like that if it appeals to you. Finally, I know of several storytelling workshops and festivals throughout the country. A big one is hosted in Orem, Utah, but it is a little pricey if my memory serves me correctly. Good luck!!!!

Olga on July 19, 2010:

Thank you for your ideas. I will try tomorrow YMCA, hope it will work. As I would like to do free story time so really in need of free space)) And I have a question for you, may be You with your experience could tell, If there are any courses or master classes about storytelling? or maybe there are any great books to read? I really would like to improve my skills at it. Thank you in advance for your advice!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 18, 2010:

Hi Olga, that sounds like a wonderful idea and I hope you find a home for your storytime program. Two ideas that come to mind are the local YMCA--they specialize in community outreach programs and typically have space. Another is your local city offices. Sometimes they have community centers and community programs and will advertise your program for you too! Good luck!

Olga on July 18, 2010:

Thank you for the article. I'm trying to find a place for story time. II would like to do storytime in russian language for russianspeaking kids in LA, and started with the library, but they said that I shoulb be a librarian employe at least to have an opportunity to do storytime at the library. So, now, I try to figure out some other place.. Hope I will find some (church or community room for is not so great place to do storytime because the places usually to small..). But the article was really helpful!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on February 21, 2010:

Good luck with your business, Jamie.

Jamie on February 20, 2010:

I'm looking at doing story times in my area as a marketing tool for my Barefoot Books business and your advice is excellent. I hadn't given much thought to the logistics of a space. Thank you!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on February 04, 2010:

Thank you Friend, I'm glad you commented. After living in three different communities in Arizona, I've seen Friends of the Library organizations doing great things in different ways. I'm not surprised to hear that your organization offers this service. It's great that you do for two different age groups. Children's programs for toddler and for preschoolers can vary a lot. Thanks for your comment and your service to your community. Early childhood literacy efforts are so important!

Friend of the Library on February 04, 2010:

In our small town, the FRIENDS of the Library do story hours for two age groups. Would love to see more links to similar pages! thanks for your hard work.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on December 29, 2009:

Thanks YM and Bindu Roy, I am happy that you found it useful. Good luck with your storytelling ventures. And starting a Children's library--that is an amazing goal. I never thought my experience would be as far reaching as India!

Bindu Roy on December 29, 2009:

Thanx a ton--------------amazingly informative and useful article. I am writing from India and find Libraries and story telling almost missing in life here-----------so at present I am working to start a childrens lib - and thanx to this article I am sure I am going to have story telling too. My 4 year old daughter loves the book No David I used your tips to read it and we njoyed thoroughly-------------Thank you very very much -really good article:)

ym on December 29, 2009:

WOW! This was excellent information. You really took time to think about ALL the important issues related to starting a story hour. I appreciated all the links to provide addditional information as well as videos for demonstation.

Thank you very much...this was a very beneficial article!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on September 29, 2009:

Danielle, thanks for commenting. I'm hope it gave you some good ideas. It's all about the kids! Good luck. :)

Danielle on September 29, 2009:

I'm planning on starting a story hour at my library, this was a great article to read! Thanks

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on April 06, 2008:

Did you find this information helpful? Please add your comments to improve this hub! Thanks!

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