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Preschool Library Storytime Ideas for Presenters

This is the format I use for active, highly paticipatory preschool storytimes.

This is the format I use for active, highly paticipatory preschool storytimes.

Teaching Tips: Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Basic Story Time Format

Here is the basic formula I use for our library's story hour. This can be modified and expanded, but by keeping it consistent, your young audience will know what to expect. Children thrive on a sense of structure and routine that comes from doing things in a repeated pattern.

1. Music/movement

Begin your story hour with a few short songs. The first song should be the same every week. I recommend you choose one of these:

  • The Hokey Pokey
  • Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • If You're Happy and You Know It
  • Shake Your Sillies Out by Hap Palmer

These songs have engaging related actions and are great for encouraging participation. See the related videos to see these songs performed. There are MANY appropriate songs out there. Just choose one you really like.

If your group really enjoys singing, you could make a game of choosing songs from a prepared chart for each month and allow children to come and choose a song to sing. Be cautious about singing too many songs and losing children's interest.

Thanks to the folks at for providing the first instructional video.

2. Read Your Book

Introduce your topic, or pre-read your book by showing them the cover and pictures inside. Ask the children to guess your theme.

Read the book to your audience. Make sure that all of the children can see the pictures. It is helpful to sit on a chair in front of your group, holding the book slightly to the side. You may have to stop and show the pictures of each page if you have a large crowd.

Ask predictive questions occasionally, such as, "what do you think will happen next."

If the book has repetitive, easy-to-remember phrases, let the children say them with you. Doing so keeps the children engaged in the story.

  • How to Find Read-Aloud Books to Fit Your Theme
    Your imagination is the limit to finding great read-aloud children's stories. In this hub I explain how to use internet resources, children's book web sites, reading lists, award-winning book lists, and library reference resource A to Zoo.

3. Transitional Activities

It's hard for kids to sit still and listen for a long time. If your first story is lengthy, don't read two. Try to be aware of your audience's attention span. If they are ready to read another book go ahead. If not, maybe do a finger play related to your theme, then go straight to your final song. You may need to do a finger play or sing a short song between books to help children regroup.

4. Music/movement

End your storytime with a short song that you sing each week. This signals that reading time is over and you are ready to go to your craft, if you choose to add that component to your storytime program.

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5. (Optional) Craft or activity

Do a simple craft with your storytime group that somehow relates to the book you read. Keep in mind that preschoolers do not have well-developed fine motor skills. Cutting and coloring within the lines is not an expectation you should have. There are many excellent books and internet resources published on crafts you can do with your storytime group. Try to pace yourself by adding a playdough time at least once a month. And don't get elaborate. Your crafts add expense to your program. Most parents don't keep storytime craft projects their kids make. Keep this in mind!

Take the Next Step:

See how this story time structure is used in the Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) by author Philemon Sturges by clicking on the link. Check back soon for more book recommendations and lesson plan ideas. Feel free to use the plans, and go back online to share your critiques, suggestions, and notes about how you adapted the plan to your group's needs.

Children's Books with Sample Storytime Lessons

More Tips for Planning Storytime Themes

Keep the folowing tips in mind as you prepare story time lesson plans.

  • If possible, specify your target age-range for children participating in your story hour. If you know you want to work with kids over age 3, specify that your plan is for ages 3 and up.
  • Adapt your plan to the audience that shows up. As you start to have regular repeat visitors at your story hour, try to adapt your storytime themes to the most common age of children who show up. For example, if most of the children who come to your story hour are under age three, adapt your stories by using more toddler books, vivid, short picture books, and singing.
  • Know your children's names. Knowing the names of the children who come to your story hour will help engage the children and eliminate some of the annoying distractions that sometimes arise. We kept a roll of disposable nametags for this purpose.
  • Try to get to know parents, too.
  • Be sensitive to your community's value systems. Being aware of differences in values can prevent hurt feelings. Two times when this issue was most prevalent was during fall and winter holidays. In our conservative Christian community, many parents were uncomfortable observing Halloween. By posting a schedule we were able to inform families of the week's theme ahead of time so they could decide if they wanted to join us. Christmas is another holiday to be sensitive about. Does your community have a high number of non-Christian residents? Keeping to a broad variety of winter themes may be more appropriate for you.
  • Be sensitive to differences in family demographics and income levels. Our town has a disproportionately high number of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Gone are the days when you can assume that a nuclear family consists of mom, dad, and two children. Be sensitive during Mother's Day and Father's Day holidays to children who don't have both parents living at home, and never assume that this is the case. Also, don't make remarks about gift-giving practices or make assumptions about how income is spent in a household.
  • Partner with local schools. Try to meet the kindergarten teachers for the school that is closest to your public library. Exchange email addresses and express a desire to learn what they know. School teachers have some pretty amazing resources at their disposal, and sometimes they are quite willing to share their knowledge with you.
  • Choose age-appropriate books. Try to develop a sense of how your readings were received and understood. Don't use long or complicated books with young preschoolers. Try to develop a sense of your audience's attention span. This can vary across ages. If a child rarely reads with their parents at home, even an older preschooler will struggle to pay attention to a longish book.
  • Plan age-appropriate crafts. Keep crafts REALLY simple. You don't need a "gee-whiz" craft every week to keep your storytime group coming back. Young preschoolers haven't mastered the gross motor skills needed to do complicated crafts with multiple steps. Also, the more complicated the craft, the more frequently parents step in to do the craft for their children, which really is not desirable.
  • Keep it moving. Pacing your storytime is very important, but it is also a practiced skill. Once you begin, try not to stop for interruptions. Use finger plays and musical activities to transition you from book to book, if you read more than one story.
  • Keep it simple. Try not to go overboard from week to week. Sometimes too much is just too much. Know when you have crossed that line.
  • Direct parents to related reading materials. As a storytime presenter, you are an advocate for early childhood literacy. Use the resources available to you to share information about related books with parents. This could simple mean pulling a few additional books from the shelf to share with parents as a regular ending to your story hour, or it could mean printing a list of books and songs you recommend, or creating some sort of newsletter.


Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 18, 2019:

I am so glad to hear you can use the information! Enjoy!!

Molly Adams from Midwest on December 03, 2018:

I'm so glad I came across this article today! I am going to start using this format for our morning homeschool routine. Thanks for the great ideas!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on May 30, 2011:

Thanks very much, Mary!

Mary Bullock on May 23, 2011:

This information on conducting Story Times is very helpful.

Mary Bullock on May 23, 2011:

This information on conducting Story Times is very helpful.

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