Friday, June 28, 2013

Delicately Dealing with Storytime Distractions

Storytellers often offer lapsit and story time program for children in the infant and toddler stage. While they are certainly fun and invigorating, they can also be challenging. Interestingly, it is usually not the children, but the parents and caregivers who can cause the most distractions. Of course moms and dads certainly need time to socialize, but storytime is designed for parents to interact with their children and it can be a magical time. 

During my sessions there is always time for parents to  talk with other adults before and after story time. However, sometimes during the story portion of the program adults engage in distracting behavior by conversing with another adult or by using their cell phones.
I always err on the side of tolerance the first few times a family is in attendance but it is important that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy their time together. I make an announcement at the beginning of storytime and provide a handout so the adults can participate in the songs and fingerplays, but sometimes that is not enough. I asked members of a librarian’s listserv what methods they used to address difficult situations in their programs; they were very generous with their ideas and wisdom. Since many offered similar suggestions I have integrated and compiled their responses below.
·        It is so wonderful that you parents faithfully attend these programs. Your babies are learning so much by modeling your actions.
·        It is great that you are making connections. Perhaps after class you two can further discuss your topic, but right now I would like everyone to focus on the babies.
·        Parents, we know you need time to visit so we will finish up a few minutes early so you can all visit and share your wonderful ideas!
·        Compliment the parents on their children's attention, participation, and what a great job they are doing as role models at the close of each program. Applaud and thank them for their parenting skills and for setting a good example.
  • Start every program with an activity that models the behavior you want your adults to exhibit and that forces them to participate immediately. Make it a physical activity rather than verbal (like a team scarf activity) so that you can say to everyone something along the lines of "Notice how your child watches you and copies what you do. You will find that your child can do things you didn't know he could when you help, so he gets more out of the program."
  • Devise a handout with the "rules" of story time on them and give it to the parents at the beginning of story time.
  • Hang a colorful cute poster, with positive language, just behind the shoulder of the story time leader that lists expected behaviors of both kids and adults in positive language. When the rules are ignored, gently put the book down and sit quietly to catch everyone's attention. If the "offenders" don't catch the hint, quickly go through the poster's rules and resume the story.
  • Before you begin say, "now look at your neighbors and say 'I'll talk to you in 20 minutes'" generally this gets a smile and a gentle laugh and serves as a good reminder.

  • “Welcome to Story Time. My name is ______ and I am the children’s librarian here. We are going to have lots of fun today reading books, singing songs, and seeing some puppets. First, we ask that you turn off your cell phones at this time and save your conversations until the program is over. Please show your children how to be good listeners during the stories and help us out with the songs, because I need all the help I can get. We have provided you with a song sheet so you can sing along and you will see the words on our smart board, too. If your child gets restless or upset and you need to leave the room, you can exit through the same door where you came in. Thanks for coming and let’s have fun!”
  • "I can see that the parents here today are just as excited to see other adults as the kids are excited to see other kids! Just a reminder, our toddlers learn best when we, as parents are fully engaged in activities with them. There will be time to chat together built in at the end of class, so please wait until then to catch up with your friends!"
  • “Because we are teaching good audience skills as well as early literacy skills, we keep our talking [hands facing each other opening and closing], our treats [fingertips going to the lips and out again], our toys [cuddle and stroke your arm] and taking pictures [hold up a "camera" and click the shutter button] for after story time. Grownups, now's the time to turn off your cell phones or turn them to vibrate because WE'RE the ones making all the noise!" I find the pantomime gets the message across without sounding preachy.
  • "Welcome. Today we will share books, songs, rhymes, and activities (or what you do). I would like everyone to participate as much as you can. You can follow along with me with by using the handouts. I know your children love to see participating. You are their first teacher.”

  • When parents are talking and not participating, finish whatever rhyme or song and then say, smiling, "parent's let's do this next one altogether." And wait. Silence gets patrons attention pretty quickly without confronting or embarrassing them.
  • Uh oh.  It's getting too noisy.  It's time to practice our shushing."  We all put our fingers to our lips and the parents quiet down.  I have had to say, "Oh it didn't work, let's try it again.
  • Stop briefly and wait for them to become aware of the silence as well as the eyes of everyone turning to see what the problem is. Once they look up, we smile and make eye contact, bring them back into the group without saying anything, picking up where we left off.
  • Goodness, we're all chatty this morning. I will give you a minute to finish your stories." Wait about 30 seconds, and then counted backwards from 10, then put your finger to your lips. Be very pleasant and upbeat.
  •  Three Chances Rule: 
  1. The first week, if the family is disruptive I deal with it as it happens.
  2. The second week I speak privately with the adult after story time, reminding them that we make our expectations very clear at the beginning of the program for their support and cooperation to help us provide a wonderful experience for all.
  3. The third week in a row I speak privately to the adult suggesting that the program does not seem to be a good fit for their family at this particular time. I may suggest that they continue to come to the library, but take a month or so off from story time until they are able to fully participate or I may suggest an alternate program that I think they would find a better fit.
“Whenever the noise volume gets too high in story time, I tell this story. It works every time. You can fill in any main character according to your story time theme.
Cleaning House
(This activity helps children focus on their tongues and mouths, and stops their talking (adults, too.)
Once there was a little (boy, girl, monster, fish…fit your theme)
Who decided to clean house.
First, he cleaned the downstairs, like this.
(slide tongue side to side in between bottom teeth and bottom lip, pushing out bottom lip)
Next, he cleaned the upstairs, like this.
(slide tongue side to side in between top teeth and top lip, pushing out top lip)
Then he cleaned all the windows on this side of the house, like this.
(slide tongue up and down against the inside of cheek, pushing out one cheek)
Then he cleaned all the windows on this side of the house, like this.
(slide tongue up and down against the inside of the other cheek, pushing out that cheek)
When he was done, he took his mop outside and shook it out, like this.
(stick your tongue out and wiggle it up and down)
Then he took a walk around the block.
(stick out your tongue and circle around your lips several times)
When he was done, he went inside, (pull your tongue into your mouth)
And closed the door. (close your lips together dramatically)”
My sincere thanks to all of the seasoned librarians around the country who offered their expertise and suggestions. I hope they will help you with your program so everyone will be eager to return again and again!

On another note, if you are seeking some songs and fingerplays to add to your upcoming programs, here are a few blog posts with resources perfect for summertime fun!
Birds, Bees and Butterflies!
Five Speckled Frogs and So Much More!
Gorgeous, Glorious Giraffes!
Let's Swim With the Fishes!
Spring Is Here: Make Way for Ducklings!
Swimming Towards the End of Summer: Oceans and Whales
Karen Chace 2013 ©
This blog post was researched and compiled by Karen Chace. Permission for private use is granted. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without my expressed written permission. For permission please contact me at Of course, if you wish to link to my blog via your website, blog, newsletter, Facebook page or Twitter please feel free to do so; I greatly appreciate your support and personal integrity.


Doria said...

Thank you SO MUCH for addressing this issue of how to deal with challenges during Story Reading hours, which is work that many of us Storytellers do in addition to our Storytelling work. I run a Story Hour every Wednesday morning at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, and frequently encounter the kinds of challenges you discuss here. I found your responses and suggestions, and those from seasoned librarians that you included, very helpful! I highly recommend that anyone who works with children AND their caregivers check this out.
Thank you again for sharing!

Karen Chace said...

Thank you Doria; I appreciate your thoughts and the time you took to comment.

I am sure your programs are so well-run you don't need these suggestions but they are good to have in your back pocket. :)


Anonymous said...

Helpful and organized -- and amusing! Thanks!

Karen Chace said...

Thanks Mary. I am sure you have plenty of stories of your own, dealing with distractions in your classroom. :)


StoryPlay said...

Thank you, Karen. How great to question librarians. I will remember to emphasize that the parents/caregivers are the role models.(good for teachers in schools too) I have to add to those who tell to this audience to relax. This is not the same as telling to school age children -- always more fidgeting and noise. Personally, I would never put up a list of rules or give families chances and then throw them out. I do find that the very nature of storytelling allows the children to speak out more. I try to incorporate their comments or expressions into the story. This , I believe, makes the adults pay attention because their children are being amusing and they don't want to miss it. Recently, I had a grandmother and her 2 grandchildren become diehard attendees although she admitted they were "expelled" from the library program!