To an outsider, a library storytime can seem deceptively simple—grab a favorite book and ham it up. Use a puppet, silly voices, and everyone will have fun.
Storytimes are entertaining! But libraries are in a unique position to connect with families and their children from birth. Skillful, thoughtful storytime practitioners are key to the role libraries can play as anchor institutions within a broader community learning infrastructure.
When storytime providers are intentional in supporting early literacy, interact with participants, and take time to assess their programs, then early literacy behaviors increase.
It’s what we call supercharging your storytimes.
For the past year, I have had the privilege of working with WebJunction staff to build Supercharged Storytimes training, expanding a very successful curriculum first piloted in 2015 that put into practice the research from the University of Washington’s VIEWS2 study. The updated curriculum equips library staff with new approaches to serve children, engage parents and caregivers, and measure program outcomes.
We packaged the new curriculum into a free, online self-paced course called Supercharged Storytimes. This new course provides an outcome-based approach to childhood literacy and incorporates early literacy concepts to plan storytimes that make a vital difference. More than 1,000 people have enrolled in the course since it became available last October.
So, what is a Supercharged Storytime? It’s one that is intentional, interactive, and reflective—the key ingredients identified in the VIEWS2 study.
1. Intentionality: thoughtful planning for storytimes
Becoming intentional starts with purposefully incorporating early literacy strategies into storytime planning, delivery, and assessment. Providers increase their knowledge of early literacy components—such as letter knowledge, phonological awareness, language use, and more—the building blocks to later reading. Practitioners use the Early Literacy Planning Tool, a research-based tool included in the course, to intentionally connect the activities they do in storytimes to early literacy concepts. In addition, they adjust activities to the developmental levels of the children, which makes for a more engaging storytime.
Through thoughtful, intentional planning, storytime providers can better articulate to parents and caregivers the “why” behind what they are doing, supporting the adults who are with the children every day to continue early literacy activities with their children at home.
On another level, as storytime providers become more observant of the children’s early literacy behaviors, they are better able to articulate to staff, partners, and funders the importance of early literacy to later reading, and the effects of library services on children and their families. They become persuasive advocates who recognize and position the library as a valuable partner in the community.
2. Interactivity: demonstrate the connections
We all learn best when we are actively rather than passively involved. As research has provided more information about how children learn through interactivity and participation, Supercharged Storytimes encourages a shift in the role of the storytime provider from presenter to facilitator. The provider takes more time with a book to encourage the children to participate in the telling and understanding of the story and to facilitate two-way interaction between adults and their children. By offering early literacy tips that show the connection among the activities, early literacy, and later reading, adults are more likely to continue activities at home. Increasing interactivity between library staff and patrons has the added benefit of supporting relationships, increasing communication, and making for enjoyable library experiences.
3. Assessment: evaluate and communicate the effects
Assessment techniques are extremely valuable to the world of storytimes and to library services. The Early Literacy Planning Tool and other tools developed in our work support self-reflection, peer observation, and peer sharing throughout the storytime cycle. Practitioners can help rejuvenate storytimes, recognizing both what is going well and where there is room for improvement. The continued sharing of ideas through a learning community is key to sustaining intentionality, interactivity, and fresh perspectives.
The planning tool also gives us the information we need to assess some of the effects of our early literacy strategies, which strengthen our storytimes, our services, and our ability to articulate the library’s contribution to early learning.
Make a bigger impact… and increase your joy!
Studies show that early literacy programs in public libraries can increase a child’s readiness to read. By implementing key early literacy strategies to supercharge your traditional storytime, your program will become an even bigger cornerstone of a child’s reading literacy development and overall preparation for later success with reading and learning.
Being part of Supercharged Storytimes left me reassured that assessment does not need to take away the joy from our storytimes. In fact, the joy of increased knowledge, the joy of feeling acknowledged and affirmed, the joy of value recognized, the joy of sharing ideas, and the joy of growth—all results in engaging storytimes and affirmed storytime providers who seek to grow more buoyant library services.
If you’re interested in this topic, join OCLC staff for a 15-minute presentation January 26 at 11:30 am in the OCLC Booth 2125 at ALA Midwinter this month. During “Supercharge Your Library’s Storytimes,” they will share free tools and transformation stories that are emerging from the Supercharged Storytimes program. Register here.