Putting some thought into it: Programming & librarianship
There are some programs where I walk in, open a cabinet, set up some stuff, and ta-da! Any game programs are like that. There are others where I put in a lot of thought, like crafts. And then there are some where the thought is there, but you may not notice.
My story time program runs at four age levels, and while they seem similar on the outside, they are actually subtly different in developmental ways. The easiest difference to see is, of course, the length and amount of the stories. The babies get the shortest stories; the grade school kids get the longest ones. But that’s not all that’s going on.
My baby program is for ages six to eighteen months. That’s a huge development gap! So I had to come up with something that moved fast and kept the kids moving and engaged. I ended up with a twenty-minute program of lap play and stories, sometimes with musical instruments, always ending with bubbles. Then I give the kids about fifteen to twenty minutes of play time. I give them a few toys, but they are big, noisy, and there are always fewer toys than kids. So what am I doing? Well, the first twenty minutes is a more bouncy (literally), quicker-storied version of Toddler Time, easing them into the attention span they’ll need later on. We begin with a song that introduces everyone, allowing the child to be specially acknowledged, giving them the sense that yes, it’s okay to be noticed, that it’s not bad to be singled out. Then we do ABCs and 123s, and read one or two stories. In between and around the stories, we’ll do interactive songs or, if the kids are starting to get restless, ones where they are bounced or tickled. The parents really work their arms at our baby program. Heheheh.
The second twenty minutes is for socialization. Among other things, I have a little plastic slide, which teaches them to take turns. Also, it allows the kids to see me as their helper and removes a lot of anxiety about me being a stranger–even the shyer kids are fine with me holding the slide, and most of them will hold my hand as they slide down. That way, they’re thinking, “Miss Allie is helpful and fun”–even if they don’t realize it. Actually, the slide is awful; it’s so small that by the time the child is developed enough to climb up on his or her own and actually slide down the thing, they are too big for it. But they love it and it’s a great photo op for the parents. The small amount of toys means they are practicing their sharing skills–and also giving the ones who don’t want to play with toys the freedom to interact with their environment and each other. The bubbles are because kids love bubbles. The first word I hear most new kids say is “bubbles.” Or “mama,” but mostly “bubbles.” But it’s also another developmental choice. You can watch your child grow from month to month by seeing how they interact with the bubbles. The smallest ones will barely notice the bubbles. Then, as they get a little older, they are fascinated by them but passively watch them float to the ground. Finally, they reach out for them.
I tell the parents that the kids are ready for Toddler Time when they are eighteen months and they show signs of being able to sit through two books at a time. You can usually tell when they’re ready pretty easily. Toddler Time runs about 45 minutes to an hour. The stories go from board books to basic picture book, and I will read two of, if one is very short, three. I usually read them one after the other, if the attention span is there. We do our ABCs and 123s to 10. We look at everything everyone is wearing and find as many colors as we see around us. We do not use the things in the room during this time, as they never change, and I found that the kids quickly memorized the colors in the room and were using that as a “cheat sheet” to find something first. We then read our stories, because the kids by now are engaged and ready for something longer. Then we do sit-down songs like “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” with emphasis on simple hand motions, and stand-up songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” We also do Ring-Around-The-Rosy, to teach them to interact with one another and to follow instructions. I’m very picky about how the kids fall down (they throw their hands up in the air before they fall to make sure they’ve let go). We play with musical instruments and then parade around the room to “The Ants Go Marching.” Then we do coloring sheets and, of course, bubbles.
Originally, I was doing crafts, like the librarian before me, but it wasn’t working for me. I felt the parents were doing all the work, and that’s not why the kids are there. Coloring allows me to tie in to any theme we’re doing with our stories, and it allows them a bit of chill-out time before bubbles. We always end with the same good-bye song to the tune of our hello song. (We also say goodbye to the bubbles when they are put away, so they get a sense of completion.)
Parents are often upset during their child’s first Toddler Time, especially if they’ve never been to the baby program. They’re embarrassed that their child is running around, or is easily distracted. I tell them it’s not a big deal, and it’s not. Most children settle into the routine of it–and it is VERY routine, purposely–within three visits, sometimes five. We only have the toddler program twice a month, but it sticks, because it’s so uniform. The children who do not settle down? Well, sometimes it’s not a big deal, and sometimes it is. We have kids who are on the spectrum, and some of them can be wanderers, but they’re quiet wanderers. It’s the ones that purposely disrupt that need to be dealt with, but I have my rules and then I have my place. I can help enforce the rules (“Child’s Name, we don’t ____ at story time” or “Please don’t ___ because ____”) but only to a point. After that, it’s up to the parents, guardians, grandparents, nannies, etc.
Toddlers can be incredibly difficult to discipline. They are learning the power of their words, especially the word “no.” After a year or so of not being understood, and then being praised for all their beginning efforts to speak, I see them get confused that their happily emphatic words are not being met with more praise. It’s like you can see the wheels in their heads spinning: “But I said what I wanted! Isn’t that a good thing?” When we had toddler problems with a very large group, I told everyone, “The best thing you can do is take the child outside the room to give him or her time to calm down, reset, argue, whatever’s needed.” A lot of parents will wait it out, but that can be very disruptive for the rest of the group. I feel it enforces the idea that it’s okay to act that way during story time, when it isn’t. I tell parents, “It’s okay to leave and come back. It’s okay to just leave in the middle.” Don’t reward a tantrum with more story time.
Before they move up to the next group, you usually see signs of them getting bored. Their little evolving personalities need more. They will start to say “I want to do this, but not this.” This is totally normal, but this is also a good time to teach them the lesson that they do not pick and choose activities in story time. Yes, I’m okay with them sitting X out if they have a good reason, but I want them engaged the whole time. (A good reason, for example, is having problems with the noise levels in some of the louder songs. Some of my kids will take a step back and cover their ears.) This is a big deal for me because I think it helps them prepare for other environments where they don’t have the full range of choice like they do at home: for example, school is the big one. Many children have such a huge time adjusting to kindergarten or pre-K if they are at home making all their own play decisions all the time. The structure of my story times is in part to create a play-based mimicry of what they’ll be doing their first year or so in school.
Next up: Story Time for 3-5s and school-age kids.