In my library district, each branch strives to offer a monthly story time option for families whose weekdays are booked--due to work, day care, etc., these families cannot make it to our regular story time series. I had been offering monthly Evening Family Story Times, and while kids always had fun at these programs, they weren't particularly well attended. I know I'm not the only librarian who has wrestled with this issue, but that didn't help solve the problem: despite their expressed intentions, our library families couldn't regularly attend story time on weekday evenings. So, starting in March, I began trying something different: a monthly Milk & Cookies Story Morning, which takes place on a Saturday morning when I was already scheduled to work.
Milk & Cookies Story Morning, in addition to taking place on a Saturday morning, boasts a few differences from our regular weekday program series:
1) The story time is transmedia; I purposefully include a non-fiction picture book, a fiction picture book, and a book app for the story portions of the program.
2) Our songs are very interactive. We choose our first song by rolling the song cube (similar to Anne at So Tomorrow's "Roll-a-Rhyme"; funny how one idea can be on the minds of so many librarians at once!), then our later songs all involve substantial motion.
3) After our 30-ish minutes of story time, we break for milk and cookies.
4) The room is open after the program with plenty of educational toys ready for the kids to play with as long as their parents/caregivers allow.
The inaugural Milk & Cookies Story Morning was very successful, in my book: we had 17 attendees (as compared to our usual 5-9 at the previous evening story times); parents were thrilled to get some direction in using apps with their kids; and both kids and caregivers were excited to get down and play with our selection of educational toys, all of which promoted creative building, problem-solving, and/or real-world role play. These families expressed excitement at getting to make the library a destination one Saturday every month, a role I am happy we can play.
Here, specifically, is what we did:
Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"
Story: Homes in Many Cultures by Heather Adamson
I peppered the reading of this simple non-fiction test, full of big, beautiful photos, with questions about the kids' own homes. They really started to engage with the text and were very interested in the different types of homes around the world.
Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"
A roll of our song cube prompted us to sing this classic. All the kids, as well as a few of the caregivers, got into the action.
Book App: City Animals by Simms Taback, part of the Simms Taback Children's Book Collection app
In preparation for sharing this app in story time, I had hooked up my iPad to our HDTV via Apple 30-pin Digital AV Adapter and HDMI cable. I had cued the app to where I wanted it to start before the program, that way all I needed to do was turn on the television to begin sharing the app. I opted to mute both the iPad and the tv, preferring to read all the text with the kids myself. The kids loved getting hints about the different city animals they were seeing, and they excitedly guessed what the animals were based on their visual and verbal cues. The pacing of the app, while it might seem slow to us grown-ups, was perfect for sharing with a group of kids--the transitions gave all of the kids a good amount of time to process everything they were seeing and thinking. Parents asked for the name of the app after seeing how well their kids responded to it.
Story: Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Amanda Askew
I am always taken aback by how many kids are not exposed to "classic" tales of childhood. I like to work them into my story times when I can, and they almost always delight. This tale was no exception.
Song: "The Beanie Bag Dance" by Greg and Steve
I had brought the library's collection of Beanie Babies into the program, and at this point I asked each child to choose a "beanie buddy" to help with the song. We used to bean animals as our bean bags for the song.
Activity: Parachute Play
Our wrap-up to the formal story time portion of the program was using the parachute. We started off with all the kids grabbing handles, and they tossed their beanie buddies into the parachute for some slow--then fast--parachute action. Then, when temptation could no longer be ignored, the grown-ups helmed the parachute so the kids could enjoy running and sitting under it. Always a hit.
Milk & Cookies Time!
I had cookies without nuts, 2% milk, and lemonade available, as well as napkins and small glasses. The caregivers helped their children with their snacks while I opened the other half of our program room for play time.
I set out selections of the library's educational preschool-age toys: building pipes, build-your-own-creatures, wooden garages and vehicles, shape puzzles, and interlocking wooden blocks. The play stations were on tabletops set directly on the floor, allowing kids to sit on the ground as they played while creating delineated spaces. Every child enjoyed getting to move from station to station at their own pace, enjoying new toys and interacting with peers. I had so many parents thank me for opening the program space for free play, and all of the children were excited to talk about the play activities they were doing. Having the room open post-story time for free play is, hands down, the best way I can think of to really engage kids in that "play" practice of ECRR--and it prevents great opportunities for having informal discussions with caregivers, too, allowing library staff to share early literacy tips. If your story time and staff schedules allow it, I highly recommend it.
An interesting note about including an app in story time: Before sharing the app, I asked parents how many of them a) had tablets or other smart devices and b) used them with their children. All adults present responded to both questions in the affirmative. I was expecting a majority affirmative, but not necessarily the unanimous "yes" I got. But there you have it: all of the attending families were already using the technology with their kids. They expressed happiness at the library presenting information about media use and great apps to share with young children; they liked getting some input and direction in how they use the technology to interact with their kids. If there was any semblance of doubt before, I am now 100% in the camp that intentionally incorporating technology in youth services is beneficial for children, caregivers, and library staff.