Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stories You Can Do: Interactive Outreach Elements

Have you ever noticed how outreach visits to preschools and daycares can take you entirely by surprise? Even after a month of taking the same bag of stories and songs out to child care centers, each individual classroom visit has risks. What if the kids have too much energy because it's been raining non-stop and they haven't gotten to run around outside? What if the teacher is so focused on every child sitting perfectly still that every third word the kiddos hear is "sit," completely obfuscating the story? What if the classroom of kids doesn't know what to do with a stranger in their midst and just stares at you despite your pleas to hear their best cow noise?

I've encountered each of these situations multiple times, including a handful of instances just in the last month (such is the life of a frequent outreacher). And do you know what I've found to be almost 100% effective in each of these problem scenarios? Interactive story time elements.

For me, interactive story time elements are the program parts that I can quickly adapt depending on my audience. For each element, I have a book as well as a more participatory activity. We can do one or the other to suit the mood of the group, and we can do both if the audience really likes a particular story. They all have the potential to get kids wiggling constructively, engaging in literacy, and having fun, all while behaving according to the "rules" of the library lady. Ta-da!

I've recently been relying on three main interactive elements to make up my springtime story time bag of tricks:

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed - This favorite fingerplay of childhood is always a hit with my child care center groups; they love helping to count off the monkeys and jump their fingers up and down to the rhythm of the rhyme. By the end, everyone is saying in their best doctor voice: "No more monkeys jumping on the bed!" Eileen Christelow, whose five monkey ouevre can span plenty of story times on its own, also offers great read-alouds for after the kiddos have acted out the bedtime rhyme and are clamoring for more monkeys.

The Three Little Pigs - I have something of a personal crusade to make sure all kids get to kindergarten with knowledge of the core folk and fairy tales. The Three Little Pigs is certainly among those tales, and I love any opportunity to read or tell that story. For groups that are not yet familiar with the story--and there are plenty who've never heard it, trust me--I do an oral telling of the tale. For groups that already know what happens to the pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, I jump right into Claudia Rueda's Huff & Puff, a great retelling with a twist. In this telling, the audience does the huffing and puffing, with great results in the illustrations. I don't want to ruin the final surprise; check it out and give it a shot.

There Was a Tree - I remember singing some version of this cumulative song from my grade school days, and I encountered a few different versions at summer camp. Regardless of the song's origins, it's lots of fun to share with preschoolers. I've done it three ways: entirely sung, while I play the ukulele; sung with the help of felt pieces as visual clues; and read via the version illustrated by Rachel Isadora. By the end of any of these tellings, the children are in stitches of laughter as a result of the downhill-effect speed of the last verse: "Oh, the bug on the wing, and the wing on the chick, and the chick from the egg, and the egg in the nest, and the nest on the branch, and the branch on the tree, and the tree in the hole, and the hole in the ground, and the green grass grew all around and around, and the green grass grew all around." Whew!


What are some of your favorite interactive elements to take to outreach story times, where the crowd can vary?


  1. LOVE Huff & Puff. I was lucky to get a copy at ALA last year-a very good thing since I use it for every group visit now.

    My other current favorite is Pete the Cat (Groovy Buttons). We practice the singing part before I start reading so they can really rock out when we get to that part in the book. They love to tell you how many buttons are left and yelling POP!

    1. Ooh, of course, Pete the Cat! So many great options with Pete.

  2. Went and ordered Huff & Puff from B&T. Excited to add another interactive book to my repertoire. I love the other books you've mentioned. Rachel Isadora is a talented author/illustrator.

  3. I'm late to the conversation, but I adore Press Here by Herve Tullet for interaction. Depending on the size of the crowd, I may have them just pretend to press/blow/jiggle the book, while I actually do it....or if the crowd is small enough, I call on each child to come up and take a turn! Very fun!!