Share |

Storytime Training and Resources

An Interview with Heather McNeil

*This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

Deschutes (Bend, OR) Public Library Youth Services Manager Heather McNeil shared information about storytime training and resources used for their many storytimes that meet a variety of needs.

Q: Storytime has definitely changed over time. How has Deschutes Public Library's storytime programming accommodated national initiatives along with meeting the needs of its demographic?

A: First of all, we are all trained on Every Child Ready to Read, and I am a Master Trainer for Oregon. We make sure that every storytime includes oral tips on the early literacy skills, and related activities to promote those skills. There are also tips and activities on the rhyme sheet, which they can take home. Our crafts also relate in some way to an early literacy skill, usually either letter knowledge, writing, or narrative skills.

We have also begun introducing aspects of STEM at our storytimes, so we now have either "Science Spot" or "Math Minute." It might be a nonfiction book that introduces science information, or it might be a felt board that promotes addition or subtraction. We try to go beyond the usual counting up to 10, or from 10 to 1, although those are important, too. This summer we'll be introducing actual science activities at some of the storytimes, and there will be stations set up with simple discovery activities for the children to explore after storytime.

Two months ago, we introduced a new storytime called Sensory Storytime. It includes activities, songs, and stories designed for children with sensory integration challenges and autism spectrum disorder. We have received very positive, and grateful, feedback about this new program.

We also offer Rockie Tales Puppet Shows at the libraries, which feature Rockie Raccoon and his friends. Each script is original, and we write them based around a childhood issue or learning experience, such as manners, sharing, taking naps, learning to read, etc. One librarian is behind stage doing the puppets, another is out front, interacting with the puppets and the children, encouraging participation and conversation. She also reads two stories based on the topic of the day. We get lots of appreciative comments about Rockie Tales; parents say it really helps them with the conversations they have with their children about those topics.

Finally, we try to make sure that our storytime choices include books about families of many cultures and ethnicities. Central Oregon has few minorities, so it's important for children to be introduced to children of color, as well as different cultures.

Q: Tell us about how storytimes at Deschutes are structured.

A: We have a variety of storytime structures, designed to meet the needs of the community. For instance, in our more rural areas, we offer Family Fun Storytime, which is for ages 0-5. In the more urban communities, we are able to divide by developmental age, so we have Baby Steps for age 0-18months, Toddlin' Tales for age 2-3, and Preschool Parade for age 3-5. In addition, some of the libraries offer MnMs, which stands for Music and Movement, and that is for age 3-5. It features a couple of stories, with a lot of musically-based activities, such as dancing and playing musical instruments. One of our libraries also offers Mother Goose and More, which is basically the same as MnMs, but for age 0-2, with simpler movements and activities. A couple of the libraries offer Pajama Storytime, which is a monthly storytime in the evening. Everyone wears pajamas, including the librarian.

It's hard to give one description for every storytime structure, since they vary according to the age for which they are designed. But, basically, each includes an opening and closing song, a story song or rhyme that repeats before every story, 2-3 stories, a movement rhyme in between each story, and a variety of other activities such as Math Minute, Science Spot, a lap bounce or tickle, or What's In My Bag? Any of these offerings might be done with felt boards, stuffed animals, or other storytime props. At my storytime, I use a puppet (Winston, a sheep dog) to begin and end every storytime, to model the lap bounce/tickle, and to offer hugs and kisses when storytime is over. He is my goofy alter ego.

Q: As a Master Trainer for Every Child Ready to Read, do you do statewide training?

A:  Yes, I do. I absolutely love teaching about early literacy and introducing attendees to many wonderful books that relate to the skills and activities. We have lots of fun!

Q: How do you train your youth services staff who do storytime?

A: When prospective candidates are interviewed, they have to demonstrate their storytime skills, so we know we're hiring someone who has a basic understanding about what storytimes and early literacy are. Once they're hired, I assign them some resources to review, such as Saroj Ghoting's books and my book on early literacy. I have them observe other storytimes around our district so they can get an idea of different styles. After a month, they begin doing their own storytimes. After they've had a few weeks to get comfortable and build a relationship with their community, I observe their storytime and give feedback. Annually, I observe everyone's storytimes. We have an evaluation form that I refer to, that covers such things as whether the librarian used motor skill activities, presented early literacy information, selected appropriate books, managed crowd control, and so on. Then I give feedback, making recommendations for improvement. Honestly, they are all so good at what they do, I don't have much to say.

Q: For those beginning to train staff or those who are storytime newbies, what resources do you recommend?

A: Early Literacy Storytimes @ Your Library, and Storytimes for Everyone! both by Saroj Ghoting

I'm a Little Teapot: Presenting Preschool Storytime by Jane Cobb

Read, Rhyme and Romp: Early Literacy Skills and Activities for Librarians, Teachers and Parents by Heather McNeil

Mother Goose on the Loose by Betsy Diamant-Cohen

Big Book of Animal Rhymes, Fingerplays and Songs and Big Book of Seasons, Holidays, and Weather: Rhymes, Fingerplays, and Songs for Children both compiled by Elizabeth Cothen Low,_Rhymes_and_Songs

Q: What kind of responses do parents give you about storytime?

A: I think the comment we receive the most is, "My child loves storytime, and pretends to be the librarian at home. He/she lines up all the stuffed animals and 'reads' a book to them. He/she even does the story song that you do!" What that shows us is that what we're teaching at storytime -- how to read aloud, how to bring a story to life, how to play with letters and rhymes -- all of that is truly sinking into their brains and being remembered. Then they go home and practice what they remember, which is exactly how reading begins. 

Q: How has Deschutes reached out to parents?

A: I think this is always the biggest challenge for libraries. In general, our storytimes are very well attended, sometimes overwhelmingly so. But that's "the choir," the ones who already know how important storytime is. We are anxious to connect with those who aren't as familiar with the joys and rewards of storytime. Some of the organizations we work with are Head Start, WIC, Teen Parent program, Family Resource Center, and Healthy Beginnings screenings. We present storytimes, or do early literacy training for parents and care providers through these organizations. Last year we published a gorgeous early literacy calendar, which we have distributed through all the social service organizations and Central Oregon Pediatrics Association, to at-risk families. We attend Back to School nights at schools to promote library services, including storytimes. We participate in the annual Children's Fair, with a booth that has games and freebies. I'm currently working with the local Early Childhood Wellness program, to create an early literacy television ad that will tie in with their other ads about prenatal wellness and dental care.   

Q: "My favorite storytime read-aloud is…"

A:  Oh, my goodness, that is so hard to answer.  Some that come to mind are When the Cassowary Pooped by Tamara Montgomery and Jodi Parry Belknap; The Baby Beebee Bird by Diane Redfield Massie; Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas, and A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson. I like any book that gives me the opportunity to invite audience participation and to create smiles and giggles in the audience.

Did you like this article? Tweet it out   
Want more articles like this one? Subscribe to Kids & Books

Heather McNeil is the Youth Services Manager for Deschutes Public Library in Bend, OR. She is the author of two collections of folklore, as well as Read, Rhyme and Romp: Early Literacy Skills and Activities for Librarians, Teachers and Parents. Heather is also a third generation storyteller.