Thing’s Are Not Working: How I changed my toddler storytime

Last week I had the worst storytime in my very short career (I anticipate worse storytimes to happen in the future still, but hopefully not soon)

I may have cried afterwards.

I thought and thought about the past two months of storytime in my new position.

I may have cried some more.

And then I did some digging.  I re-evaluated everything I’ve been doing and I decided that things needed to change if I wanted to have successful storytime’s in the future.  And this all came around the time that Storytime Underground posted a “Pimp My Storytime” post and now I knew exactly what I was doing,  I was pimping toddler time.

Why My Storytime Wasn't Working


The Past

Technically I am supposed to have two storytime’s a week: one for toddler’s and one for pre-schooler’s.  But lately there has been a HUGE group for toddlers and no one showing up for pre-school storytime.   And there was a huge gap in how they were responding to the stories and rhymes.


When I opened storytime this week I let the parents know that if they have a three-year-old who has been coming to toddler time regularly and can sit for the length of a book then starting in December their three-year-old should join us at Pre-School Storytime.  This is about 2 or 3 of the kids.  I think by having them come to pre-school storytime than they will be with other kids who are at their level and are better role models for how they should be sitting and paying attention rather than the toddlers who tend to be all over the place.  They will get more out of the longer stories when they actually can see the book and aren’t distracted by the younger kids.  I am also going to be starting a Mother Goose and Me baby lapsit in January so that will hopefully also help!



We have our children’s area where all the books and toys are and a children’s room upstairs for programming.  The toddler time has always been in the children’s area on a big quilt and the pre-school storytime has been upstairs in the children’s room.  Now, you may not know this about toddlers but they love to explore their surroundings.  And having books and toys all over the place, as well as other people coming into the children’s area, just was not working.


Why can’t pre-school and toddler storytime both be upstairs in the children’s room?

Why not both

Oh wait, we can! and we will! And it was SO MUCH BETTER.


The Past

I used to start my storytime’s with the Hi, Hello song.  I love that song, and still do.  But it wasn’t working for us.  I don’t exactly know why.  I just don’t think the kids were getting anything from it.  After we sang the song we would go right into storytime.


I am still playing around with how to open storytime but what I did this week really seemed to be effective. After I talked about Pre-School versus Toddler storytime I sang Rickety Tickety and then sang Hands Go Up from this wiki.

Hands Go Up

Hands go up and hands go down,
I can turn around and round.
I can jump upon two shoes.
I can listen; so can you.
I can sit.
I’ll show you how.
Storytime is starting now.

The end of that rhyme has the kids sitting nice and paying attention to me so then I go into a book.


The Past

I would usually read 3-4 short books and I never, ever, not ever gave up a book even if nobody was paying attention. I just felt like a failure.
Why was I expecting two-year-olds to sit for four stories? Even if they are short. Developmentally, that is really hard for them. No wonder they were crazy at the end of the half hour!


Dear Meg: It’s okay to fail. That’s how you learn.  Stop beating yourself up and put the book down if it’s failing miserably.

Not only are you opening up a new opportunity to get the kids attention back on you with a different rhyme or song but you are showing the parents that it is okay to not finish that story.

Songs & Rhymes

Before this position I was in charge of toddler storytime’s for the summer at a different library. This library had an iPod and an extensive list of songs that were AWESOME for storytime. And they all got the toddler’s up and moving and active.
Now, I don’t have an iPod. I don’t have recorded songs for storytime. And I’ve realized that I relied on that iPod for all of my active and up and down songs. Consequently, we weren’t moving enough in toddler time. A couple weeks I did not have any rhymes that included motion. No wonder the kids weren’t paying attention to me! I wasn’t doing anything exciting with them!

Even though I may not have ever had voice lessons and no one has every really sought me out for my beautiful voice, I can sing, it’s okay. And there are tons of resources and librarians online that have action songs that don’t require an iPod. It’s okay.  It is also showing the parents that they don’t have to be rockstar singers in order to enjoy a song with their children.
The kids need to be up and moving. This is not a lapsit storytime anymore. This is a SHAKE YOUR SILLIES OUT kinda storytime. And instead of the Wiggles version we are going to have the MISS MEG version. Bring it.



Nothing. I did have a rhyme that I used when it was getting too loud which was “Turn up your ears and keep your voices to yourself” with hand motions. That was it.


For this one, I went to twitter. Within an hour of my HELP ME tweet I had tons of awesome responses.  Most of my fellow tweeters/children’s librarians did not use rules.  The awesome Liz also linked me to another great Storytime Underground post about this very issue (a question in which she asked!).  In that post Cate from Storytiming posted an awesome take home rules sheet that she gives to her parents.  I like that idea but I think I will have to put it on the back burner.

Marge Loch-Waters from Tiny Tips for Library Fun (my mentor and the one who told my current employer that I’m “not afraid to be fabulous”), told me that she uses a puppet to help her with the rules.


I need my own Jessica!  So now we have Harold the Pig!

Harold helped me talk about appropriate behavior for storytime:

1) Keep your hands to yourself and try not to disrupt your neighbor

2) If your child is being disruptive, feel free to go downstairs.  Today just may not be his or her day and that’s okay!

3) Have fun!


So far I have only have one storytime in this new format and it worked well! This whole situation has taught me that it is important to reevaluate what is going on to make sure that it is still working… and change is okay! I won’t melt and the parent’s won’t melt if I do things a bit differently!

18 thoughts on “Thing’s Are Not Working: How I changed my toddler storytime

  1. Meg,

    Love your willingness to talk about the “fails” and how you evaluate them in order to improve the programming you provide to your story time kids and their families! Way to go!

  2. I love this! I miss storytimes sometimes but not with toddlers or preschool. I loved elementary school storytimes but this makes me want to try it again with younger kids because I had ALL the same problems you talked about. I felt like crying after every single one of my toddler storytimes. LOL! One thing I did different was that if a book wasn’t working, I’d quickly make up an ending (they can’t read anyway) and change books so I had that part down ok. The rest…. Disaster! :-)

  3. Meg, What a great post, and I think it’s awesome the way you’re tackling the situation. A couple changes that I felt like had a positive impact on my toddler storytimes back in the day was making them 20 minutes instead of 30 and also doing a lot of repetition from week to week, which would help them learn the rhymes/songs/routines, focus, and participate more. Or so it seemed to me. :)

  4. You have the answer to all the questions of being a great librarian – recognize a problem, observe, think, reflect, re-tool and go after it again. It’s an everyday practice that once you know it, makes you great! You go!

  5. Love this post. Thanks for the links to crowd control suggestions – can always use a fresh idea in that area! As a Story Time leader I can totally relate to this post. Two years ago I had a huge turn over in our toddler Story Time attendance – the 3s moved to preschool and a new group of much younger toddlers started showing up. After a couple frustrating weeks I realized the problem and had to regroup. As a Mom I am appreciative that you didn’t just blame the kids.

  6. Miss Meg,
    Thank you for being so candid in your post. I too am working on pimping my toddler story time, as it is not working for my VERY active crowd. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone, and it’s inspiring to see your solutions.
    Happy day,
    Miss Lisa, NC

  7. Thanks for the honest commentary I am always looking for ways to keep my story times from getting stale.

  8. In the olden days of story telling with preschoolers (40+ years ago)) we believed that children should be in a quiet place, undecorated, with no toys, or food or telephones.
    The story lady was in charge and there weren’t that many rules. (Be on time was one rule., ha-ha) Children today are rushed and over stimulated. However, we must change and the way to go is with lots of activity games, songs, nursery rhymes, clapping, bouncing, and very short stories. Twenty minutes is enough, too.

  9. Meg,

    I had this experience too! I use the Mother Goose on the Loose program now. There are so many more options for parents with young children now that if you don’t have a pretty great “show” people will spend their time elsewhere:)

  10. I just took over the “Mother Goose Time” from a former staff member. I have added lots of fingerplays, flannel boards, and songs! The group is much more engaged, and it’s much more fun for me as well. I used to dread having to do this one. And if the little ones are wandering around, it’s okay! I also moved our storytimes into our meeting room, which has really helped with the distractions. Great post!

  11. Thanks Miss Meg, I needed this encouraging post. I’ve only been doing storytimes for 12 months now, and I’ve felt like crying a couple of times, too! It’s good to know other librarians are going through the same thing, and I plan to check out some of those links. Best wishes!

    1. I’m glad this post helped!! After doing this I’ve been more conscious about reevaluating my programs when they just.aren’t.working
      best wishes :)

  12. OMG..! I’m certain I just may have found the solution to make my new “Toddler Tales & Tunes” storytime (2-3 yrs) a success.. Thanks to your suggestions! I’ve been the children’s coordinator for 7 yrs but only offered (so called) pre-school story hour. Just had my second TT & T’s.. with 3 kids but one of my lil boy’s runs in circles the ENTIRE 30 MINS! Doesn’t make a sound.. just RUNS lol! No distractions, enclosed area.. so I just told the mom to let him run (for now anyways). Would like to give you a suggestion that (usually) works with any age for me… Rule cards – Using words AND pictures 1. “Sit criss cross applesauce” 2. “Time to listen” using a pic of just a finger & lips doing “shhhh” and 3. Click on your listening ears .. using these cards YOU’RE not “disilplining them”.. the CARDS are ;) Well, I’m really excited about next Tuesday.. we will definitely SHAKE OUR SILLIES OUT! Thank you so much “Not afraid to be Fabulous!” I’m known as “Dare to be Different” SUCCESS IS IN OUR FUTURE!

    1. Yay!! I am glad you have found out some solutions! And thank you for sharing tips & tricks! I actually don’t have a toddler storytime anymore, just do babies and pre-schoolers and so far it has been going great!

  13. I’m so glad I found this post tonight! Led my first ever Toddler storytime today and it was a such a flop. (I swear my preschool time was a complete success!) I just don’t know enough about those little munchkins (all my teacher time was spent in preschool and K), so your advice is MUCH appreciated. Going to implement some of your suggestions tomorrow morning!

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