How I Plan Storytimes


Minor confession: I am a list person. At the beginning of each year, I probably spend more time planning and organizing my reading lists than actually reading, and the same is true of storytimes. One of my favorite things about performing storytimes is putting together an outline for each week’s theme, and to that end, I thought I’d show you how I organize!

In the past, I used a 4×6 index card to jot down the books and activities I planned to use in the order I hoped to use them, which seemed to work. Ultimately, though, it didn’t leave me a whole lot of flexibility. Then I found this fantastic post by the team at JBrary, with a link to a more open-ended template. I adapted it slightly to fit my general outline, and this is the result.

This modified template includes a spot for an ASL sign, which I try to incorporate each week, plus spaces for introduction songs, opening and closing songs, and any bonus activities I might include. I also mark the date and attendance for each week in the bottom corner, so that all of my stats are in one place.

There are a couple of things that work well for me, here. For one, I don’t have to stick to a set order. I can list books and songs that match the theme, and then incorporate them (or not) depending upon the energy level and attention span of my group.

Secondly, I color-coded these boxes to match my storytime binder, where I keep printouts of all my favorite songs and fingerplays. In that binder, all of the opening songs and introductions are printed on yellow paper, other songs are printed on blue paper, and fingerplays on purple paper. This helps me to find things quickly if I decide to go off-script.

The Binder
I picked up a simple 3-ring binder after failing to make a notebook work for me. I keep things organized in four different sections:

  • Templates. I keep all the templates for the season in one place. I usually try to have a rough plan for at least the next two or three weeks, and extra pages so I can jot down more ideas as I come across them.
  • Planning. In this section, I keep a list of flannel boards I’ve made or am making, books I love and the themes they might work for, themes I’d like to try, and my favorite blogs and web sites. Basically, this is idea central.
  • Calendar. I’m responsible for performing 32 storytimes spread throughout the school year, with a few breaks in between. So I keep a monthly calendar here with all of my sessions marked. I also keep a general outline of the themes I plan to perform each week, and the corresponding ASL signs.
  • Songs. And of course, a color-coded listing of my favorite songs, rhymes, and fingerplays! I use page protectors so that I can use both the front and back of each page, which cuts down on extra bulk.

Unfortunately, this binder also has pockets in the front and back, which tend to get filled with ideas and pictures printed out from other blogs and stuffed inside in no discernible order. I figure I’m allowed to be slightly messy, as long as I know what’s what.


Organizing Sessions
Most storytime librarians, at least the ones that I know, use weekly themes to organize their sessions. I think this becomes less and less important the younger your target audience, and that might extend to toddlers, too. But I’m a big believer in themes. For one, it helps me to plan further into the future, and to organize and diversify my sessions instead of relying on the same old stand-bys.

For another, themes allow me to offer programming that matches up with my patrons’ interests. A couple of years ago, when my sessions shifted toward boys who loved anything on wheels, I scrapped plans for a color storytime and presented books on trains. It was one of the most popular storytimes I’ve ever done, because those boys loved trains and were excited to read about them. Parents were happy, too, both because their kids were engaged with the material, and because they knew I was paying attention to what they liked. It’s a win-win-win situation.

My favorite themes tend to be the ones the kids are most excited about. In the past, these have included dinosaurs, bears, trains, penguins, pizza, and bedtime. Some themes I can’t wait to try: ninjas, pandas, shadows and sharks!

In each session, to provide consistency, I use the same opening and closing songs (they might change every six months or so, but not often). I also try to incorporate one or two popular fingerplays each time, plus an ASL sign. In the fall, we used “Open, Shut Them” each week, but I might switch to “Roly, Poly” now that we’re halfway through our schedule.

Once I have my mainstays in place (a song for introductions, opening and closing songs, ASL sign, and fingerplays), it just becomes a matter of introducing 2-3 books on the weekly theme, then relevant songs, fingerplays, or flannel boards. Typically, in a thirty minute session, I get through two medium-sized books and a third shorter one, 3-4 songs (including opening and closing songs), 1 or 2 fingerplays, and either 1 flannel board or a manipulative-based activity (something using scarves, sticks, or shakers). By then, the kids are usually ready to play.

Some things I haven’t had a chance to try that I’d like to? Including more technology. I have a video slotted for one storytime in March, and I’d like to include more videos and apps in general. It’s a changing world, after all.

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