What to Do When It All Falls Apart?
I was a theatre major in college, which helps SO MUCH when it comes to providing exciting, exuberant storytimes. Like acting, providing storytime requires the reader to put aside the stresses and distractions of the day in order to put on a good performance. As I’m sure most of you are aware, some days it feels like you are the greatest reader in the world and everyone is instantly on board with the activities and books you’ve planned. On other days, however, it feels as though no matter what you try, the kids are not as engaged with you as you would like them to be. Skilled storytime readers and performers are able to become aware of the subtle shifts in interest and focus and modify their “performances” to get everyone re-engaged. (In the acting biz, that’s called “reading your audience” (and yes, the pun is intended!)). But the question is, HOW can we figure out what our audience needs in order to turn the storytime around and get it moving in a more positive direction?
Let me share with you some of the elements of my storytime this week that didn’t go as well as I had hoped...as they say, ‘the best laid plans...’
Situation #1: I was in the middle of Old MacDonald Had a Farm by Jane Cabrera the other day, and my audience of 4 and unders were more interested in their belly button lint than in singing my story. Even worse, the parents were equally disengaged! What to do??
I’m sure there are multiple solutions to this conundrum. What I chose to do in the spur of the moment was to skip ahead several pages, and treat this new page as the final page of the book (even though it wasn't). The grownups caught on to what I was doing and seemed equally relieved to have a shift in the momentum of storytime. It also turned out to be a great way to model this early literacy tip: “You don’t have to read all of the pages of the book! Skip around if interest is waning.”
Situation #2: I chose a song that had to do with colors that people were wearing … but nobody was wearing the colors in question. As the song went on, and there wasn’t a lot of interest in doing the actions since the kids weren’t wearing those colors, they stopped singing and started looking around instead… COME BACK!!
If I’d been thinking faster, I would have modified the words of the song mid-performance to reflect colors that kids could SEE instead of colors they were wearing. But alas, I was not thinking quickly enough on my feet that day. Luckily, at the end of the song, there was the option of sitting down and standing up again in rapid succession. The first time, everyone was a little hesitant (particularly the grownups), but the second time, the kids were totally into it. We sat down and stood up a few more times than we needed to just because they were having so much fun! Those rapid level changes tend to be very successful for kids, and I have yet to discover why that might be. No matter what, though, it got everyone back interested in me again, so that was a plus!
Situation #3: Lowercase vs. Uppercase letters. I was SO excited to be putting together a storytime based around letter awareness and I was certain that everyone in the audience would learn something awesome. BUT...the magnetic letters I had on hand were lowercase letters...and almost no child in my audience knew what those were. *Sigh*
OH NO was the first thought that went through my head. How can we talk about the letters when the kids don’t even recognize them?? I frantically searched the room, only to discover that the letters on the wall behind me were ALSO lowercase letters. The only uppercase letters in the room were on the storytime carpet...where everyone was sitting. What to do?? Well, I continued with my discussion as I’d planned, getting silly as I was trying to have everyone make letter shapes with their bodies and realizing just how hard that is to do. While it felt like a train wreck, my hope is that at the very least the kids became slightly more aware of the differences between upper- and lower-case letters and the parents became inspired to teach this concept at home. I, at least, had my ego brought down a few pegs and learned that perhaps, in future, it would be a good idea to have BOTH types of letters available for the kids to see.
Storytime this week was not as successful as I would have liked in the ways I had anticipated. However, it WAS successful in teaching me flexibility and open-mindedness when it things don’t go exactly as I expect. It is through these challenges that we grow as humans and storytime providers, and I am trying to laugh a bit at the comical nature of this situation. As we become more comfortable as storytime readers, we can take days like this in stride and work to improve upon them. It’s also reassuring to realize that those awesome storytime providers I’ve seen all started out this way at some point and that nobody is 100% perfect 100% of the time. ;)