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Why Story-Time Rocks

~ By Janelle Durham, PEPS Program Designer

Recently, I was chatting with another new mom. I asked if she ever went to story-time at the library, and she said “No, we have plenty of books at home, and we read all the time, so we don’t need to go to story-time.” I remember that’s what I thought with my first two kids.

Now, with baby number 3, I’ve learned that I missed out on a great opportunity. Whenever Ben and I find ourselves with a free morning on a gray day, we head out to a story-time at one of our local libraries. (On Tuesday through Thursday mornings alone, we have 10 different toddler story times within 5 miles of our house!) He loves the stories and songs and watching the other babies play. In case you haven’t taken advantage of this great opportunity yet, read on to learn more:

What happens at story-time?

Most happen in meeting rooms at libraries, but at some smaller libraries (or bookstores), the story time is held in the middle of the children’s book area, in and amongst the bookshelves. Most are 30 – 45 minutes long.

In general, parents and children sit in a circle on the floor. A children’s librarian (or children’s bookseller at a bookstore) leads activities including group introductions, songs, rhymes, and so on. Note: you can find videos of many of these stories and songs here.

However, the primary focus is on books, and the librarian will read multiple stories aloud to the children, helping them to get excited about each story. (Search on YouTube for “story time library” or for “reading rainbow” to see stories read aloud.)

At the end of the story-time session, families can browse through the books that were used in story-time and other books on the day’s theme, and may choose to take some of those books home with them. A friend of mine had a very busy little boy, and it was difficult for her to take him in to the main library as his favorite activity was taking as many books off the shelf as possible as quickly as he could. She really appreciated the fact that the librarian brought a small selection of books into the meeting room where story-times were held. It meant she and her son could pick out a few books to take home without venturing out into the temptations of the library stacks.

The activities vary a little depending on which age group the session is aimed at. Story-time for babies and young toddlers may include more songs than stories, especially finger rhymes and lap-sits - songs where you bounce baby on your knees. (At one story time, the librarian set out balls to play with and blew tons of bubbles at the end of story time. My Ben was in heaven!) Story-time for older children may include felt board stories (the librarian puts fabric animals and objects on a board to give another  dimension to the story), crafts, or occasionally snacks related to the day’s theme.

What are the benefits of story-time for your baby / child?

Of course it’s important for you to have books at home, read books out loud to your child, and let your child explore books on her own. Here’s just one article on why it’s important.

However, children benefit from hearing another adult read to them, from watching other children get engaged in a story, and from being exposed to a wide variety of authors and writing styles. Your child will also learn some essential school readiness skills, like how to sit still for an extended period of time, how to pay attention to an adult other than his parents, how to take turns, and how to be (reasonably) quiet in a public place. They also may learn that although at home, it’s totally fine to flip pages in the book, ask to have the same book read over and over, or ask to quit reading one book halfway through and switch to another one, when they are in a group setting, they need to sit still and listen to the book that someone else has chosen. More benefits are listed  here.

Story-times help to turn a trip to the library into “an event.” If you treat story-time as a special family time that you look forward to, your child will be just as excited about it as they are about your other special family outings, whether those are to movies, the park, or baseball games. They will think of reading as an exciting social activity. One of the key literacy skills is “print motivation” – if kids believe that they will find fun and excitement in stories, they will want to read books. Learn more about print motivation here.

While you’re at the library, you can choose some books to take home as a “treat” to get excited about. (Here’s a few tricks I’ve used to help me keep track of my library items: set a family policy about how many books you can check out on each visit – this will help you remember how many  have to find at home when it comes time to return them! Our rule was 5 books per child at each visit… At home, have a special shelf or basket where library books live, and when you find them elsewhere in the house, everyone knows where to return them to.)

What are the benefits for you as a parent?

Story-times will help you learn skills to support your child’s learning: At story-time, you will learn songs, finger plays and nursery rhymes that you can use at home. The librarian will model for you good oral reading skills that you can follow – like pointing to words as you read them, asking children questions about what they see on the page, letting them predict what is coming next in the story, and so on.

But beyond the literacy benefits, story-times are simply a nice option for a family activity: They are free, they’re easily accessible, and most do not require advance planning (although some very busy libraries require advance registration). So, if you have a day where you’re feeling stir-crazy and just need to get out of the house, they offer a place to go.
Many libraries schedule free time after the story-time for parents to sit and socialize in the room. We have planned meet-ups with friends from our PEPS Newborn Group, and our Baby Peppers Group at story-times, and had a nice time hanging out with them after the formal group time was over. Story-times may also offer the opportunity to meet other parents in your area: if you become a regular at your local story-time, and you see another parent there you think you could click well with, then you can sit next to them and chat after the story-time is over. (Just remember: during story-time, parents should be quiet and pay attention to the stories – you are modeling that for your child.)

What age of child can go to story-time?

Local libraries offer story-times for children three months to five years.
Daytime sessions at the larger libraries tend to cater to a narrow age range. For example, King County libraries offer “wee ones” for 6 – 12 month olds, “younger toddler” for 12-24 month olds, “toddler” for ages 2 – 3, and “pre-school” for ages 3 to 5. Evening story-times, foreign-language story-times, and story-times at the small library branches tend to be open to a broad range of ages, such as “toddlers and pre-schoolers.” For some story-times, these ages are suggestions, just designed to let you know what age of child the books and activities are best suited for. Other story-times do not allow children outside the age range to attend – this is generally for the comfort and safety of all involved.

If you have only one child, you may prefer sessions that are tailored as close to your child’s age as possible. This will help ensure that the activities and style of presentation are all age-appropriate. If you have multiple children, it may be easiest to seek out a story-time that welcomes a wide range.

For tips on how to prepare your child for what to expect at story-time and be a happy and successful participant there, click here.

Where can you find out about schedule and locations for local library story-times?

Are there story-times in other languages?

Libraries and other community gathering spots also offer non-English story-times, or bilingual story-times.  Some of the families who attend are those who speak a language other than English at home; others are families who primarily speak English at home, but also want to teach their child a second language. These story-times offer your child the chance to hear other adults speaking a language other than English, and also give you the opportunity to meet other families who speak your language. King County libraries offer Spanish, Russian, Hindi, and Korean story-times. Seattle libraries offer Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Somali. Check their websites for times and locations.

Where else can I go for story-times?

Several local bookstores also offer story-times. Check their websites for more details: Elliott Bay Books; Island Books; Mockingbird Books; Third Place Books, RavennaU Bookstore. Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park offers a weekly storyteller. Some local museums may also offer story-times.

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